The crowd was spilling onto the sidewalk, and a young man I’d never met came up to tell me how to say the name of the Polish poet I’d just been reading aloud. It turns out he loved Wislawa Szymborska’s tough, warm words too. I still have a page from a reporter’s notebook folded into the book at a place I probably marked that night.
This was well before the pandemic, of course. I remember standing out front of YBar (an earlier incarnation of what’s now Methuselah’s) on a mild night, maybe early spring. They’d have open mics on Thursdays, and I’d be working the Eagle night desk, laying out local news pages until midnight, but sometimes when it was quiet I’d slip over there on my dinner break.
That night, they’d invited anyone to bring someone else’s work, a poem that moves us. And I didn’t expect to find the place overflowing with people I’d never seen before who would share excitement as easily as dancing to djembe drums. I remember the people who came up to me afterward just to talk, and the instant recognition, like hearing a song you love and realizing the guy next to you is singing along to it too.
Tonight I’m reading that poem again, and it seems to fit into this week. The weather warms above freezing for an afternoon, the illness numbers are coming down slowly again, and we’re stirring tentatively into winter meetings that come half virtual and half real. She says —
‘For me the tragedy’s most important act is the sixth:
the raising of the dead from the stage’s battlegrounds,
… lining up among the living
to face the audience.’
She wasn’t winding back time or denying the tragedy. She lived through two world wars. She was turning to look at people alive, persisting, holding hands before they walked off to change.