“Writing down your thoughts is both necessary and harmful. It leads to eccentricity, narcissism, preserves what should be let go. On the other hand, these notes intensify the inner life, which, left unexpressed, slips through your fingers.” ~ Anna Kamienska, from In That Great River: A Notebook*
Thoughts, no structure.
The name Anna sounds like a song, backwards or forwards. A woman named Anna will always know who she is. It would be hard to lose yourself with such a name.
“Lolita,” “Lo-lee-ta,” “Lo. Lee. Ta.” The three syllable siren song that drove Humbert Humbert mad. A graduate Renaissance teacher said I should un-hyphenate my name and use only Lolita Liwag, change the long e sound in Liwag to a short i with the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first (lo-lee’-ta le-wog’), second syllables emphasized so that the name rolled off the tongue. Re-name myself, born again as the writer I am not, the woman who might love words better, treat with them, make a separate peace, finally.
Lolita. I hated this name so much when I was young that I created an alternative name. a character for myself—Yvonne Wingate, the name of a wealthy woman, this woman I envisioned—
a woman with a swimming pool in her backyard, a woman who wore large sunglasses and drank champagne.
Lo-li-ta could not do these things, only in Nabokov’s novel.
My name, unused, slips through my fingers like the unwritten thoughts of poems.
To speak in a whisper.
To whisper—like the sea.” ~ Anna Kamienska
Do you look out over the sea at night? Do you see the moon and stars reflected on the water. Do you smell the salt air. Does it feel like home? Are you looking at the same patch of sky that my father saw. In that moment, can you feel what he felt?
Do the sirens whisper your name as they whispered his?
Tell me: Does the siren song in the middle of the night sound like the wind or the stars or fallen angels?
“Why do I need these landscapes? The image of the sea draws me out of myself, forces all my attention to the surface so that I can cast my thought into the depths once again.” ~ Anna Kamienska
I remember the sensation of standing at the edge of the ocean and gripping the wet sand with my toes. I see myself running barefoot along the shore, gull wings flapping in my wake, sand crabs scurrying away from my feet.
Memory: Digging into the sand with my toes and feeling something wiggling on my foot, some kind of sea slug, a broad smile across my face, the face of a child who still knows happiness.
Another: Indian Summer, a long weekend on the shore, a purple sunset, sitting lotus-position on the sand until the sky turned black, my fact wet with tears.
A full moon reflecting on the mirror-like surface of calm water—like a dark pane of glass. If I looked into it, I could fall through. Almost stopping the car, the need to fall into the depths overpowering.
At one time I had thought to name my first book White Moon on Dark Water.
“Circles of solitude exist, just like circles of dreams and waking, just like the circles of hell.” ~ Anna Kamienska
I love that time of night when I alone am awake,
the darkest part of night when anything seems possible,
before the sky begins to lighten.
The darkness like a cloak, heavy and impermeable.
When the darkness fades,
the light comes, the cloak disappears—
dawn is not kind to me.
My dreams are populated with the dead who look no older—
the baby, the father, the uncle, the mother, the friend (the dead not dead)
—those who left know me best.
“In fact, though, writing is the backbreaking work of hacking a footpath, as in a coal mine; in total darkness, beneath the earth. In poetry there are moments of illumination. A streak of light falls in the dark corridor, then the darkness slams shut overhead once more.
In prose the darknesses are even thicker, the black clods even harder.” ~ Anna Kamienska
In seeking the right words, the write words, I stammer, stumble, and retreat. Forward is too hard. Forward is greyness, the great expanse I have set between my words and my succor—peace at last, the goal that eludes me.
The expanse is both desert and forest, simultaneously flat and endless and filled with dark woods unfriendly to my journey. I do not take the step, fearful of the brambles, the parched earth, the impenetrable column—
first trees, then men with bayonets
calling for blood, my blood
I have trespassed where I do not belong—
A blurred dream. A nightmare
“You left me a bequest: the earth, birds, trees. But I don’t know what to do with them.” ~ Anna Kamienska
A scarred wooden shelf lined with jars of wild honey made of thistle, eucalyptus, wild thyme. Below, baskets of mountain apples. The air is heavy with a natural elixir.
Did Saint Francis love the bees, love their miracle of liquid gold?
We walk beneath the trees in the gloaming, the path takes us up, to the sky, almost, close enough. I smell loam, a mountain stream. A deer pauses before crashing away from us. We are the enemy here.
What shall I do with these armfuls of autumn days?
“In recording these thoughts I also have a sense of assimilated time, its duration within me. Even if I don’t return to these poor notes—within me they are the assimilated material of time. In this sense they are my real life, more real than whatever might occur in daylight.” ~ Anna Kamienska
This record of my thoughts brings me no comfort.
Time is still fractured.
Paris—a loft, candles, stale bread, hard cheese, wine, cigarette smoke heavy in the air. Beyond the atelier, Eliot’s mermaids’ song drifts on the night wind. Fitzgerald keeps me company. Zelda is gone, dying alone in an asylum. Hemingway has passed out on the floor. The empty whiskey bottle rolls across the uneven floor. Sylvia Plath wants to clean the oven. Vincent sits in the wooden chair, sighs, bereft that the blue is all gone. Carson McCullers died on the deck of the steamer before I could tell her I knew, knew as much as I could. (All of those people in her books, alone, sad, sick with guilt and pain.)
Broken bottles are embedded in the wall below for Forché’s colonel. If I look out the window, I can see Gatsby’s flashing light across the water. Yes, the waves still beat back. Beneath the fire, rust.
The sorrows of my changing face, Yeats named them.
The heart is an organ of fire, Almaszy said.
*All header quotes are taken from Anna Kamienska’s In That Great River: A Notebook, translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanaugh
Music by Sia, “Lullaby (song from Hereafter)”
Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?
At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect
as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.
I also try to convince myself
that the smallest note of the smallest
instrument in the band,
the triangle for instance,
is important to the conductor
who stands there, pointing his finger
in the direction of the percussions,
demanding that one silvery ping.
And I decide not to stop trying,
at least not for a while, though in truth
I’d rather just sit here reading
how someone else has been acquainted
with the night already, and perfectly.
~ Linda Pastan