If you are unfamiliar with the poems of Polish writer Wislawa Szymborska, I encourage you to investigate. She was an absolute master of imagery and wordplay. She wrote about universal themes in a manner void of pretense, and prolifically, in direct language, with never a trace of cliché. Her best writing appears effortless, as if written on air, though the words are undoubtedly carefully chosen. The result is poetry that, to me, feels timeless — as if it always existed.
that so many commonplace miracles happen.
An ordinary miracle:
in the dead of night
the barking of invisible dogs.
One miracle out of many:
a small, airy cloud
yet it can block a large and heavy moon.
Several miracles in one:
an alder tree reflected in the water,
and that it’s backwards left to right
and that it grows there, crown down
and never reaches the bottom,
even though the water is shallow.
An everyday miracle:
winds weak to moderate
turning gusty in storms.
First among equal miracles:
cows are cows.
Second to none:
just this orchard
from just that seed.
A miracle without a cape and top hat:
scattering white doves.
A miracle, for what else could you call it:
today the sun rose at three-fourteen
and will set at eight-o-one.
A miracle, less surprising than it should be:
even though the hand has fewer than six fingers,
it still has more than four.
A miracle, just take a look around:
the world is everywhere.
An additional miracle, as everything is additional:
that woman is broadcasting her phone call
like a distress signal sent
from the deck of a sinking ship
that man is slurping his soup
like a thirsty retriever before the water bowl
after a full day of fetching frisbees
isn’t it clear that
I’m trying to find the words
that will one day save the world
don’t they understand
that my creative process
requires being around people
without actually being around people
originally published in Praxis Magazine
My niece, a high school senior, recently shared a poem she wrote for an English class assignment modeled after Adrienne Rich, and I was inspired to revisit her work. This one takes my breath away in at least three places. I hope it does something for you.
From an Atlas of the Difficult World
I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running
up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else
left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.
dryer vents blanket the air
in a sickly soft sweetness
a cracked coin roll scatters
quarters like scared cats
into the cobwebbed crevices
beneath the vending machines
a rust-pocked metal trash can
overflows coin-op coffee cups
beneath a ceiling mounted tv
shouting the nightly news roundup
of missing persons and murder
smokers huddle on the sidewalk
cigarettes flickering like fireflies
endless earbuds and cell phone scroll
everybody here but nobody really here
little private thrills that build into needs
like cracks in the skin unseen begin to bleed
like caffeine and nicotine igniting in veins
the promise of pleasure, the promise of pain
originally published in Door is a Jar – Winter 2017
My father’s hopes travel with me
years after he died. Someday
we will learn how to live. All of us
surviving without violence
never stop dreaming how to cure it.
What changes? Crossing a small street
in Doha Souk, nut shops shuttered,
a handkerchief lies crumpled in the street,
maroon and white, like one my father had,
from Jordan. Perfectly placed
in his pocket under his smile, for years.
He would have given it to anyone.
How do we continue all these days?