Industrious Amazement: A Notebook

Many letters in the house. One broken teacup. There’s nobody home.

by Anna Kamienska

I exchange my life for words.

Weak, uncertain currency.

*     *     *

Saint Augustine calls the kingdom of the saved “Jerusalem,” and the kingdom of the damned “Babylon.” Maybe that’s what Norwid has in mind when he says “I write from Babylon to Jerusalem—and the letters get through.”

*     *     *

As a spring makes its way to the light, to air. Its toil, its drudgery, its dark transit, like despair.

That’s how the poet works for words. Through muscles, movements. That’s how J.* wrote poems. He paced, he muttered, he waved his arms as though gathering and grasping words.

*     *     *

I wasn’t looking for God at all.

I sought my Dead One.

I’ll never cease repeating this, amazed.

*     *     *

Another eschatological dream. I never dream of J. dead. But here I am at the cemetery and his grave opens. I see him whole, lying untouched by decay. But his body is completely covered with fishes. I see their dead white bellies. Only his head is bare. He opens his eyes. They’re clear, blue. I run back and forth, calling his name until I’m hoarse. He doesn’t notice me, he doesn’t hear, as if he’s absorbed in something else. Finally someone comes up to him. And suddenly his head changes into the head of another bearded man, who smiles and extends his hands—to a doctor, a surgeon, an apothecary?

Still in the dream. I’m coming back with Pawel. I say, it’s as if he wanted to show that different people are made of the same material. Yes, he answers, that dumb Kaniewska said the same thing a second ago. It’s obvious.

On the dream’s peripheries, right beside it, a cross with a figure of Jesus has been knocked down, it’s lying there. Suddenly its arms come to life. Christ crawls out from the mounds of earth and carries his cross onward.

*     *     *

Dante places the sorrowful in hell, those who refused to rejoice in the sunlight.

*     *     *

Photographs die. After a while they scarcely remind us of the dead. At first each snapshot is a shock. Then something happens to the pictures, they reveal only a blueprint of the face, not its truth.

*     *     *

Sartre: To look at another person is to strike him, to subjugate him; you strive to immobilize him as you see him.

“Seized” by your gaze, a person ceases to be a freedom, he is fixed in the moment of attack, the act of aggression. Hence the person in this conception is a “threat,” an “executioner,” “hell” for others.

Those who submit to this “predatory” concept of others are stricken at once by creative paralysis.

*     *     *

G.L. calls me—a blind man whom I met a couple of years back. He remembers my every word. The loneliness of the blind.

He’s freed from his loneliness by the word. Isn’t that the point of poetry? Breaking through the walls of solitude. Poetry is the great S.O.S. of loneliness.

G.S. tells me he is a beggar always pleading for human help.

I say, “I wish that you could see the world more clearly”—and suddenly realize the absurdity of my words. I’m speaking to a blind man.

He takes my hand. He sees only with his hand.

“Mercy flows through touch alone,” from my poem “Body.”

*     *     *

Philosophies as sui generis “security systems” (Péguy)—forms of domestication.

*     *     *

“There are angels of Silence and angels of Anger and angels of Intellect.”

*     *     *

People don’t like poetry in Poland. Why is that? Perhaps in part because we link poetry with slavery. We used it to compensate for all we’d lost in a century of subjugation.

For too long it was everything and now it must be nothing.

*     *     *

The problem of time seen through the example of music. Music is returning time. The taut springs of time. Time coursing through certain creative personalities, and so personal time. The time of Beethoven, the time of Brahms, Chopin’s time, Mozart’s time.

These individual times, so varied in their movement, their temperaments, their energies—are subject just the same to the general laws of time. There are always two inclines leading into the present: the past and the future. For all that, though, music taken as a whole holds hints of eternity, of permanence.

The raw material of music is time.

Time is the raw material of our lives, too, although each of us molds something different from it.

Time as a gift, as something given to us—to use, to fulfill, as one fills a glass of wine. It’s given like the coin in the Gospel parable, to be multiplied. And how could time be multiplied except through eternity and outside eternity.

