In second grade one of my classmates died of a common childhood disease that most of us weathered without incident. One day he was at his desk in the row next to the door, and the next day he wasn’t. In my mind I see him as he was in his Picture Day photo: dark hair parted on the side, sweater over shirt.
At seven, I thought about him every day. He and my grandfather shared the same old-fashioned first name, and it seemed strange that my grandfather could still be alive when my classmate wasn’t. I still think about that boy. When I became a mother I thought about his mother, and the silence surrounding his empty desk. When I read this poem below, I thought about him again. How we can know only the number of days we’ve already lived, not the number of days remaining.
The Great Plan B, by Justyna Bargielska
(translated from the Polish by Maria Jastrzębska)
On my ninth birthday the scoutmaster
gave me a card with the number of days
I’d already lived. It was an extraordinary number
shimmering and dancing, one of those numbers
you can’t save
in notches on a wolf’s bone
or in letters or digits, you can only
speak it onto a recordable postcard or carve it in basalt.
Do you know what our odds are? Zero.
But I’ve learnt to play for time
as it’s the body no less which is left on the battlefield.
For more information about Polish poet Justyna Bargielska, please click here.