Groan like the brash ice, or hiss like the slush

Two poems by Judita Vaičiūnaitė translated by Rimas Uzgiris

Bevardė versmė

by Judita Vaičiūnaitė

Lyg bevardė versmė po katedra,

lyg iš rūko šviesos čiurkšlė

prasiverk, atgaivink dar kartą

ir be gailesčio širdį užliek.


Lyg dangus būk – šaltas ir žydras

lyg iš lango angos pily

dar išvysk virš Neries žuvėdras,

kai sparnai tau vėjų pilni.


Lyg ledonešis gausk, lyg ižas

atitirpusių gatvių tėkmėj,

nes tą balsą, į saulę grįžusi,

iš bevardės versmės ėmei.

A Nameless Source

by Judita Vaičiūnaitė

Like a nameless source below the cathedral,

like a spray of light within the pall of fog,

open yourself, and come to life once more.

Water your heart with no remorse.


Try to be like the sky – cold and blue,

or gaze at the gulls above the Neris as if

through an arrow-slit in the castle wall,

but only when their wings are full of wind for you.


Groan like the brash ice, or hiss like the slush

that melts in the flow of the street –

for this is the voice, returning to the sun,

the one you took from a nameless source.

translated from Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris

Trys lemtys

by Judita Vaičiūnaitė

1. Nikė


Citrinų žievės,

            cinamonų skonis,

            jau išgertas vynas iš Balkanų.

O rytas – toks švarus,

            kai, nepriklausanti

            nei dievui, nei žmonėms, nei velniui,

tokiam tuščiam bute,

            įkaitusios skardos ir stiklo blizgesy,


rate –

            birželio saulės beprotybėj –

            kryžiumi guliu, ir verksmas – veltui.

Už mano nudaužtus suskaldytus sparnus,

            tik dulkėm šviečiančius virš gatvių,

už mano nuogus krūpsinčius šviesoj pečius

            aš nekenčiu tavęs –

            bet burną atveriu

šiurpiam ir purpuriniam tavo viesului…



2. Raudona tunika


Moteris trumpa raudona tunika

            pasaulio aikštėse,

moteris prie mikrofono –

            sielvartas išdidina jos balsą,

ją, bežemių minioje klajojančią,

            mažytę ir išbalusią,

apteškia užlūžtančia banga,

            audringa, sūria ir šviesia…

Ji dainuoja.

            Ausys užkimštos vašku

            – juodi nakties yrėjai

jos negirdi.

            Graikija – didžiulis lageris.

            Ištrūkt turėjai

tu, prie stiebo pririštas…

            Rūdija nugalėtų ginklai – krūvos

skydų, iečių ir šalmų.

            Sirenos rankos – surištos ir kruvinos.



3. Ragana


Pusiaudienio aikštė – troški, triukšminga.

            (Kino salės – tuščios.)

Jie spiečias. Ir nuožmus, nežmoniškas smalsumas

            jungia tūkstančius.

Ir gėdos stulpas auga virš namų

            lyg sausas keistas medis.

Ir pilnas išdidumo mano žvilgsnis –

            kliedintis ir merdintis.

(Prigrūstos šiltinių palatos,

            pirtys, lagerių kirpyklos.

Raudonais viržiais gula kerpami plaukai.)

            Ir plūsta pyktis –

toks nesuprantamas,

            lyg būčiau kitoje planetoj gimus.

Ir plaka įsisiautėję balsai,

            nuo buko džiaugsmo kimūs.

Sunki grandinė trina mano kaklą.

            Nuobodžiauja budelis.

(Beprotišku trenksmu nusviedžia po stalu

            išgertus butelius.)

Tiesa – iš mano vaikiškos burnos,

            laukinės, neliestos.

Uždekit. Mano kūnas ilgisi

            nuplaunančios liepsnos.

Three Fates

by Judita Vaičiūnaitė

1. Nike


Lemon rinds,

            the taste of cinnamon,

            wine from the Balkans, drunk.

O morning – so clean,

            belonging not to God,

            nor people, nor the devil,

in such an empty apartment,

            in heated tin and glare of glass,

in a white

circle –

            in the madness of June’s sun –

            I lie like a cross, and tears are for naught.

For these broken, battered wings –

            this dust shining above the street,

for my naked, wincing shoulders in the light,

            I hate you –

            but open my mouth

to your ghastly purple gale…



2. Red Tunic


A woman with a red tunic

            in the plazas of the world,

a woman by a microphone –

            anguish augments her voice,

wandering among the landless crowds,

            pale and petite,

splashed by a breaking wave,

            stormy, salty and bright…

She sings.

            Ears stuffed with wax

            – the night’s black un-ravellers

can’t hear.

            Greece – a vast concentration camp.

            You had to leave,

tying yourself to the mast…

            The weapons of the vanquished rust:

stacks of shields, spears and helms.

            The Sirens’ hands – bound and bloodstained.



3. Witch


The midday square – stifling and loud.

            (Movie theaters – empty.)

They swarm. And a fierce, subhuman curiosity

            unites thousands.

A pillar of shame grows above houses

            like a strange, desiccated tree.

And my gaze is full of pride –

            delirious and dying.

(The typhus wards, saunas, gulag

            barbers are packed.

Cut hair lies in red bands.)

