of strings across seas

my body moves through space

but knows no space as home


to occupying

soil is always thick

home is holding her tea cup

but my hand is still a visitor

how many missed mornings of mist

coffee, cigarettes

her hand in mine

as we share a fever

weep for the dry eyes

of our mothers


full of villages


in 1969

we had no bananas

when i saw a banana

for the first time

i thought

what perfect baby food

now bananas

will taste

like baby food


the wall came down

and we had as much tropical fruit

as we wanted

my uncle says

you must eat fruit

that is grown in your climate

tropical fruit in winter

is poison

time is counted

in markets

my aunt married to flee the curtain

he brought a suitcase of clothing

to leave with my grandmother

i was the only one with three blazers

she said as we caress the silk

of a thousand soft shirts

at the second hand market

what do you want to eat

i will go to Kaufland

they have anything

you can dream of

we drove our Trabant

to Budapest

for the fabric

and the baths

we came back

with colours

no one else had

bras were one size

one shape



my mother wore no bra

and went to church as protest

while police stood at the door

and remembered your face

my mother sewed

topless by the window

flowing skirts

soft shirts

my grandmother opens her chest

of leopard clothing

reveals her drawer

of folded scarves

now, i allow myself

gluten-free klobasa

and pineapples

a hundred watches

at the Vietnamese market

we watch time change

at the market

they smuggled mustard

in crates to Germany

when they crashed on the autobahn

thick yellow mustard

splayed the cement

stories are thick

who saw the police

stare at the yellow

at the scene

depends on who

tells the story

you are going to the market

how will you get there

take the 8 train, take bags

change at the church

two stops on the 25

the stop is



How many lives had he lived with his back turned looking at the street.

He’d once received a phone call while he was picking mushrooms in flip flops that informed him hat the ball joint was in but the mechanics were in Predibice looking to arrange a fire place for Jaromir’s mother for a good price.

He had worn a suit to look down the village road just in case Maria would walk by on her way to get morning bread to feed Adela and Marian or maybe walk down the road to Klašterska to have a beer with Pepík at his pub or keep walking to another village where maybe they had a hall where in the night someone pulled out a Kytar and Violin and everyone would sing and eat fire cooked sausage and then in a shining drunk he’d go out under the moonlight and keep walking and keep walking.

He’d taken the train to school with his little brother and two slabs of bread. They would walk along the road to the station conspiring how to out smart the train. They would throw rocks and exclaim that they would make a replica of their uncle’s Trabant and race the train to school. In the city, the cars don’t race trains. They follow lines and stop at lights so that old men can cross.

He’s gone to the pub to watch the game. After nine beers he staggered home but she didn’t let him back in. He stumbled around for three days until he stopped and focused his eyes on a bus stop at a woman in red pants who looked like his mother when she dragged him from the Principal’s office that time he threw a paper plane at Ela.

The Squash

The squash was a full arm span. We had to round up the neighbours to move it into the apartment. Once we pulled it in and it was sitting on the table, we had no idea how to cut it open.

On top of it, the day before we had gone to Maria’s and she had so much squash they were rotting all over the yard. We packed away two full bags and it hardly made a dent.

The apartment had squash on every surface, the giant squash was in half taking up the entire kitchen floor, and the news was saying that it was a bad year for growing.

