Prudent Advice

Life Lessons for My Daughter

About My Mother

I could never say anything about my mother:
how she repeated, you’ll regret it someday,
when I’m not around anymore, and how I didn’t believe
in either “I’m not” or “anymore,”
how I liked to watch as she read bestsellers,
always turning to the last chapter first,
how in the kitchen, convinced it’s not
her proper place, she made Sunday coffee,
or, even worse, filet of cod,
how she studied the mirror while expecting guests,
making the face that best kept her
from seeing herself as she was (I take
after her here and in a few other weaknesses),
how she went on at length about things
that weren’t her strong suit and how I stupidly
teased her, for example, when she
compared herself to Beethoven going deaf,
and I said, cruelly, but you know he
had talent, and how she forgave everything
and how I remember that, and how I flew from Houston
to her funeral and couldn’t say anything
and still can’t.

Adam Zagajewski
Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh


Quiz. 2002. Neo Rauch

#263 Accept chivalry.

When your father and I started dating, I was shocked by the way he held every door for me and grasped my hand when I stepped off a low curb. Despite being secretly smitten by these gestures, in my self-righteous youth, I responded with ridiculous assertions that I could do it myself. I kept up this charade until the day he bluntly told me to lay off. He knew I was perfectly capable of the simple task of opening a door; he just wanted to do it for me! Then and now, I revel in your father’s dedication to old-fashioned chivalry: He still walks to the passenger side of the car to open the door for me; he refuses to allow me to carry heavy things; and he insists that I wrap myself in his coat, even though I knew it would be a cold night and left my warm jacket at home because it didn’t coordinate with my dress. This is what’s known as gallantry. Know that you aren’t entitled to it, and you can’t expect it, but in those rare cases when you find it beating down your door, embrace it! Also, thank your father for showing you how it’s done.


Triptych (detail). 2008. Henrique Oliveira.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

Work Chapter VII (excerpt). Kahlil Gibran