Beside the Dumpsters, Furiously Sorting
Martinaitis, Marcelijus. K.B. the suspect. Tr. Laima Vincė. Buffalo: White Pine Press, 2009.
I always feel bereft when I read in translation. The nature of the original language, the music, double meanings, whoever the translator, are necessarily unlisted—unknowable, ripped away—as if the poetry has been flayed.
So I find it hard sometimes to allow myself to respond to translated work in the same way I sink into native language. However, either because of Vincė’s skill or the nature of the original material, it’s easy to forget this book is translated. Once Martinaitis straps you in, you ride until the wooden doors bang open.
This sequence of persona poems chronicles post-Soviet Lithuanian Everyman K.B. as he drifts from scene to disquieting scene and reports on his own thinking. In a tone simultaneously desperate and ironic, with the hyperawareness of the sleep-deprived, Martinaitis guides us through a shadowy I Spy world packed with vaguely menacing, sometimes surreally incongruous objects.
K.B.’s problem is this: how can he resurrect himself from a lifetime of repression? For as long as he can remember, K.B.’s main goal has been to avoid calling attention to himself in any way, so as to avoid being subject to any kind of police action or abuse. Over time, he has scrubbed away his very identity.
I could watch how I was disappearing:
an infant, a teenager, a young man,
a soldier in uniform, a lover in a car
huddled against a woman,
walking a dog, surrounded by well-wishers,
and almost the way I am now, like the day before yesterday—
none of it coherent,
an endless chain of losing myself.
(“About the Hidden Mirror”)
Years of adaptive paranoia—about police investigations, interrogations, beatings, buggings, torture, and random acts of violence—have left him with only a single, hypertrophied emotion: fear. If K.B.’s situation seems alien to our own experience at first glance, it’s really not. We see this sort of emotional bankruptcy in our own lives. Martinaitis’ words constitute a wake-up call; K.B.’s heightened vigilance proves communicable.
As if being stifled in this life doesn’t pose enough of a challenge, K.B. suffers also from its corollary—a problematically elaborate fantasy of how things must be in a different sort of life. The mysterious Margarita seems to represent this ideal world, along with art, mirrors and fine, old interiors. That world, “not of this time and not of this place” (“K.B.’s Dream About Closeness”), is the only world, he believes, in which passion might occur. But there’s a catch.
Just as, for Martinaitis, “art” (a static fait accompli) is the dead version of “creative work” (that which is still in progress), K.B.’s idealized world, in contrast with the real world, is sterile. “K.B. to Margarita about Virtual Reality”:
We experienced incredible lightness.
We could pass through each other,
merge into one.
Only when we did,
we were suddenly shut down.
In K.B., we recognize ourselves. We are all guilty, at times, of living for some future which may never arrive. And even though we know there is no such thing as perfection, that the world is messy, and that nothing ever turns out exactly as expected, we can all relate to disillusionment. Apparently, the world is not governed by order, but rather, by the likes of “trash angels”:
As though they were the final judgment,
angels from the shadow world—
beside the dumpsters, furiously sorting—
they complete history.
(“K.B. and the Trash Angels”)
Life, as Martinaitis shows it, is so poignantly absurd that perhaps the best we can hope for is some sort of salvage operation. This may seem pathetic, but at least it’s something. And it is entertaining.