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“Przekrój” Magazine brings English-speaking readers some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in the fields of wellbeing, art, literature, science, ecology, philosophy, psychology, and more. Take a break from the speed and intensity of the daily news and join us!

“They shriek and compete / for who has the most sins.” A poem by a contemporary Polish poet.
2019-10-16 09:00:00

Three of us pretend to be priests
during the long break after gym.
In the changing room girls jostle in lines,
flushed from basketball or dodgeball.
They shriek and compete
for who has the most sins.
The chairs become confessionals,
and we kneel before the backrests.
Boys drop in from the locker room next door,
followed by kids from other grades.
The whole school erupts
in a frenzy of false confessions instead
of confessing falsehoods to that stranger
behind the screen in a dark booth.
Our penance: chewing bitter
a few or a fistful depending
on the seriousness of the sin,
the liveliness of the yarns, pieced together
from adults’ conversations, laughter, the onslaught
of images during drowsy lessons, the fears
when you wake at night and gaze
between buildings up at heaven.

How many such days: sprinting on the playground,
tossing a medicine ball in gym, and just beyond the wall
this contest of stories, improvised
or artistically arranged in advance.
Till they caught us. It ended with a reprimand
from the principal and the priest thundering,
“You’ll have to confess that confession!”

This poem was originally published in “The Southern Review”


Translated by Karen Kovacik

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Krystyna Dąbrowska

was born in 1979. She is a poet, translator and essayist. She graduated from Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. She has published four books of poetry. The most recent one is “Ścieżki dźwiękowe” [Soundtracks]. She has received the Kościelski Award (2013), the Wisława Szymborska Award (2013) and the Literary Award of the Capital City of Warsaw (2019). She lives and works in Warsaw.