Latvian Literature 4 – Knuts Skujenieks

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Clear-eyed kitten
from the kingdom of tom-cats
when you climb on my shoulder
then I know I am
a needed man

small foolish one
you disarm even a stone
and soften
the stone in my breast
the two stones of my right eye and my left eye
the one on my tongue

time will turn
you into a bored and crippled tom
and me into stone again
but not altogether

because the kingdom of tom-cats is large
and the birth rate exceeds the death rate


When people shall read this bitter intertwining
these words not called nor begged for
and think of what created them
whom will they reflect more? You or me?
when people shall think of a soul so lonely
who even powerless can light up a sunbeam
should they say fine the world still has sunbeams
will they know what feeds the sunbeam?
I myself don’t know my beloved
you the distant hollow sound of a bell
I don’t know but I sense you
and send another line on paper
you tremble like air from the flutter of wings
over my hopes and my sadness
we may separate like low clouds
but we don’t wake cold and estranged
for others we may deny each other
but we don’t pass each other by
we may be bitter about life’s betrayal
but we’re chained not only by love
from common refuse we burn the same fire
from a common spiritual fibre
if you should tire know that people will read
again and again ask for the sunbeam
and intertwined we are related
I sing of you while you lead me
your breath in each letter
half of it me


I’m not conquerable I’m not destroyable in the open
field trampled cursed and spat on
don’t look at my bones that ever slower
walk under my skin but if you wish to look perhaps
this is a lesson listen to my words listen
listen hear listen again but listen
because my words are my work and other work I don’t have
I won’t have
a battle in life in which I’ll be the loser because
I don’t have either a bayonet or war ruse only words
I place in the centre in the most open place to root after
a year or two hundred what does it matter? if right now or
after seven ounces of sweat what does it matter?
my bones aren’t worth a penny because I have words and they’re
not janis’ peter’s or knuts skujenieks’ words these WORDS are
if you want to look balance bones on elbows or
put your foot in front but a word is a word even forgotten
it leaves echoes in the forest circles in water and people’s
discord with life and themselves
even the most vulgar word the most bitter word is human
not for me to know nor you where these words come from
or where they go to
and our lack of knowledge keeps us alive indebted to death
our being
so listen hear beside me root
and you shall not be conquered


don’t search for the world’s guilt
don’t expect the bloody comet

the comet won’t help us
friends will still be destroyed
revenge will still be the enemies’
but we’ll still be in the middle
only the comet’s tail will pierce our hearts
but we’ll still be in the middle

and the world will still be not good not evil
neither cold nor hot without shame without honour

let’s leave the sheets in the bed white
let’s not prepare to be blown into air

the comet shall return to its parabola
but we’ll still be in the middle
on the bridge
if we haven’t prepared our floodlights
for each to return to his own parabola

and the world will stand still mindless and clueless
and we’ll still be empty on an empty bridge
with a comet’s tail piercing our hearts

if we won’t blow ourselves up into our air
if we ourselves won’t go through our hearts
the comet will remain just an empty newspaper page
to be torn in four and placed in a toilet
friends will still be destroyed
revenge still will be the enemies’

let’s not wait



from the centre from silence
from the very core
may it reach you and sink
in the deepest sense

after which I’ll start to say
before which I’ll stop to say
the word I forever search for
and never shall say



How many sunrises can a human bear
if his heart floods each morning
if eternally the sun rises red
and never fades?

How many sunrises can a human bear
if his heart through blood strings
raises its wings, each evening falls
with burning swallows?

How many sunrises can a human bear
If his heart each morning trembles under a knife
and a thousand red dawns drag along with life
like a long interminable red chain.

If thousands of mornings arrive without regret
and each must be lived differently?


like a cherry tree that saves at its tip
its last remaining fruit –
that’s how I save my tattered shirt
its one and only button.

when souvenirs and hope are lost
when the burden becomes too heavy
I finger on my chest the button
you’ve sewn on.

in spite of years and hungers
in spite of snow and sleep
You’ve sewn me up for my threadbare life
with loving threads of eternity

The day wins over night. I gaze
into a one and only bright window.
No window this but life that burns
on my chest your sewn button




Il n’y a plus rien de moi
Et ceux qui craignent les brulûres…

Guillaume Appolinaire

This is the last barricade, firing line, red zone.
across it
we no longer shall stand hand in hand
neither friend nor deputy or drinking pal.

This the last day, last sentence, last chance.
On the boundary the word we shall burn.
The word you won’t make it through fire.
Only they will remain.

Tonight let’s sit on our baggage of reason,
on the backpacks of our sense of honour
let’s count the small change of our life
needed to reach our destination – or return.

Let’s sit together till the morning.


Strike, lightning. Sanctify and purify this earth.
Bend trees down to their roots.
Lift tender shoots from hilled-up earth, urge
angry rain clouds like horses into hot lather!

Throw a strong spirit a white fire bridge
spit sulphur into a heart drained bloodless!
Let the corpses themselves bury the dead –


In some century, some legend
was there an evening, swamplike and silent?
June warmth and lip warmth?
A last bus?

As it’s written: year after year…
Sod turned over sod …
In some poem even to this day
does a loon cut across some heart?

In some country, some cultural dig
was there a camp called home?
a last bus,
a girl barefoot?


Tu tas nebiji, kas bija Ķīnā…*
Jānis Rainis**

This story is short.
They broke the hands
of the pianist.

Broke them
in the name of World Revolution
and for the sake of a Bright Future.

They say,
if gods are to be fed
there must be a sacrifice.

And the pianist’s
broken hands
the only proof of loyalty
if a human can ever pledge loyalty
to a voracious god.

Even though I’m not
either Chinese
or the pianist
Liu Shikun,
I know a thing or two
about idols
and idoltry.

* It wasn’t you who was in China…
**A very famous Latvian poet and playwright



I can’t
My heart grows soft like a horse’s muzzle.
My heart begs for bread
from the open palm of a friend.
The heart wants
to be slapped a bit
once again to be strong.

I too am only a living creature
I need
my small place in the sun.

I can’t
I don’t have a place in the sun.
Across my heart cracks



My eyes fill with blood
my head full of evil thoughts
and my heart
grits strong, fierce teeth

I can
but this no longer is my heart



with both feet planted into the horizon
a red rider wanders
visibly ages
fades faster than a flower

he doesn’t know how to talk to people
the horse does not recognise him

seeing the rider
slowly slowly tear


Grant me rest
a forest’s rest
moss and pinecone rest
rest for eyes that have seen too much
rest for a soul too hardened
grant me a moment of silence
I’ve earned it

From underground a voice unearths
Too soon!

Grant me rest
a mouthful of earth
grant me rest
for dried out hands and breast
grant me two metres of black silence
grant me a wax candle
I’ve earned it

From underground a voice unearths
Too late!

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