Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Golden Anniversary

We've been jabbering about contemporary poetry for so long, it's about time for an example of somethin' real swell:

Golden Anniversary
by Wislawa Szymborska

They must have been different once,
fire and water, miles apart,
robbing and giving in desire,
that assault on one another's otherness.
Embracing, they appropriated and expropriated each other
for so long,
that only air was left within their arms,
transparent as if after lightning.

One day the answer came before the question.
Another night they g uessed their eyes' expression
by the type of silence in the dark.

Gender fades, mysteries molder,
distinctions meet in all-resemblance
just as all colors coincide in white.

Which of them is doubled and which missing?
Which one is smiling with two smiles?
Whose voice forms a two-part canon?
When both heads nod, which one agrees?
Whose gesture lifts the teaspoon to their lips?
Who's flayed the other one alive?
Which one lives and which has died
entangled in the lines of whose palm?

They gazed into each other's eyes and slowly twins emerged.
Familiarity breeds the most perfect of mothers--
it favors neither of the little darlings,
it scarcely can recall which one is which.

On this festive day, their golden anniversary,
a dove, seen identically, perched on the windowsill.


I first heard this poem on the front porch of the Donnybrook last spring, read by Daniel Spiotta (ah, I miss those Friday nights). Before I picked up his collection of Szymborska's poetry, it had been a long time since I had discovered an author who completely captured and delighted me. Is she an excellent poet, you ask? one of the greats? I don't know, honestly; I've only read her in translation. But even if she's not, who cares? Since when did we loose the joy of good books in favor of "great" ones?

I remember one evening, sitting in the lamplight outside the library, and talking about writing poetry with a talented friend. He said that he's content to write little sentimental poems and grow old enjoying flowers. I'm content to grow old enjoying little poems like Szymborska's with good friends.

Betsy and I together on the New York Subway.
(Courtesy of Maria Lams)

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