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Prison Poems

In early September, the poet, musician, and PEN member Uladzimir Liankevich was arrested during a peaceful manifestation in Minsk. He was sentenced to six days in prison. He was again arrested in December, this time on his way home from a film shooting. Even though he wasn’t arrested during a manifestation, and even though he didn’t resist the arrest, he was sentenced to fifteen days in prison for having participated in an unlawful assembly and for violent resistance. As we now, on December 16th, publish his series of prison poems, Liankevich is incarcerated in Baranavichy. In September the poet Hanna Komar was also arrested together with Liankevich. Her series ”The Unprotected” is being published in parallell with Liankevich’s poems.

Credits Poems: Uladzimir Liankevich Translation: Valzhyna Mort December 15 2020

32 years ago
I attended my first march
on this route
to Kurapaty
then, I was in a baby pram,
now, I ran and hid
between Khrushchev-era buildings
awkwardly I jumped
over a kindergarden fence
twisted my leg
limped to a bench
around me hopes were running
shaped as humans

if only somebody lifted me into a pram
like 32 years ago
if only I was rolled out of here


– all night in the yard people were beaten
all night in the yard people were beaten

the dogs barked
the dogs barked

did you hear?

– cool it
you are imagining things
you are imagining things
nobody was beaten
nobody was beaten
you wouldn’t have heard
a truncheon hitting the body

soundless is a truncheon
that hits the body


on the security guard’s cracked iPhone, my trial.
lower yourself into this chair
look the battery is low
so your hearing will be extra quick
do not contradict
it’s in your own interest
if the battery dies
you won’t hear your sentence
won’t know how long
we’ll keep you locked up here
you’ll lie on the metal cot
and wonder how much longer
you’d be smelling this shit

we are talking literal shit here
composed of the shit of your cellmate from the lower plank bed
your cellmate from the upper plank bed
your own shit
and this guy who came in last night
hasn’t shitted yet
so this shit that we breathe in
isn’t yet completed as whole
the newcomer will adjust
and the bouquet will be full

– The court is in session. Why did you leave your apartment?


give me a pill to rid of my head-
ache. I don’t wish to have a head.
I’m tired of carrying it.

my head has eyes. tear-gas
gets into them. but you call it
light and you don’t turn it off
after the evening lockdown.

I don’t wish to have
a head.

I have a mouth
that I have to stuff
with stinking rubber sludge
you try to pass for bread

I don’t wish to have
a head.

I have ears
into which you yell
your “rrrrms bhd back!”

give me a pill
how come you have none?

- we have none because we’ve eaten
all the pills that rid us off our heads

so shutthfckup


– who called?

– ward 11,
chief, got
a smoke, could I
breathe some fresh air,
got a light
what time is it
can I smoke
I’ll be careful
some fresh air
allow shower

steps screech in the hallway
a key crunches in the lock
as the door opens
our full chamber octet

the prison guard young like a schoolboy
who walked into the wrong classroom:

– here’s what’s up
if one cell fucks up
whole detention center will suffer


a dog barks in the street
“woof-woof” yells a man into a crack in the window
but really into the cell

– it’s a rottwieler
I was detained here seven years ago
and the dog lived in this same yard
it’s crazy old
doesn’t serve any longer, retired
but not put to sleep
so I talk to him

and I understand
that it’s not about mercy
under the sky of detention
the dog is sentenced to life

my handful of a jail sentence
is laughable
for the birds
of a lament
of an old dog
not worthy

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