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Wislawa Szymborska, poem: Cleaning Up The Mess(es)

This poet puts things so matter-of-factly, and sees so realistically. I see this applying to more than military “adventures” – see after the poem.


by Wislawa Szymborska (Nobel Prize winning Polish poet)

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won’t

straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble

to the sides of the road,

so the corpse-laden wagons

can pass.

Someone has to get mired

in scum and ashes,


splintered glass,

and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder

to prop up a wall.

Someone must glaze a window,

rehang a door.

Photogenic it’s not,

and takes years.

All the cameras have left

for another war.

Again we’ll need bridges

and new railway stations.

Sleeves will go ragged

from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,

still recalls how it was.

Someone listens

and nods with unsevered head.

Yet others milling about

already find it dull.

From behind the bush

sometimes someone still unearths

rust-eaten arguments

and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew

what was going on here

must give way to

those who know little.

And less than little.

And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown

causes and effects,

someone must be stretched out,

blade of grass in his mouth,

gazing at the clouds.

This administration is deliberately doing great damage in a whole lot of areas here at home – not to mention imperial brutalities abroad. And there was deep sickness and damage present already before 2001. There will be a lot of cleaning up to do “after the war” in areas that have nothing to do with military-caused desolations. Those are the days people long for, when the dismantling, killing and destruction are ended. But those are days of lots of work – necessary then, but that should never have been made necessary.

So many millions throughout history have had the vision and doggedness and functional forgiveness to go ahead and do that work – so that others may get back to the ‘normal’ times indicated in the last stanza. We may also get such a calling. I wonder what different areas you see where there is already serious clean-up, healing work, re-building to be done. My prayer is that we can soon get to it.

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