Anna Kamienska, From Notebooks

by Vertebrata

Sacred stone,

Sacred roadside stone,

you, who have become hammer and ax and home.

And tomb.

*     *     *

I’ve learned to value failed conversations, missed connections, confusions. What remains is what’s unsaid, what’s underneath. Understanding on another level of being.

 *     *     *

The soul has two distinct layers. One is the “I”—capricious, fickle, uncertain, it hops from joy to despair. The other, the “soul,” is steady, sure, unwavering, watchful, ready, aware.

 *     *     *

I got back from Bulgaria and found out that Irena Kronska died on the sixteenth. Zosia Koreywo was with her to the end. She says she received more than she gave. I’m not afraid of death now, she says, it was a wonderful passage.

They put a crucifix in the coffin, the Gospels with her notes in the margins, photos of her daughter, her husband, and Kafka. Just enough luggage for the afterlife.

*     *     *

There are beautiful, gleaming beetles that feed on feces.

*     *     *

Never. Never. Never. I could fill a whole notebook with that word.

*     *     *

Diogenes, living in the barrel, had a bowl for drinking water. One day he saw a boy drinking from his hand. So he smashed his bowl.

*     *     *

I returned
to confirm
there can be no return.

*     *     *

Simplicity in poetry is humility itself. We know that what we want to say exceeds us, may even lie beyond expression. We can only make simple signs, poor stuttering sentences. Even questions tend towards grandiloquence.

Poetry is not an “act of imagination.” Imagination sins through pride; it can be bribed. It’s coquettish, self-assured. It gestures at creation, but it’s just that, a gesture, usurpation. Imagination is the flirt of poetry.

*     *     *

I call my shadow like a dog. And go.

*     *     *

The medicine of words—medicina verbi.

*     *     *

Korczak: “When the little wrongs come, it’s not worth crying. When the great wrongs come, you forget to cry.”

*     *     *

During the sleepless hours of the night a thought came to me that seemed important. I got up in the dark and wrote it down. In the morning I read: “I went looking for loneliness. But it found me.”

*     *     *

Letters of the condemned. Last words scratched on a cell’s wall. To write like that.

*     *     *

Misfortune, personal disaster stops our inner time short. Objective time moves on—but we spin in place like straws in water.

*     *     *

Since morning, despair lifts its head like a faithful animal.

*     *     *

Just think: your last dream can’t be written down or told!

*     *     *

Hölderlin: “What remains of the poet in times of woe?”

Heidegger: “For the Greeks being and beauty were synonyms. Now beauty is the business of the pastry chef.”

Hölderlin: “Still, whatever endures was made by poets.”

*     *     *

To express the truth. With a chisel. A word. With silence. With life.

*     *     *

We don’t want immortality for ourselves: too scary. We just need it for our family, our loved ones.

*     *     *

Silence has gone gray. Not hair, silence.

*     *     *

Sometimes I reread my last note as if it were really the last. What would it sound like then?

At times I think I jot down these scraps of thoughts and emotions just waiting for that last sentence, the sentence that will reveal all.

*     *     *

Szymon tells me that he has enough scholarly materials piled up for three lifetimes.

I answer him in the words of the Talmud: “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor. Finishing the job is not your problem.”

*     *     *

The poet is a great mute. He wheezes his infirmity, mumbles, stutters, fumbles; his great error is human.

*     *     *

A whisper.

To speak in a whisper.

To whisper—like the sea.

*     *     *

The problem of exile.

Anaximander.

Exile from the fatherland, from faith, from the right to criticism, mourning, revolt, bitterness.

*     *     *

Exile from self itself.

The heart’s homelessness.

*     *     *

So a little spring prays to the ocean, so the beating heart prays to the heart of the universe, so the little word prays to the great Logos, so a dust speck prays to the earth, so the earth prays to the cosmos, so the one prays to the billion, so human love prays to God’s love, so always prays to never, so the moment prays to eternity, so the snowflake prays to winter, so the frightened beast prays to the forest silence, so uncertainty prays to beauty itself.

And all these prayers are heard.

*     *     *

Collecting pebbles for a new mosaic of a world that I could love.

*     *     *

Poems—letters to friends and enemies, to the dead, maybe to one living person.

*     *     *

My poems are more my silence than my speech. Just as music is a kind of quiet. Sounds are needed only to unveil the various layers of silence.

*     *     *

Simone Weil: Physical work is “time that permeates the body.” This also holds for imaginative or intellectual labor. Time enters into us and transforms us.

*     *     *

When we don’t work, time flows by us, we don’t assimilate it through ourselves.

Even rest should be creative, so that time doesn’t flow around us, but through us. This is art.

*     *     *

The zone of silence. The zone of loneliness. The zone of love. For me it is the only zone.

*     *     *

Bernanos: “The miracle of our empty hands.”

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

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.

*     *     *

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

*     *     *

Poem-formulas. Poem-prayers.

*     *     *

Human hands are sometimes more intelligent than faces.

*     *     *

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

 

 

The Notebooks:

Industrious Amazament

A Nest of Quiet

In That Great River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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