‘My Grandmother’s Laughter’ by Oriana Ivy is a poem that utilizes the simple element of a “blanket” to showcase the strength of the human mind. In particular, even after enduring the stress of a concentration camp, two elderly women find a reason to “share” a “laugh” over one small memory. Despite this memory having happened in such a horrific time and place, it is what they focus on and what brings them away from the hurts of their lives. In this, the strength of unity and positive thoughts can be seen in regard to the human condition. You can read the full poem here.
Explore My Grandmother’s Laughter
While there is little specific information given about the scene in which the noted reunion takes places, the key elements of the situation are covered in sufficient detail within the stanzas. The reason is that so much of ‘My Grandmother’s Laughter’ is tied to the past—that these “grandmother[s]” knew one another “in Auschwitz” and were in such close quarters that they “shared the same blanket.” The main thing that matters in the current scenario is that these women find one another again, and in the midst of “the street,” their connection from that previous link is strong enough to spark memory after so many years. Better still, this memory is enough to offer a pleasant scene from such a horrific time. Even in the midst of “Auschwitz,” it is the memory about a “blanket” and the simple “tug across” disagreement they’d experienced with one another that merits discussion.
This memory, in the midst of what would have to be so many countless, appalling recollections of the camp, is the notion that they choose to focus on, and it is sufficient to make them “laugh” as if they were “schoolgirls” over a moment so grounded in destruction. This certainly speaks to the strength of the human spirit, that these two women could overlook so much harshness to concentrate on something so trivial.
Furthermore, both have endured more than the horrors of the camp in their lives and have more in common than just that time period. Both are aging, experiencing “old women’s dusk,” and both are wearing “widows’ browns and grays” to indicate their heartaches. Their “cheeks” are “cracked” through age and wear, and their skin has lost so much luster that it is as pale as “winter.” Still, they focus on this one small memory of “shared” joy against all the pain and devastation.
This scene is happening “On Piotrkovska Avenue, on the busiest street,” meaning their position on the “sidewalk” as the reminisce is likely crowded. There is little chance, with that in mind, that the two would have crossed paths, but somehow they do. This speaks of the ties that history can create between people—ones so strong that even if there is no logical reason why they endure, they still do. It is also worth noting that they are potentially surrounded by a number of people that they are ignoring to dive into this memory and “tears” of “laugh[ter],” like their reunion is all that matters.
That the narrator relates this reunion as another example of “pulling back,” just as they had “tug[ged]” on the “blanket,” solidly links their past and present. As if no years had passed, they are still mimicking that same pattern of behavior.
There is also a beauty happening in that both of these “grandmother[s]” survived “Auschwitz” to see to this moment. In fact, that underlying notion could be, in part, what grants such emotion to this reunion. They are discussing the “blanket,” but the “blanket” is a reminder of what all they survived. What they are truly joyful for, if such is the case, is survival in general so that they can recall something so trivial together. They survived to be “pulling back” into their history, just as they “pulled back” on that “blanket.”
Symbolism of the Blanket
The “blanket” is an overly simplistic item, which is meaningful since it is a trivial moment that the “grandmother[s]” fixate on instead of diving into the grief and pain that came with their stay “in Auschwitz.” Something grander would have been less fitting since it is the smallness of the moment that creates the commentary on the human condition. In the midst of terror and devastation, something so small created a bond that lasted a lifetime—regardless of years separated—and offered a tiny, lighthearted moment that could have easily been forgotten. Reaching back for this tiny detail is the key element to highlighting the human spirit. As long as one good detail—no matter how small—exists, happiness and strength can be found.
Commentary on Structure
There is little in the way of solid structure within this work, evidenced by dialogue that begins in the second stanza, but does not wrap up until the third stanza. This is related to the “stammer[ing]” the “grandmother[s]” experienced upon seeing each other again. The joy is so authentic for these women that they can hardly verbalize their feelings, and this elevated joy is mimicked in the lack of structure in ‘My Grandmother’s Laughter’—no discerned rhyme scheme or rhythm. In fact, the pattern that is noted in the first six stanzas—three lines apiece—is forsaken in the seventh stanza when only one line appears. This disorganization could indicate as well that their lives have been chaos.
Either way, the final line being the stand-out one reveals that this moment is the culmination of everything—to have joy, despite the horror, upon finding one another once more. In this, the women “are pulling back” from the devastation they have known from their previous chaos—like the lack of structure in ‘My Grandmother’s Laughter’—to have joy and “laugh[ter].”
About Oriana Ivy
Oriana Ivy is a poet, blogger, and translator. She is Polish, and has been living in the United States since her teenage years.