Blesok no. 77-79, March-August, 2011

Face to Face

Ana Ristović

Useless Gifts

On the eve of the outbreak of war
a Belgian friend arrived:
for days, hesitant salty palms
rubbed his ship like herd’s grass.

Together with him useless gifts arrived:
gardening scissors for a non-existent garden,
a ski-suit for a non-existent skier,
a mountaineering rucksack for non-existent journeys,
a map of a Flemish town, like cobwebs under glass
for an empty wall that does not exist.

And long thin Turkish cigarette holders made of rosewood
whittled by himself, so long
that the smokers in the tiny room collided
crossing them like burning spears.

They were made for greater distances –
a large terrace would do, a drawing room
or a picnic in the field.
Also, the smoke should be exhaled slowly, for this wood
absorbs it: tiny maggots drown in it
feeding on the smoke

Thus spake he
while the cigarette holder stuck out
of his hermit-like beard and hair
like the beak of a hoopoe searching through
a non-existent nest in the air.

In a time of portents his gifts
portended different uses:

Necessary distances, as there are fewer and fewer
things that can be drawn in-between:

Burning trees, saturated with smoke,
growing on non-existent soil;

Absent recipients.

Translated by Novica Petrović

On the Usefulness of Music

No sooner had a time of upheaval started
than the director of the opera opted for irony
by closing himself inside a concert piano,
having shot four air-holes in it with a Beretta

For a while the walls of the empty hall
echoed his soliloquy
sent into the air through the music barrel –

On the usefulness of music, in a time of upheaval –

The gong is to be placed in the field in place of a cauldron,
the bells are to be lowered onto the sacks of flour and salt,
the gold coin and buttons into the yawning openings of trumpets,
while the jars of jam and lard are to be placed into the pianos
lined up in well-lit entrance halls
like black turtles frozen
in the act of pulling their heads into their shells;

Notes containing secret messages are to be strung
along violin strings piled up and tossed
among the fishing rods;

A child without a cot might be placed
inside a modified double bass;

The Army, too, would be much happier if rations
were handed out using tambouritzas*
instead of small ladles;

Drumsticks are to be offered to the local police force
for there is always skin stretched tighter than drums;

For better control of the melody
jingle bells are to be moved from sleighs onto caps,
even music evolves when moved from lower to upper regions;

The greater the silence the more loudspeakers there are,
tape-recorders to record the unrecognized vibration;

The silencer market is to be busted,
flags are to be hung on bows;

And the privileged domain of sound carriers,
multipliers of the already-vanished tone,
is to be left to the silent rocks alone:
the distance separating their states of amnesia
will never be violated;

Music gives instruments up easily
in a time of upheaval, the whole world belongs to it
should it forget its tools –

Thus rattled he, a dry seed inside the piano:
the director of the empty stage and curtains
forever raised like folded-up sails …

No sooner had he opted for irony than he was lowered into the cellar
on the backs and by the hands of stokers and porters,
for polished wood is good for kindling
when the hall needs to be warmed up
for the coming of the choir

And the piano keys – like dominoes – are to be stuffed into a sack,
someone is bound to come up with
rules for a new game.

Translated by Novica Petkovic

*tambouriza (tamburica) - (pronounced /tæmˈbʊərɪtsə/ or /ˌtæmbəˈrɪtsə/) or Tamboura (Croatian: Tamburica and Serbian: Тамбурица/Tamburica, meaning Little Tamboura, Hungarian: Tambura, Greek: Ταμπουράς, sometimes written tamburrizza) refers to any member of a family of long-necked lutes popular in Eastern and Southern Europe, particularly Croatia (especially Slavonia), northern Serbia (Vojvodina) and Hungary. It is also known in parts of southern Slovenia and eastern Austria. All took their name and some characteristics from the Persian tanbur but also resemble the mandolin, in that its strings are plucked and often paired. The frets may be moveable to allow the playing of various modes. The body of the instrument is made of a hollow gourd.

Snow in your Shoes

One does not build a house collecting cutlery
even though a few extra spoons
come in handy sometimes.

One does not build a house from new curtains
even though different views
from time to time
should be shielded by new cloth.

For a home to be a home, among other things
you need a lot of things
you would gladly renounce
in advance.

Listen to what Eskimos say:
to build a good igloo,
for years you have to carry
snow in your shoes.

And a safety pin, forgotten
in your coat collar,
near the jugular.

Translated by: Novica Petrović

Beautiful Dead Seas

From day to day all I give you are things that evaporate:
mist over asphalt, mist in pockets
and fields stripped bare by beastly words.
Instead of a ticket for two
I offer you passages through the eyes of needles.
From day to day, I pour in front of your feet
beautiful dead seas.

We live by counterfeiting
chronic freedom: the address is known.
Between the main prison and the old sugar works
where poets used to end up, and where now
other down-and-outs gather vanished delights.

But I think all I need is one town:
the network of streets created by your veins.
Tent and refuge provided by your skin.
And that your hair is the Birnam forest
that will come towards me even
while I stand rooted, like a candle:
burning too strongly sometimes sticks me to the ground.
I deceive myself that water pouring
from mouth to mouth is enough,
even when it turns to ice.

