I'm Working On The World
Wislawa Szymborksa (1923-2012)
translated, from the Polish,
by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
I'm working on the world,
revised, improved edition,
featuring fun for fools,
blues for brooders,
combs for bald pates,
tricks for old dogs.
Here's one chapter: The Speech
of Animals and Plants.
Each species comes, of course,
with its own dictionary.
Even a simple "Hi, there,"
when traded with a fish,
makes both the fish and you
feel quite extraordinary.
The long-suspected meanings
of rustlings, chirps, and growls!
Soliloquies of forests!
The epic hoots of owls!
Those crafty hedgehogs drafting
aphorisms after dark,
while we blindly believe
they're sleeping in the park!
Time (Chapter Two) retains
its sacred right to meddle
in each earthly affair.
Still, time's unbounded power
that makes a mountain crumble,
moves seas, rotates a star,
won't be enough to tear
lovers apart: they are
too naked, too embraced,
too much like timid sparrows
Old age is, in my book,
the price that felons pay,
so don't whine that it's steep:
you'll stay young if you're good.
Suffering (Chapter Three)
doesn't insult the body.
Death? It comes in your sleep,
exactly as it should.
When it comes, you'll be dreaming
that you don't need to breathe;
that breathless silence is
the music of the dark,
and it's part of the rhythm
to vanish like a spark.
Only a death like that. A rose
could prick you harder, I suppose;
you'd feel more terror at the sound
of petals falling to the ground.
Only a world like that. To die
just that much. And to live just so.
And all the rest is Bach's fugue, played
for the time being
on a saw.
* * *
Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)
On one of those birthdays of which I've had so many
I was walking home through the park from a party,
pleased that I'd resisted mentioning the birthday—
why hear congratulations for doing nothing but live?
The birthday was my secret with myself and gave me,
walking under all those trees, such a strong feeling of
satisfaction that everything else fell away: party sounds,
the hostess who stared and as suddenly disappeared
on seeing her husband walk in with a young(er ) friend;
another guest examining garment labels in the room
where I went to leave my jacket; one of two waiters
balancing a trayful of foot-high champagne glasses;
a bee-like buzz of voices I ought to have enjoyed
but heard as foreign babble, so remote it was from
a birthday, so empty of import nothing would remain.
I got my jacket, waved from the hall, pressed Down.
In summer the park, for an hour or so before night,
is at its greenest, a whole implicit proposition
of green leaves, a triumph of leaves enfolding me
that day in a green intimacy so trustworthy I told
them my secret: "It's my birthday," I said out loud
before turning away to cross the avenue.