Bring Us More Whisky!

UPDATE: The Water of Life has its very own website!

Attention whisky lovers, history buffs, avid readers and fans of vivid storytelling!

For the last couple of years, I’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and love into translating a fantastic, award-winning French-Canadian novel called L’eau de vie (Uisghe beatha) by Daniel Marchildon from French into English. This is a story all about whisky and whisky-making, a historical epic which dances between times and places in Scotland and Canada, and also a family saga full of mystery. I’m really gripped by this book, I feel it should be shared with a wider audience – and that’s why I’m excited to announce that my English-language translation, The Water of Life, will be published quite soon (July 15th 2015) by Odyssey Books!

I look forward to sharing The Water of Life with the world. Slàinte (cheers)!

 

Is It A Studio, or Art School?

“Artprentice” 

This bunch of boys –

stick-figures of various ages –,

clustered, scattered, darting

across an artist’s studio,

all of them the Master’s apprentices, like me –

here is my new family.

Grinding pigments, mixing

with linseed oil –

better not break the bowl,

the Master won’t be happy

to lose so much fresh paint!

Still, can’t avoid

getting it all over my fingers.

Posing for the Master today.

Wish it was the adult model’s turn –

that man with curly chestnut hair

who sometimes drinks wine upstairs

with the Master in the evenings.

Can’t wait

to run run run in the street –

sitting still so long

is making me fidgety.

Making charcoal sketches

of an earlier sculpture

while the Master works on a new one,

calling comments over his shoulder –

“Take care with that line! Smudge the other corner a little more!”

How does he know?

Does he have a hundred eyes?

Still, I try,

holding the charcoal stick carefully.

I want to impress him.

It’s been so long

and wonderfully strange,

a few years here

have felt like days.

At last I’m allowed

to help finish

one of

the Master’s great paintings,

dabbing an angel into the corner.

I take a breath, bite my lip,

pick up one of the precious brushes…

Carefully, gently…time seems to stop

as features and feathers

form on the canvas.

There! Finished.

Suddenly,

I hear the Master’s voice behind my shoulder –

Bravo, well done.”

Today, after the Master

watched me painting,

he told me there had been a guest, a patron,

who had watched too,

who wanted to see more of my craft.

Then the Master offered me

a glass of wine

and asked me to be a partner in his studio,

a working artist in my own right.

Sí, maestro – yes, I’ll do it.

How can I not,

after seeing the pride in your eyes?

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright February 2015. Written in Dubai.

Back to one of my favourite historical periods and locations – Renaissance Italy. I find a lot to be curious about when it comes to l’Italia rinascimentale; one of those points of interest is the professional and personal relationship between working visual artists, like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci for example, and their apprentices. I’ll admit that I probably romanticise this particular topic, but still – fascinating stuff! Enjoy!

Retold

“Atgofion (Memories)” 

Wizard, warlock

Myrddin, Merlin

So many words and names for me,

one man…

So many tales of us together, Arthur,

yet I wonder how many

speak of the magician and the king

when we were young…

I am new at court,

my powers strong but not full-grown,

you’ve not yet come into your own.

We should be

master and servant –

instead we are the closest friends.

I believe

in the king you might be,

and you

trust the magic I might make.

It’s not always easy

being a prince’s consort

when most of Camelot thinks

you ought to have a queen.

My work is magic and healing,

I’m loyal to Camelot and you –

we try to make others’ doubt irrelevant.

Smiling, I listen

as the ceremony ends.

Guinevere, our friend, our heir,

is queen now.

Arthur, you and I

are free to go adventuring again.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright September 2011, October 2014. Written in Dubai.

A few years ago, when I told a friend that I was planning to write a series of poems based on the King Arthur stories, he suggested that I try to write a piece depicting Merlin and Arthur as young men. Since this seemed like a cool idea, I agreed I’d give it a try. What you see above is the result, which has gone through a few different versions.  The BBC television series Merlin was one of my inspirations, since it’s one of the few versions of the Arthur-Merlin tales  I’m aware of which depicts them in young adulthood.

(Note: “Atgofion” is Welsh for “memories” – a nod to Merlin and Arthur’s origins 🙂 )

Insidious Occupation

Ask yourself: “What exactly is a border, and why do we (‘we’ referring to human beings in general) often fight so hard, go so far in different ways, to defend them?”