Jan Palach

set himself on fire

for the demoralization of


the suppression

of free speech

“people in the street,

the multitude of people in the street,


with sad eyes,

serious faces,

which when you looked

at those people

you understood

that everyone understands,

that all the decent people

were on the verge

of making


the státní bezpečnost state police

dug up his body in the night

laid an anonymous dead woman’s body

in his grave

sent his cremated remains to his mother

told her she could not bury them until 1974

because his grave was becoming

a national shrine

on the twentieth anniversary of Palach’s death

protests escalated into what was called

Palach Week

Palach week is considered

a catalyst

communism fell

in Czechoslovakia

ten months later

Self-immolations in protest of soviet rule

8.09.68 Ryzard Swiec, 59 Poland’s participation in Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia

5.11.68 Vasyl Makukh, 40 Ukraine

16.01.69 Jan Palach, 20 ČSSR (Czechoslovak Socialist Republic)

20.01.69 Sándor Bauer, 17 Hungary

25.02.69 Jan Zajíc, 19 ČSSR

2.04.69 Evžen Plocek, 39 ČSSR

9.02.69 Eliyahu Rips, 20 ČSSR

13.09.70 Márton Moyses, 28 Romania

14.05.72 Romas Kalanta, 19 Lithuania

10.08.76 Antanas Kalinauskas, 19 Lithuania

10.22.76 Oskar Brüsewitz, 46 East Germany

01.21.78 Oleska Hirnyk, 65 Ukraine

06.23.78 Musa Mamut, 46 Crimea

03.02.89 Livia Cornel Babes, 47 Romania

03.02.89 Vytautas Vičiulis, 37 Lithuania

04.26.90 Stanislovas Žemaitis, 52 Lithuania

05.09.90 Rimantas Daugintis, 55 Lithuania

If we call it history, it won’t be strange

An idea fell into my head.

I’ll walk you below the street, we’ll look at the buildings from under the cobblestones, and if we call it history, it won’t be strange.

My grandfather’s first and third wives had their daughters on the same day, with the same man, fourteen years apart.

They spent hours smoking cigarette after cigarette while five black cats roamed the apartment.

A burglar broke into my grandfather’s first wife’s apartment, gave her a blow to the head with an iron, and took nothing.

Three weeks later she had a stroke while boiling an egg and caught on fire. The following week, my grandfather’s first wife’s fourth husband, her only true love, joined her in an unexplained plane crash.

My grandfather died a year later of lung cancer and within a month his daughter with his third wife, my mother, fled the country to join her half-sister, from her father’s first marriage, in Canada.

My grandfather’s third wife stood by the window smoking cigarette after cigarette while a single black cat roamed the apartment waiting for her brother to return from prison.

My great uncle smuggled gold in his shoes until he couldn’t grasp time, and when he got caught, all he had was time. Seventeen years.

Suitcases of calculators to India. Heroin in his body. A vision of grapefruits once saved his life from a gunshot to the chest. He got through a decade of prison in India by studying Yoga.  

My grandmother brews medicinal creams on the stove in the apartment she’s lived in for fifty five years between trips to the basement to gather herb. My great uncle chain smokes in the kitchen and drinks half a liter of herbal tea twice a day.

I was born in the war, he said. I hear a plane and feel a bomb. I have a shower and feel gas. I don’t go to Berlin. I listen to Bach.

Every city has a ghost, said my great uncle as he rolled tobacco. Paris is proud, New York is loud, but Berlin, Berlin has no ghost.

This time it will be worse than WWII, said my great uncle. We live in a world with drones. We are able to kill from a desk. The war is here.

We smoke with the TV on silent.

The Russians are in the business of controlling information, he said. They change the information on TV to make you hate your life.

There is no evil, he said. Only percentages of ignorance, passion, and goodness. He says the only thing the body does without the mind is decay after death.

He once kissed his great niece’s ex-husband’s mother, my grandmother, in her cabin in the mountains while my grandfather slept.

I’ve been spontaneous too, said my grandmother in a car of folk dancers. I moved in with a man who killed a man. But I believed in him. And in the end, it turned out not so bad.

He killed his sister’s husband who sent her near death to the hospital three times, the police did nothing.

He’s been stunted ever since he got out of jail, said my grandmother. He thinks he is a young man and young women want him. He is always yearning.

Men think that if they want him, she wants him too, my grandmother said as we drive past her lovers house. It doesn’t occur to them what she wants.

She leaned over, a wrinkle in her eye, and whispered, but if you let someone shit on your head, they will keep shitting on your head.

If he asked me to get him a beer, I’d smash it over his jaw, she laughed to the folk dancers.

We are mountain people, said the driver in her kroje. We don’t turn on the TV, we get together and drink. We know how to have a good life.

