Volume 45, No. 4 - Winter 1999
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1999 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.



The hardest thing to do was to hide the boats they had
    / dragged up onto the sand, 
to cut up the tight rubber, shove the scraps under the
    / bushes, 
to ignore the prickly rain that comes before the dawn,

inundating the spine. The low pines kept silent across the
    / dunes.
When the line moved, he sighed. His esophagus 
recalled the memory of yesterday's seasickness,

and his shoulders, the strap of the backpack. Penicillin,
    / binoculars,
ammunition, written off of army storage the year before last, 
a letter from an old minister with the word "long live unity,"

a radio. Never having been to this seaside before, he sank 
n the sand, pressed the pine needles, aligned himself with
    / his friend's jacket, 
knowing his homeland by the shape of the cumulus cloud.

* * *

The needle of the compass danced out the ritual klumpakojis
    / dance.
Eight kilometers down the road, next to the deserted farm, 
he'd have to encounter the Bear, the Fern Blossom and the
    / Goat -

nicknames from fables. An unfamiliar group stomped its feet 
in the glade. The commander, whom he had seen
    / somewhere before 
in the unfinished war, said the password. Alleviated,

his companions disappeared in the dugout, but he lagged
    / behind. His boot
slipped on the mossy tussock by the stream, and the blow, 
missing the back of his head, landed in his elbow. Grabbing

his holster in a rush, he was able to feel
the muscles in his kneeling leg tense; he saw the black
    / aperture 
before his eyes and grasped: well, that guy is quicker.

* * *

His brains, clinging to the stem of a reed, dried up long ago. 
The rest soaked into the sand. At least he's lucky 
the secret service couldn't extract any codes from it,

since, were it not for the wet hummock, probably he, like his
    / two friends,
who were less fortunate that morning, say what you will, would have misled his people in the dark games of the Great

Powers, would have reached old age in the stinging cigarette
    / smoke
in a provincial cafe with a hundred grams of cognac, 
trying to persuade everyone, including himself, that he 
    / saved

young people from bullets and nooses - or, maybe 
having been across the Arctic Circle and back, he would
    / have striven 
in vain, in ignorant offices for compensation for the lost time.

* * *

If s better the way it turned out. No cross, no memory. 
The trucks stagger on the bumpy strip of gravel road 
a few steps away from the place where it all happened.

The sweat-soaked drivers play the brakes like piano keys, 
an axe is heard in the pine forest, the farmstead walls turn
    / white, 
the cuckoo promises we'll live long yet:

three times or maybe even four times as long as he. 
Whoever died will never return; what's lost is gone. 
Only the scraps of the rubber boat under the seaside willow

still await the Lord's Judgment, and the outline of the cloud, 
exactly the same as then, crawls over the forest glade, 
and the algae sway in the stream, which he didn't reach 
    / then.

Author's note. The topic of the poem is the fate of the Lithuanian émigrés who secretly went to their homeland (then annexed by the USSR) during the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were helped, to a degree, by the British Intelligence Service. Owing to the efforts of Kim Philby and his collaborators, they usually were met by Soviet units posing as anti-Communist guerrillas. Most of them were killed or sent to prison camps, and several were recruited by the KGB.


The most important thing, though difficult, is to love
    / language,
humbled in newspapers, obituaries saturated with lies, 
in the darkness of stuffy bedrooms, the informer's typescript, 
in the cry at the bazaar, trenches, the stench of hospital
    / wards,

in third-rate theaters, investigative offices, on lavatory walls. 
In the gray buildings, where steel nets preserve 
the bottom of the stair cage/so that not man, but the century may choose the moment when dying will be allowed,

this language, almost collapsed, littered with sound 
and fury. That's it, to love language, 
banished to earth along with us, since 
even then the primordial word is reflected

in it, as though born in another universe.
It was given to us so that we could be different from clay,
the palm, the thrush, maybe even from angels,
so that, naming objects, we could perceive them clearly.

Those who try to return to the lost space,
cleansing their language, should understand
that they will almost surely lose. Because the doors,
as we know, recede faster than you can approach them,

the gift is equal to loss; that which is built
will be destroyed quickly. Nor should one go
into a foreign heaven (since there are many). Whoever
    / reaches 
it wipes out his footsteps and tosses the key away.

They say you are only a tool. You are dictated by
a force, which you can't face head-on, or you'll go blind.
That's not exactly the case. You'll climb Jacob's ladder in a
    / dream, 
gropingly, using strength you don't have, not protected by
    / the net,

until someone up above finds you (or maybe doesn't).
    / Sometimes,
moving you aside, he transposes two or three words, 
changes a vowel, tightens the syntax, the degree. 
This happens very rarely, but it does happen,

and then you get the sense that you did the right thing, 
since the letters float across the page like sludge on a river, 
and suddenly bushes, an embankment, a city emerge into
    / view. 
You don't have to know whoever reads this (if anyone).

Translated by Diana Senechal