Linda Nemec Foster
The Town That Voted the Earth Flat
What could this place possibly look like?
Close your eyes, and after the shrouded patterns
of color have faded, try to imagine the world erased.
Or try to imagine Genesis and its anonymous author
not quite getting it right. Water seeping through
cracks in the firmament. Night and day confused.
Churches and houses huddle close to the ground,
refuse to stretch to their full size for fear
of the undertow of darkness. That place where
edge meets edge, where all memory is lost.
Trees and flowers try to defy gravity but look
stunted and perplexed. "Where can our roots
go from here? In such a thin world?" To grow
is to die. So the oak buries its head. The dandelion
goes straight to seed, forgets its golden crown.
At the endless town meetings, men redefine
two-dimensional space, box it, then decide
to eat it for breakfast. For them, only width
and length exist: the tiny, humorless flake
crossing their tongues. The earth is nothing more
than a bump in the pavement, a blue-green ceramic tile.
At night, women lose themselves in the map
of their own skins-a sense of place like no other
where the body's boundary is welcome relief. Where
a fingernail signals the end of the known world.
Beyond that, black holes of failed marriages, lights
out for good, and not even gravity to hold onto.
Only the skin of their teeth, chewed fingernails. Lost moons.
In their dreams, the children learn to walk with
the dark flatness of their shadows. Themselves condensed
into a blank space. Will they embrace their fathers
floating through the heavens? Their mothers' chalked
outlines on the street, pure abstraction's latest victims?
Or will they race out of town and approach the horizon
in a dead heat? Legs cramped with the discovery of yet another
geometry. Eyes round, mouths open, to form the perfect O.
Linda Nemec Foster
Forgiving the Dead
After you've been dead
for over twenty years
I finally dream of you.
Bone-white, sunk in your bed
the lung cancer already digging
its tight-fisted cave
into your chest.
Your thin arms rise
to embrace me and
your one good eye
fakes a wink. You grin
with brown teeth.
The smell of Canadian Club
And the broken English
is scolding me
"Hurry up and die
so I have you here
for talking." You're
alone in starched whiteness.
In heaven nothing has changed.
And for an instant I
almost forgive you
everything. How you ignored
my father and his words
Now all language eludes him.
How you accused your only daughter
of stealing her voice
from gypsies, from pedlars
of rags because you
what she said. How you
screamed at your wife
with such shrill faithfulness
years after your death
she could not live with silence.
In another part of this dream
you are eighteen
and not yet foreign. America is not
even brooding in the background
with its steel mills.
You stand in the long grasses
by the river outside Krakow
and start undressing a woman
for the first time. There
is no sound in heaven
but the deep expanse
of your breathing.
It tries to fill the sky.
Linda Nemec Foster
Colors from the City of White: Photographs from Bielsko-Biala
I stand here in a white room
surrounded by photographs of your city.
Small cars crowd the Army Square;
Mickiewicz Street meanders like the poet
and becomes an imposing gray castle. The Pope
freezes his blessing in bronze.
On Listopada Street a thin girl
in blue rushes past, looking
too familiar to be living on the other
side of the world. Where have I
seen her before? Perhaps the fleeting
image trapped in my mirror;
a startled visitor I didn't expect.
The woman in purple
fixing her earring.
The woman in red
holding the fresh-cut
gladiolus. Three children
in the country all seated
on the back of the patient
brown horse. Dusk
and the laughing man, empty
fountains framed by an arm,
a solemn woman holding
sliced watermelon. Blond
girl at the beach growing
out of her green
bathing suit. And the white
swans that have followed her
down to the sea.
It's not the faces, but the blank
landscapes that look foreign,
exotic. Stretches of damask
plains ending in a blur
of mountain and cloud, they
gossip in a language only
my grandmother could translate.
The view from Partyzanci Street
must be a bird's--
or yours, flying away.
Past the silent girl
in the window, her hand
caressing the transparent
curtain. Past the red
streetcar, the uncontrollable
tree that looks like a fern,
the low buildings pretending
to be modern, the hills
dreaming in the background,
wanting to be the sky.
Karol's Bridge in Prague, Watercolor
Here November cuts through the skin
in all shades of gray:
moisture drips from the holy statues
like from the walls of a neolithic grotto.
The rain comes from the direction of Hradczan
and falls in a dirty, rusty streak
into a river of mud.
The fog hangs down in clumps from the branches
and even the saints huddle under their coats.
The good thief keeps watch by the cross.
hop on pavement slippery as snail shells, and
head toward the Old Town.
In The Golden Well the fireplace is lit
and tonight they have beer
but all this is useless.
I did not ask for a sliver of the sky
when we stood there
next to each other
cross to cross.
(Translated from the Polish by Linda Nemec Foster and Beata Kane)
On the Second Day of Christmas
Tonight, I've made you up
but now I can see I've been
too much in a hurry
and since you're still not here
Ginsberg and white blues must do
and a nut cake to follow.
It's not really the same you know
and not quite enough
but I try very hard not to
keep the postman busy.
What have I got my teeth for
in the end
if not for clenching;
what have I got my hands for
if not for biting;
what have I got the four walls for
if not for a slow suffocation;
what is the roof for
if not for crashing down on my head,
along with the whole world
and another unbearable winter?
(Translated from the Polish by Linda Nemec Foster and the author)