Starvation Camp Near Jaslo



Write it down. Write it. With ordinary ink

on ordinary paper: they weren’t given any food,

they all died of hunger. All. How many?

It’s a large meadow. How much grass

per head? Write down: I don’t know.

History rounds off skeletons to zero.

A thousand and one is still only a thousand.

That one seems never to have existed:

a fictitious fetus, an empty cradle,

a primer opened for no one,

air that laughs, cries and grows,

stairs for a void bounding out to the garden,

no one’s spot in the ranks.


It became flesh right here, on this meadow.

But the meadow’s silent, like a witness who’s been bought.

Sunny. Green. A forest close at hand,

with wood to chew on, drops beneath the bark to drink –

a view served round the clock,

until you go blind. Above, a bird

whose shadow flicked its nourishing wings

across their lips. Jaws dropped,

teeth clattered.


At night a sickle glistened in the sky

and reaped the dark for dreamed-of loaves.

Hands came flying from blackened icons,

each holding an empty chalice.

A man swayed

on a grill of barbed wire.

Some sang, with dirt in their mouths. That lovely song

about war hitting you straight in the heart.

Write how quiet it is.



Wisława Szymborska  

(from Salt 1962)