‘ I don’t know’ -she said. ‘I am looking for a word’

Travelling again – it is Sunday early evening after all, and that is what I do, with my life partner to the place where he will depart for the week’s work. This is where I work. I work at words and thought, the two ribbons braiding and knotting, unravelling themselves then working themselves into ever tighter complications of pattern, repetitious replicas of themselves. I am chasing the fleeting ghosts of possibilites that emerge at the edge of my perception and attempt to describe the power of poetry to my husband. He is torn between faithful compliance to listen, and necessary interjection to correct my route, as I incorrectly steer and indicate left. We agree to accept the requirement of navigation overrules my ineffectual attempt to explain what happens when words work. Wislawa Szymborska would have wryly smiled at the ordinary moment. Her acuity and wit would have applauded the interruption. This poet had lived through extraordinary times and revelled in the opportunity to live the ordinary.  There is possibly no greater privilege than living an ordinary life. Sometimes we need poets to point us in the direction of seeing that life through refreshed eyes. It is because life can be so chaotic, frightening, lonely and desperate that everyone should be clapping their hands with ecstatic fervour that today may be an ordinary day for them. Here is one of her ways of showing us how to do that.


I prefer movies.
I prefer cats.
I prefer the oaks along the Warta.
I prefer Dickens to Dostoyevsky.
I prefer myself liking people
to myself loving mankind.
I prefer keeping a needle and thread on hand, just in case.
I prefer the color green.
I prefer not to maintain
that reason is to blame for everything.
I prefer exceptions.
I prefer to leave early.
I prefer talking to doctors about something else.
I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations.
I prefer the absurdity of writing poems
to the absurdity of not writing poems.
I prefer, where love’s concerned, nonspecific anniversaries
that can be celebrated every day.
I prefer moralists
who promise me nothing.
I prefer cunning kindness to the over-trustful kind.
I prefer the earth in civvies.
I prefer conquered to conquering countries.
I prefer having some reservations.
I prefer the hell of chaos to the hell of order.
I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages.
I prefer leaves without flowers to flowers without leaves.
I prefer dogs with uncropped tails.
I prefer light eyes, since mine are dark.
I prefer desk drawers.
I prefer many things that I haven’t mentioned here
to many things I’ve also left unsaid.
I prefer zeroes on the loose
to those lined up behind a cipher.
I prefer the time of insects to the time of stars.
I prefer to knock on wood.
I prefer not to ask how much longer and when.
I prefer keeping in mind even the possibility
that existence has its own reason for being.

I have written before about Wislawa Szymborska here https://amonikabyanyuvva.wordpress.com/2011/11/27/1020/

One of the things I like about her is her modesty, real humility when she experiences herself as an artist. She was once asked why she had written so few poems , ( around 350 survive), and her answer was because ‘ there is a trash can in my house’.  When she gave her acceptance speech for the Nobel prize she spoke about the necessity to embrace curiosity and the importance of openness to new things,

This is why I value that little phrase “I don’t know” so highly. It’s small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include the spaces within us as well as those outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended.


A poet reminds us that uncertainty is the essential requirement to furthering understanding, it is only the dictators and the bigots that ‘know’ they are correct. I am reminded of the lyrics by Van Morrison,

If my heart could do my thinking
And my head begin to feel
I would look upon the world anew
And know what’s truly real.


Photo source http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A6338&page_number=2&template_id=6&sort_order=1


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