The writer of one of my favorite poems passed away in February this year; I just found out. Too many good artists have been dying lately, and I feel slightly panicked that the world might be less and less full of beautiful things. In some ways, I’m as sad as the Cat in an Empty Apartment.

Cat in an Empty Apartment has stayed with me since I first read it, tucked away in a chest of worthy objects kept in the attic of my mind, visited every now and then for a shining and a wistful remembering.

In honor of Wislawa Szymborska, Polish poet and Nobel prize winner, I’ve taken it out of the attic for all of us to appreciate again.

Cat in an Empty Apartment
Wislawa Szymborska
Translated from Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

Die—you can’t do that to a cat.
Since what can a cat do
in an empty apartment?
Climb the walls?
Rub up against the furniture?
Nothing seems different here
but nothing is the same.
Nothing’s been moved
but there’s more space.
And at nighttime no lamps are lit.

Footsteps on the staircase,
but they’re new ones.
The hand that puts fish on the saucer
has changed, too.

Something doesn’t start
at its usual time.
Something doesn’t happen
as it should.
Someone was always, always here,
then suddenly disappeared
and stubbornly stays disappeared.

Every closet’s been examined.
Every shelf has been explored.
Excavations under the carpet turned up nothing.
A commandment was even broken:
papers scattered everywhere.
What remains to be done.
Just sleep and wait.

Just wait till he turns up,
just let him show his face.
Will he ever get a lesson
on what not to do to a cat.
Sidle toward him
as if unwilling
and ever so slow
on visibly offended paws,
and no leaps or squeals at least to start.

More information about Wislawa Szymborska here.