Translated from the Czech by Justin Quinn
Alone. At sea. It seemed to lie on
the waters like a dream that drew you,
an island that was called Jan Mayen.
Europe and war meant nothing to you.
You loved it, wandering up the steps.
White peas go clattering in the bath.
Then Germans from the Eastern steppes –
two lines along the muddy path.
And in the kitchen Georgian girls
horsed round and whipped up ice-cream curls.
The dead draped on a van, a car.
Jan Mayen Island gradually
went floating off, lost in the sea,
and lost among these days of war.
Justin Quinn is an Irish writer, scholar, and translator who has lived in Prague since 1992. He teaches at the University of West Bohemia and is the author of several studies of twentieth-century poetry, most recently Between Two Fires: Transnationalism and Cold War Poetry. His latest collection of poetry, Shallow Seas, was published in 2020 by The Gallery Press.
From The Lesser Histories by Jan Zábrana, translated by Justin Quinn, published by Karolinum Press and distributed by the University of Chicago Press.