Skip to main content
3 min read

Rose Pandemic

We woke up. We heard voices calling us, we heard our own voices crying out. The people’s uprising in Belarus became a mighty wave erupting from somewhere that looked like nowhere, which wasn’t true. All stems from ages ago, from deep down in the wetlands, from our ancestors’ graves. Valzhyna Mort said once in an interview in Belarus in connection to the publication of her poetry collection Rose Pandemic (2017) that Belarusian is full of strong, muffled words. Words that do not only carry meaning. They also bewitch, bind, and dissolve. I hear them all the time. The voices of those like me who woke up and understood that we are Belarusians, our roots are alive, and our language is pounding at our hearts. Diaspora is a Greek word meaning dispersion and dissipation. Never before has one witnessed a diaspora move from dissemination to unity as fast as in current Belarus. We are calling out and the world is listening. Valzhyna Mort writes about the child and its hunger, which reminds me of my uncle whom I never got to know since he died at the age of two; he died in a concentration camp—from starvation. His voice is gone and in the country that we love a recorded voice keeps telling us that superfluous people will be interned in camps behind barbed wire. However, we are forming a ring of fire—chanting an incantation for freedom. One day the roses will return to the wetlands.

Inga-Lina Lindqvist

Credits Poems: Valzhyna Mort Introduction: Inga-Lina Lindqvist Translation of Introduction: Christina Cullhed January 20 2021

In a chance encounter, a stranger who knew you during your
Mordovian evacuation described the horrible hunger, and
described you as a hungry boy who always carried a book.


On this table made from foreign trees
the bread of silence, unbroken.

Mute, a portrait of myself: I’m framed

into the back of the chair. And you are here,
yet not. Your bones in the womb of the grave,

yet not, a hungry boy with a book, in a mass burial
next to your twins-in-death. Your name,

which sounded foreign to them,
is changed for a Russian name
in an act of un-baptism.
Yet, not.

The bread sits on square wooden shoulders.

When you go hungry for months,
your heart is a red bone.

All I see when I open a book is your empty stomach.


Sometimes your clear stomach is a magnifying lens.
With it, I search from page to page
for an old potato dug into the soil of print.

I go so mad I listen to the pages of books
wondering if you chewed on the roots of trees
turned this paper.

Into my stomach-size fist
I fold a raisin, a walnut, some sugar.
With this fist I knock the air out of air,
strike whatever’s around.

About me: I often spent a whole day between parking lots
where cars resemble giant turtle shells abandoned by all of life.
From these turtle cemeteries

I watch hills: ophthalmic distortion,
red barns: ants on my eyeballs.

My doctor prescribed me drops of Lethe water.

Why do I speak to you?
Favorite grandchild of your favorite sister,
the more Lethe I put in my eyes, the closer I am to you.

Inside my Noah’s Ark—ghosts ready to beget ghosts.

Do you know what a ghost looks like?
It looks like blood.


Sitting a breath away from you, I’m afraid
of my tongue’s shadow moving in the corners
of my mouth.

I pulled this house over my head like a cast
to heal fractured sanity, thought to thought.

I silenced all past with the spell of a camera flash,
yet not.

If there’d be a sound between us,
let it be one that starts
with touch,
which is music.

Music which, over accordion keys,
unclenches the fist of ancestry,
loosens fingers into rose petals.

A family tree is not a tree but a rosebud,
petals tied together, mouths down.


You listened for the sound of an iron
gate squealing like slaughter
and licked
your lips. Then, silence
straightened its shoulders inside your nostrils.

You died on a hospital sheet bleached
and starched until it seemed to be made
out of ironed bones.

What does the family rose think about that,
when my pen stands on end like hair on this paper?


From one hospital-white key to the next,
I carry my dead in order to tuck them into
these shrouds woven from sound.

I bury them, properly, one by one,
inside the piano-key coffins.

I rush—I learned to rush from Earth!
Earth, a bladder full of dirt and snow.

Yet not.

Like what you read?

Take action for freedom of expression and donate to PEN/Opp. Our work depends upon funding and donors. Every contribution, big or small, is valuable for us.

Donate on Patreon
More ways to get involved