Blesok no. 99, November-December, 2014

Across the street from Spinozas house

Damir Šodan


dear Beyoncé
a few months before 9/11
I saw you on the Upper East Side
near Central Park
where together with your band  
Destiny's Child

up on the makeshift stage
on the back of a flatbed truck
- probably as part of some advertising campaign -
painfully sensual
and scantily dressed
you launched into a series of your hits:
Bills, Bills, Bills, Bug a Boo, Bootylicious, Survivor…

I managed to squeeze through the crowd
and get real close to the stage
only to be shocked suddenly
by the golden bolt of your gaze

it felt like being whipped
by an electrical sea anemone
fuelled by the flapping of a thousand wings
of Tesla's pigeons still nesting
on the roof of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel:

it was a sensation
more profound and powerful
than the mightiest satori
so I did everything in my power
to fight it off
painfully stretched like a Laocoön
between your watery reptilian pupils
dumbfounded and pounded
into the NYC asphalt
in my worn-out All Star sneakers
close to the intersection of 59th Street
and Fifth Avenue
not far from the Pulitzer fountain.

desperately trying
in my misery to wriggle out of that forceful
magic grip of yours
I began thinking all kinds of twisted thoughts
remembering Balkan war criminals
the living skeletons behind barbed-wire fences
of their concentration camps
remembering mad cow disease
the throbbing heads of poisoned cattle
remembering the Croatian political scene
and all that endless inter-party bickering
remembering the prophecies and auguries
of Magda Logomer,
the 18th century witch of Križevci
remembering the black-clad right-wingers
and the profound and mysterious ways
of the Croatian
post-socialist Transition,
remembering new-agers attending all those courses
for spiritual renewal,
remembering the stigmas
of a certain initiate from one of our islands
remembering my mom's Vileda cleaning rags
and those black circles underneath Yuri Gagarin's eyes
remembering the Bonobo chimpanzees
who resolve all of their political disputes by means
of mutual masturbation,
remembering Agol, the Devil's star, that darkens every
two days twenty hours and fifty-three minutes,
remembering the Christmas photographs
of my uncle
taken in the early 70s in faraway Canberra,
wherein the whole family poses in checkered shirts
on a shiny lawn
next to neatly grown flowerbeds
as their faces glow silvery reflected
onto the shiny hood of a brand new Holden
& further down
-  following the same train of thought -
all the way to Lijanović's imported hams
100% pure kangaroo meat
and the wail of homeless didgeridoos
rumbling down the Amsterdam sidewalks…

but nothing helped

because in the flaming blaze of your gaze
that you whipped me with so stunningly
I could see – as if bewitched – a good deal of my future
(not liking it one bit for it felt so wet and wooden
like freshly cut up tuna fish)
and I realized that I wouldn't remain much longer
with the woman standing beside me
at that very moment
although we were exceptionally tender and intimate
with each other and even had lunch
that very afternoon at Woody Allen's Carnegie Deli
polishing off sizable and tasty
Broadway Danny Rose sandwiches
and then photographed each other
underneath a rusty fire escape in Little Italy
above which someone forgot to take off
a glowing neon sign that read
Perfect Relationship

but nothing seemed to work,
because that look of yours Beyoncé
said it loudly and clearly:

many a desert thou shall cross
before what – you forgot to add…

and so I'm sitting here all alone
in a foreign country
in an apartment above a dingy coffee-shop
with an exceptionally good selection
of Moroccan hashish
(Tbisla, King Hassan, Caramello, Polm, Zero…)

whose smoke is drilling through the dried-out wooden floors
of this ancient Dutch heren-huis
as I'm writing these simple but honest
almost mim-ethical lines for you,  
La Belle Dame Sans Merci,

Beyoncé Giselle Knowles,
you wondrous beauty!

