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Ramūnas Liutkevičius (b. 1982) studied Lithuanian philology and semiotics at Vilnius University. He has published his work in literary journals and on personal platforms. Liutkevičius is a participant of poetic and interdisciplinary artistic events; he often reads his works in a performative style, approaching poetry from the audiovisual and choreographic perspectives. He has stated that poetry is truly a dance. Ramūnas Liutkevičius’s recently published poetry debut Šokis įsuka šviesą (“The Dance Turns In the Light”) was received as a striking and alluringly dark book.

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reflections on belonging

a palmers chronicle right bw

Graphic Novels

Elvyra Kairiūkštytė, Untitled, 1998, paper, ink. From the MO Museum collection

Poems from the poetry book „The Dance Turns In the Light“

Translated by Markas Aurelijus Piesinas

 

 

children of the white swan

i don’t stream any shows. i can’t
vividly compare the swan’s children with
the stars of one day or elevate my personal
story to an abstract summary. i could sell it
as a script for bingeworthy movies.

the white swan: that’s the name
of a workers’ dormitory in different clothing
the very shabby spot from soviet times with the spirit of dedovshchina
intact. they are all children of the white swan.

one of them dressed in symbols of the
modern age: a golden chain and a knock-off tracksuit
scowled at me
calling me names they use in the pen.
grinning while i scoured the floor of the dorm
showing his fangs until he sunk his claws into me
one saturday afternoon and wheezed in
my tetanus-marred face. with his poisonous spit
he banished me to the underworld. prehistoric appendages
obstructed my breathing. he offered a drink with
other children of the white swan
conjuring my raped consciousness from the abyss.
you a bitch not a man you fucking faggot.

another threatened me regularly told me he is the boss
forcing me to my knees. you’re fucking gonna wash this floor.
finally he sunk his claws into me as i sat outside on a bench
winking at his accomplice this one’s ours. and to think
he already considered me a child of the white swan until our paths crossed
on vasaros street. don’t touch him he’s a lunatic he explained
to one of his brothers.

the third was their true leader he allowed
his tribe to attack each other using their beaks
to strike appendages with feathers flying about.
during a collective bender he told everyone the history of our nation
called me a philosopher somewhat respected me as a hermit.
thank you for watching over us washing the floor.
he sunk his claws into me one saturday afternoon when he kept
smashing the shower doors as i washed myself
plucking my feather-ridden skin. whose fucking shoes are these.

the fourth made me kneel taught me how
floors should be cleaned using soap how to bend
under a cold current of water. they tell me you’re the guy who takes
his fucking shoes to the shower
. he hoarded all of krasnuha’s scrap metal
in his den lugging garbage with patience. others said he has a rotting
body up there the smell so unbearable. the bird of darkness sunk his
his claws in one midnight while patiently building
his nest – a metaphor for the entire world.

the fourth was the bird mother goddess of our floor
who looked after us all by collectively judging us. she hit me for cleaning the floor
using detergent so breaking the fraternal code.
later she cared for me like a lost child while looking at me with lust in her eyes.

the fifth office worker from soviet times hit
tore and mangled my appendages it is good i always
had shoes on because primeval birds are
conductive. she answered jehova’s witnesses with duty and care
testified what she had read or heard of
the end of the world.

the sixth and youngest fledgling screeched
with a siren’s voice and stung me with tetanus with her bottomless eyes
breaking into and invading my room telling me that we
don’t wash floors like that around here
. overall
men can’t bleach tabletops erase spaces
with such precision and care like women do. finally
she sunk her claws in with rage. i made him a bitch she told
her sister in thought.

the seventh was the one who came to my rescue each time my lock got jammed
who restrained the other one smashing the door to the shower. i could say it was
a swan that symbolized freedom.

i do not know the difference between netflix the iliad
the oddysey or archaic tales. i don’t know whether i can
testify to my past with purity without a skin beset by feathers.
i tell this to you tribe of my thought.
in the oasis of solitude under bridges
i poke an invisible shield with feathers. i believed i was becoming
one of you. i believed the ink of fortified wine that runs in my veins
that we all soaked our feathers in
is mine too.
i still do.