This is a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately, given the conflict that has been happening in Ukraine and has appeared often in the news media over the past few months. Family members of mine have paid attention, and as a result, have engaged me, as well as friends of theirs, in conversation on the subject.

Please take note, however, that this post is meant neither as economic nor as political analysis. It is, instead, a collection of personal impressions and opinions. As such, it will probably contain personal bias as well.

So why should I care about Ukraine, then, since I am not Ukranian, and have no connections to or direct personal investment in the country? A fair question.

I’ll start by saying that my family and I are Latvian, which means in my case that, although I didn’t experience the Soviet Russian occupation directly, I’ve heard much about it from family and friends who did. I also volunteered at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia for the summer a few years ago. That experience taught me a lot about how both Germany and Russia behaved as invading and occupying powers, at various times between 1940 and 1991. I’ll let the museum speak for itself (seriously, check it out  – it cares about teaching people), but one of the overwhelming impressions I came away with was that being occupied by Russia is an awful, degrading experience which tramples all over human rights and human dignity.

With this in mind, I care because I feel a certain sense of solidarity. I’m aware of what a very large country can be capable of doing to a smaller one – especially if the larger feels that it can claim territory or people from the smaller, regardless of the smaller one’s established sovereignty or possible wishes to the contrary.

It’s true that ethnically Russian people, who speak the Russian language, live all over Eastern Europe. I don’t support these people being discriminated against as minorities in their countries of residence –  something that can happen all too easily, anywhere there are groups of people large enough (in comparison to other groups present in the same area) to describe themselves as majorities. No one should be treated that way, ever. I will admit, however, that given the Russian state’s track record during the Soviet era – a record characterised by violent invasion, suppression of culture, unexplained imprisonment and deportation of people who didn’t agree with it, and other charming behaviour –  I’m deeply suspicious of that state’s motives. I don’t want Eastern Europe to be absorbed into Russia, piece by piece – again.

I’m scared too – not only for the people in Ukraine, who are currently experiencing violent invasion and have experienced manipulation of their democratic elections, but for all the people in smaller states near Russia, who run the same risk.

Money can but a lot of things, including votes, and through them, political influence as well as power. I wouldn’t be surprised, honestly, if the liberal use of money to influence elections in surrounding countries – including the upcoming Latvian parliamentary election on October 4th – were part of the Russian state strategy for reclaiming former Soviet territories. Yes, the situation has been explained to me by people who understand it much better than I do. Still, now that I am better informed, sorry, Russia – I have no intention of playing along.

Passing Through

“In Transit” 

World of the bizarre,

land of in-between,

burbling, rumbling coffee machines.

Surreal speed, swerve,

dash in a passenger cart

‘Look out! Look out!’

It’s the airport Formula One.

Moving from camp to camp in terminal-land,

each stretched-out shapeless hour

marked by new territory,

the wandering-quest

for a change of scene, a fresh discovery.

Stake out some chairs

with a bag and your bones,

watch in sleepy disbelief

as rain pools oddly on the floor.

You know the PA voice so intimately,

it might as well be

a friend of long standing.

Onward, then!

The next journey begins…

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright July, August 2014.

I did a lot of travelling this summer, and wrote the piece above during a 12-hour layover in an unfamiliar airport. I feel it does a reasonable job of expressing both the excitement and tedium you can experience when spending a lot of ‘transitional time’ in a place that’s fairly new to you, even if the country and language are old friends (as they were for me, in this case). Shoutout to my fellow TCKs and other travellers, who probably also know this feeling well!

Lost on Land, Safe at Sea

“Belonging”

Waiting ashore for the moon to rise,

blood beating in his temples

like a tightened drum

She held him once through his silver skin,

he’s been on land too long.

An ache for salt water has driven his feet,

followed every step –

the eyes of his people far away,

the air too dry for breath.

Some in the land-world have been kind –

still, it was never the same

as swimming flipper to flipper,

ducking wave to wave.

Luck stands with him now,

dappled-gray skin, deeply himself,

lies around his shoulders again,

ready to let him swim.

Excited barks rise from the changing tide –

Come, brother, welcome home!

Now he’ll reply as his heart commands –

At last, at last, I come.

 

They’re coming, both over and under the waves,

sleek seal-people sliding to shore –

and ah! if you go with the selkie-folk now,

you’ll be of their home evermore.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright March, May 2014.

