Valzhyna Mort – "Belarusian I"
Written by
Khadijah Queen
April 2011
Written by
Khadijah Queen
April 2011

Valzhyna Mort - "Belarusian I"


When I heard Valzhyna Mort read this poem at the Austin International Poetry Festival in 2007 I got chills, and four years later, I still feel the same effect. Aside from the riveting emotional and visual power of the poem, and the layered-in metaphor for the struggle to preserve her native language, she manages to capture the vulnerability of children trapped in impossible (adult-created) circumstances with a relentless gaze. And within that, the poem shares an explicit knowledge of children's precocity and potential to transform all of our futures which in turn implicates us all in their suffering. 





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 there 
at the highest pitch



we grew up in a country where

first your door is stroked with chalk

then at dark a chariot arrives

and no one sees you any more

but riding in those cars were neither

armed men nor

a wanderer with a scythe

this is how love loved to visit us

and snatch us veiled


completely free only in public toilets

where for a little change nobody cared what we were doing

we fought the summer heat the winter snow

when we discovered we ourselves were the language

and our tongues were removed we started talking with

our eyes

when our eyes were poked out we talked with our hands

when our hands were cut off we conversed with our toes

when we were shot in the legs we nodded our head for yes

and shook our heads for no and when they ate our heads 


we crawled back into the bellies of our sleeping mothers

as if into bomb shelters

to be born again


and there on the horizon the gymnast of our future

was leaping through the fiery hoop

of the sun


—from Factory of Tears, tr. the author with Franz Wright and Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright


Valzhyna Mort from Laura Hope-Gill on Vimeo.




Video animation of her poem "New York" from PBS:

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