 

 

***

my name is ramūnas, a bird of grey spaces, i have built my nest in the entryways to the commune of the white swan, i have secured the status of a free citizen. many times did the children of the white swan try breaking into my room, invasively rattling the doorknob. it squealed like a track by einstürzende neubauten.

in the mornings i would wake up from a colorful dream, a stifling dream or a stimulating dream, which spilled over into my daily reality with neurosis. my lair looked like a burrow teeming with domestic insects – i always allowed neglect to enter my household. a sterile domestic environment eventually became unrecognizable. glossy surfaces became coated in grime, vintage wardrobes covered in layers of dust, my memory settled under them as if it were recorded on vinyl.

one unremarkable evening you will be chased away from the entrance to a bar in naujamiestis by a comrade circling his index finger mid-air, waving a burning cigarette in his hand, dancing with it, bringing it up to his lips and down again, ashing it, flicking the stub on the pavement.

an assistant at the bar in naujamiestis whispered to the artists in my circle standing further away from the entrance, occasionally taking suspicious glances at me. she might have shared her memories or her speculations about me. secrets bind, secrets separate.

she leaned over to the head bartender dressed in military garb and a frown appeared on his revolutionary’s beard. the bar che guevara circles his index finger mid-air, waving a burning cigarette in his hand, dancing with it, bringing it up to his lips and down again, ashing it, flicking the stub on the pavement. i lost the leader’s trust without even gaining it in the first place. he barred the entrance with his massive physique, and i was forced to retreat.

“they kicked me out even though i always hung with you guys, they are accusing me of something i didn’t do” i text enrika.

“come back already, there’s a free table” she texts me back.

it was a cold evening, too cold for my body, shaking like i had a fever, i resisted the temptation to return to the bar in naujamiestis so beloved by hipsters. you can’t return if you were kicked out.

“i am haunted by a lolita past” i text enrika.

“???”

“i was of preschool age.”

“did you like it?”

“didn’t even go to school yet. traumatized.”

i hoped to see liyana a second time that evening. the first time was at the art gallery. inside a crammed room we watched a film about a social experiment in the nineteen seventies. a boundary-testing anthropologist posited the banal question of whether one can kill out of lust. i doubted until the last moment whether to come here, i merely followed liyana with my eyes from the white bridge. there was no reason to stand in the cold. as if by accident i elbowed my way through the room a few minutes later, looking around as if by accident to see liyana right next to me.

“hi!” she exclaimed in surprise.

“hi,” i replied as if indifferently. lijana flinched at my callous tone and stepped away. i tried not to seem pretentious. i did not want to betray my lust for her. my sexuality was obscure and dark, even i was afraid of it. this was always an obstacle in talking to women, making it easier for me to be their friend, their best friend.

it was after midnight, the threads of romance woven between patrons at the bar of the contemporary art center were still intact, the wine had yet to run out, but i had to return to the five-story project building, the five-story babylon, mine was the fourth floor of the gardens.

liyana met me outside, gracefully holding a cigarette in her elegant hands, her fiery hair melting the early spring snow.

“are you leaving? don’t go, you’re having fun.”

“i have to follow my sleep routine, if i don’t, i get sick the next day, i get the shakes.”

“i think you can sleep a little less and not make a big deal out of it. come on, come back.”

liya exhales cigarette fumes, they solidify in the freezing cold. quivering, i anticipated the melodramatic scene that could change my whole life, but when liya turned to me she stood still.

“well go then,” liya exclaimed as if indifferently to the arches of the contemporary art center, and the arches laughed back.

i’m leaving.

i return to my building, the five-story babylon, it is sprayed with poison for insects. on hot oil i fry buckwheat and plant-based burgers from the discount shelf. i gorge myself, then i throw it all up.

