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Eugenijus Ališanka is one of the most translated Lithuanian poets: he has had more than ten books published in English, German, Russian, and some rarer languages like Slovenian and Finnish. Ališanka travels extensively, often spending time at various writers’ residences abroad and participating in events and festivals. He is also a prolific translator of poetry from English and Polish (selected poems by Tadeusz Różewicz are forthcoming this year), and an ambitious intellectual thinker. He is also a good, thoughtful essayist: he mixes cultural references with travel impressions and writes a lot about literature in the contemporary world as well as the author’s image and self-image.

Biography taken from Lithuanian Culture Institute

a palmers chronicle right bw

Comics

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Algimantas Maldutis, Sphynx, 1983, 21 x 21 cm. From The Modern Art Center collection
 

searching for the basilisk

go straight ahead for a third of life
to where a certain city stands
you’ll smell it from afar
incontinent with age
with cemeteries under foundations

pickles and potatoes in cellars from the last war
where blind eyes sprout pale shoots
and glass jars lie ruptured
among dynasties of rats
older than all churches

a few perfumers
with shops at the foot of the tower
open their windows to summer
and vex the crowds of rednecks
come for market day

the smell of mash and charcoal fumes
waft from little chimneys
the tavern sends a cloying scent
it’s a time of home-made tobacco not grass

go straight ahead for a third of life
but hurry because if you tarry
you’ll be too old for this city
hurry while rilke and trakl sit arm and arm with you
at a table with a stein of beer

hurry while you can see more at night than in daylight
so long as you don’t look under your feet
or at the roadside man of sorrows
or at women’s legs gleaming up ahead
phosphorescent compass needles that can drive you mad
always pointing north north more and more north

there where the lodestar quivers
where the climate is more cruel
where freezing women and sleeping beauties
hide behind every dark window
in that city you have to reach

go straight
until the crossroads branch like an oak
and stoplights wink to the credulous gaze
a desert in fact
a large sand-blown square
by a white cathedral
where your first date will befall you

i can’t help you any more than that
this is not a bildungsroman or a bildungsgeschichte
i don’t promise to be proper in an old-fashioned way
so search on by yourself

or like rozewicz go
along warm dark
coarse walls
stretching more deeply
into the cellar
having in mind vestibulum vaginae

or turn towards the vilnelė river
past the peeling facades of užupis
towards the city bastion
and you’ll see a cave with bones
men women dogs cats
who wandered into the city
and a centuries-old stench
of deer and goats

even if the cave deer and stench
are missing
even if there is no city
have a flashlight on hand
along with pepper spray and a small mirror
the necessary tourist kit
when you descend into the dark side of your face
searching for the basilisk

 

fashion house

that hat
my father folded from a newspaper
and pulled over his growing bald spot
while whitewashing the ceiling
brush in hand
donning his billed cap
high fashion design from the sixties
almost yves saint laurent

he walks the catwalk
carpeted with newspaper
he climbs a stool and paints
a white rectangle
like kazimir malevich
almost

that father
built from bones and skin
a handsome young model
with an impressive schnoz

that newspaper full
of sixties news
those folded truths
resolutions stood on their heads
pale chalk marks on the political bureau
faces and citations
of world revolution

that home
never going out of fashion
a home fully inhabited
with some just beginning a career
others reaching their sell-by date
folding up unfolding
home smelling of chalk and glue
a draft from a gap in the floor

even now still moving out
i took the fashion catalogues
the rats facts and cross winds

only the hat
my father folded from a newspaper
is missing
used for kindling
that hat folded from ash

fits my gray head just right

 

it should be a strong beginning

it should be a strong beginning
with contractions of the womb
and other lines streaming out
with the broken water

the most honored participant of the ceremony
brings the child
while the mohel carries out his duty for free
a drunkard usually
being so busy he can’t participate in the festivities
so he drinks only vodka
and all the mohels have red noses
reeking mouths
that’s why it looks so horrible
when after the circumcision
they suck the bloody tip
as the ritual requires
then sprinkle it with sawdust
and it heals in three days

the writer kafka will remain kafka even after the holocaust
but where is the beginning where is immaculate poetry’s
conception mea culpa
i ended up in the wrong place and time
i am written with therefore i am
mary protect me
from these romantic ravings
sprinkle sawdust on me
o where are the innocent ovules
cosmic ovulations
erotic black holes and the big bang
with the effects of light that go with it
flares dangerous for the eyes
causing cancer and blindness

