Saturday, April 20, 2013

Counting the seconds . . .

During these difficult days of fear and explosions -- in Boston and West, Texas and where next? -- I have turned to my copy of View with a Grain of Sand (Harcourt Brace, 1993) by Polish Nobelist Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) to find "The Terrorist, He's Watching."  Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh, this moving poem of numbers and tension also appears in Szymborska's 1976 collection, A Large Number

The Terrorist, He’s Watching     by Wislawa Szymborska

The bomb in the bar will explode at thirteen twenty.
Now it’s just thirteen sixteen.
There’s still time for some to go in,
and some to come out.  

The terrorist has already crossed the street.
The distance keeps him out of danger,
and what a view—just like the movies:

A woman in a yellow jacket, she’s going in.
A man in dark glasses, he’s coming out.
Teenagers in jeans, they’re talking.
Thirteen seventeen and four seconds.
The short one, he’s lucky, he’s getting on a scooter,
but the tall one, he’s going in.

Thirteen seventeen and forty seconds.
That girl, she’s walking along with a green ribbon in her hair.
But then a bus suddenly pulls in front of her.
Thirteen eighteen.
The girl’s gone.
Was she that dumb, did she go in or not,
we’ll see when they carry them out.
Thirteen nineteen.
Somehow no one’s going in.
Another guy, fat, bald, is leaving, though.
Wait a second, looks like he’s looking for something in his pockets and
at thirteen twenty minus ten seconds
he goes back in for his crummy gloves.

Thirteen twenty exactly.
This waiting, it’s taking forever.
Any second now.
No, not yet.
Yes, now.
The bomb, it explodes.

Previous postings in this blog of Szymborska's work include " A Contribution to Statistics, "A Large Number," "The Three Oddest Words," and a selection from "Pi."  Additional poems by and articles about Szymborska are available at the Poetry Foundation website.

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