I opened my Wislawa Szymborska Collected and Last Poems this morning and there was a poem waiting, just the right poem for this moment we’re all in together. Here you go…and in case you’re wondering, as I was, a holothurian is a sea cucumber.
By Wislawa Szymborska
In danger, the holothurian cuts itself in two.
It abandons one self to a hungry world
and with the other self it flees.
It violently divides into doom and salvation,
retribution and reward, what has been and what will be.
An abyss appears in the middle of its body
between what instantly become two foreign shores.
Life on one shore, death on the other.
Here hope and there despair.
If there are scales, the pans don’t move.
If there is justice, this is it.
To die just as required, without excess.
To grow back just what’s needed from what’s left.
We, too, can divide ourselves, it’s true.
But only into flesh and a broken whisper.
Into flesh and poetry.
The throat on one side, laughter on the other,
quiet, quickly dying out.
Here the heavy heart, there non omnis moriar—
just three little words, like a flight’s three feathers.
The abyss doesn’t divide us.
The abyss surrounds us.
—In memoriam Halina Poswiatowska