Any Case

October is National Poetry Month (in England--Patrick Kurp calls it the true Poetry Month) and as it draws to a close, I will post my annual poem by the Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska called Any Case, also sometimes titled Could Have.

I discovered the poem at the end of Julie Orringer’s remarkable novel The Invisible Bridge, an epic tale of three brothers trying to survive during the Holocaust in Hungary. It is a long novel that drew me in from the first sentence and would not let me out for a full 600 pages. The following passage occurs in the novel:

…the excruciating smallness, the pinpoint upon which every life is balanced. The scale might be tipped by the tiniest of things: the lice that carried typhus, the few thimblefuls of water that remained in a canteen, the dust of breadcrumbs in a pocket.

Any Case
It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened earlier. Later.
Closer. Farther away.
It happened, but not to you.
You survived because you were first.
You survived because you were last.
Because alone. Because the others.
Because on the left. Because on the right.
Because it was raining. Because it was sunny.
Because a shadow fell.
Luckily there was a forest.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
A frame, a turn, an inch, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the water.
Thanks to, thus, in spite of, and yet.
What would have happened if a hand, a leg,
One step, a hair away?
So you are here? Straight from that moment still suspended?
The net's mesh was tight, but you? through the mesh?
I can't stop wondering at it, can't be silent enough.
How quickly your heart is beating in me.

Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from the Polish by Grazyna Drabik and Sharon Olds.