Obituary for a Singer

She wasn't as famous as Whitney Houston. Her singing was the kind best appreciated quietly, inside the mind. The shy, Nobel-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska died on February 1, 2012, at the age of 88, having given the world a handful of absolutely perfect sentences in perfect order. Her work makes me think of poet W.H. Auden's famous line that the purpose of poetry is, "by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate."

The news of poetry moves far more slowly than the news of celebrity singers, so I only learned of her death this past weekend. In her honor, then, here is one of her poems, the one I read aloud at least once a year:

Could Have

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Nearer. Farther off.
It happened, but not to you.

You were saved because you were the first.
You were saved because you were the last.
Alone. With others.
On the right. The left.
Because it was raining. Because of the shade.
Because the day was sunny.

You were in luck -- there was a forest.
You were in luck -- there were no trees.
You were in luck -- a rake, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A jamb, a turn, a quarter-inch, an instant . . .

So you're here? Still dizzy from
another dodge, close shave, reprieve?
One hole in the net and you slipped through?
I couldn't be more shocked or
speechless.
Listen,
how your heart pounds inside me.

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