Algimantas Mackus (1932–1964) was a Lithuanian émigré poet of the “Landless Generation,” writer, and literary critic. Mackus fled to the West with his parents after the war in 1944 and lived in the United States from 1949. After graduating from Roosevelt University in Chicago, he worked in the public and cultural sectors and was employed by various newspapers, magazines, and radio stations. Mackus was a member and chairman of the liberal youth academic organization Šviesa. Then he joined Santara, for which he became a board member, and contributed to publishing books (the organization’s book publishing fund in Chicago was named after him). Mackus made his debut as a poet in the 1950s with the poetry collection Elegies (published under the pseudonym Algimantas Pagėgis). In 1962, Mackus published his third and perhaps most significant poetry collection titled The Generation of Unornamented Language and Its Pets. His modern poetics are marked by observations on being, language, and reality and a spirit of gloom and alienation. Mackus’s poems are written in a plain and hermetic language that influenced the modernization of Lithuanian poetry. His poetry cycle Chapel B, written in a form imitative of archaic laments and dedicated to Antanas Škėma, was published posthumously in 1965 after he passed away in a car accident when he was 32 years old.

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Graphic Novels

Maironis Lithuanian Literature Museum archives photo

Translated by Vyt Bakaitis




For Antanas Škėma

Instead of the somber grace to live
understand what a mean joy dying is

DEATH’S THIS aged and faded
sunset across the Lithuanian landscape
sweet sunshine, back in spring, set up with
the moonman first spoke a language strange to her.
Death’s these deviates, the windmills
lurching into the rough side of wind for their gold,
that midnight a fullgrown girl went sneaking off
to grind the grain of her day-to-day chores in secret.

Death’s these fanatic plowboys
in a blind blood ritual with earth
to rise like wild wounded animals from their lairs
then smash up on concrete, come sundown.
Death’s the cynical veterans enraged at being
sent back to the front with decorations, the hot lead
our girl, starved through as she was, threw herself on
once she was all out of tears to shed over her fate.

Death’s the manuscript sheets turned yellow
along with title pages to old books
a gray-haired Vilnius antiquarian set down
in the chronicle of mold with its date for vanishing.
Death’s the maps to colonies reaching
right through to earth’s yield,
the baptism that slavery was
Maria lay body and all down into.

Death’s the names of new republics draw
from Africa, a landmass in history’s snare.
Black Maria drops to her knees unconscious,
a slim amulet clasped in her hands.
Death’s all the states wiped out,
all rivers that reach to the sea erased from maps,
a drought black Maria sings of
in the idiom of lillies, ice and rain.

Death’s a collage of water and stained glass
kept from fading in museum vaults:
one girl rose at dawn and along
with sweet dawn lay down in her down bed.
Death’s dead set against both, in black or white:
Gethsemane and Fire Sermon.
Having first sung drought, Maria gives birth
over to death, the landscape no longer there.

GREEN all green
as I want the green
to cover a fading pale
bathos of birch
in the coarse homespun
of a northern moon.

Sharp as sharp
as I want the one sharp
crack of doom it takes
to wash a body
God dreamed up by force
over into dream-shade.

Quick so quick
I want it to be this quick
moonbeam noose
around a head dull to the pain
of cracking up.

Black on black
for I want just the black

the cusps of one moon
can enclose of a dream
from the wreck breaking up
on God’s solid mass.

THE VOICE of a continent prays for explorers
the voice of a continent cries out for adventure.
Round as water, salty as it is,
I raise the season of death to my lips.

You had to be born of rain and ocean, torso.
You had to be silver, plaster, water,
for a bloody act of sexual resurrection
to give the northern moonlight back its
torso of a terrain, its joy turning to stone.

The map a fateful hand etched finds one voice
growing and towering out of fog, once the voice
of a continent cries out for explorers:
the voice of a continent emerging from non-God.

Cold so cold I want only the cold
green September moonlight,
and that map copper inscribed
intaglio, to blend in with the blood.
Grey all grey for I want all of the grey
September sunrise sacrifice,
and that map in an uncovered
network of bone, to pour out of the blood.

The voice of a continent assailing explorers is
the voice of a continent submitting to their exploit.
It's for the bloody act of sexual resurrection
you, torso, had to be born of rain and ocean.

Voice of a landmass, now body and sex,
squeals out hysterical just before dawn, against the fact
that in a copper plate, intaglio,
midway through the ritual, an enraged God set out
to revoke the mass redemptions he threw down.

Round as water, salty as it is,
I give God his season of death back.
I will not accept solid, everyday detail.
I will not accept the ripe oval shape a grape has.

MARIA was made for sex
Maria emerging from truth
Maria’s the black
                       this blood
foam floats up on its crest

Maria has the body span
with torso all torn
Maria’s a name given
for water to be born

Maria you ease back to die
under lashing keen whips
Maria big with Africa
Maria set up for kicks

Maria wholesome air
Maria give us rain
Maria lays her body down
Maria comes out of her son

BECAUSE you did not pray for solid everyday detail
in the ripe oval shape a grape has,
I now take on the season of death
as an ending thrown in ahead of the curtain.

