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reflections on belonging

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Graphic Novels

Photo by Romualdas Rakauskas

 

Antanas Miskinis 02Photo by Romualdas RakauskasBorn in the scenic northeastern countryside of Lithuania, Antanas Miškinis studied lit­erature at the University of Kaunas, graduating in l935. Between 1932 and 1945, which included the periods of the  Russian, German, and again Russian occupation, he worked as a high-school teacher and a program editor at the Lithuanian Broadcasting Station in Kaunas. In the post-war period of 1945 to 1948, he was employed as an editor with the State Publishing House for Belles-Lettres. In January of l948, Miškinis was arrested by the MGB (Ministry of State Security) secret police for his activity in the underground resistance movement and sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment in a forced labor camp. After nearly nine years in a number of Gulag camps, scattered widely through Mordovia, northeast of Moscow, and the Siberian regions of Kemerovo and Omsk, Miškinis was released during Khrushchev’s Thaw (along with a multitude of other political prisoners) from the forced labor camp in the boundless Siberian steppe. In autumn of 1956, he returned to Lithuania.

Miškinis published his first collection of poetry under the title White Bird in 1928. His second collection, Crows at the Highway, appeared in l 934. The poems were permeated with lyrical playfulness and biting irony, the dominating features of his poetry until 1940. In 1938 Miškinis brought forth the extensive narrative poem “Four Cities,” focusing on the fate of the Lithuanian nation along the lines of the historical development of its three major cities, Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda, and culminating in his poetic vision of a new imagi­nary city called Newburg. He won the National Prize for poetry that year.

Miškinis reflected the spirit of the fundamental change in Lithuanian social and cultural life during the prewar period of independence. His dominant recurrent theme was profound concern for the development and the destiny of his native country. The content of his poetry and its graceful form gained him wide acclaim and recognition. Many of his sonorous poems were so popular that they became folk songs even before they were set to music by composers.

In the period of his imprisonment, Miskinis composed a series of heartfelt, meditative, lyrical poems that he called “Psalms.” Smuggled out of the Gulag in 1955, they were published posthumously in the book Sulaužyti kryžiai (Broken Crosses, 1989) during the soul-stirring time of the Singing Revolution.

 

 

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE

Majority of us are of one mind and yet
We blench not knowing where the storm will cast us.
We’re given to vice and human weakness...
But, Lord, Thou knowst us well Thyself

Day and night, from hour to hour,
We cannot help but think of our fate -
Snared like birds and headlong hurled
Into this foul and murky hell on earth.

They disallow us to converse and to keep silence,
They mock us as they please.
We’re sullen, dirty, hungry,
But we maintain our minds sublime.
We are compelled and cursed by flabby faces,
Blighted prematurely by excessive alcohol abuse:
They torture us or strive to lure
By cunning and delusive promises.

We doze like shadows in the corners,
Crestfallen, hollow-eyed, and overgrown with beards.
O Lord, how long will You put up with this barbarity,
And shall we live to see its fall?

 

 

ANTICHRIST

If anyone had been benighted,
He presently beholds a savage horde
Whose countless tanks and troops
Are devastating captive nations.

Who are they? Insolent Huns or savage Scythians,
Sons of the Arctic snowbound steppes?
Their bloodsmeared faces frown;
They look like homeless outcasts.

Their chief embodies vengeance.
He is both an eavesdropper and a jaundiced judge.
He is an expert instigator of internecine struggle:
He prides himself in having undermined the faith in man.

Europe hears his threatening steps distinctly,
Yet it cannot overcome its apathetic stupor.
Although the bow is bent and levelled at its heart.
What if the poisoned arrow is shot point-blank?

O woe, if Europe fails to realize in time!
The savages will drive their trucks into its temples,
They'll plunder pantheons, rampage, and rape
Its teenage daughters, and ultimately seal its doom for good.

 

 

DE PROFUNDIS

Blood has coagulated in our rugged wounds,
Frequently reopened by rough touching.
O Lord, have we really deserved
To be so cruelly demeaned and punished.

Even in the times of scarcity and serfdom,
Earning our living by the sweat of our brows,
We built beautiful expensive churches,
With their spires soaring in the sky.

We prayed with wan and weary faces,
And strove to sublimate our lives with moral sense.
We glorified Almighty God by thunderous organs
And resounding echoes of the pealing bells.

Although our hands were calloused by hard work,
We easily forgot our injuries.
Although we ate coarse homely food,
We adorned with gold the altars.

In early spring, when fields became awash
And torrents gurgled sparkling in the sunshine,
We sang on Easter morning:” Hallelujah!
Rejoicing in the Resurrection of the Son of God and Man.

Why then, O Lord, hast Thou forsaken us
And left us writhing in the Satan’s claws?
We are prostrate before Thy rigid visage -
Our Father, May Thy Will Be Done...

 

 

MAN FROM THE OUTSIDE

Just recently still elegant, self-confident and handsome,
Now sapped by hunger, scurvy and slave labour,
A gulag old-timer is languishing with fever:
Just a few days will settle his account.

He may have performed Promethean feats,
Or gallant deeds of a Don Quixote. However,
Now he's dying downtrodden, exhausted,
Benumbed with cold in threadbare grimy rags.

If anyone could come and soothe him,
Stir up his blood and mind,
When, mad with rage, he’s rummaging
Through garbage for bits of putrid grub.

When stupefied by apathy,
He falls asleep at midnight,
He dreams of savoury food,
His folks at home, and flowers...

Then, sunk in a delirium, he babbles like a babe,
Meanwhile his blood and bones are waning:
Perhaps at dawn he will not rise...
Oh blast this Satan’s might for aye!

 

 

MAN FROM THE INSIDE

My fate has offered me an offbeat chance
To peer into men’s souls directly.
I saw them overcome by Satan,
Despoiled of penitence and faith.

I viewed with horror them on transport trains,
Abominated by their bestiality:
Men easily turn monsters when they go astray
And unleash their basest instincts.

Deprived of everything and famished,
They sputter bloody phlegm and loathsome curses.
They scorn the loftiness of any purpose,
And for a petty pay they will rampage and slay.

Enticed by hope of booze and booty,
They'll overrun and ravage Europe.
Who will restrain the raving savagery?
Who will restore and elevate mankind?

 

 

From "Vilnius" journal, 1995, Winter edition

 

 

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