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The poet, translator and essayist Kęstutis Navakas (1964 ̶ 2020) was the aesthete of Lithuanian poetry, a dandy who didn’t believe in the boundary between life and art. He made his debut in 1988 with a collection of poems Krintantis turi sparnus (Wings On A Falling Man). Navakas grew up in Kaunas, which features in his work as his beloved city, and was heavily involved in the city’s cultural life. Alongside writing for the cultural press, at one point Navakas had a bookshop, which was one of the first private organisations in Kaunas to put on literary events. He also worked for television as a book reviewer, and translated a great deal of poetry from German and English.  

His own writing is marked by a very playful attitude towards language. Yet Navakas’s playfulness is of a serious kind – it’s a doctrine of art and life: the game, just like art, dismisses every sort of pragmatism and therefore manages to escape the banality and gloom of everyday life. Navakas writing is elegant, erotic, and full of joie de vivre, with slightly decadent overtones. For him, no word has a single fixed meaning; he associates freely, even phonetically, and frequently uses quotes and references to spice up his writing. ‘I am an adventurer,’ he once said in an interview, which perfectly characterises both his personality and his work. 

Navakas emerged as a mature visionary poet in his sixth and last collection of poems, net ne (Not Even, 2018) – playful and deep, serious, even tragic.

 

Bio taken from: https://english.lithuanianculture.lt/lithuanian-culture-guide/2020/10/28/kestutis-navakas-2/

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Photo by Paulius Mazūras

By Kęstutis Navakas

Translated by Jonas Zdanys

 

From the poetry book Atspėtos fleitos (Unpuzzled Flutes) (2006)

 

 

From an Unknown Poet’s Diary

 

 

MONDAY

as if I saw smoky stains in the bedroom where my toys once

lay. the sun had already eaten away the color around them. from

what to build one’s castles but from a mincing machine? from what

kind of dissolved sugar? those times are as if on their knees. from

the weight of flags.

imagine – flags: only thread and wind. light. they fell to

their knees from what they meant. meaning always presses us

down. you grow tired with the years and it’s then that toys could

help. the tin dog and boats made from matchboxes.

around you so much sun. near its edge even your contour

fades. do you hear the rustling? It’s the flags of the old days trying

to hand over a ragged shadow. are you looking for it?

you do not try to turn around. you write:

 

those two elbows again like some sort of stereo-

guards: how unpleasant creating a new

world: it will still be bracketed by my boundaries

: my triumph will border my shame

 

will I be ashamed of my shame? no

because I will have rightly seen

the birds outside the window / things in my

text will recognize one another / will wake

 

sentences then as if I had cut them out

with tiny scissors: guessing their secret form

: it’s very beautiful – so what am I searching for?

 

I rummage / pull out of myself drawer after drawer

if it was a person – seeing I would know him

he would have not my eyes pecked out by my birds

 

 

TUESDAY

 

I am full of drawers in each one an aunt or a cousin. a female neighbor

with a vase of squalling crocuses. it would be better if I lived on the tracks and

unfamiliar people rode over me.

they have pinned on themselves beautiful symbols with jays and

watermills. they stare at me like a sweater’s inverted eye. if they were glass each

evening I would gather their shards.

imperceptibly. inaudibly. That’s how they break inside me all day long.

perhaps I love them. how can I find that out. I’m afraid – they breathe

heavily into my hair. they talk.

I don’t try to hear them. I write:

 

sometimes I think: they interfere

they are too close – like the seams of clothes

they don’t stop reminding you they are: then

we go somewhere into the streets and parks

 

they are my people with whom

I am destined to live – they take me like keys

from the table: in me they

unlock themselves but on the doorjamb –

 

only their height: theirs! mine here

everything everywhere hidden away and

nothing public (without the streets and parks)

 

sometimes I think: I bother them – they opened everything

for me I hid away even them themselves

they are my treasures I their only pirate

 

 

WEDNESDAY

 

I always know where I leave from but never to where. I live three seconds

past her and it’s enough. my entire soul like this grasshopper’s leap.

there are still thousands of years. I read about them in women’s color

magazines. at once I forgot that the three seconds were enough for me. what I

can’t manage in them I will never manage.

I go out because on the windowsill lie nails and a hammer. in three sec-

onds they will nail my hands and feet. then in women’s color magazines grace-

fully turning for thousands of years I’ll fall.

in the city I have my streets along the sides of which stand cars. if they

moved suddenly they would take me in many directions. that’s how sometimes,

with its head tilted back, the forest runs.

it has news for me. I don’t want to hear it. I write:

 

each time I turn in here I feel as if

I live here – in this café

: it is so pleasantly smoke-filled here, stayed in

in each one here are several motes of me

 

it seems all are here – even elephants and

ponies, if you wanted, could be found – they are after all

carried by all carousels (peppers on the tip

of a knife – the book says) but I always lacked measure

 

here it’s good to pass my remaining unnecessary

time (unnecessary time?) and no business with the years

will remain: but in the café

 

so talentedly smoke-filled and stayed in

that every third second protects me: turns

in a circle as if on an elephant (pony)

 

 

THURSDAY

 

they are all round as if they had rolled from the mouths of trumpets. just

that no one had pressed the valve and their voices are empty. it wouldn’t be hard

for me to sing something into them myself.

workers carry benches as if they are carrying large cookies. and it’s rain-

ing. the rain will stop but I will remain turned facing the crowd. it is not my

crowd it is not my face it is not my rain that’s raining into the pages.

we are hammered into that crowd like slivers of steel. I often see how she

is in pain because of us. she is used to suffering she sits for us between the pages

she has come to adulterate us.

something still helps: stuck microphones the scenario’s errors rain.

