Blesok no. 71-73, March-August, 2010
Poetry


Cosmopolis
From “Космополис / Kozmopolis / Cosmopolis”, Blesok, 2010.

Aleš Debeljak



Cosmopolis
for Josip Osti
Sarajevo-Ljubljana


Listen well: is that the trumpet call? The cavalry
rides through history. The shadow of an ancient battle
wants to be the truth again. A distant stairway winds toward a cloud.
Mountains fall, a chalice trembles. Emptiness spills over

the edge. Yet you, miraculously, grow faster than you can be
destroyed. A titmouse will not leave its nest. The west wind
tempts you with redemption in a hollowed loaf of bread
at the Last Supper. A broken toy. More children are missing.

Yet you endure. You interrupt the world’s monologue, its endless drone.
You’re the flickering snow on the screen, which is always on. The vault
of the universe above you is crystal clear. The rest of us

stare helplessly into the cold prison of the stars. We watch a finger
rise from the flame flickering behind your back, which never consumes you.
And on the arch of the sky the finger writes, tirelessly, “I am.”


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Christopher Merrill




Boundless Room


Yes, I belong to those who were once under the spell
of blood. And wild animals leaping from Utopian scenes
into life to leave a mark on the hunter. And people
shaped by the age of crime and restless sleep.

I’m not saying the roar of the underground river I used
to sail attracts me anymore. I’m not saying that at all.
But the wound which condemned me to lordly solitude
has changed form. Once I was one, now I’m a tribe.

And the anguish of a boat setting off from shore inspires me
only in a mirror. I see myself only in the trembling
of a small body conjured by the sweet confusion of my desire.

I humbly praise this joy: how you show me where to receive
the gift of manna. I serve your breath redolent of milk.
I don’t sleep at night so day will shine more truly.


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Christopher Merrill




To My Few Friends


Above the herd of white cities and above
the fires that frame them, a scarlet kite
appears for a moment, guided by a child’s hand.
Come. Just follow me. It isn’t far to where
you will have a view of ripened fruit
as it remains, lying in wet grass:
the order must have been fulfilled.
Unbearable, yet necessary, like the horizon
that dams the light and softens
the defeat of human shadow.
You too will lie, it’s your habit.
Here you will count your handshakes
with the neighbors, errors in the language
and a horror of runaway troops, the biography
of castle walls, of streets and public squares,
saliva, heartbeat, sinew, semen,
some murals and portraits, forgettable
decrees. Come. Follow me. Here you will
shiver like I shiver, in labor and in love:
it is easy to live without memory, but not
without the legacy of what runs in the veins.
For now I pray apart, but I don’t want
to kneel in private forever—come,
follow me, since no one would dare
to go there alone, in stammering
and drizzle, even for a little while,
evaporating out of the visible world.


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Andrew Zawacki




Fidelity to the Sea


Liberation Street meanders uphill, I open
my nostrils wide, smelling Duino Castle
and the cliff face, lost in a land
that needs me as much as I need it, indifferent
to the book of hours and its rhythm
dictated to me years ago. Undying
smell of algae, the weight of dreams
made pure in the dark, the wild rose bush
and the deep sea, I leave them all behind
as I walk up. The fortress
like an animal, hibernating, hidden,
hidden from. Twilight of a stolen day
and look—there where the lens
won’t reach, a pair of legs is spread,
dampness rejecting the difference between
a pitcher and a bowl. Look,
how far from the safety of form
I let the gaze be seduced, as if there is
no other way from the tower it’s taken me
this long to conquer, but down into
the velvet glade where my exile began.
I descend feverishly, as though I might
miss out on something, as if this moment
I’m sinking into has been here
from the beginning, like a compass needle
faithful to the north.


