Blesok no. 80-81, September-December, 2011
Canzone and Sirtaki
In Penzing by Vienna, I dropped in to the Salonika Greek Restaurant
The owner was a Sarajevo Serb, and when I said who I was,
no shortage of nibbles
On the house were slivovitz, cheese from there and Travnik
We stayed till late at night, until the casual guests
put the tables together
And the sound of sirtaki gave way to Bosnian love songs from smoke
"green leaves deck the upland"
It reminded me of a night like that in Grinsheim by Munich
two or three years ago, when I was a chance customer in the pizzeria
Casa Leone, the owner, a Croat from the Sava valley. The staff of the joint
were also Croats, refugees from Bosnia,
save for the cook, Italian, who gave a false ID
to the Italian dishes. Late at night,
the owner's wife switched off Modugno and started
Omer Beg, her body writhing to the rhythm of the belly dance
At that time, and now too, Bosnia had its bellum omnium in omnes
with concentration camps and mass deportations
War of waiter versus waiter, I thought
Of these poor swine who will for ever and ever bear their cross
Pointlessly perishing for this superfluous land
and then leaving it for ever, in some European dump opening up
Greek and Italian restaurants and in them in the small hour singing
their plaintive Oriental songs
Brotherhood and Sisterhood
If I could be born again
and I could choose, I would not choose
this language, or this vocaton
Or this sign of faith, or this faith
with no hope. I would not accept
murderers teaching me justice.
I would not choose this time
or this country with its want of consolation.
Or these brothers who
sold me out. Or this people that
yields its sons to the calf of gold.
I would cast off
my own name. Another time I'd choose
only you, whom every single
day a thousand times I touch with
glance of glory and devotion.
Translated by Graham McMaster
The Girls of My Youth
The girls of my youth, nausicaas
The girls of my youth, dianas, danaias, lolitas
they are only in their forties, but they are already gray haired, creased
foreheads, wrinkled hands
those “ladylike ones behind the sewing machines”
Many of them are already toughened, have already forgotten love
as a foreign language is forgotten.
The girls of my youth, ruths and sulamkas
The girls of my youth, sea fairies
have large and empty eyes
All of their tears they have depleted
But they were as if created for adultery, sisters of esther and judith
All of their adulteries they spent
in bomb shelters, in basements, in lines for bread
all of their sinful thoughts they bestowed upon the dead
Sometimes in passing they smile at me
but more with care, like a mother to a foolish child
When, during coffee, I mention missed opportunities
they say: you left, and you still feel up to it. You don’t know how it is
to be numb to everything
When winter gives birth to its child
Their heavy hair I sometimes ruffle in dreams
Their proud behinds I touch with the rustle of silk
Their small breasts I gently cover with palms
and I think: by god, in ten years they will all be dead
Quickly will die these goddesses of my youth
crushed by war, hunger and tears
those penelopes without suitors, brides with extinguished smiles
Those inaccessible secret wells of pleasure of long ago
those antigones that evoke emptiness, emptiness without hope
emptiness without echo
Translated by Sara Elaqad
Flowering Judas Tree in the Courtyard of
Old Vienna’s General Hospital, Now
The University Campus
The plant is cersis silliquastrum, they call it the Judas tree.
Through the window I watch its brittle branches singing
with pink flowers. Are they singing for me or for the harsh
carpenter who had them in mind for the gallows of his son’s killer?
Every fragile branch reminds me of Zweig
who spent his sick days in one of these rooms,
while she shyly waived to him, like a girl raped
by Karadzic’s patriots, somewhere in the Bosnian cliffs.
The one who caressed your flower and drank your smell
must have had to drink barbiturant venoral in the pampas of Rio
with his darling whose name was Charlotte Altmann,
forced to move from under his tree forever. They donated their fragile bodies
to their beloved homeland aus freiem Willen
und mit klaren Sinnen to show their gratitude for exile.
Dear Jesus, send to hell all those
Who take revenge on the innocent for your holy suffering.
Today around the flowering tree sit homeless men
and careless students, carry Yesterday’s World in their backpacks
as heavy assigned reading for an obligatory exam.
They read it intensely, day and night, like painful homework
even that what was read would be soon forgotten,
the same way the time of flowers of evil and hate that grow will be forgotten
as the branches forget the winter and frost and pain
every new year when the new spring and the new blossom come.