In your land of the young with overmature minds
I am an immature girl who needs to be led by the hand.
In mine, were time had come to a standstill a long time ago,
I carry the soul of the old and the views of a wise bitch.

Your are telling me I have to get used to
a new aggregate state:
what evaporates in the boiling south
you change here by handwork into water
which you can sell for goods.

You bend over,
rest your heavy head in your hand:
your sigh increases the distance
between our two half-empty glasses;
mine pushes them to the edge of our table.

"I buy immediately, but I pay with my body", I say
and lick a droplet of sweat off your brow:
it seemed to me to glow like
the end of a cigarette.

"Too much comparison kills even a poem,"
I hear you say, seeing that your
entire hair and cheeks are already aflame:
only I don’t know whether because of excitement
or despair.

Translated by: Evald Flisar


Day and night, night and day
we’re travelling to Slovenia:
in the little bus, the silence between us
growing like
a town cut off from the Earth and the Universe.

Still enigmas, like two
lazy flies, each curled up
alongside her window 

She, a little old woman, Maruška maybe –
in her lap crumbles a cookie brand-named
as if newly separating a monad from monad
and smiles, staring into the darkness
of the world which is still
the best of all worlds …

She who knows harmony 
Maruška, Blažka, Mojca maybe.

In my lap, in a bad light,
on a bad road, I crumble poetry,
page by page, word by word and I hear:
Srečko Kosovel* renounces happiness
because every beauty is part of pain.

In his verses
there is no excuse for God
and the monads He sends
never reach the Earth:
like a deceptive snow they evaporate
in the first layer of the sky.

In my lap, the book of the poet
whose name has in advance renounced
harmony with his heart and soul.

Day and night, night and daz
we travel to Slovenia,
she and I, still unknown to each other …

And the whole universe rocks
on our knees
as if wanting to separate from sleepy God
and find complicity
gently whispering into our ears:
"We’re brothers, born of the same father…"

Translated by: Evald Flisar

*Srečko Kosovel (1904 –1926) was a Slovenian expressionist poet who evolved towards avant-garde forms. Since the 1960s, Kosovel has become a poetic icon, in the league of the most prestigious Slovene literates like France Prešeren and Ivan Cankar. He produced an impressive body of work of more than 1000 poems with a quality regarded as unusually high for his age. Most of his works were published almost four decades after his early death.

Face to Face

Days for last testaments, days for confessions: the first poem
in which I said "I",
entering words as if sewing a button on my breast pocket
with my eyes closed.
On my left side, above my very heart.

I guard it by stitching with care
because I read somewhere that
sincere poetry is tailored
when you convince your heart that you have left it.

When you have no more words
about love, trembling, punishment,
not even about things that gave your memory
a wide berth,
then the unspoken
expresses itself; and only then

do I become responsible for
what I am not,
and what I may yet become.
Each word descends slowly
like the point of the needle,
looking for the right distance from skin and heart.

For the measure of still bearable sincerity.
For the skill of a tailor who does not hide his face behind cloth.
For the moral of the story whispered for centuries
by old Hassidic men close to a warm wall:

About the Earth which is only God’s thimble –
a way of protecting His hand
from our pain
when the needle slips.

Translated by: Evald Flisar


Evening after evening my mother reads
The Way of the Samurai
every new morning is like the whiteness of the body
showing through
the slightly open black kimono 
the tip of blade should be stuck in
as deep as possible.

One should struggle with the day
like with skin always ready
for seppuku.

By the head of the bed, instead of the Bible
Mishima’s book should be held
with its cover resembling a box made of tiny linden boards.

Even the saddest truth
should be carefully plucked from it, as if it were
a cherry flower
that two little demons 
the demon of remembrance and the demon of oblivion 
ritually bow to at the same time.

Evening after evening my mother studies
the secrets of samurai: before she goes to sleep
she marks her spot in the book with the needle
she slides from the wakened volcano
of her unbraided bun.

Only she knows: there is
another, as yet unwritten law claiming
that years are a curtain made of paper birds
one should squeeze through
keeping silent,
not making a single one swing
by wrong words or excessive breathing.

One should permit only
the gentle sound of little wings
behind one’s back.

Translated by: David Albahari and Richard Harrison


While white-washing the apartment
I decided on a book purge,
but threw away only the catalog of editions from ’85
and a few books of poetry.

From then on the shelves swayed and creaked
like some distant tubercular lungs
and persistently stuck in Dostoevsky’s
flat like meta-punishment.

And every night from your name, Osip M*
the snare travels to my neck
and the head descends to her alone:
you have all my telephone numbers.

Translated by: Brian Henry

*Osip M. (Osip Mandelstam, Russian poet)

Spring Trade

Some little bird
spoke two, three words
and shat on the terrace, ashine with sun.

So this little bird,
still a matchbox
that outgrew its wingspan.
His eyes only half phosphoric grains.

From the small shit
grew a four-leaf

our luck speaks in an animal language
and in the language of good digestion,
outdoing its causes
and not choosing the spot where I would land.

It must keep quiet, truly:
if he mentions
the sun above us,
it changes
into golden gallows.

Translated by: Brian Henry

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