Latvian Literature 6

Uldis Bērziņš

Selected poems

Brother

I

Our Lord is tied to the cross and he suffers and is happy. The ropes cut into his shins and wrists, and Our Lord knows that His hour has come and that it should be so.
And for a moment His vision clears and glancing down Our Lord sees soldiers priests men women boys donkey drovers His disciples and other people look at Him some cry others laugh some understand others don’t.
And Our Lord says no I am no son of god I am a man if I were the son of god I would come down from the cross and walk away but I don’t come down this pain is killing me I hurt I love my disciples John in particular I understand the high priest Pilate I feel sorry for poor Judas I am sorry but how good it is to be human you do not know Father I am a man I will die of thirst and pain but John stands down there looking up at me he understands me I will resurrect in him.
Our Lord dies at the cross but John walks the world crisscrosses the seas preaches people love one another thus taught Jesus from Nazareth.

II

Not finding me, my brother goes to people and asks every single one: “Are you my brother?” The guards consider it suspicious; the boy is brought before the judge of the land. The judge asks: “Soweth thou sedition?” The boy answers: “I sow not. I’m looking for my brother.” Then the judge says: “Let him go.”
I hear people speak of a spirit-ridden boy and then I take a guess: “It must be a new John the Baptist”. Indeed, the boy is now followed by a whole host of disciples, beggars, cripples and cured patients. The evangelist says – just as the prophet Isaiah has said: “he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” – yes, but no one could lighten his burden, nor show him the way. I glimpse him one morning in a Jerusalem crowd and elbow my way closer to get a better look, oh, it’s a man of my own age, his beard still without grey. I call out: “Rabbi! Here!” and say my name, and he takes me by the hand and says: “Are you my brother?” and I say: “Yes, we are all brothers,” and I feel a bit strange, for what does this man of god want of me, and I slip away. And then one day I hear a bugle and see them lead one man who is carrying a large wooden cross. I say, who is this man, they say, king of the Jews, the Nazarene! I get closer to take a look – a man of my own age, but oh my goodness... – and he lifts his eyes, looks at me and I begin to recognize him, but they lead him along yelling – king of the Jews! king of the Jews!

III

I open the Bible and read that up there in the heavenly home my father sees that I am alone and sends my younger brother to me. The boy comes down into the world (I have myself a whole world built!) but how would you know me if I hide my eyes as if in guilt. Once in the agora I hear them talk about a boy who’s known to feed whoever is starving cure whoever is ailing he goes from door to door and asks then one then another if anyone has seen his brother. And he sees me on the street but knows me not in soldier’s casque he sees me up on stage and knows me not in actor’s mask he sees me in a vat stomp grapes amongst the slaves and with the sons of Levy at the harvest feast he sees me walk the desert with that quiet horde armed with knives he sees me with the customs lads frolick at the Roman feasts I know you see me on the street and do not know it’s me brother brother brother bro’ tell me where you go he meets me again but knows not that I am so hidden my smile and my breath. I hear cries and laughter rattling of metal bugle and wind soldiers are leading my brother through the city of kings I run I catch up I fall to the ground I wallow in dust so the soldiers trample me under their feet I run after them I scurry up that hill with the others I dodge neither the sword nor the whip I do not give up I awaken at night in the dark and lo four disciples are stealing away with my brother mutely like thieves I whisper as if in a daze bring him over to me bring him over to me bring him over to me and they lift him up on their shoulders and bring him over to me and from your pierced hand dew dribbles onto me.

 

196?

I

 

   listen to what’s happening in shiraz two birds sit in a tree talking one says I am a bird what else am I the other says just fly and don’t think about it listen to what the birds say.

II

   listen to what’s happening in shiraz two nightingales sit in a tree singing one says drink wine drink the other says no the true wine comes from the lips of god.

