Gamma Rays


Cupid’s arrow – a scissors’ beak I’ve stuck into my thighs, thirty kilometers from                                Minsk, sunstruck.


The sun – ‘Chernobyl’ radio station. Broadcasts its radiation; is always on. The                sun speaks into the tulips’ microphones.


Microphones – Viktsya sits by the cow’s udder like in a recording studio.


Record – Yanina (blind) copies sheet music from my teacher’s

songbook, Beethoven (deaf) for Accordion, into my



Xerox – unavailable in the empire, prized like a spacecraft.


Musical staff (according to the music teacher) – not Yanina’s kitchen shelves.

Unacceptable to reshelf

at liberty, to adjust music pitch like



Music teacher – a beautiful woman, furious like Beethoven’s hair.


Musical staff (according to Yanina) – rows of plank beds in the northern barracks.

‘Notes are the bodies. Rounded and flattened by day’s labour, either utterly dark or  insanely empty inside. This is what makes music so poignant, so painful.’


Notes, also (according to Yanina) – ladles.


Beethoven: ‘Music should strike fire in the heart of man, and bring tears to the eyes of woman.’


Yanina to Beethoven: ‘So music is a family brawl?’


Notes (according to the music teacher) – ladles full of water Yanina dumps onto

Beethoven’s fire.


My heart – on fire with fury every time the music teacher trashes Yanina’s

blind copying. I despise and secretly envy Beethoven for having

nothing to do with plank beds in the northern barracks.


A daily source of Beethoven – ‘Chernobyl’ radio station. Also, the joy of summer



My mission: I combat gamma rays with music scales.


Yanina tucks notes into the plank beds of music staff.

On one of them, she recognises                                       her old husband.

Her blindness           blurs all features          into the ovals          of notes.


The cow chews rib-grass but there is no cow.


Birds shred the clouds          with their dull beaks.

The woods are thin

like soup.                       Men live
only on photographs,


     old women are old women.


They lock in dentures. They log

glasses onto hooked noses.           They hook

themselves into forklifting bras,

secure kerchief’s           with sailor’s knots

and thus, protected more thoroughly than first responders,

they curse their hens and pigs as if they had

hens and pigs.


A rooster’s call,

quick like a vaccine shot.

The scissor’s beak is as far as a cupid’s arrow gets here.


I fall in love with music she is copying

in search of a      gone and barracked,    familiar face.


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), (Bloomsbury, 2022). Mort is a recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, the Lannan Foundation, and the Amy Clampitt Foundation. Mort teaches at Cornell University and writes in English and Belarusian. She translates between English, Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish. She has received the Gulf Coast Prize in Translation and the National Endowment for the Arts grant in translation for her work on Polina Barskova’s book of selected poems Air Raid (Ugly Duckling, 2021). Her translations are featured in many literary anthologies. Motherfield: Poetry and Belarusian Protest Diary by Julia Cimafiejeva is forthcoming in the fall of 2022 from Deep Vellum Press, co-translated from Belarusian by and Hanif Abdurraqib. 


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