LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2006 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 52, No.1 - Spring 2006
Editor of this issue: Stasys Goštautas
Laima Sruoginis, poet and translator; currently teaches at the University of Southern Maine. Her edited and translated works include The Earth Remains: an Anthology of Contemporary Lithuanian Prose; Raw Amber: An Anthology of Contemporary Lithuanian Poetry; In Her Own Words: An Anthology of Contemporary Lithuanian Writing and numerous others.
Because of you
I am here
Rootless in America
Not quite able to grasp
The fabric of this country
Carrying my strange name
Around with me
Like a suitcase that doesn’t quite fit
In a train station locker.
You’ve made me homeless
In a split-level ranch house
In suburban Long Island.
Oh, Russia, with your bloody millions,
Forgotten and buried, voiceless,
You are but a speck now,
A tick growing fat
Waiting to burst.
On the news, between the jostle of crowds,
Rushing to buy supplies in the marketplace
I caught a glimpse of a little Iraqi girl
Holding her father’s hand.
There were only a few days left
Before our bombs would fall.
And as they prepared flashy war graphics
And moving background music
The media still pretended
There’d been a choice.
The little girl had rich dark hair
Pulled back in two pigtails,
Held tight with flapping white ribbons.
She was wearing a red cotton dress
With polka dots and a white collar.
She wore ankle socks and dainty black Mary Janes.
She was maybe four years old –
The age of my own daughter at the time.
Days afterwards I couldn’t let go of the thought –
Where was that little girl now?
As though I were her mother
Searching for her small body
Through cliffs of rubble,
Clawing through slabs of shattered
Concrete with my bare bloodied hands,
Or running scramming through the morgue
Or hiding my face, tangled in a head scarf,
Or tearing at my tattered robes,
Twisted about my ankles.
In a democracy we’re all responsible,
All of us, and just like in the marketplace,
You can’t simply pay your money
And walk away – you must take with you
What you’ve paid for.
6:00 PM GARBAGE PICKUP AT
POURED CONCRETE APARTMENT COMPLEX IN VILNIUS
Gray faces marked their dance
As they swung their hips methodically
In the large plate glass showcase window
Of the United Colors of Benneton Store –
A peacock on Gediminas Avenue,
An overdressed woman picking through cabbages.
Gray faces marked their dance,
Embarrassed, apathetic, or just exhausted,
They swung their hips dutifully,
Thrust their buttocks towards
The gathering few – their motions
Strangely adrift in the rushing traffic.
A begging child pressed her face into the window.
This is Eastern Europe
Where the weather is always bad
And doom clings together with coal
On the crowns of pedestrians’ heads.
Fear is carried along on the soles of shoes,
Pennies are counted, bills stuffed
Into an old sock, crammed into the back
Of the underwear drawer.
The trolleybus is packed to capacity –
Its seams bursting with arms, legs, tirades,
Political debates, appeals to God,
And stoic grandmothers
Clutching sullen toddlers
Who gaze unnaturally quiet
Out the cracked hoary windows,
Picking at the frost
With ragged fingernails.
Back at my building complex
It is 6 o’clock and in one rainbow arc
Tin rubbish buckets rise.
The steel dumpster thuds to the ground –
Straw basket of a hot air balloon –
First the children,
Then the babushkas,
Then the young housewives,
Endless weeks passed in faded flower-print housedresses,
Pour a rainbow of eggshell,
Potato rind, newspaper smeared with mayonnaise,
Coffee grounds, and dust.
Between these concrete slabs – oh – there is drinking, living, /fucking.
Between these concrete slabs – children grown old,
Men live everlastingly young,
Fountains of alcohol never stop gushing
And women like plush couches hand
Over huge cauldrons of borscht and cabbage soup.
The phone rings forever and gossip
People play honest-to-God card games,
Children collect bits
Of broken colored glass.
Under the windows in the dirt yards cats,
No better than rats,
Eye the overburdened rusty wheel rims,
Feed on whatever escapes the garbage truck
While dogs bark incessantly
From up on high balconies, hopelessly trapped.
At the side of the garbage truck
Conversation flows like mayonnaise – salty, sticky sperm,
Secrets are told, tips are exchanged,
Beyond men’s eyes, behind God’s back,
At the side of the garbage truck we are equal,
We belong, we are wanted,
Our trash flows from us
Purifying our souls,
Until the next bucket fills.
Wearing through cotton slippers
Women shout to each other
In Russian, Polish, Lithuanian
From windows forced open.
An occasional dog howls,
Varnish in the hallway never dries,
And the paint is leaded.
Between these concrete slabs
Life never ceases to be,
Roles never reverse,
And miracles just never happen.