Archive for the ‘Anna Kamienska’ Category

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.

Image 1



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




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.”



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




Kamienska’s poem is simple and beautiful:

true understanding

is always silence.





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.




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.




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






Happy Mother’s Day!  Go forth and mother.




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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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