ringside

by jenniferbalboa

Was looking for a poem about a song, or singing, and this is the one I found the nearest, for the moment.

Oh lord, oh muse, oh forces of life, of creation, forgive me for weeping like an idiot just because I read the word “boxer” and remembered I am a namesake of a fictitious one. She wrote, “not to be a boxer but a poet”. In the ring of this poem, I cannot be both.

POETRY READING

[by Wislawa Szymborska, from Poems New and Collected 1957-1997]

To be a boxer, or not to be there
at all. O Muse, where are our teeming crowds? 
Twelve people in the room, eight seats to spare –
it’s time to start this cultural affair.
Half came inside because it started raining, 
the rest are relatives. O Muse.


The women here would love to rant and rave,
but that’s for boxing. Here they must behave.
Dante’s Inferno is ringside nowadays.
Likewise his Paradise. O Muse.


Oh, not to be a boxer but a poet, 

one sentenced to hard shelleying for life, 
for lack of muscles forced to show the world 
the sonnet that may make the high-school reading lists 
with luck. O Muse,
O bobtailed angel, Pegasus.


In the first row, a sweet old man’s soft snore: 

he dreams his wife’s alive again. What’s more, 
she’s making him that tart she used to bake. 
Aflame, but carefully – don’t burn his cake! –
we start to read. O Muse.

Reader, did you feel those quick hard ones right through the chest, from stanza three? Lines 1-2-3-4-5-6. I did. Voice broke, left me, I was almost a mute mouthing the rest of the words. It was hard to breathe. My heart ached. I’m still reeling.

This is how a poem can beat up a reader. The poem is the boxer.

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