from unwritten histories
Eugenijus Ališanka
H. L. Hix, Translator
Whoever translates poetry must have the soul of a poet. Wooden, rote reworking of the words just don't do it. H. L. Hix must have the right stuff because from unwritten histories is a lulu. The Lithuanian original is there face-en-face, but trying to read Lithuanian is no easier for most of us I would imagine than getting the baby to shut up his noise. Even if Hix is making it up whole-cloth, whatever it is is a kick in the pants. The run-ons, and the images ... often like little haikus:

    Sometimes I see the gap
    between your life and my death
    where there is room enough for both
    especially in january...


    so much space for the wind tears dry before you start crying trees
    are naked already the end of october


    the warm day just as exceptional
    chernobyl's sharp sun seeps into
    the calves of young girls...

This last with the understated ghostliness of it all, the horror of Chernobyl just barely touched on.

Even the titles in from unwritten histories turn out to be mini-verse. One of them goes, "it's no secret that I have good friends in latvia sometimes I write them letters but I always forget to mail them like this time." The poems float about like that, balloons filled with helium (and sometimes exquisite fragrances) ... floating about as our thoughts float about.

But there is also here --- as with those sinuous inner dialogues out of Joyce and Donleavy and Faulkner --- an anchor that keeps the reader from going off to the moon or Venus (or Mars), giving us enough connections to keep us (and the poems) like astronauts from floating off into space.

The anchor may be some place in Europe ... a train-station, a link to Greek mythology, an author like the great novelist: "in the words of josé saramago the portuguese have experience conquering new lands." This in a poem that comes complete with the sage words of yet another Portuguese, Fernando Pessoa:

    We have conquered the world before we even get out of bed
    but when we awaken the world is unknowable.
    We rise and it is gone.

Much of the fun of Ališanka lies in the spacey references from somewhere in the mountains of Lithuania, from the Greek classics, one from Uldis Berzin (who he?) or Karl Valentine (quoted as saying, "Before the future was better...")

And, despite the occasional references to places and things we could never even dream of --- "dauguva," "kalvariju street," "bloze" --- there are the constants: granny smith apples, "boys wearing hen's feathers," a poet who claims that "at the station I look like rasputin."

Hix writes in his introduction that Ališanka's poems are "ravings" which is a good call: but they constitute a rave that we can all join, rants that pull us into the heart of a poet who can get the summer's nightfall and the dogs joined together on the telephone:

    summer's end at eight it's getting dark already
    dogs communicate by telephone barks at
    night the connection is better distant neighbors
    bark to each other about women and bones.

--- Lolita Lark
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