When I listen to music, I feel how time passes, I hear it passing. Time is intensified, revitalized, recharged.

*     *     *

There’s no art in giving what you have. The art is giving what you haven’t got. The gift of empty hands.

*     *     *

Tu fui, ego eris.

I was you—you will be me.

Czechowicz paraphrased it brilliantly:

“I was what you are

I am what you will be.”

*     *     *

Communion with the dead gives a foretaste of God. But why do we put God in the land of the dead? Why do we make Him our Hades?

*     *     *

Again the temptation to take leave. Never. Never.

*     *     *

What is this valley that you must climb to reach?
What is this mountain to which you must descend?

*     *     *

What are you doing here, handful of clay, why do you stay on?

*     *     *

I dreamed of FatherJ. presiding over a funeral mass for Adam Mickiewicz’s soul, with an Orthodox priest and a Protestant minister assisting. An ecumenical dream, says Father J.   

*     *     *

God doesn’t dwell in great things, but He embraces every insignificance. This adjusts our notions of large and small. Maximum and minimum. The macrocosmos and microcosmos of physics confirm this.

*     *     *

In Pedro Arrupe’s book on Japan I find useful comments on shooting with a bow. A Japanese man instructs a missionary:

Holy Father, you must not think about the target, the target has no meaning here. And you must not worry about hitting it. Above all you must strive to become one with the target, and only then do you calmly release the arrow. The arrow will fly straight to the target. But if you tighten your nerves instead of the string, you may be sure that it will never reach the goal.

This advice comes in handy in many situations. Since the goal is reached only in passing.

When I want to write a poem, I sit and struggle and nothing comes of it. When it’s beside the point, the poem arrives on its own.

*     *     *

A Chinese proverb: “When you drink water, think of the spring from which it comes.”

*     *     *

My child, the confessor says, what did you expect? Every day we get up, wash, eat soup. So likewise every day we sin, and keep repeating the same sins ad nauseam.

*     *     *

Accidents are the atoms of life, its thread is spun from them, whether up or down.

The “script” of accidents is difficult to decipher.

*     *     *

He died of excess humility.

*     *     *

A horrid dream with cows and bulls. Where does it all come from? Where do our dreams go when we’re not sleeping?

*     *     *

Some sort of beetles turned up on the floor. They come when I shut off the light. No poison works on them. They leave their larvae in the form of tidy, lacquered packages. They multiply on the ruins of our family home.

*     *     *

What will my death mean?

The end of these notes.

*     *     *

Is it possible that God is?

It’s even more unlikely that He isn’t.

You have two impossibilities to choose from.

*     *     *

The body is not just our muscles and bones. It’s much more. Through food, water, the body’s exhalations, the universe becomes an extension of our body. From this angle, the notion of resurrection looks different, more perfect. Waters and lakes, hills and valleys, clouds and seas, animals and plants: all are resurrected with us. And in them—the whole human being is resurrected, larger than himself. “And he became man.”

*     *     *

I think about this notebook. It’s not a memoir. It lacks important things. I don’t note events, I don’t write about people and books, or only about those with whom at a given moment I become one, I see through their words. These are just signs, signals, scratchings on sand, water, air. Shavings, slivers. A snail’s trace.

*     *     *

At the cemetery. Some great comfort in this leveling of all. I lit candles not just on “my” grave, but on my friends’: Lec, Pietak, Mach . . .

Transformation is one of life’s gifts. When I look in the mirror now, I see Mother and Grandma united in my face. As though they’d returned. This is how we’re transformed. Through returns. They both come back to me in dreams now, Mother and Grandma. One always wants me to be better than I am. The other demands nothing, only loves, understands, brings tender medicine.

Grandma was our doctor in childhood. She brought us onions, garlic on wheat bread, bitter gentian, wormwood. She bought apples with her last pennies: the cheapest, withered. You ate them whole, stems and all.

*     *     *

Pietak thanked God for every poem. He scribbled his thanks on the margins of his drafts. And he was an atheist.

*     *     *

I walk on faith as on crutches, hobbling.

