Note for "Poems Haunted by Chaks"

Aleksandrs Čaks (1901—1950) Latvian poet. Alternate spelling: Chaks
Ceka: Secret Police
Cheka: KGB

Latvian Feature

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Mara Zalite
Māra Zālīte

Mother, father and I

Sometimes almost, almost
I believe the newspaper babble,
that in place of a father I have NATO
in place of a mother I have the UN,
and to support me as an orphan
soon in my palm will be a Euro.

Then I head for the woods much greener
than the greenest flag of the greenest party.
I head for the fields more colorful
than the most colorful market.
I roam the hills
that spill tenderly into each other
like the earth and the sky,
like mother and father,
when they were young like I.

Then I sit at the edge of a river
the river is my mother
— as warm as milk.
Warm as a tear on a cheek.

Then I look at the sky
and my father appears —
as he did at the railway station long ago,
when for the holidays I came home.

I am with my mother, and I will be
when I'm covered by the green grass
which, like a blanket, briefly slides off.

I am with my father as I will be
when this watch stops in my chest
like a used foreign auto.

That's why I scream like a child
don't bother me with your orphan's courts —
I'm not an orphan!
Don't find a place for me
in the orphanage!

It's too like a farm
where feelings are groomed for slaughter,
and thoughts are intended for export
to some orphan country.

In exile

I count the hours in this strange place
and look as the sky bends
over the mountain tops and bushes
like a tired woman leaning
over a wood stove
smoking bitterly.

I count the hours in this strange place.
Nothing pertains to me.
I could or could not be here
as the tired woman
ladles the thick night
into a bowl.

I count the hours in this strange place.
Everything turns from me
and smothers in the deep ash of the fire.
Only the tired woman
covers the table for tomorrow
with a black cloth.


You like leaving me tracks —
a white stone disturbed, a broken branch,
a vibrating swarm of mosquitoes
drawn to warmth just dispersing
the sharp scent of trampled lovage —
right here, right now, this instant…
Who are you?
Only an empty seed
falling straight from heaven.

Commotion among aspen leaves,
the eerie presence of dragonflies trembling in air,
bent-grass whispers and pine bark
cracks, dry like the Gobi desert,
the sharp scent of trampled lovage —
right here, right now, this instant. . .
Who are you?
Only an empty seed
falling straight from heaven.

You disappear without a trace.

At the edge of a pond

I let the fish spawn in me
And the seaweed heal me.
I let the wind inhale me
while weevils destroy a flower.
I bloom to make a landing strip for dragonflies,
hold myself high as a skyscraper
so even a bird may land.
Where will the daughters of the sun go today
so splendidly dressed?
The water glitters, glimmers, deceives
hiding water fleas in its grasses.
There is a fortune gift-wrapped here.
Indestructible metal shines at the end of a string.
The reflection of a lucky catch — very near.
Crouching in a coltsfoot leaf,
leaning against a bulrush,
lying on a water lily,
swinging on the tip of a sweetflag,
the poem continues. . .

Only a bird flies over the moaning,
scaring a pair of frog lovers.

The poet and Plato

The classical verse about hay,
really, not as dystrophic
as the strophes you forge without moderation.

Of course, who writes verse by chance?
Go on, flatter yourself flatterer
you extend beyond yourself like infinite space.

I only want warmth, just breath.

Like a stuck record you turn
round Plato's State.

Best turn me around
with a verse
that grows out of divine earth.
Where is your plough,
you, ploughman? Scold me.
Well, scold.

You can't even do that.

Poems haunted by Chaks*

About alleys, valleys and faces.
About poems haunted by Chaks.
I like to roam, now and then.
I like the madness.

My heart craves a romp in plowed fields
like Crave (the dog I once had,
with black and white sides, like March).
I'll plow, I'm allowed and don't warn me,
that this field has already been plowed.
The same as Crave my heart craves
to jump over syllables,
to say to a poetry critic — get lost!
I think
about ceka, cheka, Chaks
as I sniff history.
And hate wakes in me, starts rafting,
rafting which won't end until
next year in March.
How can you do this? — I know you'll say.
But hate wells up in me. Oozes
like an overripe mango — and disintegrates.
O, you wanted pure Chaks, did you!
To whom do I say this? Myself, of course.

I revenge myself by loving.

Loving this suit, so elegantly fashioned,
Loving the bald head like a shaved underarm,
Loving this pen, for which all is as one —
whether it's a toilet, the Kremlin or love.
I revenge myself, writing these poems.
These poems haunted by Chaks.

By the time hate quiets in me,
it will be March again —
white-sided, like eternity.

Translated by Margita Gailitis