on the page magazine

issue no. 1, winter 2000–2001
outsiders & community


The Mother with Claws

by Andrena Zawinski

I am reminded, almost as if in whispers
by weathered house plaques on backstreets
of Prague, that behind the damp and musty
walls, those of some importance once must have

invented themselves above the rest of us here
who, ordinary, press our pens to pads,
our noses to fogged window panes to watch
and clock the melancholic morning drizzle.

Dustbins and brooms push in along the River
Vltava in a hush where shopkeepers drape doors
in lengths of amber beads jostling marionettes,
where sidewalk vendors fling open stall displays,

where I am reminded how shelves are stocked
in a new abundance with buxom breads, aged
cheese, pickled eggs and Postum. But how still now
the boat dock silenced of ragtime bandstands

and jazzy improvisational cafes, and how later dim
saloons will dance with consonant strung syllables,
how under doorways, in corridors, behind walls,
some of us will find each other with fingertips

and tongues, how we will

make promises and plans, interpret dreams, float
buoyant and rest on the wake of some small slice
of happiness, or on broken speech fill pillows
in relentless streams of muffled grief beneath

rime colored skies the ravens cry. I am reminded
other mornings will wash in misty above sills,
a flurry of poppies in the rain cleared air, halos
of canopies shading the light, reminded we are all

but ordinary mortals here taking on these uphill
cobbled paths where Kafka walked and stopped
above the long stretch of red rooftops to watch
how golden the charm of turrets and domes

held captive by this mother with claws,
how we can regret only
that we are not birds.

Andrena Zawinski is the Feature Editor of PoetryMagazine.com. Her poems have appeared online at Adirondack Review, Disquieting Muses, Poets4Peace, For Poetry, and in print in Quarterly West, Santa Clara Review, Gulf Coast, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. Ms. Zawinski's poetry collection, Traveling in Reflected Light, was published as a Kenneth Patchen Prize in Poetry by Pig Iron Press.

poet's note
"The Mother with Claws," a name Kafka was known to have called Prague when explaining why he always returned there, is set in that city that is a difficult place to leave behind. Previously titled "I Am Reminded When Thinking," the poem was written after having spent a month studying and playing in "Praha" and after having read Ivan Klima's novel Love and Garbage. It was as an outsider exploring the city—with one foot in and one foot out of a community—that I wrote this poem, which recalls how even the buildings, pathways, and daily activities seemed to come alive with stories, history, struggle, and celebration in a whole architecture of living. And how, even without a community or a common language, one can still find a sense of foundation in others and the self, and regret nothing in that wondrous process.

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