Monday, October 24, 2011

881. Black Snake - Mary Oliver

The flat rock in the center of the garden
heats up every morning in the sun. Black
snake coils himself there neatly. He has
cousins who have teeth that spring up and
down and are full of the sap of death,
but what of that, so have we all. As for
his sporting life, there are many things
he can do and I have seen a few of them:
he can climb a tree and dangle like a red-
eyed rope out of its branches; he can swim;
he can catch a mouse and swallow it like
a soft stone. Also he can lie perfectly
still and stare with his lidless eyes in
the greatest hope: that you will not notice
him. If you do, however, he will loft his
chin and extrude the fray of his tongue,
which many find frightening. But tell me,
if you would praise the world, what is it
you would leave out? Besides, he is only
hoping that you will let him live his life.

And now that you have seen him, he looks
shyly at nothing and streams away into the
grass, his long body swaying like a suddenly
visible song.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

880. Writing A Curriculum Vita - Wislawa Szymborska

Writing A Curriculum Vita (1)
Translated from Polish by Graźyna Drabik and Austin Flint

What must you do?
You must submit an application
and enclose a Curriculum Vitae.

Regardless of how long your life is,
the Curriculum Vitae should be short.

Be concise, select facts.
Change landscapes into addresses
and vague memories into fixed dates.

Of all your loves, mention only the marital,
and of the children, only those who were born.

It's more important who knows you
than whom you know.
Travels––only if abroad.
Affiliations––to what, not why.
Awards––but not for what.

Write as if you never talked with yourself,
as if you looked at yourself from afar.

Omit dogs, cats, and birds,
mementos, friends, dreams.

State price rather than value,
title rather than content.
Shoe size, not where one is going,
the one you are supposed to be.

Enclose a photo with one ear showing.
What counts is its shape, not what it hears.

What does it hear?
The clatter of machinery that shreds paper.

Writing A Résumé (2)
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

What needs to be done?
fill out the application
and enclose the résumé.

Regardless of the length of life,
a résumé is best kept short.

concise, well-chosen facts are de rigueur.
Landscapes are replaced by addresses,
shaky memories give way to unshakable dates.

Of all your loves, mention only the marriage;
of all your children, only those who were born.

Who knows you matters more than whom you know.
Trips only if taken abroad.
Memberships in what but without why.
Honors, but not how they were earned.

Write as if you'd never talked to yourself
and always kept yourself at arm's length.

Pass over in silence your dogs, cats, birds,
dusty keepsakes, friends, and dreams.

Price, not worth,
and title, not what's inside.
His shoe size, not where he's off to,
that one you pass off as yourself.
In addition, a photograph with one ear showing.
What matters is its shape, not what it hears.
What is there to hear, anyway?
The clatter of paper shredders.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

879. The Country - Billy Collins

I wondered about you
when you told me never to leave
a box of wooden, strike-anywhere matches
lying around the house because the mice

might get into them and start a fire.
But your face was absolutely straight
when you twisted the lid down on the round tin
where the matches, you said, are always stowed.

Who could sleep that night?
Who could whisk away the thought
of the one unlikely mouse
padding along a cold water pipe

behind the floral wallpaper
gripping a single wooden match
between the needles of his teeth?
Who could not see him rounding a corner.

the blue tip scratching against a rough-hewn beam,
the sudden flare, and the creature
for one bright, shining moment
suddenly thrust ahead of his time—

now a fire-starter, now a torch-bearer
in a forgotten ritual, little brown druid
illuminating some ancient night.
Who could fail to notice,

lit up in the blazing insulation,
the tiny looks of wonderment on the faces
of his fellow mice, one-time inhabitants
of what once was your house in the country?