Poems by Nijolė Miliauskaitė

Nijolė Miliauskaitė
translations by Jonas Zdanys

after school a hard hand 
gathered us to the sewing shop

a flock of young girls 
with children's faces 
bindweed at our waists

all winter we sewed white 
shirts for orphans 
white calla lilies blossomed 
in hothouses beneath the glass

for the bride's bouquet 
for the wreath of spruce 
for emptiness

melt the distant snowdrifts 
with your hot sighs

melt the ice 
in the sewing shop's mirror 
it alone is our secret 
understood our dreams

I watched 
through the windows, through cracks, through fences 
there, beyond the river, 
was a world locked to us

the night nurse 
black wings embracing the sleeping children 
listens drowsily to the storm 
and the heavy keys ring at her waist


heavy eyelids 
envelopes filled with sand and heat 
gnaw the eyes, a clump of frozen earth 
locks up the feet the hands

you know 
the look of cold steel 
you know why we are called 
by the dark precipice of the window

let no one 
turn and look back 
let no one point for another 
let no whispering 
drag itself after you 
like a dirty bouquet-ribbon full of holes

the sleep of lethargy, Franz K. 


bend closer
I'll whisper a secret

a large ear 
it hears 
what I mumble in sleep, sleepwalker

a hand 
with long thin fingers 
burrows through my brain, searches 
for the hidden the forgotten
it is not possible 
for you to hide beneath 
the sky

so much the better, so much the better

I want to be an embryo again
twinkling each night
above the sunken lake

* * *

you would like to live 
in the old house 
with thick walls and wide windowsills 
on which you would sit embracing your knees 
as darkness came

you would easily grow accustomed 
to the cosy ghosts 
of this house 
and would listen to something 
forgotten playing in the moonlight

sometimes an unfamiliar barefoot 
child with a long nightgown would run in 
and would ask you to take her on your knees 
the stairs would creak, as if someone was climbing 
above the ceiling steps, a cough

those hands that sewed 
the covers of these chairs 
have long since gone to dust 
and the colors have faded

how much warmth 
and love in these patterns

and you too will someday be 
only a ghost 
in an old house

* * *   

every spring 
as the hawthorns blossom 
along the river

my grandfather 
smiling hands me 
a flute he has just carved 
from willow wood 
he's been dead a long time my grandfather

and tiny yellow butterflies 
cover his face


your golden freckles 
your face 
speckled with brown spots

your belly

your belly, which you carry 
so carefully so heavily

a great magical sphere

you turn your head smile 
at him who walks with you 
and say something 
to him

gentle sunflower ripening
in our irrevocably lost homeland's empty fields


look, then: how big this 
bag is on my back 
here are gathered all 
the sicknesses of the poor 
the flu, mange, lice

tuberculosis, misfortune, despair 
anger and revolution

this is what I've brought for you

as you dance singing before the glowing 
Christmas tree 
in the great echoing high-ceilinged 

as the first star 
rings in the dark sky 
like a silver bell


my grandmother's flowers 
myrtles and geraniums 
starched lace on red down pillows
that were my dead grandmother's

(could you find some likeness 
in my face)

my mother's flowers 
ficus and philodendron, asparagus fern 
an embroidered white tablecloth, recollections 
written in a childlike hand 
in high school

I don't know what my greatgrandmother 
grew on her windowsill 
when my greatgrandfather 
left for America and my grandfather 
at fourteen 
became head of the family

   dis iz kazys paliokas 
    fotogref and he iz all redy 
    long ded in sum month 
    afder te furst

       iz yur
       faters so Im 
       senden it 
       to yu dere vincent

(written by typewriter 
on the back side 
of the photograph)

she wore light 
long wide dresses 
the wind carried her

down streets and through parks 
easily, as if through a dream 
with blossoming lindens

the thin soft cloth 
did not hide 
her breasts and in the sun 
you could see her supple 
young body

it was so hot

we rested 
in wicker chairs 
in the shade of giant 
old trees, the river's reflections 
glittered on our faces, boats 
parasols and clouds floated gently by

your dropped bicycle 
in the distant summerhouses opened books leafed 
through by unseen hands

that summer 
there was no war and there was not to be 
the first the world

* * *
these are lilacs 
from Jaskonis's mill, which is near crumbling 
each year 
I pick a huge bouquet

empty neglected ordnance yards 
each year 
grass overgrows 
the trenches, the bunkers, and the bones 
in the common grave

these are lilacs 
from Jaskonis's mill, the saddest 
flowers, for you Jadvyga (the overcoat 
hacked by moths rots in the attic)

and for you Karolina, you are old already and for you 
Barbora, the miners's 

and for me