Jonas Zdanys

Jonas Zdanys


Jonas Zdanys, a bilingual poet and translator, is the author of fifty-four books: collections of his own poetry, written in English or in Lithuanian; volumes of his translations into English of Lithuanian poetry and fiction; and edited anthologies. He has received a number of prizes, book awards, writing and travel grants, and public recognitions for his own poetry and for his translations. They include Lithuania’s Jotvingiai Prize and the National Prize for Literary Translation given by the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture; and grants from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the International Research and Exchanges Board/National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture. He has taught at the State University of New York and at Yale University, where he held a number of administrative positions, and served for more than a decade as the state of Connecticut’s Chief Academic Officer. He is currently Poet in Residence and Professor Emeritus of English at Sacred Heart University.

from Three White Horses

The streetlamp casts black shadows

across the curtains that float

to the middle of the floor

and darken the room.

The earth turns toward dawn,

the wind out of the east.

The grief of the unanswerable

question spreads over the walls

like a hard inscription

and the snow drifts down.

Cold owls gather white ice

as the hour passes, time

the mute timber of a sallow light.

The ghost of her blind father

is home again: the white shadow

rising above the black street

after a long wandering,

the last grain of sand in his eye.

The weight of things falls to its end:

the world is a hollow sphere,

the last circle, filled with illusions

of smoke where spiders in the

corners of lost rooms mumble

and weave and the deep of night

cannot shake itself awake.


You dream of a long hall, dimly lit,

where breaths flutter against dark walls,

a white moth drumming on a hanging bulb;

of a quiet old room with green carpets,

a barefoot woman anxious with love

stretched on a hard brown chair;

of an empty bed at the end of winter,

a black skirt laced with fine stitches

draped loosely on a faded rail;

of arms and thighs wrapped together

in secret, faces pressing tense on a rug’s

frayed edge, reflected in the pane;

of yourself, dry as salt in flutters of air,

floating through the ends of a bitter

earth and watching, watching.

These shadows mock the thin

disorder of the night, the paradox

of the zero and the one.


Cold numbs my fingers as I scratch

the frozen light from the edges

of the window, my breath

congealing on the sibilant glass.

The church tower in the shadows

that lap the street is dark as the day

of judgment, dark as the day when

ghosts whose names I tap on the glass

will claim the borders of the world.

We pretend there’s time to change sides,

carve new images in the ice

and turn the index over in a flat land

where tomorrow, poised on the

threshold, looks in and out,

a narrow orbit swallowing time whole.

Stillness moves into stillness,

repeats itself with no consolation.

The streets are empty and the hour dead.

I am transparent in the window,

float measureless on a mortal scale,

my face and its reflection

a random synthesis that struggles

in history and granite, not sure

which fragile patterns to choose

as the sky looks coldly down.

I hide under the covered table, the

ranks of black boxes precisely aligned.

The room recedes neglected down

the stairs and I make myself small

in a stirring of musty air.

A blade of light pierces my heel.


The moment that follows each moment

is a snare of no use to anyone,

the nothing that comes after each nothing.

I dreamed last night that I would dream

last night that night fell cold through the closed

window into my room and the wilderness out

beyond the river at the edge of the square made

its way back to another bend of the river outside

the closed window of my room near the square.

These images remain and grow upside

down like dead seeds sprouting on the ledge

of the pantry window waiting for the world

to turn upside down again, a mirror likeness

of itself on a horizon that cannot open, and

blossom into horses’ hooves grounded in mid-air.

Tomorrow, in my dream of tomorrow

I will send a letter to myself, the end

not written, no signature composed.

I hope to be surprised to see what it comes to

in the end, whose name will close the closing line.

Or I’ll contemplate the movements of stones,

the contradictions that tie nature and art together

into simpler compulsions, as I shift in my bed

contemplating the slow movements

and contradictions of stones in my bed.

The season of decay is kept from decay.

In the bright night the dark is too deep.

We can argue either side from either side.


The only light is a small cluster

of stars and a thin crescent

of the moon that hangs across

an old red roof thick with the

gestures and truths of night.

The strange thing rings hollow

in the annulments of this season,

the black edge of an ancient reward

tacked empty in the gray glide.

The world unrolls like a ball

of wet string through cold fingers,

the path of death in brief stars,

and the last blue light of the past unveils

itself in the loose boards of the floor.

Seven black crows tangle the ice

of the river, the mysteries of their

sidelong dance with the shadows

in the snow exhausting the void.