Look, that is fog, princess, a true fog –
look, all you have in your hands is a plastic compass and a wet, wrinkled map.
See that missed path which would have led you to the uncaptured flag,
see the boy you’ll no longer be able to look in the eye.
See, it’s always autumn, dead leaves crackling underfoot.
See your friends and family struck dumb by the damp faded pages you brought them –
a man on his knees, a twelve-year-old girl with her pastel pants down round her ankles.
Look, this here is a fog, kids, a sure, solid fog.
See, all the people gathered round, avoiding your eyes.
See, here is the firm earth and, see, you’re talking about it already.
You stand, you grow, you learn to control your panic – you become
a good bridge between towns, a protective tree, you learn
to find people’s eyes and make friends
who have no arms, no legs. They’re your kind of people.
They understand you, can bear
to look you in the eye. And you write this poem again,
for the thousandth time, sweetheart,
hoping one day it will erase itself.
See, this is called fog, my dears, a literal fog, a metaphorical fog
which is really just words & streams of hot snot & semen & oh,
the addictive solstice of tears –
And eventually, I exit the forest and fi nd the quiet church in the clearing.
Twenty one harvests have passed and I am still wearing the same gym shorts,
the elastic cutting into my waist like so cheese. And those people look at me
& say – c’mon darling – why so tragic, can’t you write more tactful, cover up, be a little demure. Don’t say, don’t say. So I say
fuck you, go fuck yourselves – I tell children the truth, the world
is no slice of sweet cherry pie. And they say, we preferred your work
when you you drank too much and slept with everyone
who gave you a kind look. Come here, dear, and lie
beneath us again.
And you know the fog is real, kids, you can taste it.
I have nothing except this threadbare, hard bitten, so , sinewy tongue
and fingers which write these words floating on a screen
as if it was a wide, peaceful lake. I am leaving
the damp, fog-fi lled forest. And please, boys and girls,
trapped in your family dachas, living-rooms, stuck
in the backseat of your uncle’s car, lost in your conjugal beds.
C’mon, all you lost ones locked
in some sauna, sweaty, drunk and drugged, you boys
and you girls who survived, I tell you
it is scary. For sure.
But still – it’s safe, you can come out.
You can find the path, can leave the fog.
Or wait a little, if you must, but be gentle
with yourselves. And I will try
to be here, in the clearing, I will try
to breathe for you, silent
till you are ready to speak, waiting here
in the open sun.
Notes on this poem
I don’t speak Latvian so this poem only exists thanks to a literal ‘bridge translation’ by Jayde Will and long conversations with the poet herself. I liken this process to going through airport security and having your carefully ordered luggage completely unpacked. As anyone who has had this experience can attest – it can leave you feeling vulnerable and a little frustrated. If this version of Inga’s poem works it is because she was candid and generous throughout this process. Then, it became my responsibility to re-pack the poem in English as neatly as the original with knowledge of the decisions behind every image, every curse word. We worked together as part of a larger translation project organized through Literature Across Frontiers and the Latvian Literature platform.
– Ryan Van Winkle