LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Volume 47, No. 2 - Summer 2001
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
Copyright © 2001 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
For Džoja in Vilnius
SHAWN KERRY KEYES*
It's a small pine, regal and green. In the dim light
without my glasses it could be a candelabra
carved from a prickly pear, or conceivably
just a limb of a tree. Idle speculations.
I know it's a pine tree because we decorated it
together while I arranged the scene around the manger
that consists, since I had no miniature replica to put there,
of a sleeping bagr pillow, and mattress. And also
throughout the room there's the fragrant resin of pine
and myrrh each time the child calls his mother.
The bird from paradise, that Holy Spirit, a dove
here in the Bethlehem of the North,
perches on the top branch lapsing a bit
to the side under the force of its presence.
It will break before a gale, just as Jerusalem does
over and over. Tonight, however, wings have sheared
the clouds, all the feathers and thorny fleece
cover the earth like a moth-eaten jacket.
Red and silver balls dangle and sparkle
from the air, and most of the creatures around the child
in his mother's arms are turtles and birds.
Quite a lot of eggs also, two nests, a glass
of vinegar, and a snake that's not at all repentant
but that nevertheless must be enraptured and present.
And there's a yapping dog that thinks it's treed the bird,
and a poor, domesticated skunk, and a few other odds
and ends that made the humanitarian voyage across the water
to nestle under the prismatic rainbow of silver beads
that loops from bough to bough. Joseph is missing,
but he will be a good father, albeit a doubtful husband.
It's him that I now wish to take after. I'm tired
of following the music of stars that always retreat.
Jesus, wiser men, and devoted disciples can do that.
1 forgot, there's one more thing under the tree,
strangely out of place though I placed it there
a wolfs mask made out of bull's hide and rabbit fur.
Before going to sleep, I'll put on that and lie down
with the rest of the guests, released again at least
for this night in a gentle circle of friends, carefree
and joyful at the foot of the pine, at the foot
of our Lord, under the wings of the snow-white bird.
ALL SAINTS' EVENING
saw a dozen jackdaws
against the moon
no dictionary depicts their graphic hearts
the candles in Rasų cemetery
flutter against the dark
as these wings against the light
the dead and the living
roam the same city together
the sun is a room at twilight
with the curtains drawn
one less candle
still with me
acid rain destroys the lettering
recompense is to decipher
the footprints in the mud
at the unknown plots
mourners resemble gravestones
sitting on their blankets
spread like leaves on the grass
Blue sky in the Vilnius ghetto,
the balcony facing the Northern light...
crows caw outside the window
as the stars start to stagnate into
a septic clarity of polluted light.
Could one grab a beak to
a feather to row across the...
a blueprint to match the eyes.
O' may your lips never read the blood
they've tread on mine,
and so turning to the disquieting book
so annoying but framing every vision
on this urban perch in this chosen land
poor Pessoa, one reads as one might read
the works of a disconsolate waterbug
confined by timidity to the corner
of a kitchen spending a lifetime
telling us how not to live,
that distant birdnest in the leafless,
Winter lilac, days so short now,
I should be bathing in sugarcane in Brazil
and not here with so many wingless dreams
battered by a cold, faceless wind,
bread and salt useless tokens,
the song as all songs an illusion
as the ripples disappear into silence.
Not a waterbug nor a transcribed cockroach,
these days I'm just a customs-clerk,
and this frightens me waking up
almost inhuman with the window
and I drink my glass of water,
calculate the level of mercury
and listen to the crying giving life
to my poem as they drag them
on a beautiful blue day like today
down the alleys, into the forests
and into the trains.
for Džoja Barysaitė 1997-99
Circle yesterday all gray. Sportcoat frayed
from Managua to Prague to Neringa. Senses senile.
The blue mountains submerged in the darkroom.
My photographer's asleep on our sofa. I am reading
a conflated copy of Childe Harold and Don Juan.
Today's heteronym is Tristan, who lies dead-awake
on a side street with the morning star in his gut.
She can tint the lack of joy I put into her hope
on the postcards stashed into a briefcase
with the negatives of a hunger for a bliss
that would outshadow the embryonic demons I harbor.
Now it's simpler to just say the calendulas are a different
color in a different country, and the still-water
in Nida almost fresh when I imagined it salty,
coating the skin of the pillows with brine. 87% of
the inclusions in amber are spiders. They are all over
the curtains and the ceiling and the walls, and we
kill them with our sandals. She is so gooda dolphin,
an acrobat on a railing of love, a Charlie Chaplin
without a flower in the silent drag of our discourse.
The candles are lit. An odalisque comes to life I shiver.
The entire pink Baltic at sunset her bathtub and home.
My home nowhere though I might wish it here with her.
It was written by an ecclesiastical instrument
that another would return to create another version...
She or I turning she and I turning she or I...
And we would hold up our photos out of focus
into the distant offing of black and white, or in colors
too noonday intense for any deep shades of meaning to take.
