John Watson




Poems on the Death of Wislawa Szymborska


John Watson


Yesterday, on my 73rd birthday

Wislawa Szymborska, 88, died

leaving thus a 15-year buffer

during which I may wander still

down adolescent corridors.


“Peacefully in her sleep”

she gives herself

15 years to prepare

the xylophone at the skating rink,

the table laid with pastel almonds,

the glass harmonica from which

visitors and friends take sips

so as to alter and invent fresh melodies.

These and other caprices

await those yet to join her.



Today rain is actually falling

and declaring that while it is

certainly in the moment

and dogmatically happy to be so

it wouldn’t be averse

to meeting her in the past.



“Peacefully in her sleep

surrounded by friends”

in the train station departure lounge

filling with steam.



Just as she is stepping

through the mercury tank

into a town resemblingKrakow,


the world is engaged

in a particularly difficult manoeuvre

in which a crane is winching


a porcelain crucible of an immensely

heavy mineral previously thought

only to occur on a distant collapsar.



All attention is on the cable’s breaking strain

so that no-one notices the train

emerging from the tunnel into the station.



She had recently been pondering the paradox,

If the product of 2 negatives is positive,

shouldn’t the product of 2 positives

be negative?  Now it is resolved.



And all that former shuttling along the time-line

in positive and negative directions –

in the long-jump from present to past

and the hop-step-and-jump

from past to present to future

has now been left behind

by the Mystery Tour at right angles.



The loop-the-loop joy flight by Spitfire

at right angles into Hyperpoetry

leaves far below a grazing goat

tethered at the number line’s midpoint.



Yesterday Wislawa Szymborska, 88,

died.  It is the least we can do

to return to this announcement

and contemplate whether to end

or begin the line with this verb.



10 years ago in 2002

she published A Few Words on the Soul

noting its selective or infrequent appearances

unwilling to help for instance in “uphill tasks

like moving furniture,” but always present

“when joy and sorrow are joined.”

Yesterday was such a day.



When the cabbage moth,

flittering sideways on its air cam, settles

(quite) suddenly on a snapdragon


as if it were the hand of history

leaning heavily, if briefly,

on a warm column of the Parthenon,


it mimics the deference

to The Religions of Experiential Variety

her light and lingering lines invoke.



In Barsotti’s New Yorker cartoon

a young dog says to an older dog

“We do all those old tricks electronically now.”


She may well have seen this

since her poems frequently appeared on those pages

looking just right and dressed for the ball.


Now her future poems are streaming

so easily, so adventurously, from stars,

luxuriously, hyper-electronically.



“The happiness of skating on thin ice” –

is remarkably close to her former C.V.

To select from the plethora of other things

which should be mentioned in her presence

it would be helpful to have her eagle eye.



“Some invisibility would come in handy”:

She has it now and will undoubtedly

use it to maximum effect

summoning comet tails of ideas

auroras of special effects

sunshowers of particular articulations –

now that she is able to see

as a complete and turning sphere

“this sleepy backwater.”




If the making of poems

resembles juggling (which surely it should)

she would be well-placed now


to keep a startling number of vases in the air

each with its bouquet of flowers intact

–  tiger alstroemerias, blushing geraniums –


and not to spill more than a greeting of water

while managing “to keep on not knowing

something important.”



In a beautiful poem she imagines

a poet reading his work

to a gallery of blind people.


He realises all too late that he is mentioning

a cascade of visual effects –

colours, shapes, architectural features,

odd aspects of light and shade,


but is touched by the forebearance

and patience of his audience

who in many cases must have difficulties


in attaching meaning to his lines –

as touched as are we by the life

of Wislawa Szymborska which is now complete

like a restored amphora.  He is even more


affected when one of his audience approaches

with the book proffered wrong side out

for an invisible autograph.



And I would now always approach the waterfall

or the geyser or the jet stream

in the hope that her signature

would be imprinted on each.



A few strawberries, left behind by her,

turn out to be by Fabergé;

a tablecloth pulled down from the table

(see A Little Girl Tugs at the Tablecloth)

turns out to be a field

peopled by avalanche seekers;

an unmown field turns out

to be an unmown field.



The next day rain has reversed direction,

Its curtain rising vertically along the y-axis.

the sun is like a peeling apple,

and time resumes its rolling down the slope

–  as formerly.





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