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

Volume 59, No.3 - Fall 2013
Editor of this issue: Elizabeth Novickas

Shards of One World
For Valteris Lendraitis (1908-2001)


RIMAS UZGIRIS is a poet, translator, and critic with a doctorate in philosophy and a MFA in creative writing. He received a Fulbright Scholar Grant in 2013, and was recently awarded a 2014 National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship. He teaches literature and creative writing at Vilnius University.

It must have been the low moan of engines and creaking gears, the treads crushing brush and branch, the volume increasing, groaning, roaring – that terrified you: down in a ditch, with the endless pine trees shielding a cold grey sky, their pungent resin scent drowned in your nostrils by gunpowder, diesel, and blood – your hand gripping the Panzerfaust, the trembling earth. 

We will destroy this world of violence
Down to the foundations, and then
We will build our new world.1  

The garden of old age was just a mist in your mind that would slowly creep up over the shifty sand of the Cape, sand that you would turn into loamy soil with tomatoes that could wrinkle a face with flavor, and cool cucumbers sliced thick, lengthwise, and dipped into honey on a hot summer’s day, your grandson watching, looking, learning – under the mixed shade of white oak, black spruce, and red maple – quickened by squirrel fur and the ubiquitous cheeping of birds.

Let us be inspired by life and love.2  

Blinking lights
        at the intersection –

You wonder what
        others will do,
squinting in a tourist’s sun
reflected off the mall
failing to see
        the oncoming car –

No matter.

The river hasn’t stopped
by which you were born.
Even if you change the names,
and all your heirs are daughters,
it hasn’t stopped,
whether or not they have children,
it hasn’t stopped –

It hasn’t stopped
        as black ink
slithers over the page
        this light
from source to sea –

A child listens before you sleep.

Ið praeities Tavo sûnûs
Te stiprybæ semia.3  

Skirsnemunë, Kaunas, Greiz,
Wundsiedel, Garmisch-Partenkirchen,
Mittenwald, Munich, Boston, Centerville...

Every flicker of consciousness

into the cold air
        we breathe
into the atmosphere

above the sidewalk
beside Macy’s Department Store
windows decorated to buy –

Producteurs, sauvons-nous nous-mêmes
Décrétons le salut commun.4  

You made ties
in a factory by Kaunas on a river
before the war,
and into it:

The Russians came.
The Germans came.

Lithuanian heads turned
every which way
and loose.

Lietuva, Tëvyne mûsø,
Tu didvyriø þeme.5  

You kept your eyes on the patterns
and forms of the tie weaves
stitched into the machinery,
run by unschooled workers

        (the proletariat)
and a seamstress whose brothers
enrolled her
        in the party

was the obvious choice
to run the factory
by and for
the people.

        (But she didn’t know how.)

They soon shall hear the bullets flying,
We’ll shoot the generals on our own side.6  

You helped her tame the machines.
Produce. Order the brutish things.

So comrades, come rally,
For this is the time and place!
The international ideal,
Unites the human race.7  

Until she got the notice
one night
that you must go
go go

She told you
        Out of thanks?
She told you
        Out of love?
She told you
        As a brother

So you took
your family and ran.

Your dog
ran too
        beside the tracks.

Sudie. Goodbye.

Tegul meilë Lietuvos
Dega mûsø ðirdyse.8  

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

They asked. You answered.
You received
        a shovel.

You dug
        their trenches
against the tide
against the rising Red
Sea of them.

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt,
Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
Brüderlich zusammenhält.9

to dig against
the advancing flood
of people
like history

        They are too close.
So shoot
        the tide
Shoot the workers
Shoot your brother
        fighting on the other side

Shoot your wife’s brother
        from his flat
in Kaunas,
Litva, SSR.

And end the vanity of nations,
We’ve but one Earth on which to live.10  

You and he
would not meet
        until the
war was over,
Stalin dead
and Gorbachev on the rise.

Vardan tos, Lietuvos
Vienybë teþydi!11  

Jadvyga and the girls had been left in Greiz,
and your journey from the hospital in Denmark had been long, so long
that they were in American hands now.
And you with the Soviets.
The border was eyes, and teeth,
and grave.

You found a comrade with a common goal:
To penetrate the line in the night.
You said the nurses would be too slow.
You said it’s too risky with them to go.
You were right.

The Soviet soldier gave you the butt of his rifle as a last goodbye.
He must have smelled the German uniform
on your flesh
like sin.

But the nurses dressed your head.
They made you whole.
They made you ready.

Let no one build walls to divide us,
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone.
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us,
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone.12  

When you walked into the camp, the DP camp,
that camp of the living
after the war,
did you greet her,
        your wife, Jadvyga?

        did you find her? Bent, washing?
Or by the stove? Perhaps
the child you didn’t know?

How did she greet you,
revenant returner?
A hand, a mouth,
a limping buttress
that could support her world?

Together –

Tegul saulë Lietuvoj
Tamsumas praðalina.13

On the way to Ellis Island,
over the flowing road,
over the steel-gray sickness
of the sea

you heard:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.14

You disembarked like rats
funneled through a maze
to exit the exit door
and live among rats
in the tenements
in the factories
worked raw for a piece of cheese.

L’oisif ira loger ailleurs.15

You sent your children to college.

America, the beautiful...16

You made it.

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
gave proof...17

With shards of a grenade
embedded in your shin
        like Philoctetus
abandoned in the ward

alone among the many
you left –

The river passing,
all individuals within it,
each unstable element
searching for a home
        in perpetual motion –

for your wife and daughters,
a shifty Ithaca
        of bonds
        and a dream
in which
land is land, you said

when asked
        seated in your
easy chair
        by the window
if you missed Lithuania.

Land is land, you said
before going

to cultivate
your own garden.

C’est la lutte finale
Groupons-nous, et demain
Sera le genre humain.18  

November, 2009

1 From Aron Kots’s Russian version of “L’Internationale.”
2 From Billy Braggs’s revision of the British version of the “Internationale.”
3 “Let your sons draw their strength / From our past experience” From the Lithuanian national anthem, “Tautiðka giesmë,” by Vincas Kudirka (standard translation).
4 “Producers, let us save ourselves / Decree the common welfare.” From the original “L’Internationale” by Eugène Pottier.
5 “Lithuania, our homeland, / Land of heroes!” From the Lithuanian national anthem.
6 From the standard Canadian version of the “Internationale.”
7 From Braggs’ revision of the “Internationale.”
8 “May the love of Lithuania / Brightly burn in our hearts.” From theLithuanian national anthem.
9 “Germany, Germany above all, / Above all in the world, / When, for protection and defense, it always / takes a brotherly stand together.” From the original German national anthem, “das Lied der Deutschen” (The Song of Germany) by August Heinrich Hoffman. Only the third stanza of this song is now used as the national anthem.
10 From Braggs’ revision of the “Internationale.”
11 “For the sake of this land / Let unity blossom.” From the Lithuanian national anthem.
12 From Braggs’ revision of the “Internationale.”
13 “May the sun above our land / Banish darkening clouds around.” From the Lithuanian national anthem.
14 From the “Star-Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key.
15 “The idle will go reside elsewhere.” From the original “L’Internationale.”
16 From “America the Beautiful.”
17 From the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
18 “This is the final struggle / Let us group together, and tomorrow/ The Internationale / Will be the human race.” From the original “L’Internationale.”