“The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say, and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities, full of bullets stopped in mid-flight. Not a thing will happen unless I say so.” Wislawa Szymborska (July 2, 1923-February 1, 2012)
This great poet, a Nobel Prize winner, died recently. The line above is from her poem, “The Joy of Writing,” one I’ve used with students like a cheer: understand the writer’s power. This power is yours when you write your truth. You can stop the bullet in mid-flight. All flesh is grass; our time short. Like the great poet we will die, but through writing we preserve what we believe is important. Our writing is the “revenge of a mortal hand.”
Wislawa Szymborska was born in Poland and spent the end of her life in Krakow, where she was beloved. The days between her birth date and death date tell of a life lived during the twentieth century’s great struggles, the wars, hot and cold, the occupations by Nazis and Soviets. Eventually communism was replaced by capitalism. Yet humor not history shines through her work. In “Poetry Reading” written in 1962, she teases about being a boxer since boxing draws crowds. Only twelve of the twenty seats at her reading are taken. A few attendees are relatives, the others just folks who’ve come in to get out of the rain. “O Muse.” And yet she sings her song to the twelve.
Wislawa Szymborska’s life and work asks: why do I break the silence? Do I ignore the sirens calling from the market place? I must if I am to find and write my truth. My short story collection, Falling Women and Other Stories, is out. These stories were written over a 25 year period. Nine were previously published; three are new. I love them all. They are my songs, and I sing them for you.