This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features three poems by Vasko Popa, translated from the Serbo-Croatian by Charles Simic.


Stargazer’s Death

He had to die they say
Stars were closer to him
Even than people themselves
The ants ate him they say
He thought stars give birth to ants
And ants to stars
So he filled his house with ants
His flirts in heaven
Cost him his head they say
And that ridiculous rumor about a dagger
With human fingerprints
They say he found himself
Literally out of this world
And went to find a sunflower
Where every heart’s every star’s road meet
He just had to die they say
Orphan Absence

You didn’t have a real father
The day you first saw the world within you
Your mother was not at home
It was an error you were born

Built like an empty gorge
You smell of absence
Alone you gave birth to yourself

You spin with your rags on fire
Break your heads one after the other
Jump in and out of your mouths
To rejuvenate your old error

Bend down naked if you can
To the last letter of the alphabet
And follow where its tracks lead

I get the feeling little orphan
That they lead
Toward an unknown presence

The Starry Snail

You crawled after the rain
The rain of stars

They made a house for you
Out of their bones
Where are you taking them on your towel

Time limps behind you
To catch up with you to run you over
Let’s see your horns snail

You crawl on a huge cheek
That you’ll never get to see
Straight into the plow of nothingness

Make a turn onto the life-line
In the palm of my hand in a dream
Before it’s too late

Leave me in bequest
Your wonder-working silver towel



Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).