— April 30, 1986, Czechoslovakia

Mom with her sister in their first two-piece
bathing suits: two girls under an oatmeal sky,
in dissolved light. Their elbows against grass
or concrete, gaze rested on hairless boys
in Arena speedos. One of the boys
could be my father. In a few tired years,
the Velvet Revolution. In a few wry
years, I'll be born. The hammer and sickle
have been silent for days, tracking the wind,
predicting weather. Here the wind will lift
suddenly, black cloud in its iron fist—
Chernobyl's radioactive plume, noise-
less fallout. It'll drop fast, as toxic rain,
and then: dead air, blue pool, gray skies again.


My father shut
the bathroom door
behind us,

shoved me under
an icy shower,
slapped me

each time I broke
eye contact.
I couldn't

keep looking at him,
knowing how his hands
vibrated slightly.

At times I fear
my own hands,
the wings

of a dragonfly
their inherent buzz.


— Karel Hynek Mácha was a Czech romantic poet, the author of perhaps the most famous Czech poem, Máj (May). 
He died suddenly at the age of 26 and was formally reburied at the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague.

All Souls' Day has summoned November
in its local shape—

damp, downtrodden leaves, a few crushed snails—
and Melancholy left me tender

at your grave: I came here to confess.
I am of the age you died and so afraid

of dying young and in my far-off country.
Our nation's drunk

itself under the table and almost off the map
again. Little's changed since your death—

they graced a fish pond with your name
and English has become the other tongue.

I am speaking in it now, to you.
Tell me it was okay to leave

the yellow of our rapeseed fields
for the wildness of the West, for the pleasure

I found in the foreign language
of the bloodroot flower. Tell me

it was okay to have lived
elsewhere all these years and I will stay

here in this, our country with you.
The dusk's veil falls, shrouds the words

carved in your stone. Hello?
Did you say something? We're alone.


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 most recently appeared in Poet Lore, Western Humanities Review, PANK, Guernica, Hayden's Ferry Review, and Meridian, and are forthcoming from RHINO Poetry and Gulf Coast, among others. He lives in Iowa City with his wife and two herding dogs.