By Valancina Aksak
Translation: Hanna Komar, John Farndon

Before the end of the world

On the day
the third world war started
a master famous
for repairing vision
gave me keen
Ever since
that appointment
with this magician of
laser and scalpel
I’ve wondered about the vanity of
medical success.
What need do I have now of
the multi-hued sky
which has so suddenly
lost its rainbows?
But today, at last, I realised
that the skilled hands of
this optical aesculapius
have given me the chance
to see
the end
of this


The thick sky is motionless
A flock of ravens
meander mutely by the rubbish bins.
Avenues of mossy buttresses
show the way
along rutted paths.
Silence comes at last.
The salvoes have gone dead.
Tanks craters have frozen over.
Bombs rolled into the bog.
I thought so, happily,
looking out the window.
But just waking
I forgot that
I had not removed the earplugs
from my ears.

White birds

To wake up in the morning
in your own apartment
and see
outside the window white birds
that managed to evade
bombs and gunmen
and safely cross the borders
through the black smoke.
To hear how once they’ve caught their breath
They’ll coo that:
for the Annunciation
they will renew their nests
and start
hatching chicks
lit by
golden sunlight
will fly away
through the blue sky
to warm countries.
And will return
to their own
White Land.

Nine birds

Again today
I met
nine gentle
white birds.
They sat in a row
with blue eyes
gazing trustingly,
scanning my movements,
like babes in the cradle
sensing their mothers’ mood
with their eyes.
Bullets and bombs
rolled south of here
like heavy sleep
twenty days of migration away,
twenty days in which
the determined little flock
has reduced by half.
In the spring they will charm,
and in each nest
for all the unborn
relative nestlings will be born
and learn
So that there will be
at least
nine birds.

Fledgling swallows

Today, the fledgling swallows emerge
from beneath the warm roof,
chirping cheerfully
and drawing their first circle
around the sheltering house.
They look at each other in surprise
out to the blue horizon
then resolutely heading into
the fair-weather landscape
to discover
the foamy clouds.
They don’t know yet
that each new swing
of their free wings
brings them closer
to the world
of hawks and ravens
which wait
in the heights above the clouds
ready to ambush
the little ones
that bravely
from their native nests.

Escape from Palessie

Marshland. Alder. Willow. Sedge.
Black huts on hummocks.
Impossible to reach
without risking a tumble
in the peat holes.
Forgive me, uncle Kołas[1],
I don’t love your little corner
of the marshes.
And you, uncle Mielež[2], I’m sorry,
I am not a daughter of
the people of the marsh.
I’ve woven galoshes from osier,
I’ve anointed my stung legs
with ledum,
going beyond the horizon where mosquitos swarm.
How long is it I have been making my way –
yet still the same osier bushes around
and still in front of me the same
unfortunate willow.
Madness is thickening,
There is no shelter to be seen
and among the stars
high over Palessie
wolf eyes shine.

I have nowhere to go
to meet with
except in my
ailing imagination.

Love in a time of war

She hurled herself, she hurtled
in misery and despair
under the icy blast of fate,
under the dead weight of woe.
She thought ­–
my wound
has spread as wide as the world
she believed —
my pain
is like hellfire.
Yet, it turned out
some people feel worse
because they have no one
to leave
because they have no more
heaven to despair of
and even hell
is not really hell.
Only in war
is there no grief
no illness
and the deep wounds
do not hurt at all.
In this nether world
meetings and partings burn away,
and flowers bloom
through the blaze.

A rose in a backpack

In the bustle of the station
the eye fell on a rose
poking out
of a waxed cotton backpack
which could barely hold the flowerpot
with its surprised flower.
The bloom swayed
to the beat of the treadworn shoes,
then reaching the platform froze,
suddenly awake
and realising
that from now it will always
live in a backpack.
Because it’s a wanderer
for life.

St John’s Wort

While the sun,
grown heavy,
rakes over the turrets
of Balmoral Castle,
I’m brewing St John’s Wort
and tasting the healing drink
until an old friend glances
into the empty cup
and mockingly inquires
if this remedy helps
with chronic grief.
He dispenses more
witty mockery
and takes
a bottle of Ballantine’s
from the woodwormed cabinet.
He pours one for each of us
and says that
in Scotland
we should forget
mild medicines from above the Nioman,
and train our guts
for strong aqua vitae
from the chilly shores
of the Dee.

Dahlias die

The rain at dawn
dilutes my
strong coffee,
and I’m going to give it
to the dahlias,
of thirst.
I brew a one-litre cezv
for myself
then dive into the web of news.
And from the web
looking at me is
a bearded strongman
who will never
ever see
how dahlias die
in a hamlet which he doesn’t know.
The mistress of dahlias
had no time to make
an invigorating brew
for that giant
on the embers of the burnt house.
The mad tank
had outrun them both.


In Malevich’s black square[3]
myriads of falling stars flutter,
visible to the blind.
The original frame is missing
but it is clamped here with pliers
on all four corners.
The rubble which once
stretched the canvas,
is bordered by a black circle,
which white
cannot overstep.
A square
flows over the circle
and the dome
is becoming a cross.
The voids
on both sides of the spokes
are cold anthracites.
The highest point.
Nails instead of stars.

Without miracles

Dear Santa Claus,
if there is nothing
in your bag
but pink
don’t come
to our house.
My sister and I
don’t like sweets.
You say
you have sugar-free gingerbread
and nice oranges.
We don’t eat them either
because they are not gifts
from our field and garden.
Are you offended?
As, capricious children
on this earth.
we don’t
really believe
in your miracles
And you yourself
must have been
The real Saint Nicholas today
would bring home
in his big bag
our dad.
Are you surprised?
Well, bye!
Go and trick those children
whose dads
hug them gently,
instead of snuggling up
in the bitter cold


Trapped behind the net
on someone else’s balcony
I see only
a speckled sky.
I console myself
thinking of the unbearable despair
and helpless pain
of those many
for who the edge of the sun
shows itself
at this very moment
from behind the bars.

[1] A classic author of Belarusian literature, famous for his poem starting with “My corner of the marsh, you’re so dear to me”

[2] Another Belarusian classic, author of the novel ‘People of the Marshes’

[3] Kasemir Malevich’s famous painting of 1915 Black Square, is said to be the ‘zero point of painting’ reducing representation to nothing, so that it can begin again. Malevich declared to be a work of Suprematism, the supremacy of artistic feeling, eschewing the painting of objects and reducing all to geometric shapes in a limited range of colours.