so this one's for you,
dear Beyoncé,
Honey Bunny,
sweet child of mine,

for you my divinely proportioned and dark-complexioned
Destiny's child
who so efficiently, irrevocably
almost biblically foretold my fate
between two fiery r'n'b flips
of those shiny locks of yours
so cruel and exacting
like those curvy lines on the skin
of that python of fortune
that just as well might have been
an ordinary circus animal
whose legitimate trainers
answer to the names of one Moira
and Orpheus.


so here I am again
observing certain ladies
in the small alley
across the street from Spinoza's house,
how ten or so years ago
some of us landed here
‘round about the same time
in desperate search of jobs
reaching with every limb
for those ripe fruits of the democratic West
(or however you'd like to put it):  

these ladies subjected to
monetary and flesh exchange
and me pursuing the articles, paragraphs
and subparagraphs
of my esteemed Institution.

and immediately
I begin to realize
that even after a decade
buried in a foreign country
we still have a lot in common:

flexible working hours
suspicion towards other foreigners
and similar modes
of hustling.

I see the absent-minded Heloïse
weaving some embroidery
and Alina
swiftly changing stations on her red transistor-radio
and Amra and Jammila
laughing heartily as they pat the bald head of their big black
while I push
my bicycle
(like a wheel of destiny)
thinking how
at this very moment
from Spinoza's window
all the way to the last booth with the red lights on
freely and easily bloom and open
(on the whims of Euclidian geometry)
a thousand flowers
of some invisible Bermuda triangle
composed of human petals
dipped deep in the mud
of a so-called better life
like those stones trapped in the kidney channels
of our third-world bodies
that we dragged over here
like decanted sand boats from our Byelorussias, Ukraines,
Kirgisias, Ghanas, Romanias, Croatias…

only to end up staring at each other
in silence like those eels
in the aquariums
of Chinese restaurants;

and even if somebody would
turn us upside-down
slap us all over and connect us
to some cosmic polygraph
he would sadly be unable
to squeeze out of us
a single line
from Baruch's great Ethics.


anyway, those days they cracked down
on our people damn hard.
Hasan's kid was killed right before his eyes
when they brought him to the camp to identify his dad.

but they really took offence with me
because I was a doctor, a bachelor, I had studied abroad.    
plus my parents worked in Germany
and I owned three motorcycles: a Yamaha DT175, a Laverda 750S

and that old Zündapp with a passenger sidecar
that I called: "the Kraut!", but as soon as the bus
stopped at the gates I realised if I passed that guard
post – it was all over for me!

maybe some lucky fellow would stand a chance, but not me!
that's why I waited to be the last in line, lingering
for a while on the other side of the bus, pretending to tie my shoelace
and when I saw the last man walking through

and those heavy iron gates closing behind him,
I slowly stood up, and with my hands in the pockets
of my leather Avirex pilot jacket,
started walking slowly down the road.

I remember it clearly as if it had happened today.
I even whistled so they wouldn’t figure me out,
that tune by Denis & Denis:
"I'll be your computer program"!

God knows why that song came to me,
because as local pop goes, I always preferred Atomsko sklonište
and that crippled singer of theirs
because somehow they sounded honest and raw;

so there I was, walking like that for a while
light as a feather, though my feet were as heavy
as a two-ton refrigerator truck!
and then, coming upon the first bend, I dashed

into a cornfield where I spent the next five days.
what did I eat?
the bark off trees
munching it like the Partisans did -- ha ha -- only there weren't
any trees in sight, let alone a Partisan.

so I stumbled one morning onto the asphalt road
and collapsed. luckily, a bunch of international humanitarians
came by and picked me up and then --
onwards to Zagreb! Via Zagabria! and there

long lines at counters, huge crowds and pissing rain
for a good seven days. as for the bikes -- they never found them;
one remained in the garage at my aunt's and the other two
are still rotting beneath the tarpaulin in the barn.

after Adam Zagajewski

father and his father
stomp down the gravel road
all the way to the town to see a football game.

high noon buzzes through the young summer air;
the roar of cicadas is in the pine trees…
glassy hoppers glint in the grass:

the Mediterranean
as we once knew it

– is still there.