 

 

the body remembers it all

wake up get up black sun morning neurosis
in a cup of cheap tea let the body remember it all
morning agony tear me to pieces boil me
in bile nurture me

the body remembers it all one november afternoon
a gang of dwarfs bid you to cross a footbridge
blindfolded above a heating ditch to rise on a lift
above swamps if you open your eyes we will push you
we will push you into the dimly lit tunnels
you will never get out of there

the body remembers it all in a den of neglect a stuck
pornography tape on the floor i am
plagued by images of two young men in a cabin after that
they barrage me with apples i am autistic i tell the psychiatrist
gentle and sweet she leaves me eventually the buzzing of radiators
on vasaros street

the body remembers it all i have no shoes for the wedding
i am silently borrowing shoes silently silently silence meaning
stealing the illegal story of cinderella the banquet
has ended i have nowhere to fly

the body remembers it all the abyss in the eyes consuming
the light the girl from the bookstore believed that
i smiled at her meaning to steal books i was only
walking through walls in the café named paris
the drunk bouncer resembling socrates kept
asking me why are you pouring pills in your coffee
the bottom of
the cup will explode

the body remembers it all especially the metalic chill when
you’re shaking so much from the trainspotting soundtrack the electric
girl is reading the grammar of violence waving her bags and smiling
my body in a sweet factory
on the assembly line turning into “choose your life”

the body remembers it all a gang of dwarfs bid
me to climb up the ladder to look deeper into
the mixer down its very bottom we will bake many treats
oh yes we will in our sweet factory

the body remembers it all silence humming from the beyond
in a silent film reel pines stretching up to the sky
my buddy from the days of my youth
told me he’d seen a flying saucer a blip above the tv
tower nobody believed him but me his body
was buried up in a tree

the body remembers it all my neighbor from next door
has fought nobody’s war in afghanistan (once the road
to this country was beloved by hippies) spinning the dance of
dervishes stirring a cocktail of semen and blood starting
to run from exploding suns he lunged at me like a bull
when i tried to shine light on his face
i was looking for invisible doors in a tunnel

the body remembers it all the books that ruin your life
when they are beset by agents of darkness bed bugs
what kind of an idiot watches a portal open up in his eyes
cold matter breathing darkness
the landlady becoming
military police i rip all of my books into shreds
and i glue my own book from these

 

 

***

you reek my boss told me once when she
invited me to her office in private i ripen
scents inside of me stale socks raggedy
jeans sweaty shoes cheap
beer fortified wine with scents i forge my way
into society of the 21st century this fight is a fight
over scent where we
recognize each other from the manner of scent
and when i will be 33 in my sweaty shoes
and raggedy jeans i shall lie down you guessed it
across the crossroad marking my tracks
somewhere in krasnuha with fortified wine
spiritus sanctus give me a drink before i am locked up
locked up
in minnesota

 

 

this life is about nothing but

this life is about nothing but thickness covers it all
in november they say everyone is committed to memory
– up until now it was all very clear you will return to yourself
upon crossing the park hearing the breathing river denying the other

i tell you: this life is about nothing
in november i used to live only at night
– the world’s time and my time always diverged
so eventually layers of green cells grew over me

this life is about nothing but thickness erases it all
november is a good time to commit
to your solitude – i knew quite a lot about
this world which is merely reflected in the retina of the river
all very real all so intangible

i tell you: this life is about nothing
in parks in november we return for an hour into the past
– that night i was climbing the walls but in fact
i writhed on the floor chewing the edge of my pillow

this life is about nothing but thickness heals
in november full moons speak of your missions
– that night again i wished to inform everyone that
it’s over. time to go. goodbye. keep searching for meaning

i tell you: this life is about nothing
in november we get accustomed to clear vision
– that night i lost my mission i suffered for my feelings
still in cases like these you love only yourself

this life is about nothing
a piercing realization
on november’s pavement under bridges
shouting their graffiti

 

 

