Cat in an Empty Flat

Here is my English translation of Polish poet and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Wisława Szymborska’s poem “Kot w pustym mieszkaniu”.

To die—one doesn’t do that to a cat.
For what’s a cat to do
in an empty flat.
Scale the walls.
Snuggle between furniture.
It seems nothing’s changed here,
yet it’s been rearranged.
Seems unmoved,
yet slid apart.
And in the evenings the lamp no longer flickers.

Steps heard on the stairs,
but not those.
A hand that puts fish on a plate,
Not that which put.

Something doesn’t begin
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone’s been here and been
then suddenly vanished
and is tenaciously absent.

All closets have been peered into.
All shelves have been run.
Carpets squeezed under and checked.
Even broke the rule
and scattered papers.
What more is there to do.
Sleep and wait.

Just let him come back,
just let him show his face.
Oh, he’ll find out,
that one can’t do this to a cat.
Take a walk in his direction,
as if one didn’t care,
on very offended paws.
And with no leaps squeaks, in the beginning.

—Wisława Szymborska
(Translation by me)


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