Feature image by Andrzej Wróblewski, Composition, Family, 1956. © Andrzej Wróblewski.

Or in the naming, lose
our power. I called you
house and light and pushed you forth—

with each new month
you show me I was wrong:
here, you’ve made a house with bones
of cloud. Look now, your darkness is
so bright. Of course,

you’re right—
I call this love. It burns to ash,
and—never bird—returns
to flame.

When the border fell and armies
came, they cut not only arms but tongues.
They opened every house
and muted ears, and when the family

landed on these once again rebranded shores
they found the rocks weren’t rocks,
the bread not bread,
the letters broken, hammer-scattered,
the sky a thing that hung
too low upon their heads.

Perhaps that’s how I know it,
in this language their own
children would refuse—
dziecko, kochanek, matka, dzień—

these things I try to name each day
were never mine to lose.

Poet’s note: “Whatever we name, we exceed” is a line from the poem “Interview” by Eleanor Rand Wilner.

Mary Kovaleski Byrnes

Mary Kovaleski Byrnes’s poems have appeared in Four Way Review, The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Best of Kore Press, PANK, Sugar House Review, and elsewhere. She teaches writing and literature at Emerson College, and is a cofounder of the emersonWRITES program, a free creative writing program for Boston public high school students.