*     *     *

A prayer that last things would become first things for us, like bread and fire. That children who have grown and gone would return to their mothers. To be like Socrates, who, when sentenced to death, learned to play the lyre.

*     *     *

The apocryphal gospel of the Ebionites: “Lift a stone and you will find me beneath it, cut a tree and you will find me there.”

*     *     *

She was perfectly poor. She went with only her rosary. She left behind an estate made up of a cane shedding its black lacquer and a worn missal with an old-fashioned reckoning of sins, for example, how to treat servants and serfs. At least we’ve got less to worry about in that department.

*     *     *

I hobble along on poems.

*     *     *

Poems crystallize from the substance of time. A cluster of moments, like bees dangling from the hive’s mouth.

A poem’s salt takes a long time settling to the bottom.

*     *     *

Each of us has our own eschatology, if even we don’t realize it, or at least suspect it.

*     *     *

Water again in my dreams. Clean, clean, flowing along the sand, so transparent you can see eels swimming on the bottom.

*     *     *

A house full of scraps of poems, unused ideas. A nest of thoughts, the wood chips from an industrious carpenter of the word. Their abundance, like froth, around my existence, excess, boiling over. I don’t know why I sentenced this or that poem to non-being, to silence; why I wrote down this, but not that thought. All froth.

*     *     *

When everything falls silent
even eternal rest
and things no longer weep for us

*     *     *

I dreamed of my dead in silver masks.

*     *     *

We speak of “this world” and “the next world.” “Believers” are those who supposedly believe in “the next world,” its reality.

I don’t believe in the next world. The world is one. One reality. Death isn’t a gateway to the next world, maybe just the opening of blind eyes.

*     *     *

Poetry as a cemetery. A cemetery of faces, hands, gestures. A cemetery of clouds, colors of the sky, a graveyard of winds, branches, jasmine (the jasmine from Swidnik), the statue of a saint from Marseilles, a single poplar over the Black Sea, a graveyard of moments and hours, burnt offerings of words. Eternal rest be yours in words, eternal rest, eternal light of recollection.

Cemeteries of sunsets, running with arms spread, a child’s short dress, winter, snowstorms, footsteps on the stairs, tears, a letter with a serious confession, silver faces, the shoemaker’s stall, parting, pain, sorrow.
Everything preserved, buried in amber tombs of words. The sea, grief trickling from someone’s eyes, parting; faith in God, arrivals and departures, loneliness heavier than death, sweet as death. Anxiety and peace. The streets of cities. A monk’s belly bumps up against a tourist in catacombs. First communion. First love. First storm at sea. First night.

A dog’s eyes, eyes of the beloved, unclosed eyes of a dead man, glazed with one tear. Barrows of memory. Mummies, the amputated hands and feet of statues. A deer emerges from the grove, stops and stares. A footbridge across the river in the flutter of geese and bare feet, flowering fields. Grandfather’s death, his moustache in the coffin. A dog’s howl.

Since the priest doesn’t come running with his holy oil every time a leaf falls. The collective grave of childhood, where apple cores lie, little skeletons, a dead friend. Basia Bartmanska, her father’s angry brow, the grandfather’s hand given to kiss, the longing for holiness, nettles, a country outhouse, spiders, boys’ tickling on a suburb’s dark steps.

That sun and that rain, mama, mama, that sky and trees. The springs are ever more tightly wound, I can’t turn them to the end.

My mother, who dies in my childhood dream, my mother who dies and I watch as she dies, and I remain alive, whole, almost indifferent.

Kindhearted Mother, protectoress of people.

And so many lives, like the rings of a tree, like geological strata. I lost God in the darkness of my twenty years. Saint Anthony, patron of lost things, help me find my lost Lord God! Saint Anthony, stand in the courtyard and gather alms for the poor.

*     *     *

Insomnia. The insomnia that startled me in grandma.

Thomas Moore’s prayer (quoted by Zychiewicz in “The Letters of St. Malachy”): “Give me good digestion, Lord, and something to digest.”

The entrancing sobriety of holiness.

*     *     *

A river slowly returning to its sources. Until it drinks from them, it can’t rest, it can’t entrust itself to the sea’s dark depths.

