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Mr. Cogito

Mr. Cogito
Polish Experience
Go where those others went to the dark boundary 
for the golden fleece of nothingness your last prize

go upright among those who are on their knees 
among those with their backs turned and those toppled in the dust

you were saved not in order to live
you have little time you must give testimony

be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous
in the final account only this is important

and let your helpless Anger be like the sea
whenever you hear the voice of the insulted and beaten

let your sister Scorn not leave you
for the informers executioners cowards--they will win 
they will go to your funeral and with relief will throw a lump of earth
the woodborer will write your smoothed-over biography

and do not forgive truly it is not in your power 
to forgive in the name of those betrayed at dawn

beware however of unnecessary pride 
keep looking at your clown's face in the mirror
repeat: I was called--weren't there better ones than I

beware of dryness of heart love the morning spring 
the bird with an unknown name the winter oak
light on a wall the splendor of the sky 
they don't need your warm breath 
they are there to say: no one will console you

be vigilant--when the light on the mountains gives the sign--arise and go
as long as blood turns in the breast your dark star

repeat old incantations of humanity fables and legends
because this is how you will attain the good you will not attain
repeat great words repeat them stubbornly 
like those crossing the desert who perished in the sand

and they will reward you with what they have at hand
with the whip of laughter with murder on a garbage heap

go because only in this way will you be admitted to the company of cold skulls
to the company of your ancestors: Gilgamesh Hector Roland
the defenders of the kingdom without limit and the city of ashes

Be faithful Go


Mr. Cogito's Soul

In the past
we know from history
she would go out from the body 
when the heart stopped

with the last breath 
she went quietly away 
to the blue meadows of heaven

Mr. Cogito's soul
acts differently

during his life she leaves his body 
without a word of farewell

for months for years she lives 
on different continents 
beyond the frontiers 
of Mr. Cogito

it is hard to locate her address 
she sends no news of herself 
avoids contacts 
doesn't write letters

no one knows when she will return 
perhaps she has left forever

Mr. Cogito struggles to overcome 
the base feeling of jealousy

He thinks well of his soul 
thinks of her with tenderness

undoubtedly she must live also 
in the bodies of others

certainly there are too few souls 
for all humanity

Mr. Cogito accepts his fate 
he has no other way out

he even attempts to say
--my own soul mine

he thinks of his soul affectionately 
he thinks of his soul with tenderness

therefore when she appears 
he doesn't welcome her with the words
--it's good you've come back

he only looks at her from an angle 
as she sits before the mirror 
combing her hair
tangled and grey


Mr. Cogito - the Return


Mr. Cogito

has made up his mind to return 
to the stony bosom
of his homeland

the decision is dramatic 
he will regret it bitterly

but no longer can he endure 
empty everyday expressions
--comment allez-vous
--wie geht's
--how are you

at first glance simple the questions 
demand a complicated answer

Mr. Cogito tears off 
the bandages of polite indifference

he has stopped believing in progress 
he is concerned about his own wound

displays of abundance 
fill him with boredom

he became attached only 
to a Dorian column 
the Church of San Clemente 
the portrait of a certain lady 
a book he didn't have time to read 
and a few other trifles

therefore he returns 
he sees already 
the frontier 
a plowed field 
murderous shooting towers 
dense thickets of wire

armor-plated doors 
slowly close behind him

and already
he is 
in the treasure-house 
of all misfortunes


so why does he return 
ask friends 
from the better world

he could stay here 
somehow make ends meet

entrust the wound 
to chemical stain remover

leave it behind in waiting rooms 
of immense airports
so why is he returning

--to the water of childhood
--to entangled roots
--to the clasp of memory
--to the hand the face
seared on the grill of time

at first glance simple the questions 
demand a complicated answer

probably Mr. Cogito returns 
to give a reply

to the whisperings of fear 
to impossible happiness 
to the blow given from behind 
to the deadly question


Mr. Cogito and the Imagination


Mr. Cogito never trusted
tricks of the imagination

the piano at the top of the Alps 
played false concerts for him

he didn't appreciate labyrinths 
the Sphinx filled him with loathing

he lived in a house with no basement 
without mirrors or dialectics

jungles of tangled images 
were not his home

he would rarely soar 
on the wings of a metaphor 
and then he fell like Icarus 
into the embrace of the Great Mother

he adored tautologies 
idem per idem

that a bird is a bird 
slavery means slavery 
a knife is a knife 
death remains death

he loved 
the flat horizon 
a straight line 
the gravity of the earth


Mr. Cogito will be numbered 
among the species minores

he will accept indifferently the verdict 
of future scholars of the letter

he used the imagination 
for entirely different purposes

he wanted to make it 
an instrument of compassion

he wanted to understand to the very end

--Pascal's night
--the nature of a diamond
--the melancholy of the prophets
--Achilles' wrath
--the madness of those who kill
--the dreams of Mary Stuart
--Neanderthal fear
--the despair of the last Aztecs
--Nietzsche's long death throes
--the joy of the painter of Lascaux
--the rise and fall of an oak
--the rise and fall of Rome

and so to bring the dead back to life 
to preserve the covenant

Mr. Cogito's imagination 
has the motion of a pendulum

it crosses with precision 
from suffering to suffering

there is no place in it 
for the artificial fires of poetry

he would like to remain 
faithful to uncertain clarity


Mr. Cogito on Virtue


It is not at all strange 
she isn't the bride 
of real men

of generals
athletes of power 

through the ages she follows them 
this tearful old maid
in a dreadful hat from the Salvation Army 
she reprimands them

she drags out of the junkroom
a portrait of Socrates
a little cross molded from bread
old words

