Karel Šebek


For Karel Šebek

I rubberstamped Šebek onto paper like a poem
the kidney lips straightrazor hands massacre of eyes
razor blade the size of me
the stamp of a razor
wedged into another razor
in a newlyweds’ embrace
for a thousand years my future wife’s been standing
where nighttime Prague used to stand
and now there’s a bat in her place
and the rain lacerates the wife Prague bat
      with ever sharper claws into ever sharper contours
Prague is falling behind the windows
like an autumn curtain falls on summer
like a fish falls after a whale
on a day I haven’t puked not even thought of it because
voyeur with keyholes for eyes
I am watching a woman turn into an atom bomb
the world undressing out of visibility
and where the sun glowed
a cigarette is dying in my hand
its tiny bright island the stinger of a smaller bee
      flying back beyond childhood
all the way behind the razorwires of my eyelids

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.

Read more by Karel Šebek:

Poem in B O D Y

About the Translator:

ONDŘEJ PAZDÍREK is a Czech-American writer and translator. Their translations of Kamil Bouška, Karel Šebek, and Stanislav Dvorský have appeared in B O D Y, Guernica, Asymptote, Meridian, and The Stockholm Review, among others. They have won 2nd place in the Gulf Coast Translation Prize and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Ondřej lives in Iowa City.