***

all of my girls are throwing a box of metadoxine
into the distance measuring the depth of existence telling me
they would gladly jump off a roof if given the chance
but they stick to trampolines

 

 

***

this bus is going to latvia. brooding
men speaking dully will sit next to me.
women in the front. i feel miserable
these days – the present does not fit in the future. i burst my banks.
on a november evening we are sat in one yacht
sailing out into open sea like in
a social experiment from the nineteen seventies.
a boundary-testing anthropologist posited the banal question of whether one can kill
out of lust.
the bus is taking movie extras to a set.
the movie is about catherine the second whom the british adore so much.
i have played all possible roles in it from preobrazhensky’s
bard to the drag queen.
i shall keep this role for the future.

in open sea a black tornado grabs hold of a yacht.
the lightbulbs of thanatos turn on.

 

 

Translator’s Note

Even the title of Ramūnas Liutkevičius’s debut poetry book Šokis įsuka šviesą (The Dance that Turns in the Light) is both polysemous in Lithuanian and a riddle to translate: the verb įsukti is commonly used for fastening something in place by way of twisting – think of changing a lightbulb – but it can also mean the act of accelerating something into rotation, like a dancer spinning their body or a boat getting caught in a whirlwind out in the open sea. The same can be said of the poems in the book; Liutkevičius uses the full potential of inflection in the Lithuanian language to multiply the ways his poetry can be read. Consequently, he typically avoids punctuation and uses verbs and participles to piece lines together into a continuous stream of thought. This sense of continuity and repetition is reinforced through phrasal formulas that are found in several of the poems (“he sunk his claws into me,” “the body remembers it all,” “this life is about nothing”); such a formula is repeated throughout the poem like a mantra and imbues it with a chantlike energy.

In Liutkevičius’s poetry, personal misery becomes a source of authentic accounts of living on the fringes of society. Described by poet and critic Marius Burokas as “a manifesto of contemporary Lithuanian poetry,”[1] the poem children of the white swan reads like a piece of horror poetry and constructs a bird’s nest of a universe where the subject is plagued by a tribe of savage part-human, part-bird beings that inhabit the same apartment floor as he does. Yet it portrays an authentic account of life among the socially underprivileged in the post-Soviet reality. The social hierarchy of the apartment complex is informed by the “spirit of dedovshchina.” Dedovshchina (from the Russian ded, “grandfather”) is typically used as an umbrella term for various practices of hazing that originated within the Soviet Armed Forces and revolve around verbal assaults and humiliating tasks, beatings, and even sexual abuse. Generations of young men subjected to varying degrees of  dedovshchina or similar practices, either through mandatory military conscription or incarceration (similar systems of degradation based on castes existed in the Soviet penal system as well), would thus carry the logic and sense of order derived from these practices into their daily lives.

Another feature of Liutkevičius’s poetry is that it extensively references the city of Vilnius and some of its specific establishments and streets. The peculiar term krasnuha (widely used by locals) refers to a particular section of the city that currently covers Savanorių Avenue, Gerosios Vilties Street, and the surrounding areas, dominated by low-cost apartment buildings and social housing projects. The word is derived from Prospekt Krasnoi Armii (“Red Army Avenue”), the former name of Savanorių (Volunteers’) Avenue. Alternatively, the allusion to “minnesota” in an untitled poem can be read as a reference to the Minnesota Model for treating alcohol abuse as well as the National Center for Addictive Disorders, which offers the model to its inpatients. The center is located on Gerosios Vilties Street (“Good Hope Street”) in the heart of the Krasnuha and is casually referred to by some locals as “Minnesota.” References to “vasaros street” in some of the poems likely point to the Vilnius City Psychiatric Health Center located on Vasaros (Summer) Street.

 

1. https://www.lrt.lt/naujienos/kultura/12/1529925/marius-burokas-raudonas-poezijos-vejas-beketiska-proza-kalbos-pamusalas-ir-autores-spastai

 

 

 

 

 

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