Life While-You-Wait

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.
 
I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.
 
I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.
 
Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for hammy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.
 
Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run-
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.
 
If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).
 
You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.
 
Wislawa Szymborska, Poems New and Collected 1957-1997.
 
 

In Praise of Feeling Bad About Yourself

Para Cristina.

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
in every other way they’re light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of bestiality
a clear conscience is Number One.

Wislawa Szymborska, Poems New and Collected 1957-1997.

In Praise of Dreams

In Praise of Dreams

In my dreams
I paint like Vermeer van Delft.

I speak fluent Greek
and not only with the living.

I drive a car
which obeys me.

I am talented,
I write long, great poems.

I hear voices
no less than the major saints.

You would be amazed
at my virtuosity on the piano.

I float through the air as is proper,
that is, all by myself.

Falling from the roof
I can softly land on green grass.

I don’t find it hard
to breathe under water.

I can’t complain:
I’ve succeeded in discovering Atlantis.

I’m delighted that just before dying
I always manage to wake.

Right after the outbreak of war
I turn over on my favorite side.

I am but I need not
be a child of my time.

A few years ago
I saw two suns.

And the day before yesterday a penguin.
With the utmost clarity.

Wislawa Szymborska.

Nada dos veces

Nada dos veces

Nada ocurre dos veces
y nunca ocurrirá,
Nacimos sin experiencia,
moriremos sin rutina.

Aunque fuéramos los alumnos
más torpes en la escuela del mundo,
nunca más repasaremos
ningún verano o invierno.

Ningún día se repite,
no hay dos noches iguales,
dos besos que dieran lo mismo,
dos miradas en los mismos ojos.

Ayer alguien pronunciaba
tu nombre en mi presencia,
como si de repente cayera
una rosa por la ventana abierta.

Hoy, cuando estamos juntos,
vuelvo la cara hacia el muro.
¿Rosa? ¿Cómo es la rosa?
¿Es flor? ¿O tal vez piedra?

¿Y por qué tú, mala hora,
te enredas en un miedo inútil?
Eres, pues estás pasando,
pasarás- es bello esto.

Sonrientes, abrazados,
intentamos encontrarnos,
aunque seamos distintos
como dos gotas de agua.

Wislawa Szymborska.