I’m sure lots of people reading this blog know we lost a staggeringly great poet, Wisława Szymborska, a few weeks ago. It was Feb 1; she was 88. I can’t help giving us this one of her poems right now.
Here are plates with no appetite.
And wedding rings, but the requited love
has been gone now for some three hundred years.
Here’s a fan–where is the maiden’s blush?
Here are swords–where is the ire?
Nor will the lute sound at the twilight hour.
Since eternity was out of stock,
ten thousand aging things have been amassed instead.
The moss-grown guard in golden slumber
props his mustache on Exhibit Number…
Eight. Metals, clay and feathers celebrate
their silent triumphs over dates.
Only some Egyptian flapper’s silly hairpin giggles.
The crown has outlasted the head.
The hand has lost out to the glove.
The right shoe has defeated the foot.
As for me, I am still alive, you see.
The battle with my dress still rages on.
It struggles, foolish thing, so stubbornly!
Determined to keep living when I’m gone!
Well at 88 she outlasted a lot of dresses. Still, it sucks. No more of those poems. I had always hoped to meet her. One thing I always Iove about her, evident here, is how much it pissed her off that the world didn't hold meaning in a visible way: how battlegrounds for instance went back to parks, a shudder shared by many but also more subtle situations too, like how you might have been at a railway station one day, even though you weren't, and how odd that it happened anyway, the meetings, the thefts, even without you. "A suitcase disappeared, not mine."
As for me friends, life continues to present itself as a war, a hot war against bleak feelings. Is this feeling thing that is me a biological thing or a thing amid the world with a usage quite askew? I may now know a thing or two about the answers to my offset typesetting, but I also have to dine on a good deal of doubt. What I can see is that life requires a dire pressing forward without leaving a sufficiently convincing trail of flower petals to find one's way back to the beginning.
Instead it's all beginning and all middle, all the time, and you just have to keep rowing even when the scenery changes on one side and stays precisely the same on the other, and other magic tricks of reality. Maybe that's a kind of growing, you're on a riverboat and after some point the inner coast of the river is always the same few houses and yards, while the outer coast starts blurring by peopled with odd beings carrying small electronics. You don't age like leaves falling onto a pile of snow, you age like snow melting off a pile of leaves, you arrive rising up from underneath.
It's the dark side of the year my bleaders, mid february and dark and rainy with a little spritz of spring here and there. As is my habit, I'm speaking now to those of you fighting the darkness like a war, at all costs, this is the season to fight this thing, the darkness of life, life's rotten disjointment. I'm a believer in stories and stories get into your fiber about what you should be doing and how much it takes to feel alright, and I'm a believer in changing your fiber to fit a better story. It just takes a lot longer than your average hot war. It takes gallons of therapy, of one sort or another. And these gallons are gallions and this war is a land air and water war, and we have to fight for a story that makes it alright. We have to fight our own fiber.
Get some Szymborska, let her rock you from the beyond. Plus, you know, keep up the fight with your dress! Seriously. We need you. I need you, on my side. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again.
Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of two books of poetry Funny (University of Wisconsin, 2005) and The Next Ancient World (Tupeloe Press, 2001). Her non-fiction books are Doubt: A History (HarperOne, 2004) and The Happiness Myth (HarperOne, 2007).She earned her Ph.D. in the History of Science from Columbia University. Her poems have been included in The Best American Poetry anthologies of 1999 and 2006. She teaches in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at The New School and is a fellow of The New York Institute for the Humanities. Read more about Jennifer Michael Hecht here. Follow her blog, Dear Fonzie, here. Read her BAP blog posts here.