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Uldis
Bērziņš Uldis Bērziņš




Text as Participation and Other Poems




Ieva Lešinska

Translated by Ieva Lešinska





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 vineyards: “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




Friday night. Strada Romana


Dreamy Jews emerge from the baths, the siren of sabbath is shrieking, how shiny, oh Domne,
thine shekels — for mother, for bride, for the auto! Lord (the moon a sharp sliver over each
head), lead us home! (With shekels, away from this blue halva.) Quiet and swift like a rabbit
the earth overtakes the meridians. Cans full of beer. Only Romanians here. The underground
ready for war.

1998, Jerusalem




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



It's me here. It's you, it's him.


    It's me here. It's you, it's him.
    The forgotten one shows up to ask: where
is that blade of grass, red with my blood?
I had a bow and arrow, my aim was very narrow
to shoot a bird in tree. And then I met my maker,
no bird was on his knee. Substance crumbles,
space expands, cold, misty draft (could that be
Father breathing?), and nothing can be seen
through glass, no matter how semantic,
no one to carry messages to coming ages,
numbers senseless, colors black and what
they taught in school, Devil takes it back,
    no, nonsense. It's me. It's
you, it's him.



    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




Astra


     An abstracted clown, surviving
only in print (not much, I agree)

     I turn my indirect and cancelled gaze
upward: yes, asters are up there, the astra

     The sky so black over Prague and Riga,
over tongues and powers that be— what's that?

     It's August, yes, only the century's
changed; that's why the asters so bright, the astra

     Hey, man, I lift up my empty gaze and
I know even through the layers of mud: that's it

     Asters again, eternal, blinking, white asters,
bright asters, the astra




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 drivers 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?





On Old Age


(John chapter 21 verse 18 verily
verily I say unto thee when thou wast young thou
girdest thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest but
when thou shalt be old thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and
another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not)
but Peter just laughs.
     Rabbi says Peter why carry on about old age
guess what you are to die young.
     A young man is afraid his life can be
taken away what are you going to take from an oldster his
life a bird in a tree.
     A young man is afraid he can be put in chains
an old man is free even thrown in a pit his freedom
a bird in the sky.

II

(Old age is coming) no wish to go on lying (old age
is coming) no taste for boasting old age has arrived
and you are what you are (sick of pretending).
     Old age comes like rain from the sky
     To wash away dust.

III

But some keep bending their backs up to the last
pail in hand until they die aghast

they draw and draw and never know from what
they pour and such and never know for what

year chases year and half their life is over
is old age coming no old age passes them over.

they start to boast of who and what they've been
what they have done and what they've seen

they hold on to their things (but they rot and rust)
year chases year till the cup it runneth ov'r

they lie in coffin candles burn and life is over
and old age comes and goes and passes them over

IV

If only my heart continued to see
I don't care about the eyes.

V

Another good thing about old age that your back
is stiff.
     For an old man it's hard to bend hard to flex for
an old man he has to stay his ground whether he likes it or not.
     The penny remains on the ground humility unexpressed
(shoelaces untied but that hardly matters).

VI

God let me live to old age.