Ave Maris Stella


The image of Maris  Stella has figured into my writing recently, as an ambiguous figure of suspension between gravity and grace.

This poem by Wislawa Szymborska captures this tension beautifully.


A drop of water fell on my hand,
Blood-let from the Ganges and the Nile,

from the Ascension-day voyage off a seal’s whiskers to heaven,
from water out of the shattered pitchers in the cities of Y’s and Tyre.

On my index finger
the Caspian Sea is open

and the Pacific meekly joins the Rudawa,
that same stream that floated as a little cloud over Paris

in the year seven hundred and sixty-four
on the seventh of May at three in the morning.

There are not enough mouths to utter
all your fleeting names, O water.

I would have to name you in all tongues,
pronouncing all the vowels at once

while also keeping silent–for the sake of the lake
that waits to be named

and doesn’t exist on this earth, just as the star
reflected in it is not in heaven.

Somebody drowned, someone dying was
crying out for you. It was long ago and it was yesterday.

You have saved houses from fire, you have carried off houses
as you did trees, forests as cities.

You’ve been in christening fonts and courtesan’s baths.
In kisses and coffins.

Gnawing stone, nourishing rainbows,
in the sweat and the dew of the pyramids, the lilacs.

How light is all this in the raindrop.
How gently the world touches me.

Whatever, whenever, wherever has happened
Is written down on the waters of Babel.