Translation Tuesday: ‘Labyrinth’ by Kamil Bouška

A thin room showed me the map of the world and loneliness

This week, we travel to the Czech Republic, where the poet Kamil Bouška brings us ‘Labyrinth’, translated by Ondřej Pazdírek, winner of the 2017 Beacon Street Prize in poetry. Moving from a room to vast nature, to suburbia, and more, this poem rapidly moves between small and large worlds, negotiating a maze of all that ‘a strip of light’ touches.


A strip of light

in a threadbare carpet

lights up cities,


lifts valleys

adorned in silver sequins of dust,

raises aerials in hot asbestos

on flat roofs,

hurls the earth toward the sun,

and the earth crackles like a song in old vinyl.


Bird calls seep through a woodpulp sky,

down from the golden cotton of clouds

suckled on sweet water,

and descend to the carotid arteries of flowers

in beds behind the fences of family homes.

Behind them, shrubs in low light ignite

a specter of the forest into existence—


Pink roofs in the early hours,

languid traffic lights of a timid sun,

evening streets, darkened throats filled with salt,

train stations choked up with longing,

and the warm grass between railroad ties.


A thin room showed me

the map of the world and loneliness,

quiet needles, the ingrown nail of the planet.

Translated from the Czech by Ondřej Pazdírek


Kamil Bouška is a contemporary Czech poet whose debut solo collection, Oheň po slavnosti (Fra, 2011)received two nominations for the Czech national Magnesia Litera award, in the Poetry, and Discovery of the Year categories. His second collection of poetry is Hemisféry (Fra, 2015). Bouška’s newest book, Inventura, is forthcoming.

Ondřej Pazdírek is a Czech-American writer and translator. He is the winner of the 2017 Beacon Street Prize in poetry from Redivider. His work has been nominated for the Bettering American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies. His poems and translations have appeared in Guernica, PANK, Hayden’s Ferry ReviewSouthern Humanities Review, and The Stockholm Review, among others. He lives in Iowa City.


Read more translations on the Asymptote blog: