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Wladyslaw Szlengel

Translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter

Telephone

With sick and broken heart,
with all my thoughts on the other side
I was sitting alone
next to the telephone.

I think to myself
when I am on duty, waiting
near the telephone in the evening:
I will call someone on the other side.

Suddenly I realize,
my God there is no one I can call.
In nineteen thirty-nine I followed
a different road.

Our paths have parted, and all
the friendships on the other side sank deeply
out of sight. Now you see
there is no one I can call.

Behind the glass pane, an autumn evening.
A gale wind is hurrying
down the road. I think I would like
to call, but there is no one.

My hand picks up the receiver.
The cord shivers.
I dial a familiar number
and her voice answers. The clock.

Pardon, do you recognize me?
I ask in a lowered voice.
Years ago, on September 7th, I made a choice
before I went down the road.

At dawn, saying farewell to my room
I knew what was just beginning,
and for the last time you were telling
me, “It is six A.M.”

But now do you want to talk with me?
For I am choking
with tears. Tell me something.
“Ten fifty-three.”

How often did I have to align
my life with your calm voice, and the time.
Do you remember, Miss Clock?
“Ten fifty-six.”

Ten fifty-six. . .
If you want we can share memories.
In nineteen thirty-nine I was at the movies,
and left the theater at just this time.

“Ten fifty-seven.”
I returned home by tram number “Eleven”
from Chmielna Street, the Atlantic Theater,
a film with Gary Cooper.

At the corner of Zlota Street a paperboy
was selling The Red Courier.
On the pavement a neon shower
reflected an afterglow of color.

Number “Eleven” tramway
turned around into the heart
of my beloved city. Did you say
something? “Eleven P.M.”

Nowy Swiat was lit up, still
sparkled, couples were out walking.
The Caf´e Club was beckoning,
still open. “Eleven zero three.”

At “The Quick,” fresh hot sausages.
Taxis and the dinner crowd were rushing
from the Adria, Fogg singing
from a loudspeaker.

Tr0lleys returned to the car barns and some
of the night trams began to run.
What time was it, about? More or less?
“Eleven forty-six.”

How good it is, and how marvelous
to talk. No differences of opinion between us.
No quarrels. You are the nicest,
Miss Clock, of all my lady friends.

My heart feels lighter
knowing that when I call ——
though on the other side of the wall ——
someone will calmly listen.

That we share a fate in common
and she remembers everything, that someone
is not afraid to talk to me.
And her voice is so peaceful.

The night splashes with rain, wind
strikes the walls: the walls are high.
The clock and I
we chat, we dream.

Farewell, dear distant one,
there are hearts that nothing changes.
“Five to twelve,” you say.
You are right. Until another day.