Saturday, 25 December 2021

Five Superb Poems by Oriana Ivy




My first memory of German

six years old,  running 

through our Łodź apartment 

chanting Heil Hitler

Hände hoch


petrified parents 

plucking the exotic

bloodied syllables

from my happy mouth


but when I was sixteen 

my neighbour from Silesia 

called me Fräulein Yoasia


she taught me the caress of umlauts 

long journeys of Wehmut

leiden and verloren 

that music of sorrow


I stood under those vowels 

as in a petal-fall 


Ich bin verloren I whispered 

in secret to myself

in the language of the enemy

described all around me

as “subhuman barking”


What verloren means 

a Mazurian village

the blond bowing of the wheat

a woman opens the door


on the table she puts 

milk and honey

home-churned butter

bread fragrant with the sun

white lace blooms 

in the windows 

saints on the 

lime-washed wall

Memory is a translation 

from a dead language 


she waits for us forever

that shimmering young girl


what verloren means

lost mouths that kiss us 

as we pass





He meets me at the train station.

A smile dances in his open face, 

his elegant lean body. 

More than I ever 


loved anyone, I love 

my son in my dream —

the lost amber of his eyes, 

marble cross of shoulders. 


How do I know it would have 

been a son? A mother knows, 

I say, I who have no right 

to call myself a mother.


We walk through a quiet town 

dripping with lilacs, peonies. 

Is it Pomerania where I was born,

its cathedrals of clouds,


misty Eden of the Yvelines, 

river-rich Hungary —

No, these are the Mourning 

Fields, the green 


country of that other 

memory, rainy mirror 

of what didn’t happen. 

How lonely I’ve been.


We step on a rain-beaded porch.

As always, he disappears.

And these words, this parched

paradise, what


is it if not

the life he has given me.





Once I was young and waiting 

at train stations, dissolving 

in a mist of promises, the halos


of last century’s lamps —

gray figures on the shore of the platform,

the rails beaded with metallic rain. 


And I loved that veil of waiting,

that lesson in perspective —

peering into the vanishing point.


Train stations of Eros and roses, 

hands waving hello, goodbye,

whistles, embraces breaking off — 


and underneath, the humid heart, 

its weather on the verge of 

love and tears. 


Now I stand rainless and trainless.

Memory, mother of the Muses,

tell me this is luck: I will not


be swept away by a flood. 

Unswept, unwept, 

exposed on this plateau of light,


let me borrow 

for a moment, for a breath,  

the bride’s bouquet of fog.





When his darkness seized me, 

the great love of my youth,

when I dared to reach for the most


magnificent narcissus, 

the earth opened and horses 

rearing like black smoke


carried me off to marry 

the Invisible Lord —

so my song would be both 


ravishing and true.

Because love has two flowers: 

narcissus and asphodel. 


A hundred-headed narcissus! 

We grow of many minds.

A hundred wishes, ten thousand —


and echo has the last word. 

Narcissus flower of youth,

rippling into departure.


Asphodel swaying in no wind,

in twilight memory of sun,

you have no scent except 


in the mind that remembers.

Asphodel, flower of soul, 

of love at the ripe hour:


the ancients understood

the soul feeds on flowers. 

Even in hell, 


a life filled with flowers. 

After trails of sunny narcissi, 

I walk in mothlike meadows. 





The glaciers tongue me, cliffs of ice, 

pools of polar green.

Across eternal snow, a deer 

steps out on the trail.


His antlers hold the flame-blue sky,

his crown of shining branches.

He stares at me without fear,

then climbs straight up,


barely nudges the slippery scree.

How could I know it would be 

neither a lover nor a holy sage, 

but a deer in a tundra of clouds —


this messenger making me feel

one day I’ll walk forever —

if thirsty, eating snow,

when tired, leaning on the wind.


My shadow lengthening past noon,

I want one wish granted to me: 

to hike again along the crest

here on Hurricane Ridge,


and let a deer like that once more

step out before me on the path,

look at me calmly, and walk on. 

I’ll follow him. 


Oriana Ivy was born and raised in Poland. She came to the United States when she was 17.  Her poems, essays, book reviews, and translations have been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Best American Poetry, Nimrod, Spoon River Review, The Iowa Review, Black Warrior Review, Los Angeles Review of Books and many others. She’s the prize winning author of the chapbooks April Snow (Finishing Line Press), From a New World (Paper Nautilus), and How to Jump from a Moving Train  (forthcoming from Cervena Barva). A former journalist and community college instructor, she leads an online Poetry Salon. Her poetry-and-culture blog,, has gained an international audience. She lives in Southern California.


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