I wrote a poem about that river, wondering how it suddenly turned up. “Industrious amazement”—an apt definition of poetry for all kinds of reasons.

*     *     *

Every poem brought such happiness, as if we’d just had a child. Now the poems are born posthumously, orphaned. No one rejoices, no one lifts them on high, like a father. The paternal divinity of that gesture.

*     *     *

In my family—like the litany of all saints. Mother—patron saint of principles and faith, grandma—saint of remedies and darning (no one darns stockings these days), uncle on my mother’s side—saint of valerian and nerves, uncle on my father’s side—saint of rumpled girls in haystacks, aunt—saint of threshing, sister—saint of unhappy love and non-love, father—saint of eternal rest, and I myself—saint of great hunger.

*     *     *

Christ of sorrow
multiplied by all the hands of country woodcutters
rising always new from their humbleness like dust
growing from their faith like spruces
I pray to you with shriveled fingers
with sawdust shavings
the wise resistance of the wood
Christ of sorrow
think on me some day
hewn as you are from my clumsy faith
from my doggedness my desire
from the stubbornness of my summons
Toss a sheaf of light
into my room littered with words
let the words fall still
let the poems fade
let the room be bright and empty when I go

*     *     *

Rozewicz always writes about the “death of poetry” (a great cadaver), about the “new” fall of man. Such notions strike me as betraying a certain historical naivete. How often have we proclaimed the death of poetry and the world’s end! Every era has its disasters. Everything has always crumbled, everything has died, by the standards of whatever the world was at the time. Our age has nothing to boast about on that score, though this may not feed its perverse vanity.

*     *     *

From the whole liturgy my favorite words are those of the centurion, repeated before communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed.” They have the power of poetry. Humility, trust, and desire—making faith. For ages humanity has built this experience, but stupid people like me must discover it all again, must touch it for themselves.

*     *     *

“A clay vessel”—the human body.

*     *     *

The past doesn’t vanish at once. It dies slow, with great difficulty. After all we keep dreaming of our childhood, fetal waters, the emblems of tribal knowledge, unknown animals. The past, always recreated, is our present. The past is the present made human.

*     *     *

Entering a second youth. I need to see a doctor. It’s not normal. An influx of energy from an unseen star.

*     *     *

Jastrun says: Yes, fall is like the spring. But winter, now that’s another story.

*     *     *

The multiplicity of realities. Expanses through which humans pass, which they inhabit. Pity the poor souls confined to the four walls of a single reality. A normal person passes from one reality to another as if from room to room.

Likewise within us the four walls of our various realities abut one another. All my realities surround me like glass halls, since I manage to be simultaneously in them all. In the same way God’s reality is beyond us and within us, as in Mickiewicz’s poem:

I talk with you who reigns in heaven,
But also visits in my spirit’s home.

*     *     *

Trains, always trains in dreams. What did people dream about before they invented trains?

*     *     *

At the beginning of a new notebook I copy a quote from Simone Weil, which captures me completely: “Don’t insist on understanding new things, but try with your whole self, with patience, effort and method, to comprehend obvious truths.”

This quote conducts a polemic with the ceaseless, barbaric pursuit of novelty and disdain for obvious, primary truths.

And so all my notes, all these snail’s traces, are the realization of Simone’s one thought. I won’t and can’t discover anything, I want only with my whole self to reach the heart of obvious truths.

*     *     *

He died. At least he can’t do that again!

*     *     *

Wlodzimierz Slobodnik’s story: I had a Jewish friend who killed himself. He tied a noose around his neck. He comes to me in my dreams. I don’t dream about my father, my mother, my brother. I dream of him. He envies me, that I write, publish, talk, and he doesn’t. There must be a soul after death, why else would he keep coming back?

*     *     *

Accidents often change the course of science. But you need someone who can read the “accidents’” meanings. It’s just the same with life’s accidents. You need to decode their script.

*     *     *

Many letters in the house. One broken teacup. There’s nobody home.

