Translated by Inara Cedrins
Conversation with the Night Woman
I am the boat with lifted oars, which the swarthy night
woman slowly releases into the stream toward morning.
On the oar paddles pulse bluish stars. This boat is
tightly nailed, no leaks, no dents, no crevices. The well
tarred boat toward day melted in fire.
Yield, says the night woman, keep straight.
There’ll be three merging place, crosscurrents, rapids.
At the first rapids you’ll lose the horse.
At the second rapids you’ll lose yourself.
At the third rapids you’ll be given yourself back.
There beyond the bend waits the day woman. Then you’ll
become a brigantine. The figurehead will have sharp teeth
and eyes of mountain stone. The heart in the breast—a
forged metal partridge, that toward evening disintegrates
to ash. Trust to the flow of time and the alternating
hands, that will fondle you and betray you. That will
tar and burn you.
And then I will appear again, says the night woman.
I’ll gather you into my apron, melt down the fragments, make
a boat. Fall will come, there’ll be a terrible winter. But
don’t you be afraid, be at peace. The bird in your heart
will sing every fall and die every winter fifty-seven
I have only one question, I say; what will happen
at the first rapids to the horse, which I led like a white
god, I, in the fast, well tarred boat? Will it unfold wings
and fly off sadly as a crane, promising to return
sometime, plucking at my hair and whispering in my
ear like always: take heart, little fool . . . Everything
happens as it must. And nights aren’t at all eerie.
You said, at the third rapids you’ll give me back
But who will give me back my horse?
In a snowdrift this morning the cat sentenced a pigeon. Snowing for the fourth hour and, looking into the white swirling, I think about how peacefully the courtyard gets along without the pigeon. And now I am in the landscape, that is after that.
Roofs full of peace, snow pouring from emptiness, only the trees occasionally shiver. But they’re always like that.
It’s possible that these are all only signs—the withered jasmine branch, the gentle script of curtains, light, that struggles with the smoky panes, and the heavily burdened clouds, lying down like a woman comfortable and fortunate in her loins, as autumn turns to winter.
It’s possible, these movements are in vain—sinking into memories, carrying some image below the heart, being something and trying to understand it. Telling a story in such a way as to baste together the tears in dreams with strong thread. To think a thought and feel old.
It’s possible, one only needs eyes—closing and opening. And not to feel like an extra at the feast. Not to make the dog stand guard, sit or bark. Not to forbid. To lose only in the mind, turning aside only in thought and acceping only into the heart. Not to kill the vixen. Allowing it to feed at your breast on milk and honey.
Following the tracks of your life, sooner or later you come to the line beyond which everything is an escape. Fields decaying in russet darkness, love, floods of momentary freedom, the beloved’s eyes, music, your room and the high threshold, neighbors, the way that you leave home, your children, your dreams, your bad habits and your money. Like at a sorcerer’s wave all turns to fleeing. And you stand like the governor, whose mace has suddenly broken. Nothing can any longer be turned back into your real existence. Even the heartbeats in your throat are fleeing, you want to hold them back, in order to understand what has to be fled from. But the snare will not be revealed to you, grey mousling.
Don’t look into the sun, don’t look in mirrors; flee, tiger, guard your backbone, and perhaps you’ll luck out and catch yourself by the tail, before the trap breaks your spine.
The Life of the House
CHILDHOOD. Something implacable, changeless, given
from the beginning. Scents. Air. Its movement. Images.
Clarity of sight. Touches. Anger in the heavens. Fabric
and its structure. Warm milk. Solidifying.
FAMILY. A circle. Rainbow, a collective of color. A circus
tent on vast steppes. Flag fluttering in the wind. Driving
deep inland on Friday evenings. Dark sea with brushwood,
waves, rising tide.
BROTHER. Breath steaming in the cold, it alone warming
the salon. Laughter in the back seat to the point of cramps,
till father pulls over, but mother goes into the brushwood
looking for a switch. Oh, watch out, watch out, mother,
in the dark! Rarely, the eyes of vehicles driving toward us.
Growing tired. Quieting. Nowhere to look in silence.
COUNTRY HOUSE. Warming up the house. Century-old rafters,
drawn full of dampness. Curtains covered with winter’s dust
at small, black panes. Great beams, which the dim bulb
thrusts out of darkness, pulling them so low, it crushes.
The children piss in a pail in the kitchen at night. Cold floor.
