Karel Šebek


The fall comes before pride
and boot tips before their owner
in a wholly hopeless situation
when no one rises and nothing sets anymore
not even the sun or any person stars animals the moon
and in this abyssal silence
one can hear the music of the abyssal silence
like the melody of collapsing houses or the jazz of a storm
and to stare for too long into the empty china cups of your eyes
is more dangerous than a scorpion’s caress
but you are my sister and the flag of your bra signals incest and night
with its whole religion under the lily pads of skirts
hey, poverty wears suede gloves
hey, the night is white as fresh frost
and I can offer you only the drug of the text
that should hold all the hell of the world
a lantern walks around the square
and violet ripples dissipate above a drowned woman
and in the auditorium of several neighboring windows
I see a single moth
as old and miserable as the world

(Vrchlabí, 1982)

KAREL ŠEBEK (1941-1995?), whose real name was Karel Štětka, was and remains the most astonishing figure of modern Czech poetry. His work was fundamentally influenced by his cousin, the poet Zbyněk Havlíček, who introduced him to surrealism, which functioned as art therapy for a suicidal, mentally unstable poet struggling with addiction to drugs and alcohol. As Šebek’s frenetically created work consumed him, its self-preserving function increasingly took over. His lyrics, which delve deep into his unconscious process, reveal a man in his solitude, alone with his fear and anguish. While his tragically exciting life made him a legend, Šebek survived 25 suicide attempts, and in April 1995, he boarded a train and was never seen again.

About the Translator:

ONDŘEJ PAZDÍREK is a Czech-American writer and translator. He is the winner of the 2017 Beacon Street Prize in poetry from Redivider. His work has been nominated for the Bettering American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. His poems and translations have appeared in Guernica, PANK, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Southern Humanities Review, and The Stockholm Review, among others. He lives in Iowa City.