The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 15 no. 2


Wladyslaw Szlengel


Translated from the Polish by John and Bogdana Carpenter


A piece of paper was hanging on the door,
it could be read only from up close,
“The bell works, please ring.”
And three names:
                “For Mrs. L., one time,
                for Mr. K, two times,
                for the doctor, three times.”
The scrap of paper was hanging there
for people to see.
Then there was a selection
and they took
                Mrs. L. (one time)
                Mr. K. (two times)
                the doctor (three times).
The piece of paper, “Please ring”
still hangs on the door
but the door is open.
Behind the door —— fear.

There are no doorknobs: torn out
when they found them locked.
The doors are wide open.
Black guests came here.
Objects are scattered around
in a hurry, a wild chase.
On the door the piece of paper
with the names and “please ring”:
                for Mrs. L. one time,
                for Mr. K. two times,
                for the doctor, three times.
New inhabitants came and cleaned it up,
put in new doorknobs,
didn’t take the piece of paper from the door.
They forgot.

Dusk will come, the gray time of day.
Evening is closer and closer.
Darkness grows from the corners
chasing something from the rooms.

It is dark and scary.
Eerie, deadly, corpse-like,
it emanates death and evil ——
I know:
let them ring the bell
one, or two, or three times.
Shadows move on the walls,
phantoms, or vapors.

It is for me, it’s for me ——
smothered whispers float in the air,
they are so happy to hear the door bell, 
dry and dead lips.
One time —— that’s for me!
Maybe my son is coming to see me.
Now again, twice.
These are the neighbors coming to me.

In a hallway without lights
phantom lodgers ——
now they ring three times.
It is for me, a sick person.

A silent tugging
at the doorknob next to the wall,
a sigh and distress
that the hand is helpless,
that it isn’t easy for ghosts
to turn on the light in the hallway,
to open the door, to welcome.
Oh it’s you. What’s new?

But during the day, peace,
nothing looms in the corners.
At dusk ——
The doorbell rings.
        You go. . .
you always stumble against something.
        You open the door,
        no one.
—— It is for them
(because on the door
the paper is still there: Ring. . .
                For Mrs. L., once
                for Mr. K. twice
                for the doctor three times.)