On the first night bedclothes are icy. Smelling a bit of mold
and wind. Rough linen. Creaking cabinet doors. The black
mouth of the bread oven.
Sleeping with brother in a narrow bed. So there’s more
room, one’s feet toward the other’s head. Hearing the hush
of the adults’ breathing. Father’s light snores. The entire world
has shrunk into the yellowish nightlight, with its cloth shade
burnt brownish. The little radio in the corner resounding with
broadcasts for farmworkers. Again laughing and kicking
with brother, until grandmother says the magic words:
“Sleep now, you’re in a warm bed, but others still have to
get off the train, others have to go through black forests
to get home . . .” Perhaps another tale, for instance, about
how one can guard against wolves only with fire. And
about that woman, who in post-war Ugale was short of
matches, to light as she went and toss flaming over her
shoulder, while the wolves silently and fearfully
followed . . . what happened to that woman? sleep now,
everything ends well . . . were you that woman? . . . perhaps . . .
The nightlight goes out, night carries us on wings
with eyes wide open under the low cross beams. A faint
smell, a little like pitch. Cold from the depths. Somewhere
in darkness the unseen stove’s stupefying glow.
Hushed behind the window stand forests. We fly over
them wide-eyed. Our dreams toss flaming matches past
the walls of these black, silent forests.
SATURDAY. While mother shows guests around, children
see to the roasting meat, fat sputters onto the fire, twitters
and chirrs . . . But there’s not a single swallow in the dead
of winter. Mother doesn’t guide guests, why should they
wade here through black forests. Father shovels snow,
still no one comes. Only elk like sailboats glide over the
snowfields opposite the High Hill. The neighbor’s wife sits
on a block of wood at the hearth. Mother roasts meat.
Fat drips into a bowl. Grandmother crumbles white bread
into it. Children eat licking it clean. Yellow fat, golden
bread. In the evening brother asks for beggar’s pudding—
water, sugar, rye bread crumbled into a bowl.
In the meantime sister goes into the empty room.
Bulb on a long cord. Rosy wallpaper tacked to horizontal
boards. Smell of mice. Reed mats. Bookshelf. Cold books.
Oh, watch out, watch out, sister, cold books!
NIGHT. Through all the rooms at midnight rattles a
half-dead rat dragging a trap. Grandmother closes the door
and does something with an axe. After that tosses it into
the laundry pail. The movement in there stops only toward morning.
Toward morning the movements and the calm breathing
of children no longer disturb each other. Soft as velvet
the grey light of day covers everything.
SUNDAY. Already brutal. Stove heating the entire room,
everywhere. Forcing brown sweat from the beams. In the black
chamber of the mousetrap every hour a mouse. The family
gets ready to depart. Unseen farewells determine the day
rigidly as armature. Steel mesh on cabinets, bins and chests,
to protect against rats.
DEPARTING. Again beyond the car’s rear window a grey-
blue landscape slowly sinks into darkness.
THE LIFE OF THE HOUSE. And all week sister involuntarily
remembers at times the house in the black forest. Which slowly
grows cold. Day after day the cold embraces more tightly
the forgotten things. Beds and tables. Motionless dishes
in the white sideboard. Covers with a layer of ice the well
water left in the pail. Monday there’s a moment when, with
a soft sound, the clock mechanism stops. And again only
the crackling of frost on the snowfields. The quiet grazing
of mice tracks against the sprung trap upon which winter’s
dust gathers. Elk among the apple trees. Elk at the threshold.
Warm elk in a snowdrift.
NOW. Now in leaving the house, sister sometimes imagines. Moving
through the city she imagines the life of the house, which hasn’t stopped in her absence. About how the cat looks at the window when snow falls from the roof. About how a huge drop falls slowly into the
gutter. About how sunlight moves about the walls.
About how brother after years of absence comes into the room,
pushes the cat off the sofa, sits down, waits. About how the light
shadows his desiccated face, while at his temple a blue vein
pulses. About how he smokes away a cigarette.
About how the door opens and she comes in. About the
Befuddled smile on his face, thin as paper. About both their looks.
About how he sharply lifts a brow, that she isn’t surprised. About
how she knows.
The secret life of things, she doesn’t tell this. So much
Greetings, she says. Greetings, he replies.
A circle. A circus tent on vast steppes. Flag fluttering
in the wind.
from Atgāzenes stacijas zirgi (The Horses of Atgazene Station), Atena, Riga, 2006