Too bad

IMG_20190816_203237
we walk on them / quietly like cats

In the early 2000s, I participated in the International Poetry Club. We would meet every couple of months in someone’s house, share food, and recite poetry in different languages. Each session had a topic, and each of us would present a poem related to that topic, in the original and in English translation.

Several times I presented poems by Aleksandrs Čaks (1901-1950), a famous Latvian poet.

His poetry is a mixture of modernism, futurism, and absurdism, but above all, he is an urbanist. Whereas most of his contemporaries were singing the beauty of Latvian countryside, he was singing the hustle and bustle of a city. More precisely, the city, his Riga, where now a central street, always busy and at places seedy, bears his name.

Čaks is one of my favourite poets. I like his humour, his extravagant comparisons and unusual metaphors, unexpected, even absurd turns and twists.

This poem is entitled Slikti, meaning ‘Too bad’, a title rather appropriate for the current situation.

Too bad:
I, Latvian poet
What shall I sing about?
My heart
Is dry and thin
Like worn out leather
of an armchair.

Were I a black poet,
I would sing songs
About lips,
Dark and warm,
Like nights in July,
Without stars and wind,
Would sing songs
About flesh of girls,
Brown and strong like the earth,
Would sing songs
About freedom far away,
Like clouds in the air,
Were I a black poet.

But now?
Now we have
Bad freedom,
Skinny girls,
who paint their tiny lips like cloth,
Radio towers,
Rubber soles,
We walk on them
Quietly like cats,
Feel quietly,
Think quietly,
And die quietly.

 

Slikti
es, latviešu dzejnieks,–
par ko lai es dziedu?
Sirds mana
sausa un plāna
kā izkopta āda
atzveltnes krēslam.

Būtu es nēģeru dzejnieks,
dziedātu dziesmas
par lūpām,
kas tumšas un siltas
kā jūlija naktis
bez zvaigznēm un vēja,
dziedātu dziesmas
par jaunavu miesu —
brūno un stingro kā zemi,
dziedātu dziesmas
par brīvību tālo,
kā mākoņi gaisos —
būtu es nēģeru dzejnieks.

Bet tagad?
Tagad mums:
brīvība slikta,
jaunavas liesas,
kas lūpiņas krāso kā drēbi,
radiotorņi,
gumijas zoles,
ar kurām mēs ejam
klusi kā kaķi,
izjūtam klusi,
domājam klusi,
un nomirstam klusi.