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Oriana Ivy








The only philosophical

question left,

a French writer said,

is whether to kill yourself.


But that is the question of youth.

In my twenties, I could never look

from a high window or a roof  

and not feel a gathering leap.


Middle age asks two questions:

How much time left? and 

How to spend what wakefulness 

remains? Now I look 


out the window, and the deep 

magnolia gives two answers: 

the morning light

glistening in the crown,


and the wreath of shadows.

And the layered wind 

does not rustle To be or not to be –

Each leaf silvers Hamlet’s 


forgotten reply: Let be.

It’s too late to renounce

the privilege of surprise;

centuries, it seems, 


since my father told me 

not to worry about the universe. 

“That’s Aldebaran,” 

he pointed to an amber star. 


When the universe shall ask 

the final question, 

I’ll point: Aldebaran. 

Great light seen only in the dark.





Dushka, my Soul, when I go 

you will go, so don’t be proud of

not being made of ordinary stardust. 

People say it will feel just as it did

before being born. But Dushka, 

before I was born — open any 

history book — it was murder.


Dushka, do you remember

the red streetcars in Warsaw?

And the chestnuts rioting in bloom

in front of the Polytechnic?

We took Wawelska Street,

the long way home so we could pass

the small park of the first kiss

under the green heaven 

of dark-leaved chestnut trees —


Yes, Dushka, I know

it was New Year’s Eve,

snow on my eyelashes, 

silence on the bare branches.

For thirty years now I’ve lived 

with a Norfolk pine. People say

it should be cut down,

its roots threaten the house,

the sidewalk. But one morning 

on its tip I saw


a mockingbird sing his imitation 

of a car alarm, so how could I cut down 

my thousand-green-fingered pine? 

A neighbor said, “In another thirty years 

it will be the tallest tree in town.”

I said in thirty years

I don’t think I will be alive.

I’m taking the mockingbird 

with me. 






In this pine village it’s so slow

that I permit myself to sew –

a patient stitch that imitates 

the over-and-over 

of a sewing machine.


What luxury, my hand my own

sewing machine, dipping back 

before going forward —

stitching the moment that has passed 

to the moment that is passing now.


It’s backstitch, a friend explains.  

Thirty years I’ve worked that stitch

without knowing its name.

I learned to sew in a language 

far away and long ago —


silence and I in a slow race

to see who’ll say it first:

in sun-flood of a California summer

stitching to where the past and now

fall together in seamless snow.





I am walking in gray Warsaw, 

in the swan parks, in the streets,

past pale angels in cathedrals, 

wild archangels in the clouds –

but there are no leaves.


Not one chestnut leaf is left,

crimson, crimped by frost. 

And the ivy called wild wine

is spread leafless on the walls

like a crown of thorns.


Not even a ghost leaf

to reach to me its small hand,

then fall slowly into grace.

Leafless sidewalks, leafless sky –

losing Warsaw for the final time.


Gone, the cloud-dream of returning,

looking out of my old window

on my poplars greening, passing 

silver rumors of the wind –

and then golden lies. But the girl


who knew them smiles.

The gray city in me weeps not 

cold November rain, but tender

eggs from centuries of stone. 

“Pigeons,” I coo. “My pigeons.”






“Shall we dance?” I ask 

and all my names and selves


gather into the single 

bouquet of my body. 

I place my weight on one side, 

to spare my injured, my heroic 


knee — it’s even more 

passionate that way, 

my one-knee tango, 

dancing on scar tissue.


I hold the night in my arms,

its rhythmic planets and stars,

in this house across 

the tango of the eucalyptus grove.


I hold my life in my arms;

while the music lasts, we last.

I hold my death in my arms;

every night I marry myself.


“You are mine,” I sing 

to everything that sings,

that dances on one leg,

hangs by one last leaf —


“Love me tender,” I croon

to the candle, a nun, 

and the humming river of cars 

in the street below the ravine —


lights and shadows passing, 

kissing as they pass. 







Three women walked into autumn

in a mountain village at night.

The youngest, the beautiful one, said, 

“Let’s lie down and look at the stars.”


Oh speech beyond delight:

two women lying down 

on the road, while the third

like a mother stood guard.


No star was withheld. A sky like that 

needs to be seen lying down.

The pavement felt like a good 

firm bed, neither cold nor hard.


In my childhood such wealth

was called a diamond night –

this dome of blazing darkness,

this vertigo of light.


And we were not afraid.

We lay open-eyed

while above us burned

the diamond city of time.


We could wish endless wishes,

but there was no need, 

with such luxurious

light in our lives. We lay silent 


in the silence of the stars,

letting the kingdom come.


KNOT Magazine Fall Issue 2014

Oriana Ivy was born in Poland and came to the United States when she was 17.

Her poems, essays, book reviews, and translations from modern Polish poetry have been published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Best American Poetry 1992, Nimrod, New Letters, The Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, Black Warrior, Wisconsin Review, Prairie Schooner, Spoon River Review, Southern Poetry Review, and many other journals and anthologies.


A former journalist and community college instructor, she teaches poetry workshops.

She lives in San Diego.

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