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Andrew Zawacki




Eyewitness in the Garden


If it’s true that people call to each other
from solitude to solitude, call one another in vain,
then here, in front of thousands of faces
fixed like statues staring blank and blunt,
I want to look, for the last time, at a flower:
a poppy as it waits for rain, perhaps,
a crocus or tulip refusing to bend,
or an iris that blooms three hours
before it fades—it doesn’t matter.
I only want to make doubly sure
the world will be less than perfect
if you miss my being near. I just want
to take you in my hands, squeeze you
at the stem, weigh you and crush you
inside my fist, stagger and turn to liquid
and flow to where no place existed before.
In the air that inhales this fragrance
I want to breathe as long as there is breath,
to trickle through your hair and through
its roots, travel up the stiffened tube
all the way to the petals, at the top I want
to swear like a bead of water
the light shoots through, testify to the vertical
surge and make myself dizzy rising on my own.
The avalanche of blood in my fingers
takes away whatever power I had.
Forgive me if I’m a torrent of the past,
a memory that calls your name to make it stay.


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Andrew Zawacki




Last Resort


I like to go bareheaded, stick out my tongue,
I’ve got no interest in clay or how it’s handled,
and obey the law, if I can understand it.
I accept it like singing, less often like dancing,
an annual holiday. Since you’ve shown me
the narrow path to safety, my hope has grown.
Give me the loyalty nature lacks, give me
a chill in the bones to call out like a child. I will strike
like a camera’s flash through comma after comma,
through fog as it covers the fen. Can’t you make
an exception? Give me a life unlike other lives
which have to spell out the sky, make me move
vertical instead, into the porous earth:
an engine forces me downward, no stopping,
it drills a hole in the capillaries, almost
imperceptible and bent on serving you,
on licking you as if you were resin
the pilgrims were greedy for, in the poppy fields.
I put my tongue inside you to prove—as if
you needed proof—that you are not alone
when it floods you where you want. There is
only one world. I guard it without remorse.


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Andrew Zawacki




Columbus


I am a well-oiled rudder in your hands,
my will a beeswax candle wick. I hardly
ever burn without your consent.
I stand before you where many have stood,
a violence in my veins, I’m ready to drown
and chew on coral, the sandy ocean floor,
my future only a hint in front of me:
just say the word and a sounding line
will plumb the deepest part
where trembling is a form of salvation.
Like Moses faced with water that won’t
give way, waiting to be divided before
it covers all there is with oblivion,
inviting me by its odor, its color,
the shape it sets itself. Gathering
what little remains of my strength
and overflowing the edge, I rip your
cloak with my teeth. As a caravel
missing its compass and crew
will find its own way back to port,
I follow an order to anchor in this alcove,
saliva coating the wharf
at the small of your back.


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Andrew Zawacki




Sobering Up


Old men sleep near dogs in hallways, ignored
like past dictatorships, the dream of everything

that might have happened. Hey, lord,
what of my longing to look,

in dark palace bedrooms, at masters
decaying in saddles on the top decks of the Nina,

Maria and Pinta. I feel the soft salt
of the Atlantic under my feet, and people

stare at me, an intruder of sorts, surprised
and propped on the steps of their houses,

I’m no less startled to see in the backdrop
a void that gapes beneath the Southern Cross.

Residents wearing crimson shawls
count rosary beads and forecast the future

from bones of tribes long gone. Elevators
inside the glass towers in courtyards

sidle down and up, never reaching a tip
for ideas of fame and bravery to take off.

Passengers on this circular ride, idle for hours
at a time, stare at the walls go sliding by,

not touching them. They hide from each other
what binds them. O to arrive, on horseback or camel,

over mountains and the pale green Sargasso,
to this town where oddballs and stammering

philosophers are protected by the law
against disdain. They’re drained by now

like a plant under hot sun, a rotting flower,
a fine daze, they could do with fresh water,

their lips are chapped and dry, and swell,
stiffen in shock like an empty

pitcher’s echo. Today your name
is listened to, for the last time.


Translated by: Aleš Debeljak & Andrew Zawacki




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