A Letter from Mikas Kėdainiškis to Himself

Vytautas Bložė
translation by Jonas Zdanys

I

the high school has not yet exploded: there stands the German
military hospital
painted in tiger stripes: like the culturotechnical mansion
the Radvillas' mansion to this day is reflected
in the pond, as if in a mirror, in the subconscious

where in winter a group of children on skates
crowds of people behind the dike, beyond the Dotnuvėlė,
in houses
across the middle of the field with eyes closed
sleds slide, stars twinkle, the seasonings of memory are bitter

II

and the moon
We painted in tiger stripes hangs head down
above the pond summer and winter, eyes lowered
while I listen to the schoolhouse bell

night watchman of the emotions I stand in the meadow
(in the pond head down like a child standing on my hands)
the illusion of reflections remains unnoticed, even when you
change
everything in your memory, imperceptibly, taking this adding
that

III

a stranger now in this landscape, Capricorn
speaks to me in the floured rumbling of the mill: grow, stretch
climb your own shoulders in reflection and darkness, in the
exploded but reverberating
illusion

IV

kiss the knife thrown into the door, practice
time beats backward in your chest, hoofs knock
against the door, the appointed sign, let in
the dust of explosives, the shadow of ruins

miser, give yourself away free, others will envy you
that you are nowhere and with nothing, reversed time returning
gathers what you had discarded, rejected declared stolen

V

beat the lowered head
the way you would a pillow
until bees hive
on the hanging feet: I opened the closet, there the moon

sliced, dried to tinder-fungus: carefully so they wouldn't break
I held the images in my hands: I see how
hungry children of Kėdainiai Scots climb from an old meat
grinder
the Radvilas' future palace guard, yellowed and emaciated

VI

I sucked their fingers, the moon in the closet
the Radvilas' empty offices
why did they not share their milk, arrows, coarse sheets
owl wings, treasure chests of stories

I sat on the open veranda in the embrace of wind
persecuted and hunched
now I sit elsewhere, near the Jew's store
on empty shelves lay medicinal herbs, false teeth

and so I survived: one of the twins
the other, by order of the king, was attacked and arrested
in his own castle armed men broke in
led by the king's clerk

that's how in books Philip quietly
destroyed the templar order, stealing
its legendary treasures

VII

some ran into the street, others to the garden
having finished the madmen's scene, walking in the
intermittent rain
beyond the airport, where the prison camp stood
decaying and neglected like those streets to the ghetto, where
the tigers howl, storks are on the verge of extinction
were afraid to answer the cries from the grave or beyond, from
the fields
the beauty of the wondrous cemetery

VIII

but then how many people here have nowhere to sleep or
nothing to eat
the sleep they pretend to sleep is narcotic, unhealthy
the hypnotism of chapel cellars is not for them: you listen
with lowered head, loving but not understanding them: it's me

it's me! I put the skull on the shelf, in Capricorn's light
the knife glistens, not the skull
remaining in the subconscious
each day the number grows, runs toward us, from the graveyard

IX

letters cannot classify or explain it
this is empty wisdom: I joined the naturally
existing order of mendicant monks, searching
for a link to the people

to go, hurry, attack, rise again
lament your old semblance, that the wind would scatter
your thoughts, I explained them to you
thoughts, poor children, may my lantern shine for them, my candle

in the old skull flying on the table

X

above their heads an unearthly light flashed suddenly
their search for divine secrets forced them to turn to themselves
to search with their thoughts for still-undiscovered spheres
controversies of mind and soul: who created all this? they
hungered with him
wanted to unite with him and understand incomprehensible
reality

XI

the inconstancy of the living, the contradictions shaped by birth,
watch fearing nothing and not shuddering, just as when
you understood that someone was watching through the
ventilation
screen in the wall, in the classroom

understood but did not believe it: I am your double, silent
whispering from your subconscious, the class watched but did not
see the skull
staring through the screen

XII

things don't belong to me even though they are hammered out
of me
they return with documents, invoices, coins, religious
excesses: others suffered most, heretics
the misled fanatics blindly agreed

incited by the dignitaries
of this world, lye
travelers led by corrupted leaders
in ambush: thieves and murderers

XIII

beatings for those too much in debt, on the bridge on the back
of the head
near the pit kneeling a pistol shot
thoughts capturing the same thing, names, money, treasury
cerement coins

stamps from under the heels in the black earth
death's cobblers: women's bindings, horses'
harnesses, mimes, dancers, run up to hold me
by the halter while you climb down

