Latvian Feature

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Photo of Liāna Langa by Deinats

Liāna Langa

Translated by Margita Gailitis and J.C. Todd

Galanteria N.


A woman between 38 and 45, maybe younger
overweight by 30 kilos more or less, face puffed, trampled from lack of sleep
dressed in mall-glitz, a shiny black leather coat
— her fat, humanly-acquired, the carcass of her soul
                                 on display in a smoke-filled dive

“A real bitch,” thinks the alcho-naut sitting at a table. “No wonder she's alone,
barely noon, but she. . .”

at the bar the woman orders “a brandy and something else”
the bartender stares through her muddied flesh through the bar window
at the slush-covered face of Brivibas Avenue
reflected back in the naked leather, its shiny lure
thrown out to catch small fish under ice, she sees
the surface of the brandy iced over with a crackling, roach-colored net
countless small hooks push from her underbelly, armpits, shoulders


but they're without bait, bare—

flies and worms have died in the cold


10 square meters of the bar to cross
to get to the table in the corner
sit down, drink, settle in her cage

I'll pour a double shot into myself and I'll become a canary!
a pink kitten, a meow, the very first letter in the alphabet!

YOU ALL GO TO HELL, it's my holiday

DON'T STARE AT ME, I'm your tomorrow.


mountains always remind me of the warm sea
at whose shore I lazed happy and tanned
people slid into water—flesh cathedrals, churches, temples
sharing a joyful architectural detail: a behind

I lazed happy and tanned at the edge of the sea, my holiday and life
while mature fate barbecued shashliks on the corner of Jomas Street and
clouds in the sky trained their biceps, now and then shielding the sun
if you've ever felt too hot in this life, you start seeing things wrong

or else slanted waves wash you into the sea
at whose shore I lazed happy and tanned
I continue to swim toward shore, but it's so far
an unreachable pedestal erected to lost freedom


an errant caramel cloud
and a look from above cool and deceptive
forces itself out of an ancient placenta
to appear like a scar on a corpse's face

like pre-history etched in a wall of wind
radiance on the forehead of a newborn child
what once was the foundation now is in ruins
weeds everywhere bitter and sharp


once an ice-cream princess, yes she was was was
and her ice-cream tears fell fell fell
when boys with strong tongues came to drool over her
they fell asleep beside her and snored, snored, snored

and then the ice-cream princess grew thin thin thin
in her center there was nothing and no god beside her
no one remembers now if she was raspberry or crème brule
but sometimes unseen ribs brush against us in the dark


life below ice has the fragrance of freesias and cod entrails
fins tickle the throat and memories disappear in mishaps
the cold is so warm you don't want to go home
and you— little ice-hole mermaid— how are you?

the ice hole is round like the starved mouth of life
gnashing its teeth, heaven grows tense
the palms of life are powdered with baby talc
but spilled in her sleeve, ominous black spit.


The all-night store is stuffy, and the clerk in a padded jacket, deaf.
Santimes jingle in slot machines, bitterness settles in kefir packs.
After midnight, a newcomer who has no one to call drops by
to diffuse his madness. He buys a pack of Wallstreet, then begins
to tell the deaf man:

“I met her in a bar. The dark walked outside. O how the dark walked outside!
Alcohol roared in my brain. Probably my cradle was hung under a table.
But she had the eyes of a sea lion and swayed my mind.” The store clerk nods,
loyal, ready to listen to anyone, shelving the recently delivered milk.

“Parenthesis, parenthesis!” the newcomer exclaims. “My parenthesis. I lost them! I finally
fell in love with a good-for-nothing in a dump! My lioness. We talked some and then she
disappeared by stepping inside me. I drank till dawn. No longer in parenthesis! Flight,
despair, joy! I stepped outside myself! Of my own accord, suddenly, aware and free!
For the first time in my life, without limits,

now I can. . ..” The deaf man didn't see what happened next.
He was told that the newcomer left, slipped on trash by the doorstep, then lit up a smoke.
In the store window, the neon sign had waved like red algae in a strong current.
The man had vanished in the fog, his body leaving a rose-colored scar with fresh
stitches round it.


Galanteria N. wants to clothe her story in soft, musty words
write on what's tarnished, scratch in the flesh of rust

write alongside the quantum theory, alongside formulas
for the logic of dreams, in the deep
                       mouth of rain
write in the middle of a lump of fat, on the invoice
for a soldier's uniform, in the flames of a

Galanteria N. whirls in a short snowflake skirt, whirls and loses her balance
melts in cat's fur, rises again to glisten in a poem-maker's window

the magical journey begins everywhere we are, always, wherever
just sneeze, release your spirit, take hold of tender Galanteria

she would like to stay STILL in soft, musty words
but again and once more return to you

embraces or parenthesis? who scrambles there like a bug?
who wakes again in her arms?

illusion or delusion?


Space has its scars, its splinters,
its scabs, fairy tales and towers
where unborn birds briefly rest
and felled trees compose songs.

Space has doors only the blind see,
garden lamps where blood congeals
shed for the nightmare and the dream,
lit by a bat once every hour.

There, as you climb an invisible stair,
you look in the face of hours and pain
now ended. And see the whirlwinds
that lovers leave when they have gone,

spirals turned by an incessant wind
and blown through sheets toward us.