Tautvyda Marcinkevičiūtė, Three Poems

Tautvyda MARCINKEVIČIŪTĖ (Lithuania) has published 15 books of poetry and three books of children’s poetry. Among her many awards is the Poezijos Pavasaris National Poet Laureateship. A prolific translator from the English, she has had her own work translated into more than ten languages; the bilingual Lithuanian-English volume Terribly in Love appeared in 2018.

Author's Note

Usually I put down the date of a poem’s composition after it’s finished. When I checked the date of "Medicine for Solitude,“ I saw that it was written in 2011, and "The Little Pig“ in 2012: no wonder it was difficult to recall the atmosphere of their appearance. Still fresh in my memory, though, was the challenge of their English version, and my collaboration with their translator, Caroline Froh, as we were checking the meaning of particular words. We also did this together with Kinga Nagy, who was simultaneously working on the translation of these same poems into Hungarian--a fact that made it possible to compare phonetic and morphological similarities and differences between the three languages, and find the best phrasing variant. It was as if diving into the deepest waters of any language, the kind of feeling when words can't yet be reached by breath. But the colleagues in the IWP Translation Workshop were always on call to help, throwing the most accurate word as if a lifebuoy...

Translator's Note

The three poems here represent a very special kind of communion—they were coaxed to life with the help of Lithuanian and Hungarian, two languages I do not know, through a process that demanded I quickly grow comfortable in the liminal, sometimes cloudy space before language arrives. Rather than working from the poem itself, as I am used to doing, I had to turn to alternative modes of ‘making sense’; without access to the original, I had to trust images as they were relayed to me by the poet, or listen for clues in the Hungarian version, which was being constructed at the same time by translator Kinga Nagy. “What questions do you have?” became Tautvyda’s weekly refrain for us both, palms turned to the ceiling. Her explanations were sweeping brushstrokes, abstract but at the same time, true to her, quite matter-of-fact. She was trying to expose her thought process for us, to convey to us why she had done what she did. Many of my notes were simply quotes from her that I frantically scribbled in case they unlocked some secret layer of understanding.

Each poem speaks to a different set of challenges and successes, but together, they highlight some of the most compelling elements of Tautvyda’s work as a whole. This ranges from the bright simplicity and light humor of “the little pig” to her deft handling of darker themes as well, as seen in “Medicine for Solitude.” Working alongside Tautvyda and Kinga served as a reminder of the often invisible steps in the process of meaning-making, and the beauty to be found there. I think it would do us all well to linger there a little longer.


     the little pig


I’m thinking
of my husband’s former lover
I’m thinking
of the poem my darling wrote for her
lovelier than mine
which slanders me

I’m thinking
of how lovely she was
for a little pig
I’m thinking
I’m pounding
this metal mallet

I’m thinking
and pounding
in equal measure

I’m thinking
and pounding
till I begin to ache myself

I’m thinking
about this strength
for pounding
of where it comes from

I am thinking
and pounding
a tenderloin
for everyone in my family


a battle

in vain

fasting today

forgive me, Lord

Medicine for Solitude

she couldn’t believe her eyes
an older woman at the pharmacy with a broken
not like porcelain but battered
like from the impact of a high-speed car,
face behind the
selling medicine for solitude
looking directly at her was not polite
a direct glance might undo the bandages
of this poor woman and reveal a bruised berry
darkening then trickling blood down her cheek
she’d admired this woman
this queen of the closest pharmacy, queen of cover-ups
who put on a clean white coat each day
a picture of health
and this long, long line of women winding down the aisle,
each one requesting a different kind of medicine for
murmuring the word in Latin
and thus, along with the shadow of the moon and the ambush at clades variana
restoring it to its proper name
the pharmacist sometimes emerged from behind the counter
if someone requested a special medication
kept in the middle of the pharmacy, medias mediocritus,
as the hypocrite looked on
the pharmacist was very brave and loyal
to the Hippocratic Oath
but who would supply her with
when her turn came
to pay she offered a kind hello
and then she had to look directly into the eyes of the pharmacist
and suffer a hundred years of solitude


I was so hungry so hungry in my dream
that I went to the poets I admired and quietly
snuck a line of sauce the seasoning of a metaphor from their hors d'oeuvres
as you like it in my dream I felt like I was being stabbed by a thousand needles
knowing that at any moment calderon could jab me for plagiarism from
la vida es sueño that shakespeare could kick me out from under his thatched roof
an unexplainable hunger forced me to steal fiction after fiction
so I couldn’t understand why my stomach revolted resisted this
promise of impossible fullness after the sauce of enjambment
why this fiction felt so real
this being forced to steal and steal
with the outstretched talons of a Vogel
slowly releasing the hatch to
the vicious circle of the universe
reemerging as membrane-flügeled fowl

Caroline Froh holds an M.F.A. in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa. A 2019 ALTA Travel Fellow, she is also the recipient of a Stanley Award, and will be one of the Provost's Postgraduate Visiting Writers at the University of Iowa for 2020–2021. She is currently translating works by Jenish-Swiss writer Mariella Mehr.