 

I’ve been interested in selkie tales for as long as I can remember. Supernatural folk who are seals underwater and humans on land, if they choose? Seems like a wonderful sort of life. Unfortunately, most of the stories I’ve encountered involve a selkie, usually female, being forced to stay on land against her will because her sealskin’s been stolen and hidden by a human. Many times we hear the story from the human’s persepctive, but sometimes from the selkie’s as well. Rarely though, at least in my experience has the selkie in question been male, and this poem wanted to give a male selkie the stage. Regardless of how the speaker identifies, however, I think that a longing for home can be experienced by anyone.

White Noise and Stars

“Radio Silence”

Static in the air,

white noise all around.

We try to talk,

but our voices

won’t cross

the radio silence between us.

Can’t out-shout the buzzing,

shall we

tune ourselves to a different frequency?

Tap, tap – a pair of tuning forks

humming in dissonance, harmony.

With luck, the notes we make

will broadcast clearly.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright February, April 2014

 

When I wrote the first draft of this in February, I had recently finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It’s likely that some of the pensiveness, misanthropy and tendency to melodrama that I picked up on in that novel made their way into this piece. But to be fair, I can be melodramatic and thoughtful anyway. Misanthropic (or people-hating, if you prefer) as well, on my moody days. I did enjoy TFIOS,  especially since I found myself relating to the two protagonists more than once. And I like the idea of trying to create melodic harmony between people!

Wait A Minute, This Didn’t Happen In “The Avengers”…

“Loki’s Curtain Call”

Trickster god – that’s me indeed.

But I might as well be

the Fixer God –

it’s in my hands

to craft clever, devious solutions

whenever

something goes wrong in this place.

“Fix it, Loki!” for millennia…

and never with thanks.

I’ve had enough.

What if

I were to let it all go –

just give up Norse-Godding –

for, say, interior decorating?

I certainly possess

a useful flair,

and I wouldn’t even have to look far

for funky paints!

Want some wildly coloured walls,

disguised trapdoors for unwelcome guests,

spatters of madness

here and there?

Call me up.

Need a conversation piece,

Chaos bound in Ragnarök?

I’ll see to it.

(There could be minimal damage…)

Odin may roll his eye,

Freyja and Freyr may look disdainful and toss their golden-apple hair,

but the loss

would be entirely theirs.

Goodbye Asgard,

I’m off to start a business.

Though, for the sake of efficiency

(and one last farewell gesture),

I may take along that hammer of Thor’s…

Marta Ziemelis. Copyright February 2014.

One day I saw an ad for the Jotun paint company, and my mind decided to play word association, reminding me, “Hey, isn’t Loki sometimes referred to as part- jötunn (also known as part frost giant) in Scandinavian myths?”  I then had a conversation with a good friend, also a fan of Loki and Norse myths, about what might happen if the infamous god of gleefully getting everything into a mess decided to go in for interior decorating. The piece above is the eventual fruit of that conversation.

Less “Femme Fatale”, More Intriguing Human Being

“A Song for Lucrezia Borgia” / “Una canzone per Lucrezia Borgia” Lucrezia, Lucrezia, Lucrezia Your name sings and murmurs from the pages of my history books, set in a tapestry of popes, dukes, kings. How shall I understand you, who you are? Tiny curling vines spiral up from the printed words, thorny and bitter – […]

Spring Evening, Spring Memory

“Eventide” 

Black lace branches stand embraced

by gentle wings of colour.

Softly draped upon the sky

lie

clear pale yellow,

intensely floating orange, lilac, lavender,

royal purple

brisk as a spring wind.

Above, the wings lie crowned with blue

pale as the sharp crisp air,

twined with smoke-dark, wandering threads.

One splayed tree-hand,

puffs of fine black filigree

at each curious fingertip,

reaches, catching

dissolving greysmoke.

Its neighbour is

calmer, simpler,

single branches gracefully draped

drawing a cool, sharp black shape,

stripped-down simplicity,

against the merging softnesses behind.

This is a limpid, perfect moment,

seen through spring evening eyes.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Copyright 2007, 2013.

Sifting through files of older writing can be a surprising process. That’s how I came across this piece, originally written in Toronto, Canada in 2007 and re-worked this spring. It transports me to the evening which inspired it – bitingly cold yet incredibly clear-aired, with a colourful, arresting sunset.