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A Prayer That Will Be Answered

By Anna Kamienska

Lord let me suffer much
and then die

Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that frogs can hide in it

so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee’s head

Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

No special reason for placing “A Prayer That Will Be Answered” above the trashcans of a busy tavern in downtown Annapolis, except that I needed a quiet spot for the clandestine work of poem-elfing, and this side street offered cover.

The way Kamienska flings out those first two lines (Lord let me suffer much/and then die) following the pious confidence of her title—wow, is what I say—all that despair!—seems so Russian.  It reminds me of the opening lines of Chekov’s The Sea Gull.  A character is asked why she always wears black, and she replies, “I’m in mourning for my life.”  Funny! There’s a humor to that Slovak kind of darkness.

(Kamienska, by the way, wasn’t Russian but Polish.  She survived Nazi and Communist rule, which may account for her dark sensibility.)

But why, after that heavy-handed beginning, does this poem have such lightness, such delicacy?  Lack of punctuation is part of, but not the entire, answer.

The images of summer draw me in—the green grass providing safety and comfort to frogs and lovers; the bright day; the bumblebee; the very clean window pane; the waves.  Kamienska never uses the word “sunshine, ” but sunshine pours through the white spaces of the poem just the same.

On the other hand: the frog is presumably hiding from predators; the lover has lost his love; the poet knows she’ll die, and worse, she’s going to suffer first.

On the other hand (I have three hands):  life will continue as before and this poem will remain as a reminder of that flow.

So rather than thumping around like a memento mori or the psalm of Debbie Downer, the poem becomes a celebration of life.  I feel lifted by it for reasons I can’t fully explain.

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