696: Reading Szymborska at Friday Harbor

696: Reading Szymborska at Friday Harbor

696: Reading Szymborska at Friday Harbor


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I’m always fascinated by how poems can hit us in different ways at different times. The poem that I need often shows up just when I need it. And sometimes a poem that I thought I didn’t love, suddenly becomes my favorite. I remember being influenced by what others thought was cool to be reading in graduate school. It wasn’t cool to be reading Mary Oliver, but I loved Mary Oliver. I was a little embarrassed by how much I liked Frank O’Hara, when everyone thought I should be reading more Ashbery. And I wanted very much to like Ashbery, but I liked Lucille Clifton more and read her on the subway and then hid her in my backpack before our craft seminars on Milton and Merrill.

Now I don’t have those fears as much. And I give poems more of a chance. Things that were harder for me back then, I have more patience for now. This spring, some friends and I read Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror by John Ashbery over Zoom, slowly, over many months. And you know what? I loved it. Reading it out loud, the patience everyone took with the sections. I was hooked.

That’s something I’ll always love about poetry, the more time you spend with it, the more it deepens your understanding and sometimes, your attachment to the work. As a younger adult, how was I supposed to comprehend those poems that were so steeped in political rage or historical trauma or the recognition of mortality? I didn’t know those subjects well enough to appreciate them. And now, I’m ready for those poems because I know those topics intimately.

But also, as I’ve aged, I have more time for tenderness, for the poems that are so earnest they melt your spine a little. I have decided that I am here in this world to be moved by love and to let myself be moved by beauty. I will defend an earnest poem, I will defend beauty. Life is short, let’s read beautiful things. Cry at the poem you once thought was silly. Let’s give ourselves permission to be less cool and more open to the opportunity of being changed by art.

Today’s poem honors how poems can change for you over the years, and how sometimes that change is just what we need.

Reading Szymborska at Friday Harbor
by Patrycja Humienik

                    after Aria Aber

Do I want more music from language?
Curled into myself against a floor-to-ceiling window,
I laugh about the Yeti poem, cry over her 1996 speech —
Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous
‘I don’t know.’ I read it in English.
In Polish school, I did not like her work.
I did not want to admit how much I don’t know.
How many fields of oil burning. The everlasting
snow, melting. I’m watching an eagle
perched for the hunt, white-headed metronome.
Rapt, still I ask for song. Unspooling
in sound. How can I trust myself
when I am so seduced by beauty?
Scenic lookout, hot women on instagram, denim
sky, muscle of petals. I am not singing,
says the eagle. A tired roar crowds my mouth.
When we drive down Sweet Pea Lane, Gabby says
so sweet it makes my teeth hurt. I write it down.

"Reading Szymborska at Friday Harbor" by Patrycja Humienik. Used by permission of the poet.