            And anger flows –


            as if I were born on a different planet.

And raving voices throb –

            hoarse from dull pleasure.

A heavy chain chafes my neck.

            The hangman grows bored.

(He tosses empty bottles under the table

            with a mad crash.)

Truth – from my childish mouth,

            wild, untouched.

Light it. My body longs

            for a cleansing flame. 

translated from Lithuanian by Rimas Uzgiris

One lives a long life in honor of another and counts the stars for him until dawn.

Three poems by Abraham Sutzkever translated by Maia Evrona   

Sutzkever imageI’m grateful for the opportunity to publish my translations of Abraham Sutzkever, now, at this fraught moment for the treatment of refugees in the United States and larger world, as Abraham Sutzkever was something of a double, or even triple refugee. Born in what is now Belarus in 1913, he was forced to flee World War I with his family as a toddler, going, of all places, to Siberia. These days, we primarily associate Siberia with the Gulag, but for Sutzkever, it was a magical place, particularly when seen through the resilient eyes of a child, though his father passed away during the years his family sought refuge there.  

Later, Sutzkever survived the Holocaust in Vilna, first as a prisoner in the Vilna Ghetto, along with the rest of Vilna’s Jewish community, and then as a partisan in the forests, before he and his wife were finally rescued and brought to Moscow at the urging of the Russian poets Ilya Ehrenberg and Boris Pasternak. Following WWII, with violent anti-semitism still very much alive in Poland, and repression in the Soviet Union, Sutzkever understood that he could not remain in Eastern Europe and he and his wife immigrated, illegally, to Mandatory Palestine, just on the eve of the founding of the State of Israel and subsequent war. There, he had a brother (his only remaining immediate family, apart from his wife and newborn daughter). In Tel Aviv, Sutzkever continued to write in Yiddish, despite significant prejudice toward the language within Israel, and a worldwide Yiddish readership now drastically smaller due to the Holocaust. These three poems were published in the expand15078895_10157779449600013_5340291117786455502_ned edition of his collection Poems from My Diary, published in 1985. 

Today’s refugee crisis is certainly not identical to the experience of the Jewish people during WWII, but I hope that won’t stop readers from drawing on Sutzkever’s memories of being a child refugee, his experience as the survivor of a catastrophe in which most perished, and his reflections on what we lose when we close ourselves off to the travelers outside, when addressing the crises of our time.

— Maia Evrona


Two in One

by Abraham Sutzkever

Two in One

Two in One

by Abraham Sutzkever

I am two in one. One lives a long life in honor

of another and counts the stars for him until dawn.

I am two in one. One forged to the other forever,

if forever will allow Russian cubits to be its measure.


An enemy and a friend in one. And sometimes two enemies

who challenge one another to old-fashioned duels. And it turns out

that both get away with wounds and are left on the ground

riddled with bullets, until they lick the blood from themselves with a song.


And again a black cat may spring up or a frog,

we’ll stay, unintentionally, two in one from now on.

We know the double-hatred will not divide us,

that two-as-one are beating on the gate to heaven.


I am two in one. One dreams for the other. Let us free

our two-ness peacefully from the bars. And drink up

the summer sun to its last drop, let’s do that, as Socrates

drank all the way to the bitter end his poisoned cup.

translated from Yiddish by Maia Evrona

“Now, Why is it That You Never Mention Your Siberian Father in This Diary?”

by Abraham Sutzkever

Your Siberian Father

“Now, Why is it That You Never Mention Your Siberian Father in This Diary?”

by Abraham Sutzkever

“Now, why is it that you never mention your Siberian father in this diary?”

A question came. And instead of an answer, just see:

Before my eyes his skin has grown over mine,

and his beard has ripened on me, before my eyes.


Now your son has wholly become that reclusive being—his father,

with his fingers I roll soft tobacco in cigarette paper,

the night sits on a sparkling polishing wheel, rose colored and pure.

Where did I learn page after page of Gemora by heart?


Where did I learn to play the violin? With his fingers, I play

on otherworldly strings with the memory of the Garden of Eden.

Filled with sparkling ice, whose is this shovel?

With his big-boned fingers I’m playing his fiddle.


We exist eternally in the same mass,

the old snow has young strength, both to be covered in snow,

no guns nor artillery can separate us now.


“Now, why is it that you never mention your Siberian father in the diary?”

translated from Yiddish by Maia Evrona

Gone the Window And Through it the Poor Sabbath Guest, the Cherry Tree

by Abraham Sutzkever

Cherry Tree

Gone the Window And Through it the Poor Sabbath Guest, the Cherry Tree

by Abraham Sutzkever

Gone the window and through it the poor Sabbath guest, the cherry tree,

who came to stay the night with me along its journey.

Gone the cherry tree made of stars, they have all been stolen

by cosmic thieves.


This drilled hole has only left me as a vestige

a token amount of heavenly air, which had come in through that window,


and four-sided.


That token of heavenly air, which had drifted in through that window

has been stolen by no one, nor shot to pieces.

The vision of my life owns a spacious home

inside four slender, slender lines.


And the greatest wonder of all: the cherry tree drifts in

to spend the night with me as it did then, that guest,

and the cherry tree made of stars, too, finds its way inside

through those same sweet slender, slender lines.

translated from Yiddish by Maia Evrona