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Friday the 13th

January 13, 2012

In the book “Ringworld,” Larry Niven defined laughter as an “interrupted defense mechanism.” In that respect, humor and superstition are similar means of coping. Both provide an accessible place one step removed from reality where chaos is corralled to follow esoteric rules.

American society rests on girders of amalgamated cultural material. In addition to hopes, dreams and DNA, our great-grandfathers brought  jokes, taboos and folklore that quickly found their way into the zeitgeist.

On that note, today’s featured piece wasn’t written by an American. It’s the work of Romanian poet Marin Sorescu (1936 – 1996) and it speaks to the universal tendency to project meaning onto innocuous things in order to feel a sense of . . . order.

There are three Fridays that fall on the 13th in 2012. May you find this first one reassuringly uneventful

Superstition

My cat washes
with her left paw,
there will be another war.

For I have observed
that whenever she washes
with her left paw
international tension grows
considerably.

How can she possibly keep her eye
on all the five continents?
Could it be
that in her pupils
that Pythia now resides
who has the power
to predict
the whole of history
without a full-stop or comma?

It’s enough to make me howl
when I think that I
and the Heaven with its souls I have
shouldered
in the last resort
depend
on the whims of a cat.

Go and catch mice,
don’t unleash
more world wars,
damned
lazybones!

“Superstition” from Selected Poems by Marin Sorescu, translated by Michael Hamburger. Published in 1983 by Bloodaxe Books. Published online by the Poetry Foundation.

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