*     *     *

Before Freud or Jung, wise Norwid discovered the existence of a collective unconscious and archetypes that come to us in dreams:

Hence: though I sleep, I don’t dream what I dream,
Half the globe’s humanity co-dreams with me.
      —From “Cradle of Song”

*     *     *

And then a dream took pity on me again. I got up before dawn. When I went back to bed it was dark. I sensed he was beside me, he’d crossed the room. He lay down next to me. We talked entwined. “What’s it like there?” “There’s God and there are birds,” he said. Maybe he meant to say “angels”? God and birds. He left, went through the wall and jumped into a passing truck. He opened his mouth as if he were shouting something.

*     *     *

A story of the Hasidim: Rabbi Moses from Kobryn said, “When you speak a word before God, enter into that word with your whole self.” One of his listeners asked, “How on earth can a big man enter a little word?” “Anyone who thinks he’s bigger than a word,” the Tzadik replied, “is not the person of whom we speak.”

*     *     *

When the Rabbi Isaac Meir was still a boy, his mother took him with her to Kozienice. There someone turned to him and said, “Isaac Meir, I’ll give you a guilder if you tell me where God is.” Isaac answered, “I’ll give you two if you tell me where He’s not.”

*     *     *

Yesterday I heard, “He’s gone now. His body has decomposed. He’s gone. He’s not coming back.” I must still have illusions since those words still hurt. There are people who’d like to kill you in me. Don’t be frightened. You’re still alive, you won’t die. You can come back without fear.

*     *     *

Endo, Silence: “When Gampe was with me, we shared our fear like bread.”

*     *     *

Umberto Eco, the Italian aesthetician, introduces the term “open work,” a work that wants to make its audience a co-creator.

*     *     *

And my philosopher once more:

The inability to tolerate suffering signals a refusal to participate in the real human community, which is conscious of its boundaries, conscious of all the potentials for conflict it contains, ready to submit its boundaries to the test . . . The anesthetizing of life is an enemy to the human community.

*     *     *

Pascal, who caused me to lose my faith and then helped me to find it. Saint Pascal, pray for us.

*     *     *

Poem-formulas. Poem-prayers.

*     *     *

Poems to be written:

Stolen Mother of God

To exist after death

Dream—I saw myself on the inner side of my eyelids

Poetry—an elongated arm

Deafness—Beethoven

Prayer for silence

*     *     *

Silence
fertile rain
come
fill our ears
with the vast stillness
of your instruments

*     *     *

When I think of my childhood, I realize that Grandma was the one who truly loved me. Mother had too many of us, and besides she had her own dead, her husband and son. The dead absorb us more than the living, because we always think there’s still time. Preoccupied with building their posthumous life inside us, we sometimes neglect the living.

*     *     *

When J. died I was forty-seven. I try death on for size as women try on a friend’s hat.

*     *     *

I broke a crystal goblet.

Lost in thought, I passed my bus stop. I took a cab. It got a flat tire. I had to get out half-way. While cooking an egg I got caught up in a book. A shot from the scorched saucepan brought me round.

It’s only afternoon. What will happen by tonight?

Next I nearly got hit by a car. Sometimes I think that if I did, I’d just walk off without noticing.

*     *     *

Rhythm in poetry and life alike—it’s not just an external convention, a structure of style. It also reflects the inner rhythms of feeling, imagination, secret impulses, nerves. Rhythm is also rigor. And rigor is a moral concept. So we can speak of the morality of rhythm.

*     *     *

The grace of people, that they are. It doesn’t matter if they are for me. Just that they are. Zofia Malynicz. Zofia Mikulska. Zofia Koreywo. Zofia Wojcik. All Zofias. I say them like a rosary.

*     *     *

Tamed tigers sleep on the sofas
the time has come to tame terrifying things goods and chattels
terrifying because we know they’ll outlast us
tame the floor and the wall above the bed
with a damp spot like a sparrow hawk
tame the cups and plates
the chair we mount on our way to the Crusades
all the corners and there are more than five
the ceiling where ideas are born
where dreams drop like thunder from clear skies
the bed where
we die cozily until dawn
beneath the evening spider’s eye
and may the milkman’s clatter
not waken us too soon

*     *     *

In the Gospels: “At that time . . . ” “That time” . . . You could write an epic about those words.

