Our featured writer this month is the wonderful Latvian poet, Liāna Langa. To celebrate our current issue, Trafika Europe 3 – Latvian Sojourn, we’ve just hosted an event at the Latvian Mission in New York, with three visiting lights of Latvian literature, including Liāna Langa. Twice winner of the Latvian Poetry Day Award, and twice Latvia’s Annual Award in Literature, she is a founding member of the Latvian Literature Centre in Riga, literary editor of the quarterly, Latvju Teksti (Latvian Texts), and an active player in Latvia’s present socio-political scene.
In her poetry and conversation, Langa acknowledges a debt to a wide swath of European poets – to Auden and Cavafy, Rimbaud and Joyce, Rilke and Tomas Tranströmer. Yet she is a quintessentially Latvian poet, building on the massive folk tradition unique to this Baltic country, stretching right back to its Sanskrit roots.
A volume of Liāna Langa’s selected poems, Deadly Nightshade, has just come out in English from Guernica Editions in Canada. We’re happy to share with you three short excerpts from this work here: part six of the poem, “The Ones Who Don’t Belong”; a poem written in memorium for Juris Boiko, and a brief lyric on “a near-sighted child.” Thanks to Guernica Editions Inc. for permission to reprint these pieces.
Trafika Europe showcases new fiction and poetry from across the 47 countries of the continent of Europe, with our online quarterly journal, and now getting ready to launch Trafika Europe Radio – Europe’s literary radio station. Stay tuned!
Deadly Nightshade – three excerpts
translated by Margita Gailītis
[from “The Ones Who Don’t Belong”]
Farewell, homo mediocris! We dream and sleep still among roe
subtly rose. So slow their movement, so sticky. As if someone
will come shortly to glue our transparent flesh together.
We can do it ourselves! Just the water doesn’t permit it,
which is always above us when we’re awake.
I remember poorly, but now and then it dawns in my mind
that we met in a large city where giant royal schrimp were just
a vulgar appetizer for the locals, and in the red-hot streets,
where noble moors, earth sons, thundered
their drums of brightly polished steel.
The air was full of sweat and a blue-sky salt arrived by mail
in unaddressed envelopes. We opened them, licking salt
but never feeling sated, while the waiters lined up still more
and more letters on the table. You asked: “Do you recognize
the sender?” To which I answered: “Yes.”
Hummingbirds wound nests in my hair, but our arms were like lead
when we tried to touch each other. Imprisoned in space and time
we swung only our heads, where in the grey matter feathers
ingrown like antennae decorated us.
You said: “The transmitters have been turned on. Can we tell
the clouds about molluscs and flames, about humans
and inaudible songs?” But the sound of the drums was too loud.
Around us cannon fodder was decaying.
I couldn’t hear you.
We continued to swing our heads slowly. Soon centuries grew black.
I still recall vaguely, but it seems, a strange human flew by us.
His head was larger than earth’s girth. And in his teeth echoed
(for Juris Boiko
Juri, unlike us, beasts are sacred.
They are born, grow fur and smile
but then they’re sacrificed.
In the cold, bodies dehydrate slowly, inward.
In wooden clogs trees pass by you, forward.
A cool, damp, gurgling home is gravel
now friction, now velvet.
Fire, wood, metal, water, earth.
Now you are for me – a song,
I for you – a soul of the dead.
Fir paws wade across a face.
A penguin god spreads his wings.
Sleep, don’t reminisce, fly
there, where time is incorrect.
There, where Japan and China
you can scoop up with a teaspoon
and where snow satellites
touch your toes.
A times-table exhales
encounters the result in itself.
Around a black fire tree
we’ll be dancing yet a while.
Viscous, viscous heaven’s honey
spills into time’s mirrors.
Pyramids rise from the depths
to enthrall your sight.
Bread which gazes upon birds
now has huge eyes.
A tender mouth now has this bread
as it lies down beside you.
Sleep, don’t remember, fly.
May the autumn wind be your friend.
Name after name vibrates upward
As the penguin god spreads his wings.
a near-sighted child takes off his glasses
the gooseberry bushes swim up closer
trees made of bear’s fur
talk in Latvian
slides off heaps of honey
bee schuberts hum
in the near distances