XIV

coupling books, bookbinders are born, tar
drips from horseshoes: statues dance on pedestals
devil cauldrons steam, and farther on the gallows
wait for inspiration, stretching, tension

a horrible summer night's dream, the barely noticeable trembling
of the mirror or spoon, which you are set to take, accept
the strangely distorted face, your reflection, dead in the mirror
like Christ, on the bulletin board, it would rise again

they arrive in old locomobiles

XV

the re-creation of a relative, as the scraps
of hours dissolve among papers centipedes from under
the rock that has pressed your heart, people
dreaming themselves as ants and bees

XVI

my first attempt to fly
a la bat: with wings I made of tanned leather
off the windmill's roof, during honey gathering
carefully grabbing the tops of willows by the road

but I won't tell you! to jump from a windmill
would seem such an absurdity today: a man with wings
your non-submissive laughing servant
my liver ruptured, dungwash flowed from my mouth

o shame! asleep among the sheep

XVII

my two sheep twins milk-givers, whom
I nicknamed Mary Magdalen, broke loose
not moved in the meadow, both tied with one
chain beyond the airport, which
dragged behind caught on a railway switch. The sheep

lay down on the tracks, swollen, sensing nothing wrong
and just then a locomotive ran out from past the park,
with wheels reinforced by the Germans, but luckily
turned toward the warehouses and not the marketplace

where sellers offer mutton, paradise apples, and meadows

XVIII

I was angry at the stable boy
caught him in the cattle-yard
squeezed between the pen fence and raised gate
doing a sheep fawning on her in Latin

like a servant a maid, lifting up
to clean the dust from a picture frame, not taken down
the dough has cooled in the kneading-trough, for supper
it should have been a carcass

reflecting in her dusty eyes, sheets soaking before
laundering, a drum, pond frogs, it is that way too with
princesses
changed from frogs, from under the groundwork of winter

XIX

but that was all a joke compared to the processions
of self-flagellants: I watched them
in Burgundy, Germany and France: in the old days
some two hundred of them arrived in Strasbourg

with old-fashioned four stroke internal combustion engines
the procession in front of me carried pronominal flags, of
the most expensive
materials, and burning candles in pretentious candelabras
reminded me of grave stones: they marched in pairs, wearing rich

clothing, hats pulled low over their eyes, decorated
with red crosses, marched and sang complicated melancholy
hymns of the time, blaming themselves even with imagined
sins, and beat themselves, beat themselves hungering

to be more quickly deserving of salvation: into the rye fields,
into worked gardens
their hymn was accompanied by church bells: in the agreed upon
place
wearing only their underclothes, and whoever did not have those
sashed their loins with towels or cellophane: from
waist to heel. They all laid down in a wide circle and the master
(that's what the executioner was called then) began
walked as he wished, stepped across the penitents

before the world's end hungering for spiritual salvation, laced
those bodies with his whip, the whipped arose and walked
after the master, stepping over those who had been called
already by the governing master, cut down

everyone he saw before him, following after, chasing after
not to fall behind: stopped in a circle on the stage, the orchestra
fell silent, only the best voices remained: a hymn
in the name of the brotherhood: standing two by two they beat
themselves and only

the whips, from two quarters, leather whips, now without
the ballet-master who was a professional, he only
fulfilled the formality of calling them forth, while at the whip
ends
so they'd rattle were attached buttons into whose holes

were pushed nails: blood flooded onto the asphalt
from under the overturned truck, fueled by wood, etc.
flashes lighted the sky which seemed to rise
upward, until eventually Clement VI

forbade such fanatical penitence

XX

wrinkled
faces from the accumulator, always harder
to control
to simplify and perfect the ceremonial
the Radvilas already slept
in cellars, dried out and so endlessly small
compared to how much people today have outgrown them,
and perhaps time, drying them out, also reduced distance and
measure

from my childhood home to the wellspring at the sanctimonious
old women's home
wings and propellers dried out, alongside the railroads
only the moon shines new in my closet, cut
like bread crusts on the shelves

XXI

the eggs burns with light
from the accumulator's battery, where their unburned souls

pulsate in the ears
tongues are hammered in the forge to lie, to agitate, a cut-out
of an old man's heart, in the pocket, a tiny bird
twitters and twitters, crawling on one leg toward the railroad

