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Archive for May, 2014

poem is underneath the picture of the woman eating an apple

poem is underneath the picture of the woman eating an apple

The Same Inside

by Anna Swir

 

Walking to your place for a love feast

I saw at a street corner

an old beggar woman.

 

I took her hand,

kissed her delicate cheek,

we talked, she was

the same inside as I am,

from the same kind,

I sensed this instantly

as a dog knows by scent

another dog.

 

I gave her money,

I could not part from her.

After all, one needs

someone who is close.

 

And then I no longer knew

why I was walking to your place.

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Once at a party I met a woman and very quickly something strange happened. We formed a connection so immediate and palpable that I look back on it a year later with wonder.

 

We didn’t have anything in common as far as I could tell. She was a gentle person, ladylike even, very different than me. I’m told I sometimes have an edge. She was well-dressed and perfectly groomed, two phrases that will only apply to me when I’m laid out in my coffin.

 

I’m sure we fielded questions, trying to figure out why we felt this remarkable connection. Sometimes you meet people and your brains connect, or your experiences connect, or your senses of humor, your interests, the way you look at things. This was none of those. We just understood each other. Or as poet Anna Swir puts it

 

she was

the same inside as I am,

from the same kind

 

We stayed together much of the evening. We didn’t talk about anything important or intimate, and yet our bond felt important and intimate. The most tender parts of us recognized each other and responded with sympathy. It sounds romantic but it wasn’t. It wasn’t exactly like friendship either. I liked her very much and felt easy and graceful with her but I didn’t expect to see her much afterwards. I can’t describe it to you. It sounds made up or silly. But I tell you, it was as real as the chair I’m sitting in.

 

I thought about that evening for a long time after, and then I didn’t run into her again and the seasons changed and I forgot about it. This poem made me remember.

 

“The Same Inside” is simple and surreal at the same time. A woman sets out to meet her lover. She meets instead a panhandler. Then she has no need of the lover. She’s had something better:

 

After all, one needs

someone who is close.

 

I don’t want to pick apart this poem in my usual fashion. It’s so exquisite, I feel as though my clumsy fingers would mess it up.

 

Let me just say that I love how Anne Swir (and her excellent translator Czeslaw Milosz) sounds so natural on the page. This poem is at least fifty years old and probably much older, but it feels fresh. I read it over and over, marveling at how she does it. Her words are simple, her style unaffected, her voice full of heart. I’m beginning to think this enchanting combination of effortlessness and soulfulness is a Polish trait–I hear Anna Kamienska and Wislawa Symborska here—this wonderful ability to speak from the heart without sounding overly sentimental. Swir connects with readers in the same way she connects with the beggar woman—with a marked absence of irony and guardedness.

 

I left the poem in a spot where a man in a wheelchair panhandles a few times a week. Delbert McCoy, a burn victim, collects money in an old Pringles can outside Rite Aid, hands out candy, and once in a while sells copies of his book, Still on Fire. Delbert was trapped in a nightclub fire in his youth and has endured dozens of surgeries to survive and repair the damage to his body. He looks nothing like the able-bodied suburbanites who pass by him on the way to the drugstore: his skin is mottled, his face disfigured, and his arms end in stumps instead of hands. Even so, his humanity shines through his wise and kind eyes. His gentle presence is a reminder that, appearances to the contrary, we are all the same inside.

 

ImageAnna Swir (Świrszczyńska)was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1909. Her family was poor but artistic. Her father was a painter, her mother a former singer. Swir worked from the time she was young, and paid her way through university where she studied medieval Polish literature.

 

She worked as a waitress during WWII and began writing for underground journals. During the Nazi occupation of Poland, she joined the resistance. I read that she was arrested at one point during the war and told she would be executed in an hour, but I can’t find any details of her reprieve. During the bloody Warsaw Uprising (in which Poles attempted to liberate the city), she worked as a military nurse.

 

Although she began publishing poetry in the thirties, her poems weren’t available in English until the late seventies. In addition to writing poetry, she wrote children’s plays and directed a children’s theater. She lived in Krakow until her death from cancer in 1984.

 

If anyone has more information about her (there’s not much on the web) or has had a similar bonding experience to mine, please share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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my progenitor and my progeny

my progenitor and my progeny

I always have a lot to celebrate on Mother’s Day. My mother, 88 and still funny and sharp, is a woman I’d consider myself lucky to even know, much less to claim as mother. I’ve got four older sisters who mothered me each in their own way, a wonderful mother-in-law, and an aunt-in-law I love as my own.

 

That’s a lot of mothers. I’ve collected even more poems about mothers. I posted a few around town to celebrate and to give tribute to everyone who’s opened their heart to mother another human.

 

I started at a florist, where I left Julia Kasdorf’s poem, “What I Learned From My Mother.”

 

poem is leaning against green vase

poem is leaning against green vase

 

Because the beautiful last lines are a little blurred in the photograph, I’ll highlight them here.

Like a doctor, I learned to create

from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once

you know how to do this, you can never refuse.

To every house you enter, you must offer

healing, a chocolate cake you baked yourself,

the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

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A cemetery (a favorite poem-elfing spot) seemed like a good spot for Ron Padgett’s “The Best Thing I Did.”

poem is on tree in foreground

poem is on tree in foreground

 

Truer words were never written:

The best thing I did

for my mother

was to outlive her

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In the tiny dressing room of Nordstrom Rack, I left two poems with a similar theme, Walter de la Mare’s “Full Circle,” and Anna Kamienska’s “Mother and Me.”

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I find de la Mare’s poem terrifying and sweet at once.

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Kamienska’s poem is simple and beautiful:

true understanding

is always silence.

 

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For mothering that never gets acknowledged, I left Maggie Anderson’s “Sonnet for Her Labor” in a discounted Mother’s Day card bin:

poem is in 50% off bin

poem is in 50% off bin

 

Laurel Mountain must not have had a Hallmark store.

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Another mother who’s lived a hard life is given a voice in Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son.” I left the poem in the football stands of a local high school, to offer a little encouragement to any youngster overwhelmed by difficulties.

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I’ve loved this poem for so long. I hope it finds its way to someone who needs it.

 

 

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Happy Mother’s Day!  Go forth and mother.

 

 

 

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