This northern life must be two, no three, of those black-headed, gray-bodied birds. They look like crows, they stalk the forests stubborn as partisans who know they will die for a lost cause, who list the code names of their fallen comrades, who sit in miserable bunkers and write What if nobody wanted to sacrifice? and Spring is coming but not to Lithuania. So wrote Lionginas Baliukevičius, aka Dzūkas, in 1949. I sit and think, he wrote, but my thoughts don’t materialize into anything. The birds are crows, hooded crows, similar to the carrion crow but elevated to full species status in 2002. The partisan Dzūkas died in 1949, his country not free, his last hideout collapsed. I skipped to the end of his brave, sad journal, a few sentences in praise of Tolstoy, who went pacifist and ate no meat in his last years, who wrote All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love and The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. The crows live in the forest, walk its enigmatic floor, test everything they find. Love nothing. Stay away from the bunkers.
It was the holy part of the day, my loved ones asleep in other countries, me with no duties and rooms full of quiet. I ate my dark bread with brie and jam, pressed out two cups of dark coffee. And that must be the sun, skulking like a grown-up boy who knows it’s been too long since he visited his mother. He has no excuse but all is forgiven, she will open the curtains, haul up the shades, crack the windows though it’s far too cold for that. We will ring all the bells in the quiet church across the street, unscrew the doors from the jambs, dismantle all the borders, forgive the Russians whether they like it or not. And mercy will pour down like sunshine in the grand photographs in the vast inscrutable book I bought for ten euros at the bookstore downtown, a store full of books translated out of the language I know so that I could read only the authors’ names. Truth must be personal, said Kierkegaard, home from another of his long, brooding walks. And yet not merely private. You shall love the neighbor, he insisted. Outside my window the church is solid and pale, three stories and a squat round tower, in the tower three narrow windows that reveal nothing. Winter sun warms the green roof, but the entrance is still in shadow.
He’s heard stories of amber, of winter storms that deposit yellow knurls and knuckles the length of the long beach that runs north to Palanga, of roads jammed even in winter on a fair Sunday with beachcombers eager for treasure. He’s not found that road yet, shy or distracted or put off by some vague sense that the old powers should be cautiously approached. He’s read that the Christians found this land hard to enter, the people stubborn, claiming to be happy with the gods they knew. That’s been centuries. Still the borders mean something. Still the news is bloody and not so far away. The traveler read in the U.S. news that there’s new word form Vilnius: if the Russians come, stay calm. Show up for work. Hug your children. The traveler has noticed nothing scary, but he knows he’s wearing a snug cocoon of ignorance. Anyway another source insisted that the message was mostly about storms, fire, earthquakes, the Russians only one of many perils that need forethought but not fear. He doesn’t know whether the bundled souls he passes on his night walks are brooding on blood, or thinking only of their doors and dinner and a drink, or wondering how much amber the last storm of winter washed up on the beach, how much waits half-buried to give itself to any walker, golden as cool fragments of a lost sun.