Archive for the ‘Wislawa Szymborska’ Category

If I had any sense I’d be in the kitchen right now, chopping and endlessly washing mixing bowls and spatulas. Instead I’m sitting at the computer. I’ll pay for it tomorrow with panic and exhaustion, but meantime, here’s a few poems for Thanksgiving.


At the grocery store I left Czeslaw Milosz’s”Encounter” in an empty aisle  where I would encounter no one, next to one of Paul Newman’s products.


O my love, where are they, where are they going–  sounds like a lovelier version of what my husband and I say to each other after the too-quickly-grown-up kids leave home after the weekend.


(The words that got cut off in the picture are “at dawn.” Sorry for that.)


Outside another grocery store (because one grocery store is never enough for Thanksgiving preparations), I left e.e. cummings’ poem in an abandoned grocery cart. Maybe it was mine. (Poem is to the right of the “Ayar” ad, on the seat of the grocery cart.)


i thank You God for most this amazing/day could be the start of dinner time grace. Little kids might like the twisty-ness of the lines.



Still at the grocery store, I put Emily Dickinson’s “I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose” by a credit card machine at the check-out.


I’ve long had a few lines of this poem committed to memory

I’ll tell you how the sun rose,–

A Ribbon at a time–


and this, one of my favorite images from any poem, ever

The Hills untied their Bonnets–


The beauty of that, when I see it and when I read it here, fills me with gratitude for the world as it is and the world as only a poet can see it.



Finally, I left Wislawa Szymborska’s “Vietnam” at Starbucks. Where I was sitting for over an hour, once again not cooking.


What does the agony in “Vietnam” have to do with Thanksgiving? It’s a reminder. As we gather with family and friends to enjoy a bounty of food and the comfort of safe shelter, let’s remember those who have none of those things. Let’s give our thanks for what we have and leave space in our hearts for victims of war, for refugees losing hope–



And in the last few minutes before I give myself over to cooking, let me thank all you dear readers and commentators. I am so grateful for your readership and support.


Happy Thanksgiving to all!





Read Full Post »

Every Valentine’s Day I brainstorm for places that romantically-inclined or romantically-averse folks might congregate as they prepare for the holiday or prepare to avoid it. In the past I’ve left love poems in a chocolate store, post office, senior citizen’s home, a food court, a lonely-looking motel, the floral department of a grocery store. Now in my fourth year of Valentine’s Day poem-elfing, I think I need a location scout.

Here’s where this year’s crop of love poems landed:


At Victoria’s Secret, nestled in between the pink thongs and the pink brassieres, I left Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet XVII,” a poem which speaks of loving someone “in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”


poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear

poem is on white shelf with the pale pink underwear


Funny that we used to call ladies’ underwear “intimates.” Victoria’s Secret intimates, however sexy, are no match for Neruda’s brand. The intimacy he’s after can’t be manufactured or marketed or purchased. He writes of a passionate love

so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand

so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.



I left Carl Sandberg’s “At a Window” on a stranger’s window at a transportation center.


poem is on white car’s windshield



Presumably the stranger will return to the car after work, and I hope this universal wish for companionship and love is a balm and not an irritant:

…leave me a little love,

A voice to speak to me in the day end,

A hand to touch me in the dark room

Breaking the long loneliness.




A Greyhound bus station seemed like a fine place for the decidedly unsentimental “First Love” by one of my favorites, Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska.


poem is on white wall in foreground



First love, says Szymborska,

does what all the others still can’t manage:


not even seen in dreams,

it introduces me to death.



Valentine’s Day is a great day to celebrate the love of friends. I taped Robert Frost’s “A Time to Talk” to the sign outside a neighborhood bar, always a good place for friends to gather.



poem is on oval sign just under the small red oval on the right-hand side



In this age of distraction and shortened attention spans, what better way to show affection than setting aside your hoe, whatever your hoe may be (no naughty jokes, please) and taking time “for a friendly visit“?



For anyone sadder but wiser who might need retail therapy on Valentine’s Day, I left “I Have Come to the Conclusion” by Nelle Fertig in the Macy’s purse department:

Image 2

poem is on the mirror




(Excuse the typos in the poem I left–too late for corrections.)

Fertig’s version of love is more cynical than my own. But I guess I’ve been fortunate not to have “broken a few/ very fine mirrors.”

Image 5


Finally, I left an excerpt from Roy Croft’s “Love” near my husband’s office outside a restaurant he likes. But he was out of town, so he’ll only see the poem here.



poem is on lamp post



The restaurant is frequented by middle-aged couples and singles looking to be coupled, people old enough to appreciate what’s under the surface, who can understand the beauty of what Fertig expresses here.





If none of these poems suit your mood or situation, take a look past Valentine poem-elfing in 2014, 2013, and 2012.


And spread love! Everyone has it, everyone needs it.

Happy Valentine’s Day!



Read Full Post »

Poem is taped to sign in foreground


Could Have

by Wislawa Szymborska


It could have happened.

It had to happen.

It happened earlier. Later.

Nearer. Farther off.

It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.

You were saved because you were the last.

Alone. With others.

On the right. The left.

Because it was raining. Because of the shade.

Because the day was sunny.


You were in luck — there was a forest.

