Nobel laureate, 1996
--for Wisława Szymborska
Her sister’s soup, steaming in a poem,
simmers here in the pot.
Wisława takes soup seriously,
considers how much salt for the barley,
how fine, how coarse to slice cabbage,
how long caraway seeds may cook before turning bitter.
This soup took two, or maybe twenty lifetimes.
Being famished helped.
In that War, she worked for the railroads
rather than be sent out to build them,
to starve slowly in forced labor
while her voice suffocated from silence.
She learned when to hold back,
how much is too much.
Deep in the soup, she stirs in step with Aubigné.
Wisława reaches for the bison grass,
finds it without having to look,
translates into French without thinking
as she sniffs at the jar. (More salt?)
Each boxcar held neighbors who died.
Now the fresh mushrooms. Now, the dried.
A soup should be as full of mushrooms
as Polish of consonants.
At night, the flame’s slow breath
condenses on the window, freezes to ice,
glass on glass, a clear inch thick.
These days, Wisława prefers oxtail over ham hock,
balances out turnips with carrots.
She knows what all went into the pot,
but not how it will turn out.
Yeti might show up for a bowl,
praising every shred of cabbage, each kernel of barley.
published in Tiger’s Eye February 2011; accepted (too late) by The Tipton Poetry Review and by