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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, May 7, 2018.
About this Poem 

“Velimir Khlebnikov wrote somewhere that the State speaks to its people through its statues. Minsk is full of statues: gigantic statues to national poets along with the granite busts of communist officials. Maxim Bakhdanovich was a Belarusian modernist poet who died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five, a couple of years after his first book was published. He was lucky to die so peacefully. In exactly twenty years most Belarusian intellectuals were tortured and murdered by the communist officials. In one night in 1937, Bolsheviks shot twenty-two young Belarusian writers. The statue of Bakhdanovich in Minsk is 4.6 meters high and is made out of granite.”
—Valzhyna Mort


                                                 Here, where I’m dying, in a white 
                                                 house by a blue harbor.
                                                        —Maxim Bakhdanovich

Come in, Maxim!... This is Minsk
choked under a pillow of clouds.
There’s you: a statue in a heavy coat.
Here all monuments wear coats
not wool, but linden bark coats
with bee fur collars.
In their pockets monuments keep belts.
And under collars monuments have necks.
In winter shadows insulate the walls.
Windows and cracks are plucked with shadows.
In museums on display are coats
and nooses. And water is pickle-juice.
Come in, Maxim, apartment blocks
are wrapped in ammunition staircases,
and window-medals sparkle through the night.
Every building here is a kind of bust,
an elevator ascends like vomit.
Of furniture there is a stump.
Come in, Maxim,
it’s nothing like lie dying by a harbor.
Take a sit on a stump.
Don’t cast a shadow.
Keep the coat on.

Copyright © 2018 by Valzhyna Mort. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Valzhyna Mort. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 7, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Valzhyna Mort

Valzhyna Mort

Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort is the author of Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) and Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), which was cotranslated into English by Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright and poet Franz Wright.

by this poet

A yoke of honey in a glass of cooling milk.
Bats playful like butterflies on power lines.
In all your stories blood hangs like braids

of drying onions. Our village is so small,
it doesn’t have its own graveyard. Our souls,
are sapped in sour water of the bogs. 

Men die in wars, their bodies their graves. 
even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn't tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future
a gymnast on a thin thread of the horizon
was performing

It’s four in the morning.
I’m ten years old.
I’m beating my mother between the mirror and the shoe rack.
The front door is ajar. A bridge
presses its finger to the frozen strip of water.
Snow falls over it gritting like sand on glass.
Both of us in our long nightgowns.

I stare