You were in luck — there were no trees.

You were in luck — a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,

A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .


So you’re here? Still dizzy from

another dodge, close shave, reprieve?

One hole in the net and you slipped through?

I couldn’t be more shocked or



how your heart pounds inside me.



The linking verb “could have” is the rear view mirror of the predicate world.  Ordinarily it signals regret and works as antacid, a crutch, a wound-licker for all who didn’t finish first, who had bad luck, bad timing or bad judgment, for the Mama Roses and Anthony Weiners, the Wally Pipps and the Zola Budds, the understudy to the star who never twisted her ankle, the quarterback who did, the dreamer with a one-way ticket to Palookaville muttering down on the waterfront about being a contender.


But in Wislawa Szymborska’s “Could Have,” could have expresses the opposite of regret.  Ostensibly the poem expresses relief that the bad thing that could have happened didn’t.


The poem begins with a breathless response to some disaster, as if the speaker is processing as we listen.  The speaker uses every trick of punctuation and rhetoric to make sense of senseless tragedy:  dashes, ellipsis, sentence fragments, questions, parallel structure.  She creates a list of the situations and artifacts that separate survivor from victim.  But as the list develops, contradicting itself and throwing out smaller and smaller reasons for survival until it ends with a quarter-inch and an instant, relief becomes terror.  There are no foolproof rules to follow that will detour disaster.  Shade/sunny, left/right, forest/no trees—no place and no circumstance are fully protected, and no person is either.


Recently my sister was talking to a man about her worries that her son going to college would be safe.  Years before this same man had lost his college-age son in a house fire.  His counsel to my sister was not reassuring.  “Listen,” he said to her, “it’s all luck.”  Fate is fickle and those who pray and those who don’t, those who wear helmets to roller skate and those who throw footballs on ski hills, those who run marathons and those who sit on couches, all are vulnerable to disaster.


Finally the speaker gives up on the list and addresses the survivor with a series of playful questions.  You think it couldn’t happen to you?  she seems to say.  Because it could have.


After such a conclusion, why doesn’t the poem end in despair?  The turn in the last lines is deft and almost miraculous.  Instead of saying, listen, it’s all luck, the speaker says:


how your heart pounds inside me.


In the end there’s no safety, only connection.  I love the image that embodies that connection.  It’s one of the most beautiful last lines I’ve read.  One more time, maestro:


how your heart pounds inside me.

accident @ Vogel's Collision by ed's point of view


I have my own list of could have’s in regard to “Could Have.”  Where else could I have left the poem?  Driving around, looking for an appropriate spot, I started with the idea of a body shop.  I didn’t think that would be too unkind, given that a person with a car that can still be repaired was probably not killed in the damage.  But then I drove by an insurance agency and decided that the door to the agency would be less in-your-face.  A poem about risk assessment for a company that does the same.  Perfect.  But I didn’t slow down in time and soon I was headed for a country club.  Country clubs are protected spaces that offer security from trespassers and other agents of harm including denim and poverty.  I got as far as the sign that pointed guests in one direction and deliveries in the other before I turned around, unable to decide which one I was and sure that I was being watched.


I settled on this fortress of a house under construction.  The difference in the lighting between the two pictures happened because I posted the poem at night (I should re-name myself Poem Chicken), but didn’t get a clear picture of the whole deal, so I had to go back during daylight hours.  The poem was still there, but only for that morning.


Everytime I’ve driven past this house I think, Who builds something like that?  What is the motivation besides displaying wealth?  My answer is the same as my assessment of country clubs:  people who build castles want to keep things out.   Great wealth allows people to separate themselves from tedious chores and hassles, and allows the illusion that harm and pain can be distanced as well.


No one needs this poem to puncture holes in that idea—the deaths of Princess Diana and Brooke Astor are common knowledge—but I left the poem here as more than a finger-wagging at the rich.  “Could Have” connects the construction workers in their hardhats to the builders in their offices to the future owners to the drivers who gawk at the excess.  It could happen to any of us and so It happens to all of us.

1 Febbraio 2012 by Rissey


Wislawa Szymborska was born in 1923 in Poland and just died this past February at age 88.   Early in her career she was a communist intellectual but later grew disillusioned and became active in the Solidarity movement.  She had a modest career as a reviewer at a literary magazine and a poet popular in Poland but unknown elsewhere until she was the surprise winner of the Nobel Prize in 1996.


Like fellow Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who was her friend and mentor, Szymborska lived through Poland’s dark days of Nazi occupation and Communism. I’m always amazed that anyone experiencing such hardship doesn’t write exclusively of darkness and despair.  But a playful spirit was her trademark.  In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she had this to say about humor and sadness in her poems:


The two things are easily reconciled. You cannot have just one feeling toward the world. Going through this adventure, which I call life, sometimes you think about it with despair, and sometimes with a sense of enchantment. Sometimes the motivation for poetry is being awed by things. As a child I was never surprised by anything; now I am surprised about everything. Every little thing I look at, a leaf or a flower, I say, “Why this? What is this?”


There is also another motivation: Curiosity. I am curious about people, their feelings, what they live through, their fate, what this life means. So this wonderment, curiosity and sadness, all of that comes together for me.


Read Full Post »