My great grandmother predicted that in the future people would be able to see each other while talking on the telephone.

My aunt came to Canada and cut all of our telephone cables. They’re watching, she said. My aunt is wanted by Interpol, but instead she’s slow cooking rabbit in the Bohemian hills.

I can’t work a regular job, said my aunt. It drives me crazy. We laugh because no one with our blood can.  

My grandmother’s great grandfather played the violin and died on stage after he said, the song is over.

Walk me below the street, look at the buildings from under the cobblestones, and if we call it history, it won’t be strange.

Translations from surrealist poet Zbynek Havlíček (1922 –1969) whose work was published only after the fall of the Iron Curtain and long after his death. He is Bára’s grandmother’s great-aunt’s son.

Leonardo didn’t love Vincent’s expensive gold frames…,


Where the eye reaches

The sky is in a blue mood.

It is evening, in a while the Milky Way

Will trickle down his chin.

It is evening, Fish from Africa

In sweet pink costumes

Beneath the umbrellas

That serve ice cream here.

After they walk in pairs, two by two

Tender like children’s trains.

And like paper weathervanes

Emerge from behind the clouds.

Then the lights of the ice cream stand are turned off

And the decorations will fill the baskets.

And Mr. Jeronymus Bosch mixes colours for a good sleep.

Leonardo nemiloval nákladné zlaté rámy Vincentovy…,


Kam oko sahá

Nebe je v modré náladě.

Je večer, za chvíli Mléčná dráha

Bude mu stékat po bradě.

Je večer. Ryby z Afriky

V růžově sladkém kostýmu

Pod slunečníky

Tu prodávají zmrzlinu.

Potom jdou v párech, dvě a dvě

Něžné jak dětské vláčky.

A jako papírové korouhve

Zapadnou za obláčky.

Potom se zhasne v zmrzlinářském stánku

A dekorací bude plný koš.

A jiné barvy namíchá ti k spánku

Pan Jeronymus Bosch.



LIGHTS beneath the snow —

It is a doe in the quiet woods of ztichlém

And tear rivulets

Beneath frozen waterfall

Nativity of legends

That you put your heart in

And a life in sleep

And childhood in adulthood

Lights beneath the snow!

What can words say

The astonishment changes

All the land in Bethlehem?

And Christmas will be

And the night of the three kings…

How long do I know you,

lights beneath the snow!

Oh don’t you get frost bite?

And aren’t you cold?

Only the stars may know

How to shake time and shade.

In one of those lights

as I once at home



SVĚTÝLKA pod sněhem –

To je laň v ztichlém lese

A slza potůčku

Pod zmrzlým vodopádem

Jesličky z pověsti

Do nichž své srdce kladem

A život ve spícím

A dětství v dospělém

Světýlka pod sněhem!

Cožpal lze říci slovy

Ten úžas měnící

Celou zem v Betlehém?

A budou Vánoce

A Večer Třĺíkrálový…

Jak dlouho už vás znám,

Světýkla pod sněhem!

Ach nespálí vás mráz?

A není vám tam zima?

Jen hvězdy znají snad

Setřásat čas a stín.

V jednom z těch světýlek

Jako já kdysi doma

The Dairy



The moon hangs

The woodstove ignites

By someone’s hand

Landscape of pale morning

The sound smoldering with tin

The dairy arrives

With a white horse

And the moon cold and white

Rings in her jug

Me with my paw in my mother’s palm

Already dreaming of love

The carriage jolts

And dawns the day

With the milk and the love

Today I am again intoxicated




Měsíc visí

V kamnech zatápí

Ruka čísi

Krajinu bledé ráno

Cínuje hliníkem

To mlékařka přijíždívá

S bílým koníkem

A měsíc chladný a bílý

Zvoní jí bandasce

Já s tlapkou v maminčinĕ dlani

Sníval už o lásce

Pak vozík odkodracal

A rozednil se den

Tím mlékem a tou láskou

Dnes zas jsem opojen