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Zigmas Pakštaitis was born in 1991. He studied Lithuanian philology at Vilnius University. Zigmas is a voluntary participant of various artistic processes. He likes to observe, walk, live, and write.

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Graphic Novels

Photo by Dainius Dirgėla
Zigmas Pakštaitis

by
Zigmas Pakštaitis

 Authors photo by Jurga Urbonaitė

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

Lord, if you wish for me to return, make it so that a fish would swim through my meadow, my eye swimming in pursuit until it reaches the fish’s refreshing embrace.
G. Grass

 

When the war broke out in Ukraine, I visited my grandfather, who is slowly approaching his centennial birthday, hoping that he would recount many stories and help me get a sense of this difficult time. The man himself has lived through several regimes. He sewed fur coats for the Lithuanian partisans, had joined the ranks of Plechavičius’s army (didn’t go to war though), and built pontoon bridges under the Soviets. Yet the one thing I always recall from what he said are the following words (normally uttered in a sleepy voice after a good amount of homemade beer): “Don’t cry, there’s nobody to wipe them tears.” To me, these words ring with grace and romance, and I wonder where he carries them from. These words testify to experience with people, to compassion, to candor, and to vulnerability, concealed until required and replaced with courage, and they illustrate the function of memory and what it means to belong to a particular time, a particular place, a particularly essential moment. As in my life, too, where words, episodes, and images are all sewn into a larger whole.

I remember someone encouraging me during my university years to wait for the moment when the literature that we were studying would begin to form a unified whole, revealing some mysterious network of meaning, with all the books comprising a single, breathing organism. So now, too, talking about belonging makes sense only through fragments, through folds and flashes, which are like the cells that constitute blood.

I was always fascinated by how Kęstutis Navakas uses the word “us.” He uses it to lay a snare, to place the audience on his boat (or in his taxi cab, to be more precise) and make them his own partners in crime, the crime being song and poetry, exhilaration and revelry. On my 28th birthday a friend gave me an enormous photo portrait of Navakas – we sat him down at our table as we poured wine at the ŠMC bar.

A bird loses a feather.
It
’ll fly now without it.
First drop of rain falls down. It
’ll rain now without it.

(K.N., šeši šeši, p. 63).

Aether In Itself is the title of an etching by Eglė Kuckaitė that I first saw at Portfolio, a small café-gallery in Biržai. The image itself is a blooming cluster, a copulation of all things, a small space that seemingly fits every element needed to create the world.

I saw it during a literary festival. We were sitting in boats, illuminated by torchlight, and we read poems to an audience that had gathered on the shore. We drank wine, danced, and sung folk songs.  I came upon this aether only by accident, as I went for some coffee. This was my second conscious confrontation – perhaps even astonishment – with visual art (the very first was when I saw the Painting for the Millennium of Lithuania by Šarūnas Sauka).

A couple of years later I was in Germany, sleeping on the floor of a bus with a film crew, as I remembered the face of a person from my time working at a bookstore. I realized that I must find this person, yet I did not know their name or anything about them. But I did know a woman that looked just like her. So I asked her: do you know a woman that looks just like you? And she did. When I had thus established the means to contact her, I wrote a long letter on Kuckaitė’s Aether, Publika directed by Gintaras Varnas, and everything else that I thought was the most important at that time. This was the beginning of a beautiful love. What is even more funny, I now work at a museum, and the first work of art that I purchased was Aether.

When I was invited to write an essay for “Reflections on Belonging” for Vilnius Review, I browsed the journal’s website to see what the other contributing authors had written. I first opened a publication by Neringa Abrutytė. I came upon a particular poem that I had been tracking for some years now:

The Beginning

he beginning can be like this: your shoes new
for two hundred litas, your coat without a lining,
your face peeling, your head full of dandruff, and
your love old, boring, you stop alongside such a beginning,
move a little: from home to the library, from there to the café:
I yearn for someone to shake me up, forcefully make me move,
the beginning can also be there – you’d want it there, where there are
unknown places, unfamiliar people and even language –
the beginning can be speech: you learn to speak, words –
for now only a melody, the beginning can even be different:
you go somewhere, not knowing where, who you’ll meet, what you’ll do –
a tower appears, flies – a crow on the roof, you hold on
with your last strength – you want to jump and struggle to save yourself –
the beginning is bad: it could be better – sometimes
the beginning: nonsense and daydreams,
the beginning, which you cannot have

I read this poem at my first ever reading contest. Then I remember only a line about “a pair of shoes for 200 litas,” and I could never recall whose shoes they were. A beginning can be like this.

