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Valzhyna Mort, born in Minsk, Belarus, made her American debut in 2008 with the poetry collection, Factory of Tears (Copper Canyon Press). Mort received the Crystal of Vilenica award in Slovenia in 2005 and the Burda Poetry Prize in Germany in 2008. She has been a resident poet at Literarisches Colloquium in Berlin, Germany, and has received a Gaude Polonia fellowship in Poland. She teaches at the University of Baltimore.

There is an urgency and vitality to her poems; the narrative moves within universal themes—lust, loneliness, the strangeness of god, and familial love—while many poems question what language is and challenge the authority that delegates who has the right to speak and how. The New Yorker wrote, "Mort strives to be an envoy for her native country, writing with almost alarming vociferousness about the struggle to establish a clear identity for Belarus and its language." Library Journal described Mort's vision as "visceral, wistful, bittersweet, and dark," and Midwest Book Review called Factory of Tears "a one-of-a-kind work of passion and insight."

These poems were translated from the Belarusian by Valzhyna Mort, Franz Wright and Elizabeth Wright.

They are reprinted from Factory of Tears © Copper Canyon Press, 2008, with permission from the author and from Copper Canyon Press. Please visit www.coppercanyonpress.org.

Blue Flower Arts Read more about Valzhyna Mort at Blue Flower Arts.

English version


even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn’t tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future
a gymnast on a thin thread of the horizon
was performing there
at the highest pitch

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you any more
but riding in those cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us
and snatch us veiled

completely free only in public toilets
where for a little change nobody cared what we were doing
we fought the summer heat the winter snow
when we discovered we ourselves were the language
and our tongues were removed we started talking with our eyes
when our eyes were poked out we talked with our hands
when our hands were cut off we conversed with our toes
when we were shot in the legs we nodded our head for yes
and shook our heads for no and when they ate our heads alive
we crawled back into the bellies of our sleeping mothers
as if into bomb shelters
to be born again

and there on the horizon the gymnast of our future
was leaping through the fiery hoop
of the sun
A Poem About White Apples
English version

A Poem About White Apples

white apples, first apples of summer,
with skin as delicate as a baby’s,
crispy like white winter snow.
your smell won’t let me sleep,
this is how dead men
haunt their murderers’ dreams.
white apples,
this is how every july the earth
gets heavier under your weight.

and here only garbage smells like garbage…
and here only tears taste like salt...

we were picking them
like shells in green ocean gardens,
having just turned away from mothers’ breasts
we were learning
to get to the core of everything with our teeth.

so why are our teeth like cotton wool now...

white apples,
in black waters, the fishermen,
nursed by you, are drowning.
English version


for A.B.

it’s so hard to believe
that once we were even younger
than now
that our skin was so thin
that veins blued through it
like lines in school notebooks
that the world was a homeless dog
that played with us after classes
and we were thinking of taking it home
but somebody else took it first
gave it a name
and trained it “stranger”
against us

and this is why we wake up late at night
and light up the candles of our tv sets
and in their warm flame we recognize
faces and cities
and courageous in the morning
we dethrone omelets from frying pans...

but our dog grew up on another’s leash
our mothers suddenly stopped sleeping with men
and looking at them today
it’s so easy to believe in the immaculate conception

and now imagine:
somewhere there are towns
with white stone houses
scattered along the ocean shore
like the eggs of gigantic water birds
and every house carries a legend of a captain
and every legend starts with
“young and handsome...”
English version


my grandmother
doesn't know pain
she believes that
famine is nutrition
poverty is wealth
thirst is water

her body like a grapevine winding around a walking stick
her hair bees' wings
she swallows the sun-speckles of pills
and calls the internet the telephone to america

her heart has turned into a rose the only thing you can do
is smell it
pressing yourself to her chest
there's nothing else you can do with it
only a rose

her arms like stork's legs
red sticks
and i am on my knees
howling like a wolf
at the white moon of your skull
i'm telling you it's not pain
just the embrace of a very strong god
one with an unshaven cheek that scratches when he kisses you
Factory of Tears
English version

Factory of Tears

And once again according to the annual report
the highest productivity results were achieved
by the Factory of Tears.

While the Department of Transportation was breaking heels
while the Department of Heart Affairs
was beating hysterically
the Factory of Tears was working night shifts
setting new records even on holidays.

While the Food Refinery Station
was trying to digest another catastrophe
the Factory of Tears adopted a new economically advantageous
technology of recycling the wastes of past —
memories mostly.

The pictures of the employees of the year
were placed on the Wall of Tears.

I’m a recipient of workers comp from the heroic Factory of Tears.
I have calluses on my eyes.
I have compound fractures on my cheeks.
I receive my wages with the product I manufacture.
And I’m happy with what I have.