 Algimantas Mackus Chapelb 03Mackus' homeland, his family house in Pagėgiai




Now I draw one timeless hour aside
black Maria In coalmines they dig up coal
to bury their hair Maria Death walks there
stalking the men Maria Ordering them to rest
in a pit deathpicks hack clean Maria
Where mail from home is brought in
at midnight Maria
With the sunset in flames
a conflagration the neighbours cry out for
With orders when to shut up or speak up Maria
Mother left on her own
Father not back yet from work
The maid off long ago to get married
With the war at an end Maria
On a gray postcard from Lomzh
she sends her goodnight Maria

In coalmines they dig up coal They bury
their hair Maria A thinning roster of men
heads for the bar on Sunday Midnight they read
mail from home Maria
She stares about in the cool evening rain
for a face to soak through
The sun sets in flames
Father not back after work
To sing the Nemunas flowing
all night long Maria Sewing the buttons on
a worn coat for the long haul Maria
Listening for the same dull steps
With the door to the stairs pried open
Waiting for a gray postcard
with goodnight from Vilnius Maria

Lashing plantation whips break
in through the skin Maria In coalmines they dig up coal
to bury their hair Maria Death stands there
plowing down drinks shading eyes from the sun
to pick out the women Maria
A gray postcard from Lomzh
her goodnight Maria
Says when to clench teeth or else
gives the order to scream Maria
Poland not lost no not yet on a gray postcard Maria
Lashing whips you write
sting like snakes Maria

With shoulders and chest laid
in hardpacked plantation clay
you lie stripped body naked back
to your African race Maria

Now I draw one timeless hour aside
black Maria A thinning cluster of men
heads for the bar each Sunday Death drinks there
To sing the Nemunas flowing A gray postcard from Lomzh
Singing goodnight Maria

IT'S NOT TO go to sleep we gather
in sleeping quarters,
or to pour a dream together we carry
sand in on our bodies.

Maria survived.
She outgrew the grave.
Her earth breast
filled with bronze milk.
Her teeth gleamed white.
Just as you spread your bedding for death,
her eyes blazed.
a hot afterglow from the homefire.

It's not to dream dreams we gather
in sleeping quarters,
but to get the feel of death we fall
into a bed all made.

Maria no longer slept,
once she had the family amulet
fit a gash in her neck.
No more ghosts rapped her window
begging to be clothed and fed.

The handouts held back for yourselves
before you’d take on their language,
with skullfuls of scalding coffee
to drink from at night.

A fish the storm tossed up
stinks and stinks down by the lakeside,
with the same mean vexing drone
flies keep up all night long.

It’s our loins giving out, now we have
no land left to leave the children,
all our family buried off, breaking apart
bone by bone into dust.
Father wails his lament for the legacy
left behind in a church back in Vilnius.
Dampness seeps in and spreads
all through the vacant family vault.

The words we speak fade
as this language of ours dies away.
Water brims the boats
our tribe first set out in.
All down the empty wreck of a coast
there’s no one waiting for us to come back.
The words we speak survive this
language of ours, now it’s dead.

TOMORROW we go see you off
into the peaceful realm of the dead.
For now, we talk a whip-notched
language about to die out.

Ex-citizens of the state,
look closely into his death:
his fingers groped through
to the braille exile is.

Let your lifeless hand close
on our swollen palms,
and stroke on stroke we’ll plow through
the spume of a dream we’re locked into.

Ex-citizens of the state,
look closely into his death:
there’s no comeback in his return
and with no comeback no turning back.

Tomorrow we go see you off
this galley of senseless pain.
Meanwhile, we’re scanning the maps
for a time forever gone.

Ex-citizens of the state,
look closely into his death:
It was flesh changed to word
not the word made flesh.

Our moss-covered hands keep churning
the dream-foam over and over.
Mean with envy, our cries
go out with the barge as it fades.



Author’s notes

Chapel B: 9/13-14/1961. Jamaica Ave., New York, N.Y. An undertaker’s establishment: “Two chapels under one roof.” The first chapel is designated Chapel A, the second Chapel B. The bier for Antanas Škėma is set up in the latter.

IN DYING: Paul Celan’s Todesfuge is the intended model:

Schwarze Milch der Frühe wir trinken sie abends
wir trinken sie mittags und morgens wir trinken sie nachts
wir trinken und trinken ...


A las cinco de la tarde.
A las cinco en punto de la tarde ...

Echoes of thematic and rhythmic particulars, even of overall tone and structure to some degree, from Federico Garcia Lorca's Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias occur throughout In Mourning. The "five o'clock in the afternoon" of its first part here bec~mes "seven o'clock in the morning". The car crash which killed Antanas Skema happened around seven in the morning.

There's no color ...” [in the untitled, penultimate section]:

“There's no milk to the foam. There’s no blood to the foam. There’s just
'Zhilvin, ayee!’” (Antanas Skema, “Žilvinėėli.”)

IN TRIUMPH: A counterstatement to Dylan Thomas’ And Death Shall Have No Dominion:

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.


From “The Vilnius Review”, 2000, Summer edition your social media marketing partner


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