Public Poetry, Kevin Walzer's meditations on poetry, publishing, business, and other creative pursuits

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Wed, 19 Apr 2006

Book of the Day: Where No One Spoke the Language by Daniel Bourne

When I read Daniel Bourne's Where No One Spoke the Language, I felt as if I were in the weighty presence of history: a history larger than my own. By "larger," I mean encompassing more than my own personal and cultural experience.

Set mostly in Poland, where the author has traveled extensively, the book brings some of the depth and sorrow of European history to an American audience. In the twentieth century, Poland was often a battleground between East and West, opressed first by the Nazis of Germany and then the Communists of Soviet Russia. Bourne incorporates both his own voice and vision and the voices of many of the writers and artists he has met and translated.


Thunder, the Baltic, Andrzej scattering the swans
with his quick limp, as we bring up the rear
worrying how many people get struck in Poland

each year from lightning. The rain soon pelts,
our skin grows huge as sponges, the sand
wet on top, heavy as our lives, but with each step

we tread down to our dry selves, gray tracks left behind
as if they were our last requests. “Is this when I die,”
we say here in the open, no tree

to stand under or to blame, in the event
of the sin of dying, of getting caught 
in the great mess we swim in. How many vodkas

shared with Andrzej, how many times out on the beach,
afterwards, gazing at the calmness of the ships
heading with their bleak cargo into port

will it take for us to be glad we are alive,
to distrust the rainbow? Not so much
to question it,

but to question us.
The awful fact the rainbow will be,
but we won’t.

Bourne writes in a smooth, unadorned style, which allows the stories he records to shine through all the more powerfully. Where No One Spoke the Language is a powerful book.

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