June, July, and August, 1945
Do you remember? No! Let me help you:
they were months of scorching heat, ruins, and dust
moistened only in places where women watered flowers
at hastily built little memorials,
but children already played at being barricade fighters and generals in bunkers,
and shrilled like the recently silenced alarm sirens,
and yelled loudly that an air raid is reported,
while street loudspeakers called: "Relatives of the missing
should visit the Collecting Center for Corpses in such-and-such district,
or else the dead will be buried in a common grave!"
It was freedom, yes, it was freedom,
but with all its still murky massive features,
there was some wind here and there, and it blew loathingly,
as if it had found a German hair between two pages of a brand-new book,
every large square was sick at heart,
scabby buses from concentration camps arrived there:
"Kadel, my love! . . . Annie! . . . All right, Mary,
stop crying! You're back home, you know? . . . One more, one more kiss, Jenda!"
I'm telling you, they were months of scorching heat, ruins and dust
moistened only by the tears of the returned ones, the welcoming ones,
they all stood there, absolutely free, like at a time
when we don't want anything else,
after a brief sorrowful moment
the memory of the dead began searching in pockets
for tangible keepsakes: a woman's lock of hair,
and a man's red censor's pencil of shame
deleting the carved wrinkles on the face of a tragedy
and transforming it into a smile of self-denial.
They were standing there, in a brotherhood so unanimous
you could hardly grasp that they could return to their sentimental homes,
return with the desire to catch u on all the missed Christmas Eves,
yes, and when a streetcar moved jerkily,
and some girls grabbed the handrails,
their sleeves pulled up and you could see, just above their wrists,
prisoners' tattooed numbers . . .
They hunted for wide bracelets to cover them,
but it isn't easy to find such a bracelet, my dear!
And even now, the gates in a Prague street are wide open, May-like,
with scribbled words: DO NOT ENTER! SHOOTING GOING ON!
Do you remember? No! I don't want to remember any more, either,
but I can still see the splendid Red Army girls,
who at the crossroads of our new destiny
started signaling with their flags
the safe life that's allowed to keep its spontaneity,
the spontaneity of a miracle and love . . .
And I can see a little boy and girl.
She said: "Show me! You got blue teeth?"
But he didn't, he took out another paper bag
and they both dug into more blueberries . . .
Czech; trans. C.G. Hanzlicek & Dana Habova
Vladimir Holan, Czech, trans. C.G. Hanzlicek & Dana Habova, Mirroring: Selected Poems of
Vladimir Holan, Wesleyan University Press, 1985.