:: Article

Five Poems

By Valzhyna Mort.


on a bare tree – a red beast,
so still it has become the tree.
now it’s the tree that prowls over the beast,
a cautious beast itself.

a stone thrown at its breast is
so fast – the stone has become the beast.
now it’s the beast that throws itself like a stone.
blood like a dog-rose tree on a windy day,
and the moon is trying on your face
for the annual masquerade of the dead.

death decides to wait to hear more.
so death mews:
first – your story, then – me.



a woman moves through dog-rose and juniper bushes,
a pussy clean and folded between her legs,
breasts like the tips of her festive shoes
shine silently in her heavy armoire.

one black bird, one cow, one horse.
the sea beats against the wall of the waterless.
she walks to a phone booth that waits
a fair distance from all three villages.

it’s a game she could have heard on the radio:
a question, a number, an answer, a prize.
her pussy reaches up and turns on the light in her womb.

from the rain, she says into the receiver,
we compiled white tables and chairs under a shed
into a crossword puzzle
and sat ourselves in the grid

the receiver is silent. the bird flounces
like a burglar caught red-handed.
her voice stumbles over her glands.
the body to be written in the last block –
i can suck his name out of any letter

all three villages cover their faces with wind.



lie still, he says,

like a dog on the beach
he starts digging
until the hole fills up with water.
he has already dug out two thighs of sand
when she finally asks, what’s there,
convinced there’s nothing.

there’s nowhere he can kiss her where she hasn’t already been kissed by the sun.

every evening she goes to the ocean with her old father and three sisters.
they strip in a row,
                    their bodies identical as in a paper garland.
bodies that make you think of women constantly chopping vegetables
            – it is like living by the train station,
                                                        their father swears –
and always putting the last slice into their mouths.
for her, there is not even a knife left in the whole house.
the sound of a cuckoo limps across the dunes.
she takes a beam of sunlight sharpened side by side with stones
and cuts with it
and you can tell her vegetables from the others’
by how they burn.
long after dinner they talk in the garden.
from above, ripened in their warm breath, plums fall over the table.
they draw the plums, one by one, like dominoes from the stock,
sweet bones and crushed june bugs stick to the table.

by now they already stand wrapped in cocoons of white towels,
her teeth, crossed out by a blue line of lips, chatter,
scratching the grains of salt. her bitten tongue
bleeds out into the mouth a red oyster,
which she gulps, breathless.
their father turns away to dry his cock,
but the girls rub their breasts and crotch openly,
their hands skilled at wiping tables,
their heads as big as the shadow of the early moon,
their nipples as big as the shadows of their heads,
and black so that their milk might look even whiter.

she too, is rough and indifferent towards her full breasts,
as if she were brushing a cat off the chair
for her old father to sit down.
they drink beer in the northern light that illuminates nothing but itself.
sail boats slip off their white sarafans
baring their scrawny necks and shoulders,
and line up holding on to the pier as if it were a ballet bar.

it bothers her, what did he find there after all.
so she touches herself under the towel.
it is easy to find where he has been digging –
the dug up spot is still soft.

the water is flat as the fur licked down by a clean animal.
a bird, big even from afar,
believes the ocean is its egg.
so the bird sits on the ocean patiently
and feels it kick slightly now and then.


My Father’s Breed

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 night robes.

I stare into her earring hole and aim
at her large breasts not to hurt my knuckles.
I slap her face like I flip through channels.

My father lies at the door. From his shirt
lipstick smiles at me with the warmth of urine.
It’s as if somebody threw at him slices
of skinned grapefruit.
Every time she hits him – I hit her.
Look at this. Look whom you’ve bred.

How can he see from under his pink vomit.
But his body smiles –
                                cannot stop smiling.


Jean-Paul Belmondo

it begins with your face of a stone
where lips repose like two seals
in a coastal mist of cigarette smoke
you move through the streets –
listing them
is as useless as naming waves.

                        ( that city is so handsome for a reason –
                        it was made out of your rib )

it continues with my
            skidmarked by a dress
body. i stand on the border
on heels like my sixth toes
and show you
where to park.

that very night
lying together
                        in the dogs yard
–             flowers are biting my back! –
you whisper:
            the longer i look on the coins of your nipples
            the clearer i see the Queen’s profile.

for you, body and money are the same
as the chicken and the egg.
the metaphor of “a woman’s purse”
escapes you.
stealing, you like to mumble:
a purse is a purse is a purse is a purse.
a real purse in your hand is worth
two metaphorical purses over your mouth.

they tell me
            you are a body
                        anchored to the shore by its rusting blood.
your wound darkens on your chest like a crow.
i tell them – as agreed – that you are my youth.
an apple that bit into me to forget its own knowledge.

death hands you every new day like a golden coin.
as the bribe grows
it gets harder to turn it down.
your heart of gold gets heavier to carry.

your hands know that a car has a waist
and a gun – a lobe.
you take me where the river once lifted its skirts
and God, abashed with that view,
ordered to cover that shame with a city.

its dance square
shrank by the darkness to the size
of a sleeping infant’s slightly open mouth.
i cannot tell between beggars’ stretched hands
and dogs’ dripping tongues.
you cannot tell between legs –
                        mine – tables’ – chairs’ – others’.

that dance square is a cage
where accordions grin at dismembered violin torsos.
beggars lick thin air off their lips.
women whirling in salsa slash you
across the chest with the blades
of their skirts soiled with peonies.


Valzhyna Mort was born in Minsk, Belarus and moved to the United States in 2005. She made her American debut with a poetry collection Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press, 2008). She has received the Crystal of Vilenica poetry award in Slovenia, the Hubert Burda Prize for Eastern European authors in Germany. In 2010 she was awarded the Lannan Foundation Fellowship and the Bess Hokin Prize from the Poetry. Currently, she’s a writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore. Mort’s new book, Collected Body, is coming out in the autumn of 2011.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 20th, 2011.