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Vytautas Stankus is one of the most interesting young Lithuanian poets, author of three poetry books. His newest, Skruzdžių skandinimas [Drowning of the Ants] was published at the end of 2016. Stankus’s poetry is intimate, personal, even painful. He experiments interestingly with language and poetic form. The poems in this collection are fragmentary and fracturing – with snatches of dialogue and poem-questionnaires. They are paradoxical, surreal, yet dynamic and refined. Surrealism mixes with details of everyday life and quotidian speech. The poems are musical, making use of repetitions and recitative. They are made to last.

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Vidmantas Ilčiukas, from series "Staircase", 1996, 45x46cm. From The Modern Art Center collection.
 

From the poetry collection „Drowning of the Ants“

 

nine lives

                   everybody has already died
                              –César Vallejo

they’re all alive.

my neighbor Pranas is alive. he used to slaughter animals
for us. he shared a horse with my parents.
my father joked about how we got the horse’s ass.
Pranas doesn’t slaughter anything now, lying
vegetable-like with his eyes on the ceiling, a deluge
in his head – some blood vessel broke a year ago,
and he lies in bed, lies, and breathes.

my cousin Tadas is alive. he used to love
herring with potatoes boiled in their skins.
he belonged to the gym, lifted weights, showed off
his bicep, hard as a rock. he rode as hard as he could,
and put the pedal to the metal in his BMW,
you get the picture, and now
he can’t use his left arm, smiles with half his mouth,
smiles, and breathes.

my aunt Jolanta is alive. she brought five
children into the world who confined her
to an old-folks home when she lost the plot.
I visit her sometimes. sometimes we can even talk,
playing cards, and she nods off in the middle of our conversation,
crumpled in her armchair, she breathes.

the gravedigger Julius is alive. he dug graves for others,
so many you can’t count how many he buried. he never fell in.
now he’s standing by a fresh one, two meters deep,
sweat pours down his blackened face, and he looks
at his nails, full of dirt, he looks, and breathes.

my neighbor Aldona is alive. before she went mad
she came up with the idea of taking our cat
to her village, twenty-seven kilometers away,
so that it would catch up all the over-breeding rats.
of course, he ran away, came home,
dirty, wild, and lame.
now he stretches out by the well,
he stretches, and breathes.

my uncle Alyozas is alive. when young,
he wrote poems, then, thank god, he grew up.
he took up more serious things, works as a switcher,
sending trains from one track to the other.
he feels great, smokes, drinks,
watches the trains go by,
fucks right and left,
breathless, he breathes.

the organist Jankauskas is alive.
he still pedals the church organ on sundays.
it’s amazing, his hands achieve divine melodies,
and with those same hands, he killed a few village dogs,
mine included. but on sundays, freshly shaved, spritzed
with cologne, he makes the organ pipes cry,
the grannies too, eyes closed, he breathes.

and I am alive, like usual, though smashed to shit.
when I was six I came to believe
that you could walk through a wall as long
as you got enough speed. so, from the top
of the stairs on the second floor, I flew down
to my goal and smash! something cracked in the world,
then silence, and I thought that I’m not so special,
that it was naive to think I could succeed from the first try,
though I was able to alter space, you see,
I opened my eyes on the floor, and the pool of blood
under my head felt as soft as a pillow.

I’m alive, like usual, full of strength as never before,
lying with my teeth in the wall, chewing,
chewing a hole to the other side, greedily
pulling air into myself. I’m full –
I lie there and breathe, I breathe and wait

 

things

swollen river, flotila of river weed

bats at home in the eaves

dead rat in the yard, grasshoppers

dog pee in the heat of July

that’s it, to be honest:


breasts grow on the neighborhood boy,
his mother shears sheep, and his father
is almost never home


his father returned from Afghanistan,
but doesn’t speak of that at all


when asked if he knows how to fight,
he would say, they don’t teach that there
no one teaches – except how to kill


air full of crushed glass

nameless fields of rye

salt in a matchbox

an outhouse, flies


if you’re a boy whose
breasts grow – don’t worry,
they’ll notice, and they’ll
use it against you


father is almost never home,
mother shears the sheep –
their wool is soft as
freshly falling ashes

butterfly on glass, dust

a wolf lurking in the thicket

flesh of the body, salt


as you sleep, the dead
who exist in your house gather
by your bed and look – – –


unless – you’re prepared,
unless you have salt in a matchbox,
under your pillow, on the sill – then
they can’t come close, then, you’re safe

so long as you’re not a boy for whom things grow
that grow for girls in your dreams


when I go to bed, I pour a pile of salt under my pillow,
so that my dreams would be less sweet

 

 

Winter in Vilnius, 2012

                   for Kari Tulinius

snow snow snow darkness mulled wine frozen
water ice no light no light but eternal twilight wind
fettered trees a camera flash how do we feel today
x-rays lungs burning and stains stains stains
stubs of trees are darkness aching muscles a shower
the road to work people dead walking snow blizzard
a bus the world in a bus made from the stench
of yellow sweat another stop Lazdynai death
has a yellow scent the public transport of Vilnius
stinks of death surely they won’t laugh at me they
won’t laugh at me won’t laugh tell me they won’t laugh
no light now it’s snowing snowing snowing the next stop
is Cathedral square climbing the hill ice ice ice
with no sky above three crosses hill no stars shining
all the stars are in magazines with the traces of cum
on their faces which make-up can’t manage to hide pause
the check the check wine beer White Elephants Gringo
Gringo Misterija no sun no light darkness darkness darkness

 


***

I write this poem, barely a poem,
for you, my northern brother,

not really having anything to say,
except to note how we still sigh

under the sun, nothing
new, nothing new

nothing here, blood brother,
except Vilnius flying to fall

while all that remains flies to winter,
oh, my Vilnian Tranströmer –

we’ll meet at the end of the road, where
after a long tunnel, after this serpentine

there’s a turn, I’m sure, there
must be a turn

 

 

contacts

there was a time when we had to bore
four holes into the ground,
and for that, we borrowed
a two-stroke, we filled it’s tank –

and we revved it up – – –

three of us could barely hold the beast down
as it bellowed, fulfilling its fated task

it turned, creeping deeper
into darkness and cold,
but trying to break free whenever possible,
to toss us aside
from its ninety centimeter journey

I stare into the fresh cavity of earth,
at the fruit of the beast’s labor –
into the heart of darkness, where
I stretch my hand,
led by fear that someone
from the other side will grasp my straining palm

as I scratch at the bottom with my nails,
I pull scabs of mud to the surface and

into the light

and so, I claw with my fingers
at the emptiness
to which, my blood, from time to time,
waving its little hand, says hello

 

 

 Translated by Rimas Užgiris

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