Valzhyna Mort

Valzhyna Mort headshot

Valzhyna Mort is a poet and translator born in Minsk, Belarus. She is the author of three poetry collections, Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press 2008), Collected Body (Copper Canyon Press 2011) and, mostly recently, Music for the Dead and Resurrected (FSG, 2020). Mort is a recipient of fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Amy Clampitt residency, and the Civitella Raineri residency. Her work has been honored with the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry and the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry, New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry Review, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Granta, Gulf Coast, White Review, and many more. With Ilya Kaminsky and Katie Farris, Mort co-edited Gossip and Metaphysics: Russian Modernist Poems and Prose. Mort teaches at Cornell University and writes in English and Belarusian. 

Ars Poetica

—Valzhyna Mort

Not books, but
a street opened my mouth like a doctor’s spatula.
One by one, streets introduced themselves
with the names of national
In the State Archives, covers
hardened like scabs
over the ledgers.

Inside a tiny apartment
I built myself
                     into a separate room,
peopled it
                           with the Calibans
of plans for the future.

Future that runs on the schedule of public buses,
         from the zoo to the circus, what future;
what is your alibi for these ledgers, these streets, this apartment, this future?

In the purse which held—
          through seven wars—
                     the birth certificates
of the dead, my grandmother
hid—from me—
chocolates. The purse opened like a screaming mouth.
Its two shiny buckles watched me
through doors, through walls, through jazz.

Who has taught you to be a frightening face, purse?
I kiss your buckles, I swear myself your subject.

August. Apples. I have nobody.
August. For me, a ripe apple is a little brother.

For me, a four-legged table is a pet.

In the temple of Supermarket
I stand
like a candle

in the line to the priestesses who preserve
the knowledge of sausage prices, the virginity
of milk cartons. My future, small
change after buying necessities.

Future that runs on the schedule of public buses,
streets introduced themselves with the names
of national murderers. I build myself
into a separate room, where memory—
the illegal migrant in time—cleans up
after imagination.

In a room where memory strips the beds—
linens that hardened like scabs
on the mattresses—I kiss

little apples—my brothers—I kiss the buckles
that watch us through walls, through years, through jazz;
chocolates from a purse that held—through seven wars—
birth certificates of the dead!

Hold me, brother-apple.

From Poetry (November 2019)


Reading | January 25, 2022