thousands of blind poets after homer
don’t read books
yesterday bložė
today venclova complains

and what of it
that i read but don’t see faces
diagnosing ordinary illnesses myself
a minor incidence of the cataract of loneliness
strabismus of the third eye

what of it
that i stand watch for the third day
over an unborn poem
and an evangelical rooster wakes me three mornings
on the wrong side
what kind of erection can there be
i renounce love friendship and home
i would probably promise more
like sticking to a diet or quitting spirits
exercising my corpus or quitting smokes
the ravings of faust
only a fool thinks himself to be wise
what of it that i know
i remain with my own

there is a way out
there is always a way out
it never happens
that there wouldn’t be one
or so i surmise
in the voice of jack the ripper
let’s call it a caesarian section
the fragile body of a poem
pulled out backwards
reanimated continuously throughout life
the only one
written and written again
by the poet

he buys baby clothes every year
circumcises sprinkles
drinks vodka
the better ones
manage twins

 

only fragments were left of the greeks

well we had to live like that in hard times only fragments were left of the greeks a lot of empty space in the margins where the myopic gaze wandered looking for an answer or so it seemed to me back then in the gloomy times which generally get dreary several decades gone by and i now understand that i was looking for an answer after all like recognizes like isn’t that your mad thought to touch exchange bodily fluids to smell each others’ sweat and all for love of wisdom and what did we do you remember that night the longest new year’s night we talked about triads and imperatives overwhelmed with passion heated red we sat in the soviet khrushchovki kitchen empedocleses mad for love of philosophy mad for love of love and in the room around a christmas tree women dancing on their own like lithe maenads well we had to live like that in hard times when love and hate ruled the earth air fire and water bodies couldn’t find bodies words slipped past words i would like to say as in the fairy tales that they ruled long and prospered but in truth it was completely different you know yourself how all the mad thoughts end up remaining fragments unfinished poems in desk drawers skeletons of lovers under a sheet of lava well let’s add your shoe why not they say it was spit up by the volcano a gob of spit at theory if not life no one knows how it happened in truth it probably didn’t happen yet still i went around the smoking caldera on a narrow as if disjunctive trail a or b life or death i saw my entire short life like a series of notes for philosophy class i saw ashes and smoke but i didn’t find a shoe and that’s when i thought maybe it’s the wrong volcano maybe i’m not that empedocles

 

the shadow of odysseus

let’s say that the bull is allowed to bellow too
not just jupiter with a mouth of gold
this isn’t ithaca or even rome
on one side of the village
plates of gamelan thunder
djembe drums on the other  
what a big village it is
with grass in the middle
higher than livestock
only the horns stick out
a village deep
as the marianas trench
where people walk on the surface
leaving no footprints

my neighbor misha just went by
along the sun dazzled dusty road
and then back along his snow-covered tracks
in one direction he went with lena
who wore a headscarf hiding
a head made bald by chemotherapy
he returned bedraggled and alone
having left his wife who knows where
such an empty village
not even a cemetery
misha the village ahaseurus
more likely the shadow of odysseus
stopped to talk and draw on a hand-rolled cigarette
inspired as always
gulping from a cola bottle
the drink of the gods
speaking all of babel’s tongues
at once
matka rak matka rak
i hardly understood a word
only the melody

it’s two years since i’ve heard his voice
such a big village
not even a cemetery
but a comfortable geographical spot
with the east on one side
and west on the other
such an empty village
they say misha moved to vilnius
and howls there like the iron wolf

 

with one sentence

with one sentence a baby enters the world
with one sentence the bee stings
with one sentence a woman is left
because the rest are all empty tracer
bullets whistling by
to light up two dark solitudes
with one sentence the daily horoscope
turns the whole year into hell
with one sentence the sentence master plays
with one ball sent into one goal in the sky
with one sentence the news
with one sentence war
with one sentence cancer seizes speech
trimming its tail with its claws
neither periods nor ellipses help
neither short nor long dashes
with one sentence less remains
with one sentence an entire life is ruined
with one sentence the bible or shakespeare are edited
romeo and juliet die
hamlet dies
god dies with one sentence
god why have you forsaken me
with one sentence well no way
says the user of facebook no way
can the entire world be said with one sentence
even a long compound one
with ancillary and subordinate clauses
with mechanical and smart ones
with personal and foreign ones
with one sentence an entire poem
well no way

 

 

Translated by Rimas Užgiris

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