I’m in a strage place. Mumbai massacres are over and everything is agitated and turbid. I am a little apprehensive of what this holds in store for the future of so many things… will India too, get dragged in the ‘war against terror’? who will symbolise ‘terror’ now and take the strike…?
Somehow reading Wislawa Szymborska seems fitting. She says in her poem The Three Oddest Words…
When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.
When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.
When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.
Her poem Children of our era somehow reminded me of the parable of blind old black woman and some youngsters with a bird in their hands, in a hauntingly poetic and beautiful nobel lecture of Toni Morrisson (Szymborska is 1996 nobel winner). Morrison says “In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love. But she knows tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.”
We are children of our era;
our era is political.
All affairs, day and night,
yours, ours, theirs,
are political affairs.
Like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political cast,
your eyes a political aspect.
What you say has a resonance;
what you are silent about is telling.
Either way, it’s political.
Even when you head for the hills
you’re taking political steps
on political ground.
Even apolitical poems are political,
and above us shines the moon,
by now no longer lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Question? What question? Dear, here’s a suggestion:
a political question.
You don’t even have to be a human being
to gain political significance.
Crude oil will do,
or concentrated feed, or any raw material.
Or even a conference table whose shape
was disputed for months:
should we negotiate life and death
at a round table or a square one?
Meanwhile people were dying,
and fields growing wild,
just as in times most remote
and less political.
Ever so often, I think of our ill-attended meetings, dharnas and marches as pitiably futile, but then again I get up and go join something and tell myself that this was an act of resistance to atleast being passive, if not more. To be sure there are things, issues and questions not well attended to, neglected and not among our favourite. Szymborska says, in her Under a Certain Little Star, what I wish to scream out today…
My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity in case I’m mistaken.
Don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
May the dead forgive me that their memory’s but a flicker.
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
My apologies to large questions for small answers.
Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
Soul, don’t blame me that I’ve got you so seldom.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere.
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own obstacle.
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and then labor to make them light.
* All poems translated from polish by Joanna Trzeciak