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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Miroslav Holub

Miroslav Holub, 1923-1998
Without a doubt my favourite scientist-poet, Miroslav Holub, was an immunologist by vocation and poet in his spare time. He considered his poetry very much a pastime but I personally find his work exceptional. I thought I would share my favourite poem with you.


To think I might have been dead,
he said to himself, ashamed, as if this were
a curse of the heart, raising a bundle of bones
to a man’s height. As if it were suddenly
forbidden to touch even words that had dropped to the ground.
Besides, he was afraid of finding
his body in a metal press.Embarrassing
down to the capillaries.

the tram stood jammed above him
like an icebreaker’s prow and all that was left of the car
was a grotesque pretzel with a chunk bitten off
by the dentures of a demented angel.
Something dark was dripping on the rails,
and a strikingly pale wind was leafing
through a book still warm.

People were forming a circle and with deaf-mute
sympathy awaited the play’s catharsis,
like maggots emerging from
under the wings of a beheaded chicken.
From afar came the approaching wail of sirens,
congealing in the jinxed air-conditioning of that day
and that minute. Dewdrops were falling
on the back of the neck like remnants of
atmospheric dignity. Embarrassing down to the capillaries.

No, thank you, he said, I’ll wait;
for a silent film had started to run
without subtitles, without colour and without answers.

     And what about the magnetic monopoles
escaping seconds after the Big Bang,
protons violating the irreversibility of the flow of time?

     What about the giant molecular clouds
under the galaxy’s shoulders, conceiving
the embryos of stars?

     What about the loneliness of the first genes
accumulating amino acids in shallow primeval pools
at the expense of entropic usurers?

     What about the desiccated starfish
like proto-eagles’ talons dug into the bed
of a vanishing sea?

     What about the mortal migrations of birds
observing the sun’s inclination
and the roar of sex hormones?

     What about the caged half-crazed
orang-utan who vomits because
he has nothing else to do?

     What about the mice which for a thousand years
have learned to sing and the frogs balancing
on one leg like the thigh
of a beauty queen from Mesopotamia?

     What about poetry, an enterprise
so disorderly it twists the rulers
and increases the squint of school inspectors?

     And what about the little girl
in the leukemia ward who, on the toilet,
tried to show what kind of moustache the kind doctor has,
but as her skinny sticks of hands let go of
the edge of the bowl, she falls in and so
tried again and again?

     And what about the weak-kneed intellectual,
the professor who understood the approximate universe
but forgot the traffic rules?

No, thank you, he said to some uniform,
I don’t need anything. My papers are in my pocket
but I can’t reach there. And he tried
to smile a little at this embarrassment of complicated creation.
It’s all my fault, he said,
thank you.
                 And then he died.

By Miroslav Holub

Another of my favourites is Interferon but it's a weighty tome and this isn't the place to showcase it, however, if you like this little taster of his work I am in no doubt you would enjoy his translations, a particular favourite of mine is the book Poems Before and After: Collected English Translations, it is insanely brilliant.

While we're at it, and if you do nothing else after reading this, may I please recommend you check out Brief Thoughts on Cracks and if you don't like his work after that then I give up my case, please continue you with your day.

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