Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A poem for St. Brigid's Day 2016

Every year at this time I post a poem in honor of St. Brigid, whose feast day is today. She is the saint (goddess) of poetry, midwifery, and blacksmithing. (How's that for an unexpected trio of life skills?)

This morning I read an email from my Mom about my great-grandmother, Leokadya Goralski (born Muczynski), whose birthday is today, and who was my Busia. She came to the U.S. from Poland and raised her family of eight kids in a tiny row house in Baltimore--no electricity, no indoor plumbing. She worked in a factory at some point. Her husband Anthony died following an accident in the factory where he worked. She must have had a hard life; in addition to losing her husband, she also endured the death of several children.

When I was little, every weekend that my sister and I spent at my Dad's, we went to visit Busia. I only remember her as an old woman who was ill and had to be taken care of by my (Great) Uncle Jim, but I see her now as an example of strength, determination, and kindness. She had welcomed my mother (not Polish) into the family; my Mom says Busia made the best chrusciki and paczski. Every weekend that we went to visit, my sister and I were given cookies and a little spending money, and she let us play with her ceramic figurines as long as we were careful and didn't hurt them. I remember a large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the corner, presiding over Busia's home space, the mother's foot on a serpent, her veil a beautiful blue.

Since I'm thinking about Busia today, I thought I would share a poem by a Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska, who won the Nobel prize in literature in 1996. This poem comes from the book Here, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanslaw Baranczak. It reminds me of a time when my then-boss, Sherry Levy-Reiner, told me she had seen another me on her trip to Poland, a young woman crossing the street toward her, so very like me that she almost called my name.

"Thoughts that Visit Me on Busy Streets"

Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
Each different, so we're told,
from those that have been and will be.
But Nature--since who really understands her?--
may grow tired of her ceaseless labors
and so repeats earlier ideas
by supplying us
with preworn faces.

Those passersby might be Archimedes in jeans,
Catherine the Great draped in resale,
some pharaoh with briefcase and glasses.

An unshod shoemaker's widow
from a still pint-sized Warsaw,
the master from the cave at Altamira
taking his grandkids to the zoo,
a shaggy Vandal en route to the museum
to gasp at past masters.

The fallen from two hundred centuries ago,
five centuries ago,
half a century ago.

One brought here in a golden carriage,
Another conveyed by extermination transport,
Montezuma, Confucius, Nebuchadnezzar,
their nannies, their laundresses, and Semiramida
who only speaks English.

Billions of faces on the earth's surface.
My face, yours, whose--
you'll never know.
Maybe Nature has to shortchange us,
and to keep up, meet demand,
she fishes up what's been sunk
in the mirror of oblivion.