I’ve many years to live…

I’ve many years to live before I’m a patriarch.
I’m at an age that commands little respect.
They swear at me, behind my back,
in the senseless, pointless language of tram fights.
‘You bastard!’ Well, I apologize,
but deep down I don’t change at all.

When you think of your connection with the world
you can’t believe it. It is nonsense.
A midnight key from someone else’s flat,
a silver penny in the pocket
and stolen film.

I hurl myself like a puppy at the hysterical
ringing of the telephone.
I hear greetings spoken in Polish,
a gentle long distance rebuke,
or an unfulfilled promise.

You’re always thinking about what you really desire
in the midst of all the crackers and fireworks.
Then you burst, and all that’s left
is confusion and being out of work.
Just try even getting a light for a cigarette from that.

I smile at times, at times I timidly dress up
and go out with my white-knobbed cane.
I listen to sonatas in the backstreets.
My mouth waters as I pass by food-stalls.
I leaf through books in muddy doorways,
and I’m not living but somehow I am.

I shall walk to the sparrows and the reporters
and the street photographers who will take my picture,
and in five minutes pull it out
like a wet spade from a child’s bucket,
and I’ll look at my likeness
against the backdrop of the purple Shah mountain.

Or I’ll go on errands
into the steamy basement laundry
where the clean, honest Chinamen
eat fried dough balls with chopsticks
and play with narrow cut cards,
and drink vodka as the swallows sip the Yangtse.

I enter the robbers’ paradise of museums
where Rembrandt paintings gleam
like rubbed Cordoba leather.
I’ll gaze at the Titian priests in tricorn hats,
and wonder at Tintoretto’s thousand squawking parrots.

And how much I want to be carried away by play,
to have a conversation, to speak the truth,
to blow my depression to the mist, the devil and to hell,
to take someone by the hand and say to him ‘Be kind-
we’re on the same road.’

–translation Richard & Elizabeth McKane


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