Bus Stops: Ars Poetica

Valzhyna Mort

copyright ©2020

Not books, but
a street opened my mouth like a doctor’s spatula.

One by one, streets introduced themselves
with the names of national
murderers.

In the State Archives, covers
hardened like scabs
over the ledgers.

*

Inside a tiny apartment
I built myself
into a separate room.

*
Inside a tiny apartment
I built myself
into a separate room,

peopled it
with the Calibans
of plans for the future.

Future that runs on the schedule of public buses,
from the zoo to the circus,
what future;
what is your alibi for these ledgers, these streets, this
apartment, this future?

*

In the purse which held—
through seven wars—
the birth certificates
of the dead, my grandmother
hid—from me—
chocolates. The purse opened like a screaming mouth.

*

The purse opened like a screaming mouth.
Its two shiny buckles watched me
through doors, through walls, through jazz.

Who has taught you to be a frightening face, purse?
I kiss your buckles, I swear myself your subject.

*

August. Apples. I have nobody.
August. For me, a ripe apple is a brother.

For me, a four-legged table is a pet.

*

In the temple of Supermarket
I stand
like a candle

in the line to the priestesses who preserve
the knowledge of sausage prices, the virginity
of milk cartons. My future, small
change.

*

Future that runs on the schedule of public buses.
Streets introduced themselves
with the names
of national murderers. I build myself
into a separate room,
where memory,
the illegal migrant in time, cleans up
after imagination.

*
Bus stops:
My future, an empty seat.

*

In a room where memory strips the beds—
linens that hardened like scabs
on the mattresses—I kiss

little apples—my brothers—I kiss the buckles
that watch us through walls,
through years,
through jazz,
chocolates from a purse that held—through seven wars—
birth certificates of the dead!

Hold me, brother-apple.

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week is by our 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize winner Valzhyna Mort, who is also one of our recently announced 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize judges (alongside Adam Dickinson and Claudia Rankine)! In the past few weeks, we have featured poems addressing the multifaceted relationship between poetry and translation. Valzhyna Mort is another prolific poet-translator who translates between English, Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish. She received the National Endowment for the Arts grant in translation for her work on Polina Barskova’s book of selected poems, Air Raid, out this October with Ugly Duckling Presse. Mort’s poem, “Bus Stops: Ars Poetica,” from her Griffin-winning collection Music for the Dead and Resurrected, gives us a “poetic map for the many themes of remembrance and loss in the book and, more importantly, the ways in which the state attempts to re-write memory” (Grandbois). Her translation of Barskova similarly takes us through the archives of memory “post-death, post-Holocaust, post-Siege, post-revolution; post-marriage and post-literature” and “confronts English excavating its muteness, stutter, and curse.” (Ugly Duckling). Purchase Music for the Dead and Resurrected, Mort’s Griffin-winning collection here. Purchase Air Raid, Mort’s translation of Barskova, here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *