The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 6 no. 1


Adam Zagajewski

Watching Shoah in a Hotel Room in America

Translated from the Polish by Renata Gorczynski, Benjamin Ivry, and C.K. Williams


There are nights as soft as fur on a foal
but we prefer chess or card-playing. Here,
some hotel guests sing Happy Birthday
as the one-eyed TV nonchalantly shuffles its images.
The trees of my childhood have crossed an ocean
to greet me coolly from the screen.
Polish peasants engage with a Jesuitical zest
in theological disputes: only the Jews are silent,
exhausted by their long dying.
The rivers of the voyages of my youth flow
cautiously over the distant, unfamiliar continent.
Hay wagons haul not hay, but hair,
their axles squeaking under the feathery weight.
We are innocent, the pines claim.
The SS officers are haggard and old,
doctors struggle to save them their hearts, lives, consciences.
It’s late, the insinuations of drowsiness have me.
I’d sleep but my neighbors
choir Happy Birthday still louder:
louder than the dying Jews.
Huge trucks transport stars from the firmament,
gloomy trains go by in the rain.
I am innocent, Mozart repents;
only the aspen, as usual, trembles,
prepared to confess all its crimes.
The Czech Jews sing the national anthem: “Where is my home . . .”
There is no home, houses burn, the cold gas whistles within.
I grow more and more innocent, sleepy.
The TV reassures me: both of us
are beyond suspicion.
The birthday is noisier.
The shoes of Auschwitz, in pyramids
high as the sky, groan faintly:
Alas, we outlived mankind, now
let us sleep, sleep:
we have nowhere to go.