Papuzsa by Jerzi Ficowski – translated by Jennifer Grotz & Piotr Sommer

If I had not learned to write, stupid me, I’d be happy.
— Papusza’s confession


It’s not the forest anymore

but too far to the world


She closed the pine’s creaking door

She’s not home


I was lithe

as a forest squirrel

even though I was



Now she is fainting

in every direction against the wind

A dry branch above her


All of her poverty

was the property

she lavishly stole

Everything from someone else’s hen house

but the song


For that she stole letters

torn from newspapers posters signboards

she strung such beads of words

for no one


In dreams she had her own pine trees

They uprooted them

She stumbles over the holes


They unraveled her colors

not for darning

not for charming

and no shawl will come from it


The elements closed in on themselves

water drowned in water

fire burned in fire

the earth was buried in earth


Her song ran off beyond the forest


They will go slit its throat


Blackbearded they go

with a knife in the bootleg

with an aiming eye

with a curse hissing in their pipe


The whole gypsy forest

of nocturnal horse stealers

set out to meet her

tiny as a goldfinch

the shadows of ancestors

ran through the crunch of brushwood


The pine forest

has only needles for her

The crackling gold cones

have settled into ash


Her little brothers

forest bird-brothers

went silent to deny her

The moon flew above

to give her away


She was lithe

as a forest squirrel

even though she was



She ran away from herself

and won’t be back

She closed the pine’s creaking door

She isn’t anywhere


She wanted to bury

her song alive

to throw the letters into an anthill


Now the ants carry them along a blade of grass

A bird stutters

her last note


It’s not the forest anymore

but too far to the world


So she goes low to the ground

the black squirrel from above

not to anywhere


no one’s




Jennifer Grotz’s most recent book of poems is Window Left Open (Graywolf Press). She is the director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences.

Piotr Sommer is the author of Continued (Wesleyan University Press) and Overdoing It (Hobart and William Smith Colleges Press). His collected poems, Po Ciemku Też, (Also In The Dark) appeared in Poland in 2013.

Jerzy Ficowski (1924-2006) was a poet, songwriter, and scholar on the Polish Roma population as well as the writer-artist Bruno Schulz. Recent translations of Ficowski’s poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Nation, New York Review of Books, and Ploughshares.