ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2013 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 59, No.2 - Summer 2013
Editor of this issue: Elizabeth Novickas

Poems by Jake Levine


JAKE LEVINE’S work in translation, criticism, and poetry has appeared widely online and in print. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Lithuania in 2010-2011, when these poems were written. He continues to edit Spork Press and lives in Seoul, Korea.

Lithuania for Lithuanians

for the Nationalist Youth

near the three gold cupolas
greased with light
just above the sink, Jesus Christ
and men tinkering with a satellite
wave from outer space

when the tv tower
on the horizon explodes
assuaged from life
by a strange and curable disease
the clumps of chestnuts lining the river walk
are dying you say
lazily fingering gooseberries
on the gold-rimmed plate

a global warning is happening
and this is completely avoidable
as their disease is preventable

but if we address every story
how they deserve happy endings
made by love, a wilderness of hair
glued to sweating windows

then explain the green front door
of our bedroom suburb
how it rusted unexpectedly
after the wall stain
made by the portrait of Stalin
was replaced with a Chihuahuan sombrero

how unexpectedly the acquisition of things
we only knew as ideas became real
and the ideas we once knew
we no longer could afford to dream

I have paid witness to the ghosts
of your ancestry dancing nakedly
around a fire of a statue of a serpent

in the center of an island of reeds
whose shadows look like teeth
you look like a snapdragon
avoiding the licking flame

while the silver hands of a few dead Jews
cram through the ghetto wall
plead quietly for spare bread
in Ðnipiðkës a few babushka
houses fly up from some flames

we wonder, perhaps because of poverty
or is it capitalism
that your Volga was deported
like the culture of my ancestry
is unnecessarily bleached from pain

we don’t live as well as we imagined
under the free Lithuanian sky

but I remember that ride to the castle at Trakai
where we ran over a snake and almost died
because the minibus driver had been drinking

I remember the dead flint
of the SS Einsatzgruppen lighter
I kept both in fear and from disgust
from buying. how we arrived
at the lake with a bottle of triple 9’s
and rented an old pedal boat
and bought a plastic ale jug
and parked the steadfast jalopy
on that island of reeds

in the middle of your skin
greased with sunlight
like a roman candle
you hurled your body into the lake

I understood that where you felt free
I planned an escape

and so for your blind flag
sacredly raised over a ground made hollow
by the liquidation of the dead

a single poem
my one and only condolence


at the moment the ash heap stopped its smoke
our world began

we treated it by returning to the source
again and again, ripping the hair out the old dog
until there wasn’t one left, not even on his balls
but that wasn’t enough—we wanted skin—

bloodwet hound hide stretched round our face
fully wrapped and warm like the first evacuated
birth hole ripped open to a hood—
Eden, this is where we have come
an unutterable and deafening stillness
in this our pit of silence
let silence be mightier than prayer

elsewhere children are stuffed
with smoked ribs, a banjo strums to the banshee cry
of a violin

inside a log built tavern a town is being stomped out
to a waltz

but here we are the fugue
an individual in each plucked note like a bucket
of water poured over a campfire

playing out loud our lives
from a soggy ash, the deafening shrill


holy pit, my forever echo, I cast
into your womb

here is where I stab my name

despite time spent elsewhere, distant crowns
of spruce appear as a single pixel

chestnut trees rowed to mask the blood trail
on earth

on earth
I have most lived

inside a light box, shattered images
of my childhood world

a flat screen, bending inward
toward the death shroud—rip a small hole
in the fabric of earth

I take the oath

that once upon time birds circled
the thought char, disappearing inside a plume
of lost smoke and saw language dying

never forget
but from the fire pit we were educated
only on how to build fire — only how to forget

the heart’s counter-pulse shot blood
out the brain and around the animal body
aborting language out the fire pit

where the profane became most sacred
and still is


the forevered teardrop crystallizes on the bonecrust
and it is fresh
rain again, dappling the ground
to a sour shade

the seasons deregulate
as we, our bodies, become deregulated

knotting our tongue, plucking the mouth
the Jew sounds gulp in separate discord
easy as a void’s harp

our congregation assembled into being
which now no more a nothing mob
industrious in non-labor
progresses toward unclear objectives
on the railway system lost stars navigate

home, we bury
our white pickets in evenly spaced rows
vertical, like makeshift gravesites
planted at the side of a road

and just as we believed
the pit couldn’t sink lower
they give us heavier shovels

we know where they go
we without tongues
as it continues to rain


kneeling down in the pit, a bald girl
raising a picture with both her hands
above her head in the shape of a prayer

into thin rays squeezed out the half light
surrounded by the glint of rusty tin cans and oil trays
spread out to collect rainwater, the world disappears

she doesn’t recognize it
the fact that her prayer was answered

she who said father
sticks her head out the window
to listen to the vixen’s howl
celebrating the night’s first kill


the first black lab seen for years gnaws off the rotten
end of a wooden bench. the ghosts are monitoring

a fresh wound we dug, inserting long veins
of fiber optic cable inside the ditch

as we ail dirty for a connection to a different and outside world
we can feel the hunger inside the pit

with torn bits of sun bleached rag
wrapped round our beaten heads
like the first Eskimos traversing the ice bridge
to an unknown land in the age of unreason

our palms crackle against the shovel handles
like cracked eggshells

at night the guards give us a laptop, a mixer, turntables
and we play our degenerate music

we do not know what is promised
here, in this place, where the ghosts speak

we grow desperate for connection