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Vitalija Pilipauskaitė-Butkienė

Vitalija Pilipauskaitė-Butkienė (b. 1981) is a poet, literary scholar, doula, and mother of three children.
She completed Master’s degree in Lithuanian literature at Vilnius University and is currently a doctoral student there. Her debut book, I Am Breathing, was named one of the 12 most creative books of 2015 by the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore. In the same year she was awarded the Z. Gėlė Prize for best poetic debut.

Her work embodies the perspective of a free 21st century woman, examining ideas of identity, relationships, and societal roles. In addition, the poems put forth insights about the Soviet and post-Soviet space of the late 20th century, as often as expressed through the voice of a child. Her poetry is notable for bringing to the fore themes and topics often considered too intimate, indelicate, or best kept secret; these include breast cancer, the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of children, and the self-destruction of the individual.

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Photo by Viktorija Raggana
 

land of glass

into the pocket of her well-washed robe
she’d shove seeds, dandelion fluff, a feather,
a fist, pressed stone-hard
nails writing into the tissue of her palm –
firmly, drops of blood settling into the life line’s arch,
dust, all sorts of nothings,

choking on tears when she read, tossed fire-wood into the stove,
when, having taken out her good shoes she prepared to go into town,
pulling rapidly disintegrating nylons over her firm calves
(catching a nail was all it took),
she’d look at the swirls of stubble underneath
and remembered searing hogs,
garlic infused ham,

she’d tug on her skirt –
sewn while she was still unwed–
the one that rubbed, day after day:
in the village streets, at work, on the way to the bus
already gleaming somewhat – on the knees and buttock,
around the hips,

swallowing several sips of tea she’d fix dinner in her mind,
unused to speaking she’d exchange a few words with her neighbour,
her colleagues, with the television antenna seller on the corner,

in the evenings she’d wrap herself in her robe –
smiling, spent, in love and happy
(if such a thing could be) –
tying memories into knots
she’d curl up in front of the television, caressing the remnants of the day in her pocket,
believing in peace,

later she’d have to endure
the stretching, touching, fingering, pulling,
she’d have to endure her own squealing,
her scraped intestines,
her abraded eyes –
only then: goodnight


Childhood

kurva kurva kurva
he’d shout, driving the whip across her narrow backside

raising her skirts in a rage,
pulling down her sweatpants

I’d follow every one of their movements,
throat clenched – – –

that boney backside, the blazing heavens
are still in my dreams

though it’s ten years of rot, already,
since he rises to the heavens on crooked whips of woven grass–

that’s what
I call childhood

2012

 
rosary for my dead loves

a bead

already for many years I begin from this one,
I call him indian,
though his name was vytenis

I remember his surname too,
etched for a lifetime,
painfully, the moment my friend told me
she’d heard about him on the radio,
she said: isn’t that the same one,
your vytenis

like a tomcat
he stalked the roofs of all the churches in telšiai
until one day he fell,
and god didn’t grant him a tenth life

that’s the one, I replied, that’s the one,
and I wept on the country bus

a bead

this one’s right from childhood

first kiss in the foundations of a never completed
inter-war church

our home-made sweaters,
hands shaking with tension

and what kind of love was that?
we did what our friends were doing

so terribly timid,
and now he’s a lush

a bead

this one I don’t want to remember
nor encounter,
though sometime we pass one another by in the streets of vilnius

a bead

one more buried,
I’d like to know where

he was a good and peaceful Samogitian

so senselessly –
he went into the woods with his father
and never came back
the same

a festering eye, then the rest of him went too

a bead

my beloved,
my great gentle one,
my first experienced
kindness,
my great guilt

through you I descended into hells,
so that we would both be purified

a bead

I met this one by a lake
now he is raising a son,

back then he himself was still a child

for a good three years
we rolled around and did who knows what,
we played

though sometimes I think
he really did love me

a bead

I wrote my whole life on this one:
measured all others by him,
and they never had a chance
against a storybook prince

he was forbidden,
still is

sometimes I’m afraid I’ve cast a spell over him –
can a hungry three-year-old girl feed from another’s life?

a bead

a pilot –
so ordinary he was special

I wanted to marry him,
raise his children, build a house,
be a wife, a beloved,
a decrepit old woman with him

I didn’t dare

but he would’ve clarified me,
he was warm: with his poems, his birch-rods, his thoughts

even now I long for him – – –

a bead

beautiful as a roman god:
legs, chest, buttocks, hands,
marble, gilded columns and scutums,
tattooed – as though he was marled by moss

somehow we remained together,
playing games of infidelity,
and it was good

a bead

this one I helped to heal

when we met
he was covering his windows with blankets,
felt persecuted

it was a period of amphetamines;
I’d snort alongside him

cold in the nostril nerve in the head
the most carefully drawn pictures nights without souls
music movement everything beats oh
nostril raw we hold on

I fed him soup, cutlets,
sat through the night caressing his head,
we wept

he told no one

when he was better I fled
so that he wouldn’t begin thanking me

a bead

this one’s embedded deep
as a reindeer antler
between my breasts

one look was enough
to have us both confessing
our longing

from the first look to the last  –
that’s all there was
our fates held between god’s fingers –

I know it’s inevitable
that we meet again
in another bodily form,
brother

a bead

how many nights I trembled alongside him
afraid to breathe
so I wouldn’t wake him

the way he moved, talked, sang –
everything sliced me in two,
pure hormonal desire,
no metaphysics here

attracting and repelling, magnetic and not a single kiss –
if we came close I’d run right away
and betray him with someone else –
all the more painfully, all the more painfully

