Miroslav Holub: In translation

A selection of poems from the Czech writer’s «Birth of Sisyphus.»

By Miroslav Holub
(Translated by Rudy Mesicek  |  Entremares Magazine)


  1. End of the Week
  2. On the run
  3. Anatomy of November
  4. The ground shrinks
  5. My mother learns Spanish

End of the week

The first principles indeed include
a schedule, which at times is valid
Monday to Friday, at others Saturday,
on rare occasions Sunday, when He rested
from all His work,

which we carry inside a forgotten pocket,
so that, as a rule, we miss the connection.

But still we get there.

It will again be Sunday, the day of faded songs.
On the first floor, by the window without curtains,
a little girl in a red dress will stand
and wait.

In a Spanish square they will burn
eighteen Marrano Jews
to honor the wedding of Maria Luisa and Carlos.

But we won’t even pause
and we’ll head home through the back
absorbed in thought.

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On the run

It was Rembrandt,
or Poincaré,
or Einstein,
or Khachaturian,
his mother
was shot
or buried
on the run
and she held him tight —
the two year old —
to her breast,
when she fell,
he choked,
disappeared, without being discovered.

When we find
white pebbles
or yellow seashells,
we play with them,
arrange them
into small
and rings.

It is
an unconscious
funeral rite
in a time when there no longer are
burial mounds,
or bronze clasps,

several million
just keep on running
someplace, somewhere.

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Anatomy of November

We will wake,
and gone missing
will be a leg
or an eye
or the ring finger.

Some distance away
your regal smile will be glowing.
You will pour over me
like the South Sea,
like blood
through a coronary bypass.

and you will strip everything that remains.

Apollo’s arrows
will whoosh through the liquid air.

We will wake,
and it will just be you
with your smile

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The ground shrinks

The ground shrinks.
By degrees
there is no room for the flower pot.
And the worms grow confused
and twist into knots
like nerve tracts
in the brain
of a slightly crazy
temple dancer.

The ground shrinks.
it is due
to the evaporation
of good intentions.
it is due to the raising
of a ceremonial baldachin
over the head
of a blessed

But certainly it is because
the dead devour the earth.
For a hundred thousand years the dead
have been settling down
and devouring the earth.

And secreting pouches of good intentions.

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My mother learns Spanish

She began
at eighty-two.
On page 26
she’d doze off,
every time.
Algo se trama.

The pencil for underlining verbs
ventured out, bewildered, across the page,
drawing hairline contours of death.
No hay necesidad de respuestas.

She drew the route of the voyage
of Vasco da Gama.
She drew El Greco’s eye.
She made Picasso’s fish
larger than the aquarium.

The pencil stubborn
like Fuenteovejuna.
Like a bull in the ring of Plaza de Toros Monumental,
already on its knees
as the team of mules rides in.

No hay necesidad de respuestas.
No need for answers.
Once again.
She sleeps. Now.

While Gaudi
in her honor
the Sagrada Familia

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Miroslav Holub

holubMiroslav Holub (1923 – 1998) was a Czech writer and immunologist whose literary output includes fifteen collections of poetry — beginning with Day Duty and culminating with Birth of Sisyphus. His training as a scientist and his philosophical bent form the starting point for many of his considerations about the human condition.