Poems of Jerzy Ficowski
Translated from the Polish by Jason Francisco, with assistance from Piotr Słomian

*     *     *
i did not succeed in saving
even a single life

i did not have the ability to stop
even a single bullet

so i wander, trying to find cemeteries
that do not exist
i search for words
i run

for help that no one called for
for rescue that got delayed  

i want to come on time
even when i am too late




for nineteen hundred years
they kept throwing their cry
against the wall

and so four walls of tears
were erected for them

and within those four walls
all the tears
were precisely annihilated
and the tears of the tears
and the tenth tear after Jankiel
to the last generation
of tears

so that even a mole
wears mourning clothes
and raises up molehills
to reproach the earth



AUGUST 5, 1942

        In remembrance of Janusz Korczak

What did the Old Doctor do
in the cattle wagon
going to Treblinka on the 5th of August
through the few hours of blood still circulating
through the dirty river, through time

I don’t know

what did this Charon set out to do
a boatman without an oar
did he give the children the remainder
of the breathless breath
and keep for himself
just the chill under the beast’s spine

I don’t know

did he for example lie to them
in small anesthetizing
did he pick the timid lice, the fear
from their delicate and sweaty heads
I don’t know

but then––but next––but there––
in Treblinka
all their horror, all the tears
were lined up against him

ah, however many minutes it was there
formed the whole of life,
it could have been a few, or many––
I wasn’t there, I don’t know

and suddenly the Old Doctor saw
that the children became
old like him
older and older
as if they had to catch up to the old age of the ashes

then when he struck him
the askar, or it could have been the SS man
saw that the Doctor
became a child like the children
younger and younger
until the moment he was unborn

from that point, together with the Old Doctor
they abounded nowhere

I know


she has a wardrobe from which the gowns
managed to get out
but anyway went out of fashion

an armchair from which someone sometime stood up
just for a moment
that became the rest of his life

serving bowls, pots filled with hunger
still there to be used
to the full

a portrait of a killed girl
in living color

additionally she could have had some sort of black table
in good condition
but it just wasn’t pleasing

something so sad.