Hibiscus bushes billow in a dusky backyard of the campus, above a bench
on which two young bodies let themselves be intoxicated by a symphony of eternal love, as in the past,
At that moment a tall, hunched man from the south passes by,
thinking about yesterday’s world,
about the spring that brings back memories of booze that heals the wounds.
The world is dying in a murmur and unified in the noise and the cries
in the distant homeland where the past takes part in an orgy again,
where people die.
My pub is empty. One rundown house
at the end of the village, with a window on the moonlight.
Here alone I keep refilling my glass and drink until dawn,
and call for my loved ones, absent in my solitary wine.
And suddenly I hear voices, bass and accordion.
Everything that the soul could say, but didn’t know or dared
now meets together, word by word, into gloomy chronicles
and love finishes even before it even started.
My pub is empty. Only a rickety table and chair remains
in the place where long ago carefree coachman of eternity sat,
the one who flew kites and pushed a baby carriage
into the heights of joy, into the horizon where my soul
connects with the blue sky, my heart with the homeland.
Human evil is enormous, the poor little bird of love trembles
and I am giving all my best to keep it untouchable,
the thing that only remains.
My pub is empty. Scent of lavender and forest
are incense to the soul of those whose laugh was smothered.
They laugh above the labyrinth and the dust on my road
because they don’t understand fear, nor why to be cautious.
How will I recognize a face in this heavenly abundance
lying at the edge of a poor Herzegovina village?
I want to love you in a vineyard, in honey, in the fields of wild herbs.
But love ends before it even began.
In Belgrade, Ten Years after the War
Same picture in the frame of the hotel window:
businessmen in a hurry, city drifters,
new green trees that you notice for the first time,
the scent of the river that wafts around the side street like smoke,
young women who wound you with their beauty.
Everything is the same with the mornings, only you are the absolute
stranger in your own language, who stares into the distance
where the jurodivi were to get ready their hellish gangs,
where your future death began to sound like a scream of a gypsy violin,
beside the silence and indifference of those
who used to call you a brother poet.
The Danube is here more tranquil than on Kagran
where you walked ten years upstream, horrified.
Now you walk towards the mouth of the river, only a little lost in thought
like a man from whom was surgically removed
the ability to wonder and enjoy
the world, which still lures him to sin.
The Danube, which separates the brotherly nations, Donau
In the antique shop you turn the leaves of an old book by
the Poet Crnjanski, a light illuminates your
A+ mark in Serbo-Croatian from long ago:
We have nothing, not a God, nor a master.
Our God is blood.
Apartment in Paradise
In front of the Heavenly tribunal
after the Supreme Court judge reads
the list of my biggest mortal sins
if they ask for the last word of the accused
before the final judgment
I’ll say: Lord, give me
one small apartment
at the entrance to Hades
because I am used to living in fire.
The only thing I ask is that in the rooms beside mine
live four Croats,
two Serbs and three Bosniaks,
one German, one Italian who speaks German,
and one Hungarian
with whom I have shared beautiful unbearable days
of my temporary existence.
Also there should be eight women there
whose nationality was never of interest to me
and who have told me
that paradise exists:
Vesna, with the sky blue eyes,
Ljiljana, Selma, the “blue angel”
Elke, Milena, who will be with me when at midnight
I’ll stagger through the underground streets), Senada,
Carmen, who has shown me a paradise without love,
and Fatima hurija from Heaven
And, Lord, please make sure
that the barmen Miki is also there,
and air conditioning.
That much, Lord, I hope I have earned
by roaming through your
And luxury apartments, heavenly gardens,
give to those who enjoyed them on earth.
In a little forest above Lake Boracko we found a meadow
and the wooden hut that we rented for a week.
In the morning the village women would sell us sour cream and cheese
and raspberries. I have spread a little basket of raspberries on your
naked belly, then I fished them out with my tongue.
The trace of raspberries on the alabaster of your belly
resembled a large bloody stain.
Days of joy and sex were showering us like golden dust
and disappeared in rattling coaches on the dusty stony road,
Our bodies were the signs on the stone road.
Our bodies were chalk that got wasted
while drawing obscure signs on the blackboard of time.
Today, leaning on the big white cushion,
you offer me the raspberry that remains from your hospital plate,
unaware that my imagination calls for pictures from the time of raspberries.
Now I love you more, much more.
My love protects you with its porous umbrella,
love that waited for a long time now comes in the moment when you don’t expect it,
at the moment when your face gets pinched from the pain.
Translated by Goran Simić