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A poem in the style of the ancient eponymous epic, describing the mythical Mesopotamian hero’s pursuit ...
2023-02-23 09:00:00


Chorsabad relief from the period of Sargon II (8th century BCE), Louvre (public domain)
Read in 2 minutes

I must not fall asleep. I must not fall asleep.
Ut-napishtim, the immortal, says that if I do not fall asleep,
I will live forever, I will not die like Enkidu.
I sat by his body until a worm dropped out the nose.
It was repulsive, I leaped up screaming,
the face I was kissing became a nest of worms.
I fled, and I’m fleeing till now. I am really tired,
But I must not fall asleep. I asked them all on the way:
should I also die? Renounce the sun? No, never.
It’s enough that I don’t fall asleep.

I know no nicer feeling, than when lying in bed
and I feel the weight on my eyes, the slight spinning in my head:
sleep is coming. I am very afraid. This weight and darkness, and spinning
are stronger than me, every evening. But not tonight.

There are ways, for example, putting my fingers in my eyes,
but I won’t sit for a week with my fingers in my eyes,
it’s unbearable, besides, I would look stupid,
after all, I am the ruler of Uruk. (Another week. Did I sleep,
sitting next to Enkidu’s body? At the time I was not yet
so terribly tired).

When I was taking the boat through the waters of death,
which must not be touched, an old game proved useful
from childhood, of the monster under the bed. Not even a toe
can poke out from the bed (as from the boat), for the monster will catch me
and drag me into the kingdom of death (super fun, right?).
I’d lie, under the covers, thinking: I’ll stick out my toe, for a moment,
I’ll check if it’s actually there. And if it catches me? Struggling
with my curiosity, I’d lie, until the weight on my eyes and the darkness
made the fear and curiosity lose their power, and when it was
all over, then (if I’d only been awake) I’d be able to say—I’m already asleep.

Translated from the Polish by Maciej Mahler

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Grzegorz Uzdański

Grzegorz Uzdański

was born in 1979. He taught Philosophy and Ethics at the Raszyńska secondary school in Warsaw, and is the author of the website “Nowe wiersze sławnych poetów” [New Poetry from Famous Poets] and of the novel “Wakacje” [Holiday]. He sings and writes lyrics for the band Ryby. He has also written lyrics for the bands EXTRA and Jerz Igor. He performs in the theatre improv group Dobrze and in the comedy trio Wszystko Będzie Dobrze [Everything’s Gonna Be Alright]. He lives in Warsaw.