it’s a white winter, icy, crunchy underfoot, a yellow bus; it pulls into the black bus stop at five fifty five in the morning; streetlights fade in the sky; fifteen minutes ago mother woke me up, spread some cheese on white bread, poured caraway seed tea into a tall cup with a broken handle, and walked me to the bus stop; exactly seven minutes of silence; then she’ll walk back home and make another two sandwiches, both with smoked sausage, for father who’s still asleep, and see him off to the factory, while she’ll clean supermarket windows, floors and walls; the freezing winter has penetrated deep into my bones, my eyes are still asleep, my nose is cold, and the bus driver recognises me by now; i’m always the first passenger; he doesn’t even come to a complete stop anymore, only slows down and opens the centre doors for me to jump in

my stop will be the one after the factory where the blind work, where the footpath is always cleared of snow and there are signs warning the rest of us, round, black yoko ono glasses; i hate my stop, every morning i dream of forgetting to get off and missing my stop, going on to the bus depot another three stops ahead; there the driver would look around and laugh, having seen me, and we would have a smoke, i’d wait until he’d glance at his watch and set off again, we’d do the whole route once more, a trip round shiauliai, i’d go back home and read a book

there’s a large yard at the factory where i work, it’s empty apart from the other women i work with, they take their time, behind me, we quietly nod hello, still half-asleep we drift forward, only to fall behind; even though it’s already six thirty, the time before dawn feels like an atomic winter

freshly caught fish smells of water and sea fish don’t actually taste salty, unsalted fish tastes good only when it’s fresh, and fish that has long since been dead has been brought in from far away, frozen in blocks of ice, left to thaw on the ground, rats gnawed on it during the night; fish lies filleted, spread out and gutted, no intestines, no eggs, no roe, no scales, no heads; fresh fish is red, white fish has been bleached / i stick my finger into 30% hydrogen peroxide solution and my skin goes white within 2 seconds / rollmops; white fish is marinated in vinegar with spices and rolled around soft pieces of gherkin, rollmops are pierced with two small skewers, every fifth jar is weighed to check it’s ± 5 g

i’m eighteen, i didn’t get into university despite taking the specialist maths class, i put fish into jars, but the teacher i run into on the street says that the smart ones don’t bash their head against a wall, idiots do, your place should be at university – my place is at the end of the conveyor belt, i process fish; my parents’ wisdom – what’ll you study kid, better off getting a job – i don’t know what i want to do, but i do know what i’m not, and that i’m not from this factory, and not from this town; no one bothers to ask why i talk less and less, why i gasp for air; my scarf comes all the way down to my eyelashes, i have gills behind my ears; the women i work with don’t know about the crooked haircut my mother gave me, she took a whole chunk out with scissors just above my neck, when i go to the theatre i use an eye pencil to colour in the white patch; i don’t need to worry about running into people from school in this town, they’re all in vilnius; the women i work with don’t recognise me in the street, and i ignore them, some are the same age as i, the pikes

during the lunch break i don’t go for a smoke with the others; one of the factory supervisors is my uncle, and he invites me for lunch in the supervisors’ room where he pours 200 ml of a viscous liquer, i have never drunk this much liquer, maybe only during our graduation party / one guy dreamed of jumping off the roof, and another didn’t love me, he was only playing around / the supervisors don’t eat fish, but i like it and can smell it in my hair at night, i can’t help dreaming about it; i eat and hear the supervisors talk about the pikes, and they all look over at me in pity / i’m nothing but small-fry / when i quietly say that i plan to be an actress, in the theatre, in film – some time, in another life, they smile

jesus had two fish //

a woman working at the conveyor belt has one son and has just discovered that there are two living inside her, and broke into tears, stuffing three rollmops into one jar, no need to weigh it as she can tell that its ± 5 g – why has god punished me, why is god so cruel – the young and the old, the fat and the thin ones tried to console her; even one girl that had completely lost her voice; then they talked about raising children, and one who was older said – i don’t help my daughter raise her children and i don’t care, because no one cared about me either – they are all alone, each one frozen in her own block of ice, unable to turn their heads, or move their eyes; the pregnant one cried and cried, and then admitted that she had once had an abortion; turns out god is a mathematician of sorts afterall: 1 child – 1 child + 2 children = three

the men’s flesh is as red as red snappers from the smoke-house, their eyes are white, and they ruminate on their fish slowly, only one of them is a real, living amphibian man; but he doesn’t see me, to him, i’m just like all the other fish; i watch him as i write him a poem, i could draw his profile even if i were blind; i draw on brown wrapping paper; i am on the shore

the forewoman’s husband goes on drinking binges at home and hits her, and now she’s crying into the work register, tears roll down her plump cheeks, i thought she was forty, but she’s only twenty five, she has a little boy, her eyes are very blue, like a crystal clear winter sky

if you can, work at night – i too can work one night, though my uncle isn’t happy about it, because i could just go home as per usual, so that my parent’s wouldn’t think he was being hard on me; my uncle actually loves me more than he should; he has a low hanging stomach and doesn’t get along well with women; some of those who stay behind for the night shift either start to laugh or to cry, straight after midnight; one wishes she could go home to be with her child; my uncle is deaf, like someone deep under the water; behind his back, but in front of me, the women call him impotent – looking down, my uncle can’t see his willy over his stomach; funny or not; i always call him sir

