Three Poems by Wioletta Greg

This is part of our feature on Poets and Power: Language of Resilience from Central and Eastern Europe

Translated from the Polish by Eliza Marciniak


Lewis Carroll in Shanklin Chine

There is no passage, Dodgson.

Cold surfaces of mirrors stubbornly hold their form.
Beyond the looking-glass, atoms have combined
into impenetrable worlds.
I found warm newborns in the rabbit-hole.

As you take photographs of naked girls against the backdrop of the cliffs,
and ships of juvenile female prisoners
depart for the New World from nearby Parkhurst,
I read to my own children about Wonderland,
while you, bent over an unsolved geometry problem,
think anxiously: Is there no passage?

High season

A change of décor on Spinnaker Tower:
in place of Let’s Fight Cancer Week
labourers on cranes install
an advertisement for the Emirates.

I lie down on the glass floor with my daughter,
one hundred seventy meters above the sea;
and point out to her the Isle of Wight,
which from this far looks like a half-chewed water-lily leaf,
a lizard specimen frozen in perspex
a parakeet wing that’s been preserved.

Beside us, under their chaperone’s watchful eye,
Muslim schoolgirls in niqab
whisper in French – prayers or curses.

In spiderwebs under the ceiling, the bodies of dead insects
sway to the rhythm of the ventilators’ breeze.


for Karol Maliszewski
I can sense the poem I will write
in the fifty-third year of my life,
one of my last poems ever. Its contents,
overworn like the barren soil by the cliffs
already sicken me in my dreams.

I’ll be in Poland then
online on google maps,
but in a town whose name my mother
will not be able to pronounce.
Only the water will be the same.
In its earthly reflections, the Isle of Wight
will be disappearing like virtual lovers.

That’s when I will become a double negation
of a Polish woman with a few slim books to her name
in the inboxes of insolvent publishers.

My friends will leave me because I will not
follow them to the improved lascaux caves.
As it was in the beginning, I will believe in a power
more perfect than the flesh, more transparent,

as life becomes a sudden click,
the domain of the best-equipped bots,
a grey-naked-hole in the raging quartz.


Wioletta Greg is a Polish writer; she was born in a small village in 1974 in the Jurassic Highland of Poland. Between 1998–2012 she published six poetry volumes, as well as a novel, Swallowing Mercury, which spans her childhood and her experience of growing up in Communist Poland. Swallowing Mercury will be published in the US by Transit Books this fall. Her volume of poetry Finite Formulae & Theories of Chance, translated by Marek Kazmierski (Arc Publications, 2014), was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Her short stories and poems have been published in Asymptote, the Guardian, Litro Magazine, Poetry Wales, Wasafiri and The White Review. Her works have been translated into English, Catalan, French, Spanish, and Welsh.

Eliza Marciniak is an editor and translator. She lives in London, England. Her recent projects include Swallowing Mercury, by Wioletta Greg, translated from Polish.


Photo: Wioletta Greg, Private
Photo: Eliza Marciniak, Private


Published on March 1, 2017.


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