On this day in 1923, poet Wislawa Szymborska was born. A winner of the Nobel Prize who once observed “perhaps” two in a thousand people like poetry (“Some Like Poetry”), she is celebrated for the way she explores the layered mysteries inherent in everyday experiences.
Sometimes, a great poem can work as a blueprint for a much-needed ritual. In “Under a Certain Little Star” Szymborska explores the ritual of apology in new ways. What would the world be like, if more people walked around proclaiming their shortcomings in the face of grand ideals? It would have problems of its own, of course, but I can’t help but think that it must be a terrific improvement over a world where false certainty is celebrated as strength, apology maligned as weakness, and people are expected to be walking billboards for ideas and ideals, instead of as fallible and ever-changing creatures of flesh, blood, and dreams.
So today, I’ll be using Szymborska’s poem as a blueprint for enacting this ritual of apology, in celebration of the tremendous fallibility and impossible mystery of being human here.
My apologies to tenderness for vowing I could do without,
and to fasting in general for my terrible performance.
May joy not be annoyed with my stalker’s watch.
May those disappeared dreams forgive me
for pretending not to notice when they were
My apologies to space for not taking what was offered
and appearing unintentionally ungrateful,
and to gratitude for so often making it look like a grocery list and not a flood.
Forgive me, misery, for still caring about the smell and chew of a fresh loaf of bread.
Forgive me, tender skin, for all of these oven burns, now scars.
My apologies to some great concertos I’ve never listened to,
and to those that moved me deeply, for not sitting still.
My apologies to the cold woman on the hard bench,
for savoring these blankets in the morning,
for returning to them with coffee, and lingering as long as I am allowed.
Pardon my reckless heart its sudden leaking breaks.
Forgive me, solemnity, for laughing in the house of death,
forgive me, composure, for my melting face.
And to all the birds whose names I never managed to learn–– trees, too,
all those branched beings I claimed to love but did not plant, to the plants
I claimed to want but did not water, or watered too much, or kept in the wrong pots,
To domesticity, forgive these blood-soaked fangs. Faith, please notice
when I lose you, how I am always losing you; please come looking when I do.
You can find me by my gait, like someone trying not to limp on a broken bone.
Bone, forgive my insistence on walking through your break.
Pride, forgive me when I can’t control the limp.
Endure, hunger, that I may continue to move, just to feed you.
Patience, don’t blame me for pretending we were sisters even when I didn’t return your calls.
My apologies to all those hopes I inadvertently inspired, which I could not answer.
And to love, for everything.
And to honesty, for the way my eyes so often grow heavy when you speak.
I am beyond excuses, sinking in the pit of my own making. Don’t hold it against me, words,
for crying so much about wishing I had more to give, and then,
when you give all you have, for guarding you in silence
like a dragon over captive virgins he may not know.