The title of this poem refers to a bell in the great cathedral of central Krakow. The bell also sometimes goes by the name of Sigismund.
The Bell Zygmunt
For fertility, a new bride is lifted to touch it with her left hand,
or possibly kiss it.
The sound close in, my friend told me later, is almost silent.
At ten kilometers even those who have never heard it know what it is.
If you stand near during thunder, she said,
you will hear a reply.
Six weeks and six days from the phone’s small ringing,
replying was over.
She who cooked lamb and loved wine and wild-mushroom pastas.
She who when I saw her last was silent as the great Zygmunt mostly is,
a ventilator’s clapper between her dry lips.
Because I could, I spoke. She laid her palm on my cheek to answer.
And soon again, to say it was time to leave.
I put my lips near the place a tube went into
the back of one hand.
The kiss – as if it knew what I did not yet – both full and formal.
As one would kiss the ring of a cardinal, or the rim
of that cold iron bell, whose speech can mean “Great joy,”
or – equally – “The city is burning. Come.”
from After (Bloodaxe, 2006) © Jane Hirshfield 2006, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books.