Piotr Gwiazda



This is no country for young men. They flee (often by airplane)

this provincial life―two bars, a fish market, no place for a haircut―

leaving behind their ancestors, people with ruined faces

and too much time on their hands. Nothing changes till they change.

The innkeeper laments the passing of the last dictator

who was an honorable man, but did have a knack for rambling speeches.

We could read The Economist or spend the morning fishing

with an ex-Soviet ex-spy. Instead, we lounge naked under a palm tree

accompanied by a scarlet macaw. (Not all birds were created equal.)

A dog barks. No reception. Too many cocktails and cigarettes.

“It’s the anti-Darwinian way, we’re trying to blend in . . .” After sunset,

this island reminds of Cuba, the way we imagine it to be.

So unlike our slick American cities―New York, Baltimore, Wichita―

with their haphazard rebirths, a different kind of trees,

pedestrians navigating among traffic signals and closed sidewalks

in January cold, knowing that only being the best matters

and losing is no fun, that life gives no second chance,

no refund, no exchange. Plan your future. Dress for success.

Ohio and West

You can read Epictetus or drive your Toyota Echo

into a lamppost. You can watch a movie about angels

or lose your way in the valley of sexual dependency.

You can teach a person to swim or torture a person

in the name of national security. You can say to your doctor

“pinch me, I’m dreaming,” drink a glass of water . . .

You can take pictures of yourself or smash your camera

or you can marry, change an opinion, move to Ohio.

You can say “America first” or join a social movement

or you can slowly decay, jump from a roof, write a proposal.

You can test a new product or experience a vision

in the grove. You can play an overlong game of Risk

or be abducted by aliens. You can assume a pose.

Defeated, you can say “I did what I could.”

You can focus 100% on what’s immediately before you:

a signature, a spider-web, gift-wrapping, a sunset.

You can ask yourself three uncomfortable questions:

1) would I lay down my life 2) am I happy enough

3) where is my wallet, then drive your Toyota Echo

all the way to Ohio, to watch a movie about aliens.

No matter what you do, you will feel smart, renewed.

You can say to America “pinch me, I’m dreaming”

or, defeated, read to your doctor “I did what I could.”

You can teach a person to slowly decay or torture a person

in the valley of sexual dependency or change an opinion

in the name of national security. You can focus 100%

on an overlong game of Risk, test a vision in the grove,

experience a new product or be abducted by Epictetus,

take pictures of a social movement, marry a proposal.

You can drink on a lamppost, smash a glass of water,

assume a pose, swim on a roof, renew a spider-web

with your camera, ask yourself three questions:

one about sacrifice, one about happiness, one about

gift-wrapping, then lose your smart way in a sunset.

No matter what you do, first sign on the dotted line.

Clouds Moving In


Warsaw: the city he desperately wants to revisit.

The city he has abandoned. By city, of course, we mean people.

It has taken him years, hours maybe, to “know himself”―

what we understood all along from his medical records.

Since then, there’ve been important changes in his life.

(That never changes.) He’s thicker/thinner. He dresses white.

Mostly, he’s empty-headed, unfocused, prone to evasion;

always out on a walk just as it starts to rain snow.


Dear Newsweek magazine, please cancel my subscription.

I’m having an uphill moment. A Belacqua moment.

These days I only read junk mail. Have you seen me?

cries the face on the missing children leaflet. “Ashley.”

What really concerns me though is the way my body reacts

in front of an onrushing car. How it’s wafted by the wind

from late October to early April. What a strange dance,

what a tendentious cloud. I’ve never been to Warsaw.

Piotr Gwiazda was born in Poland in 1973 and has been living in the United States since 1991. He is the author of Gagarin Street: Poems (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 2005) and James Merrill and W.H. Auden: Homosexuality and Poetic Influence (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). His poetry, translations, and criticism have appeared in many journals, including AGNI Online, Barrow Street, Chicago Review, Denver Quarterly, Hotel America, Jacket, PN Review, Southern Review, and the TLS. He teaches modern and contemporary poetry at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.