the road is still before us

Dear readers, friends,

It feels like both a lifetime ago and just yesterday that I was writing my last April poetry post in the spring of 2020. I hope wherever this finds you, you are holding up okay and still finding some joy in your life despite the hardships of this past year that have etched into our beings in so many different ways.

As many of you know, it has been my tradition since 2009 (!) to share a poem every day of April in honor of National Poetry Month. Confession: I have not read much poetry this past year…perhaps in part because of no daily access to the library, shattered focus from hours of staring at Zoom, and that general pandemic ennui that made it so much easier for us to just watch something streaming after absorbing Too Much News every day. I was very tempted to take a hiatus from the blog this year to spare myself more screen time, but I feel a deep tug, a sense of obligation, not only to you, but to myself, to continue.

And so I find myself back here, humbly trying to reconnect to verse and in turn, to share poetry that I love with all of you. I can’t promise that I will be able to do this daily, but I will try my very best.

The first poem of April is by the great Polish writer and translator Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021), who passed away just last week.

illustration of a bird looking at an anatomical heart by Kristina Closs
Painting by my dear friend Kristina Closs (WoodPigeon on Etsy)

“Wake Up”

Wake up, my soul.
I don’t know where you are,
where you’re hiding,
but wake up, please,
we’re still together,
the road is still before us,
a bright strip of dawn
will be our star.

From Asymmetry by Adam Zagajewski (translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh)

Who are you, walking in this worried crowd.

“Night is a Cistern”

by Adam Zagajewski (1945- )

Night is a cistern. Owls sing. Refugees tread meadow roads
with the loud rustling of endless grief.
Who are you, walking in this worried crowd.
And who will you become, who will you be
when day returns, and ordinary greetings circle round.

Night is a cistern. The last pair dances at a country ball.
High waves cry from the sea, the wind rocks pines.
An unknown hand draws the dawn’s first stroke.
Lamps fade, a motor chokes.
Before us, life’s path, and instants of astronomy.

hope.

This poem often comes to mind when I read an article about suffering, see a New York Times Photo of the Day that makes me want to cry, hear about another, unexpected natural disaster… so almost daily, really. I first read it many years ago, and I haven’t forgotten it since. The author, Adam Zagajewski, is a great Polish poet born in 1945. This poem was actually made “famous,” so to speak when the New Yorker published it shortly after 9/11.

“Try to Praise the Mutilated World”–Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.