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)


The earth is not a dream but living flesh

California garden views. Photo by me.

by Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

Hope is with you when you believe
The earth is not a dream but living flesh,
That sight, touch, and hearing do not lie,
That all things you have ever seen here
Are like a garden looked at from a gate.

You cannot enter. But you’re sure it’s there.
Could we but look more clearly and wisely
We might discover somewhere in the garden
A strange new flower and an unnamed star.

Some people say we should not trust our eyes,
That there is nothing, just a seeming,
These are the ones who have no hope.
They think that the moment we turn away,
The world, behind our backs, ceases to exist,
As if snatched up by the hands of thieves.

Translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass

Forgive me, distant wounds, for bringing flowers home.

From the beautifully sharp Polish poet Wislawa Szymborsksa (1923-), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996.

Picture of Wislawa Szymborska

“Beneath One Little Star”
(translated by by Adam Czerniawski)

My apologies to the accidental for calling it necessary.
However apologies to necessity if I happen to by wrong.
Hope happiness won’t be angry if I claim it as my own.
May the dead forget they barely smolder in my remembrance.
Apologies to time for the abundance of the world missed every second.
Apologies to my old love for treating the new as the first.
Forgive me, distant wounds, for bringing flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, that I prick my finger.
Apologies to those calling from the abyss for a record of a minuet.
Apologies to people catching trains for sleeping at dawn.
Pardon me, baited hope, for my sporadic laugh.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing with a spoonful of water;
And you too, hawk, unchanged in years, in that self-same cage.
Staring motionless, always at the self-same spot.
Forgive me, even if you are stuffed.
Apologies for the hewn tree for four table legs.
Apologies to the big questions for small replies.
Truth, don’t pay me too much attention.
Seriousness – be magnanimous.
Mystery of Being – suffer me to pluck threads from your train.
Soul – don’t blame me for having you but rarely.
Apologies to everyone for failing to be every him or her.
I know that while I live nothing can excuse me,
Since I am my own impediment.
Speech – don’t blame me for borrowing big words and
then struggling to make them light.