Karel Šebek


For Ladislav Novák

I’ll take a little picture of today
a little snapshot of the dot named Šebek
wings for ears his head takes off
blue skies where his eyes should be
I see countless pigs scattered over the globe
my clothes on people ill with poetry
poetry a stranger
poetry my familiar
when I shed consciousness everything blooms
everything shines in black mirrors it’s been so long since I saw my bleeding face
that jester retching laughter on the ones who laugh
while teddy bears weep inside your splintered skull
this leprosy of paper this madness that took my name to write I sow my boots all over the mountains
giant teeth of gramophone horns
the fear of a father who saws the globe in half
I do my best to mend it all
I do my best to behead it all
humanity’s excrement with the mouth of a dunce
I was in the madhouse I’m going to be in the madhouse I am in the madhouse everyone is
I write to keep the train on course to crush me
it’ll happen on a morning no less beautiful than this
hands latticed in love like jailbars shall adorn every window
I am seeking death her silver in every living moment
words piled like cadavers
a death camp of happiness
I masquerade as myself
a pus-filled likeness
a walking talking tumor
the monstrous snout of a bulldog obstructs the sky
a pig dressed as a prince in that old fairytale childhood
where this whole disgusting carousel began to turn
it’ll never stop I’m saying I’ll be here forever diamond graves the end of a text is the beginning of life

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:

Poems 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.