“Nowhere.” A Poem by Adam Zagajewski

From the Collection Asymmetry, trans. Clare Cavanagh

November 27, 2018  By Adam Zagajewski


It was a day nowhere just after I got back from my father’s
a day between two continents; lost, I walked the streets
of Hyde Park catching shreds of American voices.
I belonged nowhere, I was free,
but if this is freedom, I thought, I’d rather be
a good king’s, a kindly emperor’s, captive;
leaves swam against red autumn’s current,
the wind yawned like a foxhound,
the cashier in a grocery store, nowhere,
couldn’t place my accent and asked “Where are you from?”
but I’d forgotten, I wanted to tell her
about my father’s death, then thought: I’m too old
to be an orphan; I was living
in Hyde Park, nowhere, “Where fun comes to die,”
as college students elsewhere said, a little enviously.
It was a faceless Monday, craven,
vague, a day without inspiration, nowhere, even grief
didn’t take a radical shape; it strikes me
that on such days even Chopin would commit himself
at best to giving lessons
to wealthy, aristocratic pupils;
suddenly I remembered what Doctor Gottfried Benn,
the Berlin dermatologist, said about him
in one of my favorite poems:
“when Delacroix expounded his theories,
it made him nervous, he for his part
could offer no explanation of the Nocturnes,”*

these lines, both ironic and tender,
always filled me with joy,
almost like Chopin’s music itself.
I knew one thing: night too needed no
explanation, likewise pain, nowhere.

*From Gottfried Benn, “Chopin,” tr. Michael Hofmann

Excerpted from ASYMMETRY: Poems by Adam Zagajewski. Copyright © 2014 by Adam Zagajewski. Translation copyright © 2018 by Clare Cavanagh. All rights reserved.

Adam Zagajewski
Adam Zagajewski
Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov in 1945. His previous books include Tremor; Canvas; Mysticism for Beginners; Without End; Solidarity, Solitude; Two Cities; Another Beauty; A Defense of Ardor; Eternal Enemies; and Unseen Hand—all published by FSG. He lives in Kraków, Poland.

More Story
Lit Hub Daily: November 26, 2018 Meet the showgirl who discovered Lolita: Sarah Weinman on the woman who helped Nabokov’s masterpiece find its American...

Become a Lit Hub Supporting Member: Because Books Matter

For the past decade, Literary Hub has brought you the best of the book world for free—no paywall. But our future relies on you. In return for a donation, you’ll get an ad-free reading experience, exclusive editors’ picks, book giveaways, and our coveted Joan Didion Lit Hub tote bag. Most importantly, you’ll keep independent book coverage alive and thriving on the internet.