The Ninety-Third Name of God

Krugovoy Silver, Anya

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney
  • Date of entry: Jul-25-2019
  • Last revised: Jul-25-2019


There are 46 poems in this volume (the author's first full-length collection), divided into three parts--the poems in the second section are in memory of women who have died of inflammatory breast cancer, the same disease that claimed the life of the author in August, 2018, when she was forty-nine-years old.  Diagnosed in 2004 during her pregnancy, Anya waited until after her son Noah was born to begin cancer treatment.  These poems, published in 2010, begin in images of her domestic life and her family, move forward to her cancer diagnosis (p. 17: "Biopsy"), and progress to examine, in poems that balance beauty and pain, what it is like to live with the knowledge of early death.  This awareness imparts a crystalline honesty and urgency to every poem. 


This volume of imagistic and fierce poetry begins in section I with what might be called the author's genealogy. This background information serves to introduce us to Anya, helping us to understand more fully who she is as a woman, daughter, wife, and mother before we encounter her as a cancer patient. In "The Poem in My Childhood" (p. 5) she introduces her parents and grandmother as well as her early yearning for poetry: "The poem was a glass I filled with light sipped through my eyelids." In "Girl" she recalls dismissing the word as demeaning, but now, perhaps looking back after cancer treatment, she recalls herself "fifteen, splitting open pods / of milkweed, that sudden release of silk and breath" (p. 9).  The last poem in this section, "Marrying Outside the Faith," explicates what she "lost" when marrying a Jewish man; what he "lost" marrying a Russian Orthodox Catholic (p. 13).  In all her poems, especially in this one, we see both the author's deep belief and the contradictions--the losses and gains--inherent in such faith.   

Section II  begins with "Biopsy" (p. 17), a poem in which the author asks why not "praise cancer, relentless, blind / that seeks and finds the lymph and blood?"  Rather than praise, she chooses to be "unthankful, rude," and asks for the intersession of Mary: "this same God / took your son away.  Help me disobey."  The poems that follow trace her surgery ("Blessing for My Left Breast" p. 18), her chemotherapy ("Persimmon" p. 19), her search for faith ("Good Friday" p. 20, "Lent" p. 21, and "The Name of God" p. 22).  In this section, poems demand acknowledgement of  the body's worth, even the post-surgical body, "stitched / flesh and puckered flap" ("To My Body" p. 23).  "Lying in Bed" looks at cancer's toil on the author's marriage--and yet the absent left breast allows a new closeness: "But through this loss, both new and real, / my heart beats closer to your ear. / Lay it--listen!--against my skin" (p. 25).
Among the most poignant poems in this section are those the author dedicates to women who have died of inflammatory breast cancer, those she knows well and those she only met briefly in the course of her treatment. These women formed a community of friendship against suffering, a community that felt safe, like the innocent friendship the author recalls from junior high, when she'd told her best friend "we'd live a long, long time" ("All the Others" p. 27).  Even that camaraderie can't mask despair, and Section II continues with poems of ever deeper suffering and loss.  In "Lamentation" (p. 28), the poet draws upon the Psalm form, using phrases from the Psalms in which she cries out to God: "be merciful to me; my hope is wan and slumbering."  The poems on pages 29-39 are visceral and do not skirt the horror of the wages of cancer, physical and emotional, nor do they try to rescue the poet or the reader from death's finality and poetry's inability to save us.  "You'll come to hate your own poems, / read them as pretty wisps of wishful thinking, / all those images just a splash of colored oil / sloshed over a gene pool gone rancid.  Admit it" ("Letter to Myself, in Remission, from Myself, Terminal" p. 29). Section III sees a return to the domestic, both to the past and to what was, then, the author's present, in poems that are alternatively darkly angry or tender. In "Wish for a Poet," she "offers you her blood counts, tumor markers, / her collapsed veins and hollowed bones" (p. 45).  "Late Wish for a Lost Child" (p. 46) tells of a previously lost pregnancy: "I'll invite to your wake the unbroken ball of dandelion spores, / the clock's face gleaming 11:11, whatever else I wish upon." Poems in the third section also look back to past religious moments, "peaceful, and tender, and mild" (Lessons and Carols" p. 47).  And, near the book's close, we are introduced to another pregnancy, one she "wasn't sure I could carry," one that she did carry to the delivery of her son Noah (Fetal Heartbeat" p. 49).  The poems that follow variously speak of her son, her marriage, her blessings ("A Handful of Berakhot" p. 52), and her abiding faith : "If I could immerse / myself in the ninety-third name of God, I would fear / no longer tumor or death. I would drink light, / I would rinse my hair in light, I would rub my shoulders / with its grains and seeds, I would anoint myself in lunar / oil, I would make love with every wide-open, glowing, / humming luminous cell of my body pulsing and aflame" ("The Ninety-Third Name of God" p. 61).


This poetry collection is the first in a series of four books by Anya Silver--each volume continues to track her life through cancer treatment, remission, recurrence, and the anticipation of death.  While the poems can be difficult, as the subject matter is too often a reality for many of us readers, they are poems of hope and strength, poems that are truly gifts sent to us from the way stations of her difficult journey.  Any darker poems are balanced by poems of love, faith, and the author's ability to live in the moment with her uniquely honed imagination and what seems to be a special insight granted her as she moves farther from health into illness. William Wordsworth wrote "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recalled in tranquility."  There seems to be an implied "nevertheless" in this sentence: ". . . nevertheless it takes its origin from emotion recalled in tranquility."  The poems of Anya Krugovoy Silver seem to emerge both from immediate emotion and from immediate and abiding tranquility, perhaps only accessible to someone who both suffers and embraces life.

Anya Krugovoy Silver's fourth collection, Second Bloom, is annotated here.


Louisiana State University Press

Place Published

Baton Rouge



Page Count