LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2006 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 52, No 4 - Winter 2006
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
WORDS, MY WORDS
VĀRDI, MANI VĀRDI
Interpreted by Astrida Barbins-Stahnke
Vizma Belšēvica (1931-2005), writer and translator, was considered the leading Latvian poet of the post World War II generation. During the Soviet occupation she dared to write strong poems exposing themes of injustice and oppression of the powerful over the disenfranchised, which caused her great suffering. But her words inspired her nation to wait and work towards freedom and independence.
* * *
I carry my love
As a toddler carries a chestnut leaf:
So seriously holds the outstretched hand.
It is so difficult to balance the tiny steps
With giant autumn all around.—
From the trees
Fall and fall
Rustling golden secrets
And confuse the steps.
But the little one does not slip.
He holds on to his leaf
And solemnly wades into the blizzard of leaves.
* * *
Eye to Eye with a Cat
Such a slick banister—
Iron and air,
And all around sharp silence.
A white cat sits over an abyss.
I am very afraid for the cat,
But the cat is not at all.
Alone at the far window.
Does anything still hold me?
The cat is very afraid for me.
I am not at all.
In a second
The earth’s axis could shake. . .
I am very afraid for the cat.
The cat is very afraid for me.
But for ourselves—
Not at all.
Lullaby to an Adult Child
When you cannot sleep, little bat,
When you cannot, little bat,
When you have to toss in circles
With wings aching from restlessness,
Do you crash against his window?
Do you perch near his head?
Or do you also know that you must not—
You ugly, gray little bat?
When you cannot sleep, little leaf,
When you cannot, aspen leaf,
When you have to tremble and break from a fragile stem
And shivering run into the wind,
Do you fall on his lips?
Do you caress his cheek?
Or do you know that you must not—
You lonesome aspen leaf?
When we cannot sleep in the night,
When we cannot sleep at all,
We rummage through reeds,
We reach for drugs and herbs;
Trying to find him dreams.
We stick them through shutters;
We push them into the peace of his room.
We might even put them under his pillow...
Still, his dreams won’t be about us.
But when the last dream will vanish
Out of the silently sleepless flower,
He will rise and see a woman’s footprints
In the garden, wet with dew.
But the apple tree won’t tell him,
And the dahlia will not reveal
That a bat had perched on her shoulder
And her hand held an aspen leaf.
to the Yard
An elk-torn apple tree cross.
Some rotten eaves and posts.
Underneath lies my childhood
Along with a clearing’s bright sun,
With a shepherdess’ barefoot steps
There, under the ruins of a shed.
Now only colts’ feet stomp
Through my old meadows and fields,
And yesterday’s path by the orchard
The cuckoos have cried shut.
Only a blue, split teardrop
Swings from a desperate stalk...
Neither look at that gnarled birch
It was sticky from the start.
I wanted to give you my childhood,
Not a sickle-cut bird in my hand.
Turn away until the futile doors of memory close.—
Nothing has been here.
Here is nothing.
Only swamps for wild boars and elks.
A Pine Tree with Naked Roots
Is it the fault of the pine tree or
That the foundations break and dissolve?
That the head climbed to the sky
Before the roots had not pushed deep enough?
You feel the roots’ naked shame.
You cannot hold the earth anymore.
You cannot start over.
But more dreadfully—what if you cannot
Die from this emptiness?
for the sky,
High over the earth, while longing to grow
Into it deeply—all the way up
To the sticky trunk!
Only to sunsets briefly, mutely complaining,
You may expose your blushing nakedness.--
But why do I pick on you, ancient old pine?
Enough! You really are stately and high.
Your fingers are full of innocent
Jūlijs. A clear, sweltering glimmer
And the closeness of fermenting taste of honey.
And that boy was a poet about flowers and eyes,
About the balm of sage on bright lips.
He was lost in Zalve’s water grasses and clouds’ reflections.
Dear boy, didn’t you know that you would be shot?
And there was the muteness of your
So shrill that even the executioners trembled.
From that salvo for you – one.
The other bullets flew to your mother’s breast.
You died once.
Your mother – constantly. When she remembers the tiny mouth...
The first tooth. And the birch-leafed sky collapses
From the sharp crashing of bullets.
The first steps... In black gun barrels
The white ringlet head walks away – and is gone.
Into the mother’s outstretched arms run back – bullets.
And so her whole life long until nothingness took pity on her.
Sweet boy, didn’t you know how it would be with your mother?
Now children with red kerchiefs water red salvias on the grave.
He himself seemed a child.
In the Crown School he taught children
How beautiful their mothers’ language was.
He scattered words like acorns;
He brought them into the sun like seeds,
And from his words grew the thirst of freedom
Much bigger than his small nation.
boy, didn’t you know that by sowing words you would
And later it was written about the black trampled blossoms,
about daisies and poppies smashed by horses’ hoofs.
Oh, no! It wasn’t like that at all.
When the flowers saw those horrible horses with twisted muzzles
and sagging hind ends and those more beastly muzzles upon their backs,
with stretched-out fragile petals,
they threw themselves on the ground to defend their native meadow.
Didn’t they know they would
Oh, even the tiniest, dullest, newly-sprung forget-me-not knew that!
It was, in truth, again a showdown of
never-ending incompatibility of beauty and brutality.
Dearest boy, your mother has forgiven you her daily assassination.
Sleep in peace.
Zalve: a town in Latgale.
2. Jūlijs Dievkociņš, a poet, teacher, and publisher especially of literature for children. He supported the ideas of the National Awakening and was assassinated on February 3, 1906 by the reactionaries to the 1905 Revolution.
* * *
Inside a wounded cherry tree
Resin gently turns to amber.
So peacefully and slowly flowing,
My lines of poetry
Without the bitterness of injustice,
Collect themselves with silent smiles,
Even though in twilight hours
Death talks to me
And bends down ever closer
And puts her hand upon my chest
Practicing to choke me
So that when the real time comes
It will not be too difficult.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Should anyone on tiptoe walk
Throughout the busy farmyard
Just because grandmother
Keeps her casket in the attic?
There sheaves of flax send out fragrances,
And the hen lays her daily egg—
Right up until that very moment
When the casket’s lid
Will bloom with funeral wreaths.
The firs of Ērgļi 3 stand in the snow,
and the snow is on the grave of Blaumanis
And of Jānis Grots, yes, Grots.4
and the day is as pale as the face of the dying,
So ashen gray.
Sunny hearts lie buried
There, in the grave mount,
and all around it flows time
And the never-freezing Ogre,
black over white rapids.