Three Poems by Anna Kamienska

I've chosen these three poems from Anna Kamienska's Astonishments: Selected Poems because they have the feel of a trilogy. In the first poem, the narrator's mother is dying. In the second, the mother has died and left her body. In the third, the dead mother appears in a dream and encourages the narrator to continue living without her. These three poems take us on a journey from the time before a loved one is lost to the time after and, for that reason, I've grouped them together to tell that story of loss and grief. Death was a common theme in all of Kamienska's work; from her poetry to her notebook fragments, she wrote openly about grief, mourning, and the absence created by loss.

All three poems are translated by Grazyna Drabik and David Curzon.


The mouths of streets are silent, windows go blind,
Cold veins of tracks tremble noiselessly.
In the mirror of wet pavement the sky hangs
With lead clouds full of hail.

My mother is dying in a hospital.
From bed-sheets burning white
She raises her palm—and the arm drops down.
The wedding ring, that hurt when she was washing me,
Slips off her thinned finger.

The trees drink in the winter damp.
The horse, his cart filled up with coal, hangs down his head.
On a record, Bach and Mozart circle
Just like the Earth circles the Sun.

There, in a hospital, my mother is dying.
My mama.


She gets up, moves away from her closed mouth,
She, immobile for so long,
Walks! Steps carefully, like someone
Getting up after a long, long illness.
She walks through his forehead, through my heart,
Through another’s tangled hair. She walks — on her own.
For a moment she looks, puzzled,
At the abandoned body and, without regrets,
At us, bent in pain in a morning fog
Like roadside branches. She pushes them
Aside and departs. She fades into radiance.

If I could only believe it! But I didn’t see anything
Besides the eyes congealed with tears
And the cold indifferent hands. Mama!


“Look,” mother says in my dream,
“Look, a bird soars up to the clouds.
Why don’t you write about it,
How heavy it is, how swift?

“And here on the table—the smell
Of bread, a tinkling of plates.
You don’t need to speak of me again.
There is no me where I rest.

“I’ve passed, I’ve ceased,
It’s enough for me: goodnight!”
So I write this poem about birds,
About bread . . . Mama. Mama.