--while marvelous life reverberates all around 
ruddy as a slaughterhouse at dawn

she could almost be buried 
in a silver casket 
of innocent souvenirs

she becomes smaller and smaller 
like a hair in the throat 
like a buzzing in the ear


my God
if she was a little younger 
a little prettier

kept up with the spirit of the times 
swayed her hips
to the rhythm of popular music

maybe then she would be loved 
by real men
generals athletes of power despots

if she took care of herself 
looked presentable 
like Liz Taylor 
or the Goddess of Victory

but an odor of mothballs 
wafts from her 
she compresses her lips 
repeats a great--No

unbearable in her stubbornness 
ridiculous as a scarecrow 
as the dream of an anarchist 
as the lives of the saints


The Monster of Mr. Cogito


Lucky Saint George 
from his knight's saddle 
could exactly evaluate
the strength and movements of the dragon

the first principle of strategy 
is to assess the enemy accurately

Mr. Cogito
is in a worse position

he sits in the low 
saddle of a valley 
covered with thick fog
through fog it is impossible to perceive 
fiery eyes
greedy claws

through fog
one sees only 
the shimmering of nothingness

the monster of Mr. Cogito 
has no measurements

it is difficult to describe 
escapes definition

it is like an immense depression
spread out over the country

it can't be pierced 
with a pen 
with an argument 
or spear

were it not for its suffocating weight 
and the death it sends down 
one would think
it is the hallucination
of a sick imagination

but it exists
for certain it exists

like carbon monoxide it fills 
houses temples markets

poisons wells
destroys the structures of the mind 
covers bread with mold

the proof of the existence of the monster 
is its victims

it is not direct proof 
but sufficient


reasonable people say 
we can live together 
with the monster

we only have to avoid 
sudden movements 
sudden speech

if there is a threat 
assume the form 
of a rock or a leaf

listen to wise Nature 
recommending mimicry

that we breathe shallowly 
pretend we aren't there

Mr. Cogito however
does not want a life of make-believe

he would like to fight 
with the monster 
on firm ground

so he walks out at dawn 
into a sleepy suburb 
carefully equipped 
with a long sharp object

he calls to the monster 
on the empty streets

he offends the monster 
provokes the monster

like a bold skirmisher 
of an army that doesn't exist

he calls-
come out contemptible coward

through the fog 
one sees only 
the huge snout of nothingness

Mr. Cogito wants to enter 
the uneven battle

it ought to happen 
possibly soon

before there will be 
a fall from inertia
an ordinary death without glory
suffocation from formlessness


The Adventures of Mr. Cogito with Music


Long ago
actually since the dawn of his life 
Mr. Cogito surrendered
to the tantalizing spell of music

he was carried through the forests of infancy
by his mother's melodious voice

Ukrainian nurses 
hummed him to sleep 
a lullaby spread wide as the Dnieper

he grew
as if urged on by sounds 
in chords 
vertiginous crescendos

he was given a basic 
musical education 
not complete to be sure 
a First Piano Book (part one)

he remembers hunger as a student 
more intense than the hunger for food 
when he waited before a concert 
for the gift of a free ticket

it is difficult to say when 
he began to be tormented 
by doubts
the reproach of conscience

he listened to music rarely 
not voraciously as before 
with a growing feeling of shame

the spring of joy had dried up

it was not the fault 
of the masters 
of the motet 
the sonata 
the fugue

the revolutions of things 
fields of gravitation 
have changed 
and together with them 
the inner axis of Mr. Cogito

he could not
enter the river 
of earlier rapture


Mr. Cogito
began to collect 
arguments against music

as if he intended to write 
a treatise on disappointed love

to drown harmony 
with angry rhetoric

to cast his own burden 
onto the frail shoulders of the violin

a hood of anathema 
over the clear face

but let us think about it impartially 
is not without fault

its inglorious beginnings-
sounds in intervals 
drove workers on 
wrung out sweat

the Etruscans flogged slaves
to the accompaniment of pipes and flutes

and therefore 
morally indifferent 
like the sides of a triangle 
the spiral of Archimedes 
the anatomy of a bee

it abandons the three dimensions 
flirts with infinity 
places ephemeral ornaments 
over the abyss of time

its obvious and hidden power 
caused anxiety among philosophers

the godlike Plato warned-
changes in musical style

provoke social upheavals 
the abolition of laws

gentle Leibniz consoled 
that nevertheless it provides order 
and is a hidden 
of the soul

but what is it
what is it really

- a metronome of the universe
- the exaltation of air
- celestial medicine
- a steam whistle of emotion


Mr. Cogito
suspends without answer
reflexions on the essence of music

but the tyrannical power of this art 
does not leave him in peace

the momentum with which it forces 
its way into our interior

it makes us sad without any reason 
it gives us joy with no cause

it fills harelike hearts
of recruits with the blood of heroes

it absolves too easily 
it purifies free of charge

- and who gave it the right 
to wrench us by the hair 
to wring tears from the eyes 
to provoke us to attack-

Mr. Cogito
who is condemned to stony speech 
grating syllables
secretly adores
volatile light-mindedness

the carnival of an island and groves 
beyond good and evil

the true cause of the separation 
is incompatibility of characters

different symmetry of the body 
different orbits of conscience

Mr. Cogito
always defended himself 
against the smoke of time

he valued concrete objects 
standing quietly in space

he worshipped things that are permanent 
almost immortal

dreams about the speech of cherubs 
he left in the garden of dreams

he chose
what depends
on earthly measures and judgment

so when the hour comes
he can consent without a murmur

to the trial of truth and falsehood 
to the trial of fire and water


Translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter


©2000 Jan Rybicki
This page was last updated on 02/28/01 .