a bit further to the north
the airy crowns of convicts
melt under the belting Sun;

dripping like the sweat underneath
their sleeveless white T-shirts
as their sad and bitter sigh

carries itself all the way to the grey Maltese docks
then echoing out into the icy mountains
of the Altai region in the far east.

somewhere behind Žrnovnica
grandfather, like an ancient lizard,
suddenly scowls his fissured face;

wincing from his tight shoes
that are killing him,
that damn pair of footwear

he shares with his first cousin,
a locksmith who compulsively steals rusty pliers
and steel nails from the dusty workshop

of the local power-plant,
absolutely unable to explain to himself for what
purpose in the devil's name he needs them all for.

simultaneously, in a Dedinje salon in Belgrade,
Tito cracks jokes as comrades
from the Central Committee laugh raucously

while he tries out his new metallic
- polished as a dog's balls -
light duty lathe machine.

all across the country
generations with pointed chins, much like Modigliani's,
are busy building Socialism

with a human face;
the system
that would gradually, like mean drops of vitriol
burn a deep hole in their souls.

but in father's head
the world still bubbles unexplored,
floating like a translucent jellyfish across the unsailed sea,

as he daydreams of a new DKW motorcycle
as black and shiny as Silvana Mangano's high heels
and as powerful as Mons Jerko's untied robe.

so in my thoughts
- for I can't help it -
I worry endlessly about that boy,

because I know his ride
will be an uncertain and long one.
I wish I could tell him not to worry,

to relax and take it easy for everything will
more or less someday fall into place.
but words fail to leave me:

perhaps I have no mouth to speak them yet,  
perhaps I'm not around as much as I should be,
perhaps I'm still only - slowly but surely - just getting there.

Translated by: the author and Majda Bakočević



the first thing I see
every morning
is Dee Dee's reproving gaze

the man is no moralist,
but his knowing, junkie eyes
have that effect

they give me the urge to start my day off
by apologising to everything: from the flowers in the Ikea vase
to the Pentecostal Church across the street

but in the end
like a born opportunist
I sneakily manage to avoid it

leaning further to the right is Joey
the perpetually understated

with hips like a Russian gymnast
and the hair of a crazy headmistress,
a shaggy Heraclites from Queens

he tells you that everything can change,
that at any moment you can be snatched by a dark avatar,
or end up blacklisted by a secret sect, trade, ministry, cabinet or committee

on the far left - oh the irony! - is the Nazi-schatzi marmot
Johnny, whose face says that he’s in it
(the band, not the picture)

only for the money, the papers, the royalties
and Joey’s ex-girlfriend, leading the former to pen him the ditty
The KKK Took my Baby Away!

beside him stands the amiable Tamás Erdélyi,
aka Tommy Ramone, a Holocaust survivor, born in Budapest,
now a mandolin player with his own bluegrass band,

the steady compass and last remaining member
of the legendary foursome’s first line-up, dubbed by Spin magazine
- alongside The Beatles - as the greatest r n’r band of all time.

so these are my four morning perspectives:
the four blackbirds of Wallace Stevens,
my wife’s four zen-jokes,

who carefully guard
the gentle rebelliousness of her Anglo-American
maiden roots,  

all those innocent and rosy dreams
of a perfect world, where Courtney, like Amfortas,
still embraces her dead Kurt

while poet Ann Lauterbach
wallows endlessly in her affectations,
like the ethereal essence of mannerism,

and Germaine Greer lives in a home
on three acres, with two dogs, sixteen geese
and a fluctuating number of pigeon wings,

a world so far removed
from my toothless Balkan accordionists
and their bloody war cries,

a world where it’s perfectly natural
for high school girls to dream of translucent, expensive,
engagement rings,

and shiny, kitschy and smooth,
huge like the lobby of Fitzgerald’s Ritz,

even though these are nothing more
than transitional objects,
as psychologists call them,

which we use to clip the wings
of that sweet bird of youth
before she turns her back on us for good.

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