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Sugar Is Dissolving

by Jirí Orten
Translated from Czech by
Lyn Coffin & Zdenka Brodska

Sugar is dissolving and sweetness is seeping out,

breakfast time.
Put on sandals, look around, to see if there’s still
fog, if it didn’t want to lift, if it will
be a nice day or will drizzle from
sky over hill.

Your head is clear and you look at things as if for
the first time,
you aren’t touching a thing in yourself from
the past, oh, take now the words you are whispering,
lighter than dew, and weigh them out exactly
against tears and blood.

A walk awaits you, before waters are muddied, before your
world turns mud.
Look around carefully, see how the earth is turning, how
it floats through the universe, look, focus your eyes, how
close to the circle made by the dead you are,
the dot in the center.

Born in Central Bohemia in 1919, Jirí Orten is considered one of the finest writers of Czechoslovakia’s so-called War Generation. His first book of poems, Cítanka jaor (Reader of Spring) was published in 1939. For fear of denunciation from anti-Semitic newspapers, he published his poems under pseudonyms. Orten’s poems show a strong influence of both Czech folklore and surrealism.
Lyn Coffin is an American poet and translator, currently lecturing at Ilia University in Tbilisi, Georgia. Her eighth book, White Picture, translations from the Czech (with native collaborators) of Jiri Orten, a Czech poet killed in the holocaust at the age of twenty-two, is forthcoming from Night Publishing (UK).
Zdenka Brodska’s criticism has been published in venues including The New York Review of Books and she has translated widely from Czech.