I don't want to be there, when children tell stories
Tonight spits into song and hum falls on words.
I hear a shower in a bathroom. Strong current.
As if someone was trying
to wash away their existence
for the pleasure of an empty place.
We're not here yet, and still the winter wind
cuts our faces. We put on scarves, coats,
gloves, so small in our clothes,
correct our expressions one last time
in front of the hallway mirror,
and then we leave, backs to one another.
We're not here yet, and still the key aches in the lock.
I am leaving, and it's as if I was returning:
I am sitting in a small cafeteria across from the window,
the screaming of newborns seeps through the ceiling
above my head. I am thinking of my children—
not here yet. Young women on this floor
walk with a wide gait and slowly,
in light-colored pajamas and open slippers.
Even they are leaving. After everything.
And the children's cries refract inside them.
You came in a different tempo. Sat down by the window,
in front of a green curtain—behind the window, evening,
and in it, a white smudge, the reflection of my face.
You placed your foot sole-first on my stomach,
as if I had not arrived,
as if I had always been here.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a door
filled with the thick glass of your weeping.
Maybe I had the key,
but neither I nor you were here yet.
We are not here yet, and still we button our shirts
up to the last button.
We're not here yet, and still we return
what we never owed.
Laid in boxes shelved under gloves,
turtlenecks and winter scarves,
the image in the aging light's memory continues its descent
like a dry stone
to the bottom of a flood.
The photograph protects contours:
sunny autumn afternoons, flowing
curly laughter, air that fluffs hair,
stirred up wishes…
and contours slide from dry palms, when the water
rises into a parched mucous membrane.
Over this photograph, lips will freeze,
and the day will faint in me once more. Knees will give.
Ondrej Pazdírek is a Czech-American writer and translator. He is the winner of the 2017 Beacon Street Prize in poetry from Redivider. His work has been nominated for the Bettering American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. His poems and translations have appeared in The Stockholm Review, Poet Lore, Western Humanities Review, PANK, Guernica, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Meridian, and are forthcoming from Southern Humanities Review, among others. He lives in Iowa City.