In Perspective

Our world culture is in turmoil. Last week, we solemnly celebrated the one year anniversary of the World Trade Center’s destruction. We live day to day with news of terrorist cells and their quest to dismantle the civilized world. Sometimes, it takes a poet to bring things back into perspective. As I grieved our loss of lives and innocence with other Americans last week, I received my latest edition of Poetry Magazine on Friday, September 13th. The following brief poem is among this month’s selections. The vignette is short and simple, but it speaks powerfully to the unfocused nature of our modern day fears. Those of you who have been reading the Insights from the beginning know that I occasionally choose another writer’s words to convey my message.

My Mother is Prepared
She comes for a weekend
with bulging bags:
sweater, long underwear, a scarf,
a Thermos, a roll of bandage.
When we go hiking on granite crests,
she takes along her “documents.”
There’s paper and pen in her purse
should she again need to toss
a message from the window of a train
deporting her to an unknown station.
Once, at a party, someone asked,
“What would you take
if World War III began,
and you headed for the hills?”
Incurable intellectuals,
instantly we named
favorite books, except for one
psychology professor who sighed,
“Some quick, painless means
to commit suicide.”
My mother said, “First,
you need a warm blanket.”

All fell silent.
Then we chatted as before
about movies and vacations.
Certainly nobody mentioned
the railroad platform in Krakow,
the last chance to be bribed out
before the exit to Auschwitz.
Rain turning to fine snow.
“They don’t understand
anything,” she whispered
to me in Polish, saying good-bye.

Joanna-Veronika Warwick 2002

Concise expression of powerful thoughts is one of poetry’s greatest strengths. In our milieu of world turmoil, we seek shelter, and understanding, and above all. . .perspective. This poem helps me to place our September 11, 2001 tragedy into longitudinal perspective. The wisdom of the ages is never wasted; but perhaps too often dismissed. . .or at least diminished. In the words of Robert Frost,  Poetry is what gets lost in translation.

Stephen L. Hines, M.D.
September 2002