We'll trim one photo, put in the wallet with a whole array
of fractured ghosts, and tomorrow it will be your turn
to suffer her hope, to limp down past he long-legged
women for whom you casually hunger, to roll over
in your mind and tan the other cheek, and watch the Mothers
wheel the baby-carriages to the water's edge on the beach.
It's the wrong bait, of course. And to feel sad, of course,
that į can't burn better than this. A rebate at best, delivered
to the earth neither post-man nor ur-man, nor human.
"Put him back"the first words to pierce the envelope of the ear.
And to know now that each and every half-life of each
and every second, that she recognizes my blood burns
no better than ashes beyond even the negative of being,
that I perform life a mime handed down as hoc est corpus.
This is my body on deposit, empty, unredeemable.
This is my blood shed for myself, and no one else. Amen.
/ knew when I saw that
under the plastic
at the Golden Dunes,
that it would burn
as was its dream
when it crossed
No, I take that back. It's a heretic
content to be a small, dark thing-
and there are many of them,
heretics. They are not
martyrs to burn resplendent
in a paradise of the imagination.
From under the green table
at the Golden Dunes,
the other ants exit in formation
diagramming the Universe
as dying dots design the destiny
in the zodiac.
I've fallen asleep
but this is what I remember
of the worldhow pen and nightmares
and butterflies move by the bed
as if on automatic pilot,
how daylight played truant,
how the world turns
to a Nocturne by Chopin
flicked by the finger
of a God
looking off into other matters,
mesmerized by a brighter sun
and trying to imagine
how it was
that Gods first dressed in flesh and blood,
and how routine it all is
except for such momentary sparks
as ascension, falling, the orgasmic dance
of lips and tongue, war, explosions
of far-away stars that sparkle
like Christmas-lights in the dram of a child.
I've set my biological clock
so that when I awake for the Millennium
in Vilnius to a Grieg suite
from Peer Gynt (my detested shadow),
a young woman from Warsaw
will be so deep in my arms
that I'll feel nothing
but ascension and fatting, ecstasy
and war, the explosion of the sun
and the self in an apocalyptic dream.
RIFFS OFF DONALDAS KAJOKAS
her tongue between
unknown teeth what lungs
on lips can answer
it's dark and darker
on the other side
it seems it seems
there are asters
growing in the middle
of the dark and darker
on the other side
of the road her teeth
gleam a flower stuck
there a pipe smoking
her rosary of sex
with a blue aster
by the tongue
and there is
so much space there for
a few words to fall
dark and darker
into a blue hole
in the ice
and swim with other fish
inside the emptiness
inside the other side
of the dark
the bobbin pops out okay
hang on to Providence
by a thread
the boat overturns the world
the weft turns dark and darker
on the other side
into a web of smoke
shuttle back and forth
in a drizzle
dark and darker
cerebral space hunger
snow just a second of snow
on the blue aster
blue into a rose into white
stem into spine into fire
dark and darker lavalampflower
of snow petals and lips
incandescent on the other side
it seems dark
and darker unknown words drawing
the tongue swimming a fish a fish
inside the inside
AFTER HORACE GREGORY'SCATULLUS
Come Poem, tell my friend, dear Daga,
that librettist who writes
of love's sweet harm,
to visit the streets of Vilnius.
Tell him to leave that damp, Celtic compost behind,
and come to where the women are burning
wet with passion, and one in particular
and if he clears his mind (that muddy spring),
lets go his lisp of Latin, a bright girl
articulate with a finer fire
will greet him face to face,
no need for condoms
nor Catholic dogma
to broker his position.
This girl would give up the ghost for him,
blossom anew, just to undergo again
the sweet fury of his penthose lines
in praise of Artemis and Venus together.
Isn't that so,
your body one rich liquor, half loco, confusing
Sapphic satyrs with Cattulus, mistaking
all of us for your derelict puer aeternus.
AFTER HORACE GREGORY'S CATULLUS
Come, dear Juan, a great feast will be set
for you at my flat tomorrow, or the next day,
that is, if the Gods are kind and you bring
a banquet along:
I mean I have some vodka steeped in amber,
but you shouldn't forget some good sherry or Rioja,
maybe smoked lamb with rosemary,
and a wild and brilliantly hot girl or two,
your savoir-faire, of course, and sense of humor.
Bring these, my amigo, and you
will have the dinner of your life;
your Hermes (look) has nothing but
cobwebs and broken shells in his pocket.
But, my brother, look again, you'll
see something that has no price
richer than pearls or love or passion.
Wait! take a whiff of this other paperit's
the perfumed letter you left here last
timefrom Beatricethe same I think
I gave her some month's before,
a fragrance form Venus.
My Juan, when you smell this,
you'll smell the madness of rapture, your nose
never able to rid itself
of this delicious bond we share.
* The author resides in Vilnius