Living is no laughing matter: you must live with great seriousness like a squirrel, for example— I mean without looking for something beyond and above living, I mean living must be your whole occupation. Living is no laughing matter: you must take it seriously, so much so and to such a degree that, for example, your hands tied behind your back, your back to the wall, or else in a laboratory in your white coat and safety glasses, you can die for people— even for people whose faces you’ve never seen, even though you know living is the most real, the most beautiful thing. I mean, you must take living so seriously that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees— and not for your children, either, but because although you fear death you don’t believe it, because living, I mean, weighs heavier.
Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery— which is to say we might not get up from the white table. Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad about going a little too soon, we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told, we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining, or still wait anxiously for the latest newscast. . . Let’s say we’re at the front— for something worth fighting for, say. There, in the first offensive, on that very day, we might fall on our face, dead. We’ll know this with a curious anger, but we’ll still worry ourselves to death about the outcome of the war, which could last years. Let’s say we’re in prison and close to fifty, and we have eighteen more years, say, before the iron doors will open. We’ll still live with the outside, with its people and animals, struggle and wind— I mean with the outside beyond the walls. I mean, however and wherever we are, we must live as if we will never die.
This earth will grow cold, a star among stars and one of the smallest, a gilded mote on blue velvet— I mean this, our great earth. This earth will grow cold one day, not like a block of ice or a dead cloud even but like an empty walnut it will roll along in pitch-black space . . . You must grieve for this right now —you have to feel this sorrow now— for the world must be loved this much if you’re going to say “I lived”. . .
From Poems of Nazim Hikmet, translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk, published by Persea Books. Copyright © 1994 by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Used with the permission of Persea Books. All rights reserved.
Keep your lips pressed together
after you say the p:
(soon they’ll try
your breath out—)
three times in a row:
Stop Stop Stop
In a hospital bed
like a curled up fish, someone’s
gulping at air—
How should you apply
List all of the people
you would like
Who offers love,
Put a period at the end.
Decide if it’s a kiss
or a bullet.
Copyright © 2017 by Dana Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 6, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.