The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Christopher Buckley

Juhan W Niebie


                                  It’s been and gone.

                                  It’s been, so it’s gone.

                                  In the same irreversible order.

                                                         —Wislawa Szymborska


Overcast as far as I can see . . .

                                                     but you come to mind nonetheless

my friend,

                    as I’m reading Szymborska

                                                                    at the breakfast table—

a buttered slice of rye,

                                       a cup of dark

                                                              French roast, 

                                                                                      her last book

in front of me.

                           And so I’m wondering now how much Polish

you understand?

                              I know three words 

                                                                 which work out to:

Jon in Heaven,

                        which I’ve adapted from one of her titles,

figuring, on a long shot,

                                         it might translate

                                                                       through the aethers

to where you sit at a card table

                                                      shuffling a deck of starlight. . . .            

And though I remember

                                          Finnish was the only language close

to the Estonian you spoke

                                             I’m guessing anything Eastern European

might be in the ballpark?

                                          So perhaps you know

                                                                                that neibie means


              if such a place exists

                                                outside of books or poems?

                                                                                                You tell me.   


Like Szymborska in her cover photo,

                                                               I see you

                                                                                with a big blue

and white Bolesławiec cup

                                               of steaming coffee,

                                                                                and yes—why not—

with a cigarette as well

                                         after all this time . . .

                                                                             a Benson & Hedges

100, just like hers.          

                                But time now

                                                        for you must not add up

even to the impalpable veils

                                                  of smoke 

                                                                  behind which Szymborska’s

just closed her eyes

                                    with half a smile—

                                                                    so I’m guessing 

you’ve noticed her wrist watch

                                                      from World War II,  and said something

about how far back we have to think     

                                                               to get to where we were

young and everyone was alive. . . .

                                                           Five will get you ten though

that even a biblically-extended life

                                                            would not be enough

to square things up with fate,

                                                   let alone get even with the kid

who stole your Rawlings fielder’s glove

                                                                    in 7th grade.

Mystics, bus drivers, fishmongers,

                                                           whoever stares at the moon

meets, more or less, in the stars—the same end. . . .

                                                                                         But especially

since we’re old

                           and there’s not much left

                                                                       that they can do to us,

why quit

                 grumbling at the gods?

                                                         In any language you choose.

Opening the window,

                                      I hope

                                                  I see out there past the fog,

the smoke . . .  and what I hope I hear is

                                                                    you telling me

we’re all going to die,

                                      but not forever. . . .




CHRISTOPHER BUCKLEY's Star Journal: Selected Poems is published by the Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2016. His 20th book of poetry, Back Room at the Philosophers’ Club won the 2015 Lascaux Prize in Poetry from the Lascaux Review. Among several critical collections and anthologies of contemporary poetry, he has edited: Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems and Poetics from California, 2008, and One for the Money: The Sentence as a Poetic Form, from Lynx House Press, 2012, both with Gary Young. He has also edited On the Poetry of Philip Levine: Stranger to Nothing, Univ. of Michigan Press 1991, and Messenger to the Stars: a Luis Omar Salinas New Selected Poems & Reader for Tebot Bach’s Ash Tree Poetry Series. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry, two NEA grants, a Fulbright Award in Creative Writing, and four Pushcart Prizes. He was awarded the James Dickey Prize for 2008 from Five Points Magazine, the William Stafford Prize in Poetry for 2012 from Rosebud, and he was the 2013 winner of the Campbell Corner Poetry Contest.



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