*     *     *

At that time wells creaked
dust rose along the road
rain fell
someone was born someone died
someone played the flute
and howled from the yard’s darkness
someone got drunk and lay like a log beneath a fence
someone bartered for a dove canvas basket fish
At that time the fig’s fruit swelled
mules bent their spines
drank the west reflected in the water
the lake splashed silver
the boat hid safely in the reeds

*     *     *

Rojkowa asks if I’ve already turned sixty! It’s not old age, it’s loneliness that bakes my face in its oven.

*     *     *

Did it hurt the lepers to be cleansed? Since the cleansing You send us stings like an open wound.

*     *     *

In a dream J. says to me, “You suffer because of me.” “You know,” I answer in the dream, “love is made of joy and pain. I’d rather seek joy in pain than pain in joy.” Precise dialectics as far as dreams go. I knew that he would leave, that he was already going, that he doesn’t belong to me. The wisdom of dreams.

*     *     *

A return to Saint Augustine. Dialogues and philosophical letters. “We must admit that a crying man is better than a laughing worm, although I could, without a word of falsehood, deliver an extended speech in the worm’s praise.”

I personally would be happy to hear a speech praising worms.

*     *     *

A man stands over someone’s grave and thinks, “Why can’t I know if there’s life on the other side?” A worm wends his way through the earth and thinks, “I wonder if there’s life up there.”

*     *     *

Now when I write my Great Small Things, I see clearly that my childhood is an unhealed wound. That’s why it’s so hard for me to write, even though this is just a naive little children’s book, only partly autobiographical . . .

Childhood for me was not a time of happiness, a paradise lost.

When I hear violin music, I feel a painful clutch at my heart. I didn’t understand that pain. It’s my father playing the violin. I didn’t understand his death, I couldn’t accept it. But the blow hit hard, it left scars.

Is this consciousness therapeutic? I don’t think so. It reawakens all the later pains and sorrows anchored in that childish lament. It was the prototype of all the suffering foretold for my entire life. I walk through life with steps of death: father, brother, mother, grandma, husband. The whole tribe dropping along the roadside—into the void all around.

*     *     *

The dimensions of being. Like a shirt size.

*     *     *

Holy nothingness, have mercy on us.

*     *     *

I dreamed of a synagogue like a musical instrument, a harp sounding in the air. On the pediment bows, batons, trumpets rose and fell. I could draw it.

*     *     *

Human hands are sometimes more intelligent than faces.

*     *     *

An unloved person doesn’t die. He withers like an unused hand.

*     *     *

P. Valéry: “the kingdom of transparency.”

*     *     *

P.V.: “A god born of words returns to words.”

*     *     *

P.V.: “The machine killed patience.”

*     *     *

There are formally stupid objects and wise objects. Some stupid household objects bother me. The thing’s form is its word. This is why we possess the paradoxical possibility of translating things into words.

*     *     *

Joanna P. says that poetry shouldn’t be “pure” in and of itself. It must pass through sand, silt, stones to be purged. But there are also poets who reject distilled poetry and leave only the sand and silt.

*     *     *

Husserl: “A recognized object is the density of being.”

*     *     *

A saint from seven solitudes.

*     *     *

A poet is a person translated into words.

*     *     *

When I read that God or the Holy Spirit wants such and such, I shut the book. The author decidedly knows too much.

*     *     *

Today is the day of Guardian Angels.

*     *     *

An old, used-up calendar. This whole domestic archive makes no sense. Time to get rid of it. Time to burn paper bridges behind us.

*     *     *

I’m as patient as the patron saint of toothaches.

*     *     *

“Each of us has strength enough to bear the misfortunes of others.”

*     *     *

The menagerie inside us: despair, melancholy, insomnia, sorrow, vanity. Beasts of the Apocalypse.

*     *     *

A Christ without arms. Like a tiny violin.