III

   listen to what’s happening in shiraz a poet writes what you were that you will be you were clay and clay you will become even though you’re the king and the lord in face of death you will go pale and then he is called before the king and he pulls out that paper. listen to what happens then the man pulls out that paper and begins to read what you were that you will be you were great you will become greater you are our king and our lord you will live forever and be praised forever see what’s happening in shiraz where else could it happen like this.

 

1969

 

*

  Where is that brightest of joys where is that greatest of
miracles where is that which is most important.
That you are that you do that you see yourself that
is what is the brightest.

  Flower is not field is not bee is not stone lies in the lake
not aware but you are you see yourself you know it all
is becoming for you.
A letter is not if you don’t write it a word is not if you
don’t read it two times two does not know how much it is
before you come and say it.

  Color is blind sound is deaf stone cannot weigh itself in
a palm you do it for it through you it is for a short while but
a dog is runs after you down the street.
The dog smells something the dog wants along the dog
runs along runs is jumps is.

  God sits in a tree and says come to me here is eternity
but don’t you climb that branch it will break.

   Eternity is fiction the sum of pluses and minuses
(was was not was will not be will be will not be) eternity
it is a fly-agaric flypaper don’t touch inside you is a fish and
a river eternity is your suffocation.

   Eternity is that void that was and will be but you are in the
middle of that eternity you are in spite.
Eternity is that void but you are its time.

   Eternity is that darkness but you are its color.
Eternity trickles away like water but what remains in the net
what remains in the net what remains come now and look
isn’t it you.

   That is that brightest of dreams that is that greatest of joys
you are in the middle of the world and there you see yourself.

1969

 

Litene

1
That which the mole keeps digging
That which the worm keeps rigging

Čaks whispered in his hand
And breathed into his gloss

Those words that have been lost
Boom in my ear like in a well

O, Litene, O, liar!
O, treason out of hell

2
No, Litene! No, liar!
I stumble through the briars

I run! alive! I’m just a penny
One coin among so many

See, up to my elbows,
It’s me in killer’s pose

The boy in me weeps and dies forever
The beast in me roars and shits as ever

 

Mouse

  Under each step under each floorboard under each sofa and under each bench in Vērmanes park speak the mouths of the unborn and all together they promise they babble murmur and call (Blaumanis portrait up on the wall says oh yes so many children so many and they all love me so much) hey tonight we want to be with you we are already grown up and they promise we will be just like you are you will love that boy and a girl says me too I want my pants exactly the same I tear the plank off my face and what do you know someone gets in my lap pulls at my beard and says Uldis could you find me a name? At night two little rascals pinch a cigarette from my window, vanish without a trace. A mouse comes out from below and says: I met your brother. He says hello.

1979

 

Text as Participation

The absence of talent has prompted me to autothematisme: what is a poetic text?
-- So that I’d have some text to publish in Dzejas diena I decide: I will dream it and then decide if a dream is an art form or a lifestyle. I met a young, musically gifted and very pious Slovak girl, we walked through slender aisles, on tender walkways and began to kiss. That, of course, is text – but it was true, I swear! She made me listen to some Tatra women sing inside the chapel – me who cannot hold a single note! but so it was. “So God exists? – I ask; I know that even to ask that question is to lie. She replies: “Ako áno, ako nie – who Else could have made me for you for this here existence?” Nude in the consistory (?!), the two of us perched on a long table, legs dangling, a nun walks in, starts mopping up – not giving us a second thought. The joy of being, so innocent, so bright (you know, without a struggle, without sin’s pathos – have done no brighter texting since so long ago in high school), later on she points at squatting vinyards: “See, we’ve waited not in vain! The pontiff’s here!” Indeed, I see them halt before the chapel – but what a crowd! That bent body, the familiar, weary gait, the light purple miter. More and more people – and look, there’s Golem by the roadside, the muddy flab aquiver, alien bones protruding: could that be Ýmir from whom the world was once created or just a saintly fool to drag along the burden of all flesh? Giants stagger through the foliage, the Rephaim on short and gimpy legs, the dreadful mutants that tail the Pope, those horrid gray-haired wives in carts, clutching skinless sides, they’ve been created too? They too presented with immortal souls? For us – so we’d not forget? Or we – for them? – She of the light mind says: “In this existence, He presents them so you’d know: He has it all. To Him, all is quite as real as what the two of you create: your vanity and Tatra songs, your lusting after me, your wish to serve, so picturesque in pontiff’s image, my blond hair, fair skin, our sweet depravity. No, look, see the Repahim, those formless, giant cripples? They’ll also drag along, He’s given you this being so for a spell you’d get a sense of the dimensions, rozumieš!”
I lust for her. I want Him to create her for me once again but fear the dark. I fear the darkened room, I fear the coming night.