I’d punish myself for that feeling,
believing
it would sort itself out

and now
meeting me
his wife grabs his hand –
as though I want to steal him

but I’m not hungry

a bead

scars have sunk into the spot
where the knife touched
his skin and where it touched mine –

we met too late,
we parted too early –

we break

a bead

oh! now this is a story:
I’d call her a snobbish,
a million letters between him and I,
clever citations, intricate words – how smart we are!

oh! how we’d write poems together,
what claims we placed on one another,
though all the while we both had other loves
who were jealous of us

it might be funny if it wasn’t so sad:
not once did we make love,

kittens

a bead

this one is now my girlfriend’s husband
and I’m happy he isn’t mine

a bead

what an August, so sultry in the heart
and there’s no place for me to hide from myself,
and then this one –I remove all safeties,
plummet to the nethermost depths, allow
degradation, deceit, contempt
descend into my abyss, devour myself to the point of nausea
,he does with me what he wants,
promises to marry me and impregnate me, says he wants a daughter,
says my breasts are made for nursing her,
then roars, says he’ll fuck me in the ass,
good God, and I’m not worth anything more,
afterwards he takes me to his grandparents’ place and we go mushrooming,
it’s so bright that it’s clear to see this isn’t real, and there is such sadness
in his grandmother’s eyes: my child, he brings a new one every week;
but I can’t leave this game,
until one day he disappears,
my sorrowful knight, and I don’t know how to survive,
I’m left without my self, left with nothing,
I don’t know if I’ll be able to start again – – –

restart –

I am breathing
I am breathing
I am breathing – – –

a child shot by his father,
prisoner of iraq

a bead

but this whole rosary is for you, the feelings I dared not
recognize, my shadow of guilt, the fist clogging my throat,
tuft of moss, when he’d linger underfoot at our classroom door,
when he’d look me in the eyes, ask how I was doing,
I tried so hard not to see because I was afraid everyone would laugh,
but they laughed anyways, because to laugh was so funny,
I didn’t understand how hungry we are for love, I didn’t understand
that life ends, that everything is fragile, I didn’t want to see because
it would have meant living responsibly, and it was terrifying, good God,
and then that day he came to my apartment door, good God,
in the cold, pressed the buttons, happy about something, asking to be let in,
and I said to them all – no no no no, no: it’s just some crazy acquaintance
from jurbarkas days, he can bugger off, and when he’d write
his poems, when he’d bring them to me to read, as though
he really was my shadow, and when he wrote
that lovely and kind article in the school newspaper
about me, no, good God, please not that, please not that—and everyone laughs at him,
it’s like he doesn’t exist, a shadow, he doesn’t let himself be photographed ever,
I don’t know what remained for his parents, if they themselves still remain,
after that, after he hung himself in the dorm, I don’t know if anything remains,
I don’t even know if anyone remembers him, or remembers,
but I do, I truly do

a knot

1997–2015

 
Girls. The small one

I

there was a small white girl,
her meager skinny body
trembled from cold and fear
when creeping under the thujas, the gooseberry bushes, or the fir tree
she’d wait for the storm to clear at home,
when with her fingers shoved in her ears
she’d try hard not to hear,
try hard to live only in the murmur of her heart,

her meager skinny body
would arrange pebbles under the thujas
wove sedge braids,
in the fall she’d use a white root to cast spells,
collecting shards, flecks, the end of the hose,
that thing her brother called a shliauka,
collected feathers and even chickenshit,
played, play-acted with dolls,
sometimes bit her lips until they bled,

afterwards she’d lie down alongside the well
eyes soaking in her palms so it wouldn’t hurt one bit more


II

she’d wait, until it was dark,
until it became quiet inside,
until having slunk around the garden,
she finds her brother cowering in the same way,
leads him home

then she’ll dream
how a wide-eyed boy rolls up to her
how his bicycle beams in the sun,
how they play together, how they laugh,
how happy, how loudly,
how a stream rushes by,
how stones jump up under their feet
forming castles and fortresses alongside them,

and she’ll continue to dream, that the boy will take her by the hand
and the two of them will go looking for her brother,
who will not have crawled up into the corner of the fence and bandaged himself in nettles,
who will not be in the barn hiding behind a cow,
and there will not be an axe cracking open his head,

and then the three of them will walk deeper, to the moon,
through the high gate at the well,
and the snow will crunch, and the dew will push through the door,
and there will be nothing,
only three hearts, palms grown together


III

her meagrer skinny body would awaken
shaken by shivers,
sharp oily nails leaving marks on the bedclothes


IV

she’d rise from bed quickly,
nestle her clothes next to the cooling oven,
the radio bawling the noises of the morning,
she’d grasp the buckets,
at the udder, warm milk rosaries,
having finished milking she’d wash her hands,
run a brush over her head, counting her lengthening hair each day
in the shard of mirror over the stovetop,
she’d close the gate and run off,
waiting for the day it would be over

V

there was a small white girl,
her meager, skinny body
would shiver from happiness and luck,
when she held clay in her hands,
when she shaped words, thoughts, and works –
her stifling world,
when she listened, when she asked, when she managed to see –
forgetting her fear and her sadness

2008

 

 

Translated by Medeinė Tribinevičius

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