I do not rejoice in it I do not stand in it. I write:

 

it’s that holiday again: someone having played the trumpet will lower it

and alternating with one another incompetent poets will read for a long time

: I am uncomfortable here – as if I were eating the leftovers of sandwiches

gathered from between their teeth

 

: an incompetent poet! god – like an ugly

girl not having managed to become one of

your miracles: the arrow that cannot hit

its target (if I already measure everything by it)

 

the finger reading along the line as if with those poets’ lips

slides: rain rains for them and for me

slides: rain rains for them and for me

 

after that it will brighten: the day for them and for me will be empty

after that it will brighten: the day for me will be empty and

for them: their fingers will slide along my lips

 

 

FRIDAY

 

day night. top bottom. woman man. black coat white shirt. and if:

day day. top top. man man. black coat black shirt? and if:

days nights women men books clothes lines spaces between them spaces

between them and not only their spaces their lines and after that – black coat

white shirt. and if:

someone listens to this. writes this.

I also write:

 

during the day everything is poured together: contours colors

words so far from their things: they

are cars – it is comfortable to ride in them around

your own apartment: the answers are simple but answers why for me

 

night is also an illusion: it seems as if everything has retreated

it’s as light as if you’ve cut off your eyelids: the table lamp

has drawn a new world’s borders: here

now all of my ghosts will fit

 

sometimes I wait – and nothing! only a misleading

drop from an imagined ocean: I tear

the paper smoke caress the yard’s stones

 

they are real but no one will witness me here

the table lamp will not forgive the page until

day: oh! how beautifully everything will pour together

 

 

SATURDAY

 

the other day I sat under the actress’s balcony until night splashed out like black

milk through a hole in the ice. if I had stuck in a small branch it would have

been carried far by the earth that had then screwed itself in there. a forest would

have rustled from it already and a woodpecker would have done its noisy work.

I don’t call anyone and my recent letters have returned to me before I

managed to forget the addressees. where are they now. I talked with myself

stopped if I knew how I would play some sort of wooden flute.

I drink so much tea. like the Chinese. the Chinese were old. closed-eyed.

they gurgled. nearly lay stagnant.

what do I care about those Chinese. I write:

 

perhaps I am not handsome perhaps it’s not worth

combing myself before every poem: they are already

full of odd touches (the exhaustion of separation)

: they witness me decaying and crumbling

 

: the iamb has abandoned me: the avalanche

of peculiar metaphors betrays a flabby body: I

would still dance with sixteen-year-olds

but my stanzas are filled with sibilant consonants

 

: someone still reads me: someone breathes

my miasmas: someone likes my work – I find such

people strange: white from the light of the page

 

perhaps they are as sick as I am: white with morphine

or maybe I am too far from them (from myself) like a dead

star still shining for several summers

 

 

SUNDAY

 

I probably say everything aloud and nothing is left for my writing. sit

everything out in cafés wash it from neighbors’ frying pans scatter it with

chopped nuts. a falling drop that also dislodges a word for me. and there is no

shelter for me there is no outer layer forest woodpeckers split my lodging’s door.

through it pass all armies and caravans. forest squirrels roll their pine

cones all fall. then he arrives snaps his fingers and everything vanishes. the bot-

tle’s cap unscrews the flame leaps onto the candle and the book opens to the

place where he wrote about us.

he is also me but different. he is so different that I don’t know how I can

be him.

I’m afraid that he will crumble from the woodpecker’s knocking so I write:

 

today a colleague stopped by: the one who to me

seems to be from an engraving (the engraver’s needle fixes him even now)

: when they walk they are all handsome / ventilated / festivalled

: when they arrive they usually bring maple seeds

 

they believe that something will grow from them // stopped by:

he has just written something of his own (now for a time

he’ll walk) it seems he sees that my time

is empty: I hold an empty page for his maple seeds

 

the engraver is not leaning over above me // we sit

: if our conversation had not started two decades

ago – in all likelihood it would not have started

 

only his maple seed would spin on my empty

page: but we sit: he talks if eating (and me)

just before morning sticks as the engravers’ needle slips

 

 

SUNDAY PLUS

 

as if I saw smoky stains in the bedroom where I once built castles and

mincing machines. as if in a childhood lake the sun would burn my reflection’s

contour. as if with a pencil I would fix the mistakes in wayside mirrors:

I write. what else should I do.

rain outside the window the tea has cooled and the unplugged television

somewhere deep inside shows its thirtieth program.

that’s how stones are. showed almost everything. plugged in already for

many years.

glowing.

 

 

 

From “The Vilnius Review”, 2006, Autumn/Winter edition (No 20)

 

 

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