 

2000

 

*
And if they tell you stab then stab and if they tell you lie then lie (bagritsky) but what do you think?

And the basis of serving is to stand by your king in truth and in lie and to do as he bids (nizami aruzi from samarkand) but what do you think?

I want it to be the other way round I want to learn to do without lying I want to learn to do without serving and I think I will manage tell me what you think.

 

1969

 

Summer Rain

I

That rain that roams the world
That rain that splashes in the yard
That rain that hesitates behind the window
That summer rain
Should come inside.
Open the window and let the summer rain inside
And also its
Trusted companions
Smells.

The smell of the street of the fleet of earth of buildings of parks of arks of potatoes of tomatoes of smoke of oak of pine of brine of nettle the smell of speed and of slowness the smell of the sun of shadow of carp of melon – a whole host of smells.
Of New York Mallorca and York of the Mediterranean and Carribean of Istanbul and Liverpool of Berlin and Sakhalin, all those smells
Come along with the rain.
Also one sharp smell that rots.
Of blood.

II

Come inside summer rain
And wash the blood off the walls.
Rain as you rained over trenches open and closed.
Rain summer rain rain
And wash off that rotting blood.
Wash it off the forests and the pavement.
And off the face I just imagined.
And off the other one I cannot imagine.
And off the girl in the trench.
And off the pages of the book.
And off the leaves of the alder.
And off the sleeve of the soldier.
Wash it off Latvia and off myself.

 

III

The summer rain raining Jānis and Juris shooting Jews in the forest.
Each has just one rifle but there’s a whole big crowd of Jews.
The barrels are getting red hot but Jews keep on coming.
And twenty years pass and then twenty-five and there’s again a Jānis and a Juris and they are singing that song and as the summer rain is raining I walk up to them and sock them between the eyes.

IV

A part of my nation was shot dead and buried in the ground to rot and I was in my mother’s womb and could not defend them.
Jews were shot they were born in our country they spoke Latvian they served in the army with the Latvians this land belonged to them as much as to us.
A part of my nation lies in trenches in Biķernieki and in other trenches from Liepāja to Daugavpils (what for?)
What for?
What for shit fuck go fuck yourselves you assholes you motherfuckers you fucking pigs tell me why?
Because they leafed through the paper right to left?
Because they went to the synagogue?
Because they had curly hair?
Oh, I see!
Because they smelled of garlic?
Because they had crooked noses because their shops were closed on Sabbath?
Because they babbled in Yiddish?
Why oh why am I not yet alive the axe lies by the stove how come you go on living give me that axe my God why am I not yet alive.
(Jānis dries his clothes by the stove goes off again.)

V

Where was the Latvian God hiding
When the summer rain was raining?

VI

The summer rain smells of Nicosia.
The summer rain smells of Nigeria.
It smells of blood when it rains.
And therefore.
He who was born in that land is a Latvian.
He who goes to my school is a Latvian.
He who knows that language is a Latvian.
He who builds those cities is a Latvian.
He who ploughs those fields is a Latvian.
And if you say no he is not I walk up to you and sock you between the eyes before it’s too late.

 

1967

Translated by Ieva Lešinska