In the years immediately preceding Wisława Szymborska‘s surprising Nobel Prize for Literature win, I devoured her work (what I could get my hands on). I would revisit the same poems again and again, always finding something new to savor. This applied in particular to “I Am Too Near”. Recently re-reading Szymborska, it/she no longer holds the same sway over me. Is it because I am older, different and respond to things differently? Or is it that I spent so much time and energy living inside the work back then that I find it almost too familiar… wandering into an abandoned house I lived in nearly 25 years ago to find the place similar but worn with time, much like myself? Am I, in fact, too near?
“For her now in him a valley grows…”
I Am Too Near
I am too near to be dreamt of by him.
I do not fly over him, do not escape from him
under the roots of a tree. I am too near.
Not in my voice sings the fish in the net,
not from my finger rolls the ring.
I am too near. A big house is on fire
without me, calling for help. Too near
for a bell dangling from my hair to chime.
Too near to enter as a guest
before whom walls glide apart by themselves.
Never again will I die so lightly,
so much beyond my flesh, so inadvertently
as once in his dream. Too near.
I taste the sound, I see the glittering husk of this word
as I lie immobile in his embrace. He sleeps,
more accessible now to her, seen but once
a cashier of a wandering circus with one lion,
than to me, who am at his side.
For her now in him a valley grows,
russet-leaved, closed by a snowy mountain
in the bright blue air. I am too near
to fall to him from the sky. My scream
could wake him up. Poor thing
I am, limited to my shape,
I who was a birch, who was a lizard,
who would come out of my cocoons
shimmering the colors of my skins. Who possessed
the grace of disappearing from astonished eyes,
which is a wealth of wealths. I am near,
too near for him to dream of me.
I slide my arm from under the sleeper’s head
and it is numb, full of swarming pins,
on the tip of each, waiting to be counted,
the fallen angels sit.
“There are cities which don’t need literature: they are literature. They file past, chest thrust out, head on their shoulders. They are proud and full of confidence despite the garbage bags they cart around. The City-State, an example among so many others — she pulsated with literature.” –Tram 83, Fiston Mwanza Mujila
It can all return to place somehow, even when the story is about inner life. It does not need to be a city, as Fiston Mwanza Mujila posits, or as Italo Calvino writes about at length in Invisible Cities. This place can be an actual place, geographically, an interior, private place, or even a container/concept that represents a kind of space. A space that is occupied by some need, for example the need to write, to drink coffee, to love, to break out of previous forms or perceptions, the need to pretend or project images of ourselves into another space.
There are so many ways to create and exist in a space or place, for example:
“stepping off the plane at keflavik i didn’t know what to expect – only that i thought i belonged there. i went through all the stages of excitement, wonder, questioning, noticing all the surface-level weird things that all foreigners remark on animatedly when they arrive. almost 20 years later it’s easy to blur the hardships and forget all the missteps that often made the move seem like a mistake.”
“sometimes you know someone, even from afar, and feel like you want to hug her close to you and immediately declare your love, make it legal, and marry her. she, in central europe with her bewitching way with words, makes me feel that way every time i read her writing or see her messages in the far, cold nordics.”
“if he were serene, would he be able to accomplish the feats he does? underneath it all, with just a hint of resistance, he becomes fussy, testy and sarcastic.”
“how did i get blindfolded? i saw so clearly at the beginning, lost all sight, but eventually, like a hostage with no value, was dumped off somewhere, mostly unharmed. removing the blindfold, the reality is stark.”
“…and the guy painting on the remnants of the berlin wall – he was a felix, asking the firewall if he liked weed and shared a joint with him, if firewall would just roll it. according to firewall, it was an experience he just had to have. felix, as it happens, is the name of a ketchup brand in sweden; i frequently make people abroad jealous about my ability to get it, even though i don’t use/eat ketchup.”
“the phone rings. a husky, masculine-sounding voice answers gruffly, ‘computer room, this is odile.'”
“The point is that fantasies are fantasies and you can’t live in ecstasy every day of the year. Even if you slam the door and walk out, even if you fuck everyone in sight, you don’t necessarily get closer to freedom.” –fear of flying, erica jong
“but I’ll tell you a secret. when i want to take god at his word exactly, i take a peep out the window at his creation. because that, darling, he makes fresh for us every day, without a lot of dubious middle managers.” –the poisonwood bible, barbara kingsolver