*     *     *

Here’s how it is:
Crying doesn’t cry
Dying doesn’t die
Laughter doesn’t laugh
Sighing doesn’t sigh
Pain is painless

*     *     *

I’d like to find my father’s violin. J.wrote, “I’d like to find my father’s cane, I’d take it for a walk.”

*     *     *

I dreamed about a beautiful silver fish dancing on the table.

*     *     *

A strange, long dream, extended like a film, full of details, about the afterlife.

A child, a big girl already, comes into my room. I know she’s the spirit of a dead child. I make the sign of the cross on her forehead and chest. She sees it as affection, she’s pleased, she leaves unwillingly. Suddenly the room is filled with the dead. Lec is among them, smiling as always, kind and a little ironic. We kiss. I ask him what this all means—so many dead people in a dream.

“It’s an omen,” he says.

“Death?” He nods.

“I’m going to die?” He nods again, looking in my eyes. I feel a rush of joy. I awaken in the night and see some kind of strange light running through the kitchen and the entry. I run out. A short circuit, all the sockets have burned out. I open the bathroom door. A gaping hole. The bathroom has collapsed, the bathtub hangs down, through the fallen floor I see children sleeping in the room below, already flooded with water. I dress quickly to go save them. Someone’s waking the children, getting them out, the water subsides. A boy is playing with a lamp and falls down dead, charred. I hear a cry.

I walk upwards along some rafters and climb a strange little tower. Suddenly the tower trembles and falls on me. I’m killed. I feel a great numbness throughout my body. I rise, get out of the dead body, but for some reason, there are always two people, as if the body were keeping me company. We leave. We go through the world, road, street, city, gray sky.

I say, “Well, look, there’s everything in the afterlife.” We’re surprised. Children fly through the sky. I learn to fly as they do, I can fly, but only down low for now. My companion struggles.

Flying through a gate. Like a concentration camp. Wild dogs and foxes. It’s terrible, but it ends.

The heaven or hell of writers. A crowd. It keeps getting bigger. Finally it dawns on me that I’ll find J. here. I tell someone his birth year, 1908. He should be here. But I don’t see him. I call his name. And suddenly he’s here! He’s sitting farther off and comes up to me. We rush at each other and hug.

“I missed you so much!” I tell him.

“I know. I know everything. We’ve been through a lot.” We enter each other through our hug. Finally we’re one person.

I want to see Mama. But she’s not a writer.

“No problem,” someone says. “Mine came here too.” I go and look. There’s Grandma with a suffering, pained face, but Mama’s not here. I yell, I call: “Mama! Mama!” I enter an unexpected open space. I clamber through white tombstones, and there, up above, I catch sight of a great shining sea. Three large stone heads emerge from the sea. Peace. I know that soon . . . End of dream.

I’m walking next to some priest.

I say: “It’s strange, I don’t need to pray to God here.”

“Because you were thinking about Him at the moment of your death.”

“No, I died suddenly,” I tell him.

*     *     *

On a shattered tombstone a single word remains: always. The sun makes light of it, strikes it out with a shining finger.

*Kamienska's husband, poet Jan Spiewak, who died of cancer on December 22, 1967.

Originally Published: March 1, 2011

Selected and translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh

COMMENTS (1)

On March 28, 2011 at 1:49pm Edmund Zampier wrote:

A journey from here to eternity and back. Wonderful way of weaving thoughts of writer and other writers and saints. Touched by the following passage: From the whole liturgy my words are those of the centurion, repeated before communion: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. Speak but the word and my sould shall be healed." They have the power of poetry. Humility, trust and desire - managing faith. Never linked poetry with humility and trust. Beautiful concept. The notebook read like a series of poems or meditations. I couldn't wait to read the next one. I am going to look up Anna Kamienska on the Internet and see if I can find anything more. I was puzzled by the term "industrious amazement." Can you tell me what it means? Gratefully, Edmund Zampier

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This prose originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2011

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 Anna  Kamienska

Biography

Anna Kamienska was a poet, translator, critic, essayist, and editor. She published numerous collections of her own work and translated poetry from several Slavic languages, as well as sacred texts from Hebrew and Greek.

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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