Jonas Zdanys – Notebook Sketches

Jonas Zdanys, a bilingual poet and translator, is the author of forty-eight books. Forty-four of those are collections of his own poetry, written in English or in Lithuanian, and volumes of his translations into English of Lithuanian poetry and fiction. He serves currently as Professor of English and Poet in Residence at Sacred Heart University, where he teaches creative writing and modern poetry seminars and directs the program in creative writing.


NOTEBOOK SKETCHES

The light in the kitchen of the house
next door goes out. They are suddenly
blind, trembling to undress, caught
in the sounds of things before the storm.
They stumble in the dark in small circles
hoping to find each other again,
one foot –her right, his left – nailed
loosely to the wide planks of the wooden
floor, each arm waving the thick darkness
of winter away. It was a moment neither
wished to keep, the measure of all things,
of anguish of lack, knocking on the window,
falling to gray dust that coats the walls.
The moon is obscured but I can see
the shadows of their odd dance.
I am looking for a way out for them,
my hand half-raised, time standing
still, my heart beating. She flaps her
arms like a painted bird in response,
fluttering toward the ceiling, pulled back
by the nail in the floor. He strikes a match.
There is a sudden rush of air.

*
She asked how long it would take
until God relented, her youngest
son holding the dog by its tail
and asking for the world to be forgiven.
Or at least come to its beginning again
on some long and solemn afternoon
when children kneel in their corners
waiting for the touch of a phantom
hand and reciting the sufferings
of people asleep in other rooms.
Death is not the measure of all things,
they say, imagining the wild waters.
The cup will fill in time, they say,
in the passion of surrender.
At midnight the dog whines softly,
the boy’s grip tightening, and she
wakes once more during the night.

 *
Black water breaks through the ceiling
and the rafters creak with their own truth,
rain somber and drumming the roof.
There was a point at which I awoke, sure
that I had the power to predict the future,
the drops of rain not twelve inches apart.
I started with the past, decided to bring
it down to zero, half a year at a time at first
and then faster and faster until I reached
the perfection of nothing. From there
I could shape whatever next moment I wanted,
skipping the words I did not know, ignoring
centuries like unwelcome guests or strangers
huddled and dangerous. I feel the fingers of time
groping me, searching for memories that
have not existed, for the source of any image
that has not yet afflicted the world.
I won’t allow it, won’t spend the night
flapping the bedsheets to shake out
the truths and lies that will once again be
new on the face of the earth, won’t fret
for any incomprehensible penance that
shapes the shadows of love. And in this
version of my new beginning, when courage
and resolution are put to the test, God will
be a one-legged old woman having a seizure
on a dark street corner, with a cardboard sign
that she will work for shelter or food,
a pint of muscatel, cheap wine in a jug.
History moves quickly once it gets moving,
frames the meaning I cannot bring myself to tell.
I wait for the rain to be falling again,
I start the clock backwards to zero

*
I used to sleep on her front porch
listening to voices drifting up
from the rooms below when the windows
and doors were open and one of them
leaned, half-turning, out of her lonely life
wondering about her name, her life being
what it was, and grieving about the end
of summer. It was the middle of my life,
some nervous splinter of what remained
under my skin, a shrug of forgiveness
ready for everyone who passed by
on the street without looking up.
Some argued that I should move out
of there then, but I didn’t like the bother
of moving, and there was more to it
than that: each night I heard the telephone
ring three times and then stop as the
earth went on spinning and the first
light in the hallway came on. I don’t know
how it all came to be but it was enough.
And once a red bird paused on the porch
railing to look me over just as twilight
fell and I sat in my corner like a flaw
in the painted wood, rising lightly to
a small scatter. That hid me from the gray.
All I asked was to stay alive. All I asked.
It was something I was meaning to tell her
when her fingers tossed my life away.
I dissolved like a stone in the basement.
Disappeared in the rain that blew
in from the mountains and folded my voice
with hers in the cracks of the walls.
At sunset, she whispers her name
through the open window,
the shadows on the porch steal west.

*
The door had been broken off
the basement and the house and yard
were run-down, broken glass blustering
the porch roof in patterns of light.
Time is the weight of cold silver, coil
within coil trapped at the bottom
of the stairs. The filaments of old
bulbs, crooked with hate, crouch over
wires and vines in the hallway.
Dry weeds sink in a black trunk.
Time is thistle and blood, labored
hands that forget the truth of a bitter
embrace. We are wayward things,
elbows at our sides, devoured memories
in back rooms drawn with faded paint,
cracks on the walls and time tied in a cart
near the pale trap. We are wayward things,
and the dead are nothing.
Someday I have to die and become nothing.
But not now. Not now.

*
He planned to arrive in late spring,
when children played on sidewalks
according to their own rules
and people sat along the walls
in lawn chairs and on benches,
an unforced heartiness in their voices
as they called to one another
across the street, gathering together
defenseless in the sun. A silent woman
will walk beside him, thinking about
her children, knowing how to bear  love.
His hand will touch her dark hair,
a light wind will flutter off the rooftops.

 

 

 

 

 

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