my father rarely goes fishing these days, but he used to hang little fish out to dry strung up under the roof, our cat would sit underneath and sniff them; too salty for her, and for me; only real men with moustaches skin their dried, salted fish, while drinking it down with guberniya zhigulinis beer, which smells of fish even on its own; my father’s father fished until his death, he used to fumble around a lot until the fish were strung up in the balcony of their apartment; he used to work at the factory for the blind; even though he wasn’t completely blind; all he left his twins was a messy apartment with lots of dried, salted fish

i fished the whole night long; in the morning, the sky was as purple as a king’s robe

the lithuanian fish factory rolls up fish for the dutch, a young dutch fisherman arrived and lay his white hands on the boxes of packaged fish; we all received new uniforms and our lipstick is brighter coloured; the forewoman tells me – smile and try to make the dutchman notice you – afterall, everyone’s goal is to get married – you are the most attractive one – the dutchman is already married, but he’s not past it, he would be a fine catch – that eel

the evening shift ends after the theatre performance, but i can lie to my uncle and tell him i have a fever and leave early; jump into bus number five which will take me to the theatre where i’ll see a girl who was born deaf, dumb and blind, a little deep water fish, emitting electric sparks as she swims; i’ll find myself an empty seat in the corner of the balcony so that the other people won’t smell my fish odour as much, and i won’t cry when i see the little fish on the stage silently feel her way about her underwater world that never sees the light

and when they complained that there were but two fish he said it would be enough for the crowd and asked for the two fish to be brought to him in a basket and he lifted the basket up to heaven and lowered it with many fish inside and took two more and lifted them up and multiplied them again / god only knows how to multiply and divide / were the fish in the basket fully grown or was it just roe at first

i cut my finger, but just like the others, i didn’t wrap it up or put a rubber cover on it, as then you can’t feel the fish and won’t be able to roll it up fast enough, and won’t be able to pierce it, and won’t be able to weigh it quickly, and all you’ll think about is the fish and your finger, and the pain, but there’s no time to think at the conveyor belt, only listen to music, listen to the pike monologues, never-ending, about nothing in particular, with expletives; from time to time they all turn towards me, means they’re talking about me; or singing about me

the forewoman gives me a nudge – be the first to the fish, run – why – because you have to, that’s the way things are around here, if you don’t run, you’ll get the worst fish, too small or too large, that’ll be too fiddly or too big for the jar, you’ll only have to go through them again and won’t earn anything; day in day out, one fish after another; my mother fished out all my salary, i only managed to buy myself a walkman, so at home i turn nirvana’s bleach up loud

the forewoman mixed a tub of fish with a tub of detergent, instead of marinade, then someone found the unused tub of marinade and realised what had happened; they poured away the detergent, washed the fish, and mixed it properly, with the marinade; had i done this, i would have been bleached and salted; never buy fish made in shiauliai

jesus, imagine the world without fish

world, imagine fish without jesus

fish, imagine jesus without the world

my street clothes stay with the inspector who sits in a small room all day, except when she has lunch with the supervisors, she’s everyone’s friend, she laughs and cries with all of us, and as we leave she turns a blind eye before she goes through our bags and pats down our sides; beyond the factory gates we are stopped by two men in black and taken to the other side of the street, into the five storey blind building, and in a dark apartment we’re asked to show them what we’ve stolen; my handful of smoked fish that are too large to pass as sprats and too small for rollmops, a drop in the ocean; the inspectors mockingly suggest i do better next time, another one beside me on the conveyor belt got away with 2 kg of salmon stuffed into her bra

the japanese brought some raw red salmon and placed a guard beside every thief; nevertheless, the fish swims out through the open doors of the factory by the boatload; the japanese know of the soviet motto, why buy if you can get it at work; the japanese / whale lovers / dig harpoons into our backs

sometimes i don’t eat lunch, in the inspector’s room i read richard gavelis’ vilnius jazz, i watch and wonder as two citizens walk down pilies street, turned towards the wall, sideways, and they’re not crazy, vilnius is crazy, and i’m already there

it’s spring, black hole sun, kurt cobain’s dead, and a bleached student in nirvana with the whites of his eyes buried deep into his beer hears my smile and the ripples of vilnius jazz, life’s contours gradually take shape / i love those who don’t love me, i love to love, and i don’t care if they don’t love me, but i don’t yet know how much pain that will bring / punkrock

you can’t stand in two boats at the same time; so jesus walked on water

one last time i allow myself to miss the blind stop, the fish stop, and continue to the bus depot with the driver, and wait ‘til he has his smoke; he is young, balding, he has sly fox eyes, he chats to me and suggests i don’t rush to the train station just yet, because next week he will take over the intercity routes, and says i could get a job as the conductor; and i don’t say no; my parents would be pleased – acting’s not a profession, they say – but their will has come to an end, just like winter

fish on the ice, ice floats out into the sea, drunken fishermen and women with white scarves, white uniforms, long boots, black aprons down to the ice at their feet, cigarettes between their teeth; fishermen never notice when they get too far from land, and when they do, its too late to shout, to wave, to call for help; all’s left is to sing and dance, if someone plays the accordion; the sun shines brightly, my eyes narrow, vodka would help, or sunglasses, sweden’s on the other side, or maybe greenland; only the fish on the ice looks up at the sky with one unblinking – eye

translated by albina strunga

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