Post Scriptum

solitary bones, gnawed by blossoming bushes and by grass
in history having lost all, taken away and collateral
evidence for their lost flesh, are scattered
in coffins: under churches

waiting for faded memories, thoughts of resurrection
embodied in poles, in roadside shrines, spiderwebs
their reformed soul, while everyone was laughing,
runs beyond the cemetery, squats down, hiding from the gunshot

how small, people are bigger now, grow and grow
outgrowing everyone gone to the past: nothing
not their graves, niches, beds, teeth
and not their country would fit beneath a foreign flag

life will not awaken their fear, from an empty mouth
calcified saliva, for the inquisition, for this time all the same,
the sun the moon, water and snow, the quarrelsome river
and military boots: coughed up in graves, moving feet

let's call this a fictitious incarnation, failure, barren
psychoses: down, step by step, into
a lost world, a starless void, a cellar, which is lower
than their self-respect: dismal and incomprehensible, torn away
from them

on which scale then to measure life after death
and the lambs have grown, one named Kristoforas
a horned madman, a reprobate rioter, under the Germans
went out into the forest, was a partisan, plundered, put
pyrotechnics under the tracks

so (under way from Marburg) the Radvila echelons, so
their bones would crumble on the ties, being taken to military
warehouses
not listed on invoices
market places, beneath the breaking wheels, swept up scattered on
the roadway

they blew up
heavy water in Dotnuva, on the bank, near the dam
the mansion beside my high school, rooms filled with news
diaries of the class struggle, international hatred, this and that

we returned from the forest, from an ancient ballad, the historical
past, with invalids, on their side
leaning against their shoulders, bracing legs, we stopped
in wall-hanging landscapes, family cellars, equipped with bars
after acclimating, in closet mirrors: sit me
on water! I'll hold out, I shouted, the Radvilas are ours! on water

and dried crusts! I will not sink into the reflection holding out
like the physicists' frog after electric
shock

I'll sit again in the corner of the cottage, shadows
falling from the swings, from the pea vines
from the guelder rose and jasmine, rowan tree roots
gnawed bones

shadows, falling from sarcophaguses, from the hanging fish net's
roots
from the stopped flow of thoughts, the touchable pulse
of the dead man's hand, while alive time is in me, while there is

strength
in mime and pyrotechnics, to be together with you

I received a receipt for the sheep requisitioned
for matters of war: such is the fate of sheep
only Schickelgruber kept company with the third Roman empire's
she-wolves
I milked alone, in the dark, before the religious retreat
dressed in a lamb's skin I was stopped outside the confessional
was taken to Londonderry and after the war was sentenced
in the Netherlands for vagrancy: this letter was mailed
before that

Post Post Scriptum

each day they checked his psyche, his near-sighted eyes: how
many fingers do you see, Winston? (they always confused him
with
some Winston) four or five? four? five? how many fingers
do you see, Winston? how much is two plus two? five? well,
confess

that two and two are five, enough of this wrong thinking
that two and two are six, how many of my fingers do you see?
and showed him
lying in a fog three fingers: six fingers? you must get used to it
Winston, that you see as many as you must see, this is not
mysticism, but

simple relativity: if we agree, that there are this many
that there is this, then it will be as much as we'll need: all
the scholars of Spain, Arabs and Jews
have thoroughly investigated the meaning of the inquisition

for the faithful: have thoroughly investigated
the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle's
influence on heretical deviations
from the path of truth

which led the innocent saints
to eternity, that is, to the fire
in the best instances to the reformation
to Protestantism, which was unavoidable

I'm saying this from the castle prison, from the fortress
of argument from the cell, where
skulls are interchangeable, money is confiscated and faith
is hammered with nails into generous palms through an empty
head

Ex Post

And there were those
who counterfeited money: they
were harshly punished: they were thrown into a pot
of boiling water or

their throats were filled with molten lead
because expensive products, for example
peppers were accepted instead of money, and no one then
could make such counterfeit

it list only strange
that in literature
there is no punishment
for forgery: on the contrary

the worse
one wrote
the more
one was paid

at that time masterpieces, as always
were not liked
it was difficult to publish them, and when published
some even ended up in bonfires, well then. The result of

the interactions of ruling princes and other various strata
was that in the XV century
a stratified monarchy developed Princes governed
according to roman law, and that's why here, as in Italy, there
began to appear

educated jurists, doctors, who understood both roman civic
as well as church canonical rights
before which a man holding onto the norms of the old "correct"
laws
was powerless: individualism nurtured by ancient example

the culture of language
and developing
worldliness
and nationalist feelings: fundamental

the outlines of an earlier humanism were and remain, because it is
not possible
not to see the difference
between time and eternity, between
this side and the other

therefore wanting to be like the scholarly spiritual knights
I had to understand, it seems, Rienzi
flying beneath the clouds, that early revolutionary troubadour
of humanism (as he was once called), o, and also Petrarch