By Carys Bowen
2020 has been and will (in all probability) continue to be a very crazy year, no matter how many times that gets said. I didn’t know just how much the year affected me until April got near to ending. April is National Poetry Month, and the Cuyahoga County Public Library celebrates with “Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry.” Each day has a poem to read and a prompt to write from. As April’s end drew nearer, I realized just how much this daily poetry practice was grounding me and keeping me sane. This column/series/whatever-you-want-to-call-it of Retrospect articles is a (non-daily) attempt at continuing Cuyahoga County Public Library’s 30 Days of Poetry… and thus, at least within these words, It’s Always April.
Poem: Today’s poem is part of the Poets for Science collection (poetsforscience.org), curated by Jane Hirshfield. It’s written by Wisława Szymborska, who was a Polish poet and won the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, among other awards. I chose her poem “Pi” to include today because I love its lyrical push-and-pull of words and its ever-expanding, overabundance of exuberance: the words seemingly race to catch up with the number pi and then slow down, breathless, in defeat, admiring the victor even more than before.
By Wisława Szymborska, translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanisław Barańczak
The admirable number pi:
three point one four one.
All the following digits are also initial,
five nine two because it never ends.
It can’t be comprehended six five three five at a glance,
eight nine by calculation,
seven nine or imagination,
not even three two three eight by wit, that is, by comparison
four six to anything else
two six four three in the world.
The longest snake on earth call it quits at about forty feet.
Likewise, snakes of myth and legend, though they may hold out a bit longer.
The pageant of digits comprising the number pi
doesn’t stop at the page’s edge.
It goes on across the table, through the air,
over a wall, a leaf, a bird’s nest, clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bottomless, bloated heavens.
Oh how brief—a mouse tail, a pigtail—is the tail of a comet!
How feeble the star’s ray, bent by bumping up against space!
While here we have two three fifteen three hundred nineteen
my phone number your shirt size the year
nineteen hundred and seventy-three the sixth floor
the number of inhabitants sixty-five cents
hip measurement two fingers a charade and a code,
in which we find hail to thee, blithe spirit, bird thou never wert
alongside ladies and gentleman, no cause for alarm,
as well as heaven and earth shall pass away,
but not the number pi, oh no, nothing doing,
it keeps right on with its rather remarkable five,
its uncommonly fine eight,
its far from final seven,
nudging, always nudging a sluggish eternity
Prompt: What do you admire or find beautiful that no one else seems to? Or what is something you find uncommonly interesting? You could model your poem after “Pi” and try to describe it in such a way as to persuade your readers to join your side, or you could write from a different angle. Post your poem in the comments below!
Header image caption: Wysława Szymborska. I can’t help but admire her silvery nail polish.