In the West, waiting looks at waiting itself, while in the east it looks at anything but itself. I realized this after seeing the plays Waiting for Godot (directed by Gintaras Varnas) and Uncle Vanya (directed by Tomi Janežič). Beckett’s characters are always exploring their relationships with waiting and deferral. Grotesquely, they hurl and scatter the sands of waiting and their own portraits, which have begun to crack from time spent idle. Chekhov’s characters will not dare to admit their own waiting and idleness; they instead fully turn to conversations, incidents, and each other, diverting their thoughts from how unbearably trivial it all really is.

live so far away
that when someone sets off
to kill you
by the time they reach your home
you’re no longer enemies

There was a short time during my university years when I had an enemy. I mean it as a joke. But there was no way that during the seminars me and this other young man would not get into a competition – we had to find out which one of us had the sharper sword. He was perhaps the smart one, and I might have been the charming one, so we sat in front of each other and traded blows. I learned a lot during this time. I might have consulted the Bible once or twice, too.

I spent a year as part of a film crew producing stories about Lithuanians living abroad. Three times a month we would travel to different parts of northern and central Europe or the United Kingdom, filming the daily lives of these people, interviewing them, trying to grasp the essence of Lithuanian identity. Despite the hours of content we made, I still feel like we’ve missed the point. The current exhibition at MO Museum titled “Kaunas – Vilnius: Moving Mountains” describes how during the interwar period, Lithuanians who sought to reclaim Vilnius first saw it as a city of fairy tales: romanticized, mysterious, desired yet slightly unbelievable. Just like that, to many, Lithuania’s beauty increases with the distance it is observed from. Nevertheless, it seems like a vague conclusion could be made, that Lithuania embodies a feeling that everything is going to be okay. A part of our cultural genetic code that reflects how we survived war, occupation, deprivation, and exile. Perhaps it is best “known” to women. Cees Nooteboom argues in his work that through men we may understand what kind of a world we live in, but through women we know what this world is. By the way, when I joined Mission Siberia and visited the region of Krasnoyarsk, the Russians we met there told us how perplexed they were by the Lithuanian people – forced to work, emaciated, and exiled, still they always sing.

I’ve noticed that people don’t usually finish reading the Book of Ecclesiastes. After the vanity of vanities is:

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
(Eccles. 9: 7–10, ESV)

I keep clashing with people who encourage us to live one day at a time and ground ourselves in the present moment. My life has its feet forever dipped in the river of my childhood, its fingers perpetually woven in a few of my favorite books. I always feel my late father’s breath on my back. My blood is made of memories and events, of architecture and people and journeys and God. History needs time, music needs time, theater needs time. Their parts are arranged in a particular order in time and thus play their tune. And then I can enjoy the moment.

It may be hard to believe (given his advanced age and frailty), but Alfonsas Andriuškevičius is giving lectures on art history at the museum. In between displays of wit and insight, he says this – “the artist’s opinion of their work is merely one of the opinions.”

If the meanings that each individual ascribes to words develop over time and experience – the sea means one thing to you if your boat went under during a storm and yet another if you’ve never seen the sea at all or if you were raised by the sea – then nothing can be read in the original language. If one dictionary was used in writing, a different one will always be used in reading; each reading is partially a translation. So perhaps it’s not as important to follow the original text; a good translation may be closer to the original than even the most accurate reading.

I don’t know what it feels like to be at home. We moved a lot during my childhood. We lived in Vilnius, at a homestead in Kurklintiškiai, then in Paliūniškis, later moving in with my grandparents in Joniškėlis, and finally moving back to Vilnius. Valdas Papievis writes that “To walk again, again, again, and again is my home.” Maybe the same could be said about me. My home is in my head, my memories, my rules, directions, and people. Sometimes – in particular books, passages, or phrases, which keep reminding me what I’m made of.

A little more about Biržai. Lake Širvėna is an artifical one. It was formed by daming the Apasčia and Agluona rivers at their confluence. This was probably done to protect the fortress of Biržai. A bespoke lake. After the festival in Biržai and after Aether, I wrote poems which I thought were some of the best in the world – now I smile as I read them again:

when I was young
I parted my hair from the middle
I wore marches and rubies
and the partitures of panic
from scales I
arranged

I know
of a fish
that holds in its bowels
a glittering army that hums

I laughed at those who spoke about love
I laughed at those
who thought
they know where to go

when I grew old
I began to comb my hair back
I experienced all the adventures
in the room
where we pushed our beds together
and with a warm palm
you wiped either dream or illness away

on the skin that I lay
I read letters
barely unlike the facture of grass

and now
I just am

I lead
the little donkey of Kajokas
to the lake
that we dug out the night before

This year Kuckaitė is having another exhibition in Biržai.

I suspect that statistics are much more significant than we are prone to believe.

We must first add everything and then divide by the number of components: we add churches and offices, musicians and bank tellers, judges and writers, pavements and meadows. And divide by the sum. We then see that each of us is part painter and part esotericist, part gambler and part priest; there are churches and there is the market of Gariūnai, “there are hair salons and buses, there is a woman saying ‘I know you’” (that’s from Grajauskas), there are lasers and quantum field theory, like there are suburban pastures and those who have no place to sleep. We are all together. We affect and fill each other up.

 

 

 

 

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