Blesok no. 50, September-October, 2006

House of Language
Translated by: Mia Dintinjana

Josip Osti

Do the dead divide us from the living

Do the dead divide us from the living, my sister,
my brothers? We all have a tear in our eyes,
even as we lough loudly. Valerija, Sargon,
Gagik, Stevan, Josip… A prayer or a mockery?
Are we returning to Ararat, into the epic
of Gilgamesh? Will this wind, the wind of all winds,
tear away, who knows where, the house under whose roof
our frozen hearts have sought shelter, along with us all?

We used to read the same poems

We used to read the same poems once, bearers
of destiny,
my peers, fellow travellers in writing,
who now assault and defend the city.
The city where my mother lives, or to be more precise,
is dying together with my old Siamese cat,
who used to curl up in the lap of many
among you as it sits in hers. In our youth,
the epics were the aesthetics. Time, though,
has confirmed our different reading
of poetry, and our different interpretations. Some,
perhaps less mindful of form, learned from the tortured,
whereas others, constantly counting the syllables
and checking the rhyme, learned from the torturers.
For some, poems were a guidebook
to enduring even unbearable pain, to others
a manual for inflicting unbearable suffering.
Today there is ample proof, indisputable and soaked in blood,
to the many different meanings of a poem, just as there is
innumerable, even more indisputable and bloodstained
evidence, to the many purposes of the knife.

The poem was and always will be your only home, Marina Tsvetaeva

The poem was and always will be your only home,
Marina Tsvetaeva! Today I know this with more certainty
than ever, myself a homeless man who remembers,
like you did, the acrid taste of the fruit tasted long ago,
from the branch of a tree in a faraway native town,
and even more distant childhood. In a time so
comparable to yours for its abundance of evil and misery
that there is no need of stating how the hysteria of history
repeats itself. Myself of the same age in which you,
taking long before coming to this decision, at the threshold
of reaching fifty, had finally left this world. Feeling
the lingering warmth of the rope that embraced
your neck with more passion than the hands of any lover.  
Compassionate towards everything that befell you,
intense, and wild-haired, made of seeing and hearing,
of silver and sparkling, on the sombre paths
of life, and as you made your way
through the virgin blankness of paper. Blinded
by its whiteness. Intoxicated with the music of the spheres
which poured through your lines like cascades of light.
Separated, like you were, from your loved ones,
whom life took from both of us as ruthlessly
as only death can separate. The life
which exposed you, self-willed from your youth
but upright, even in the fiercest storms, and lavished
abundantly with the priceless treasure of your gift,
to the ordeals of hardship and human conceit,
to misapprehension in your homeland and in foreign lands.
To humiliation. To horror and despair.
The life which punished you unduly,
inexorably. Which flogged you for your every joy,
every sinful laughter. With your body,
with the fruit of your womb wasting
in camps and dying on the front lines, you paid dearly
for your every line. The incurable sleeplessness and
racking hunger I should not even mention. Nor, likewise,
the unbearable loneliness, which goes without saying,
like your love, which you did not hide.
Your stubborness and your battling against the clock
and fate. Even so, untimely death separated you from
your mother, then the father, and the husband,
just as it had separated you prematurely from your children.
Or perhaps gathered you all, at last, together in the home
you had never made. If there is a home at all for anyone
condamned to the emigrees' platform! A home for those
who were strangers in every home, whether they were
fleeing or returning, like you, who had refused
to howl with the pack.
And your writing desk was your only homeland,
as it is in the end to every poet.
Sitting up late behind it you wrote your testament.
Your poems that grew, as you yourself
used to say, like the stars and like roses. Believing,
despite everything, that their time will come,
like the time of a good vintage.
You wrote letters to Pasternak and Rilke. … The letters
which I read as if they were also meant for me, just as all
my letters are also meant for you. You, whose soul has
wings from birth,
who were taken, weary to death,
to immortality by the train of life. Who had no one
to walk with you to your resting place, and whose grave
remains unknown. You who in death possess as much
as you possessed in life: everything and nothing.
For the poem was and always will be
your only home, Marina Tsvetaeva!
Your home and your tomb. Your eternal
dwelling place. A house I enter as my own.
Without knocking.

Books – angels, house gods

Books – angels, house gods – you crowded
my  apartment in Sarajevo. Shelves stacked full – an altar
before which I stood so many times, humbled,
wondering which one to reach for, what secret to try
to unravel, where to leave the traces of reading.
Traces of rapture and appreciation. Questions
and exclamations of sleeplesness and fear.
The mysterious glyphs of different
lines, dots, and many other pencil marks.
Slight, as well as rough scars on paper, words of  love
and anger  scribbled in illegible hand on the margins
and between the lines. And I knew that no matter how much
I read there would always be incomparably more
of the unread, that books will continue
to hold the hidden treasure I have searched for
all my life. In this, my only consolation was knowing
that the search itself is a greater treasure.
Books – angels, house gods – you crowded
my writing desk, my confessional. Where I made myself
lonely with you and conversed with you more honestly
than with any other person, not even the closest
and the dearest. Openly, as a man alone
with himself. To your open heart
I opened mine. Before your  bared soul I laid
mine. To you  I confessed all my trespasses. All desires.
Intents… Before you, I stood as I was
born of the mother. Naked.
Dropping my masks, one after another.
Shedding my skin… You lay on the floor,
everywhere, piled next to my pillow
on the bedside cabinet. Even when I sank to sleep
with the one chosen from your ranks that evening,
you were illumined by the lamp. I carressed it,
just as I carressed, dreaming, the body
of a woman with whom I fell asleep.
And was awakened in the middle of the night or at dawn
by the sharp edges of the covers. The edges of reality
rougher than a nightmarish dream. Books –
angels, house gods – in my hands and before
my eyes you unfolded your wings, like rustling silk
under the fingers of merchants and buyers, eager
to wrap the naked body of a woman, echoing the waves
of the ocean sailed by the ship that has brought it
from distant lands. As if doves were alighting on my open
palms, and taking off. As if I, too, had grown wings.
The wings of angels that have protected me
since childhood from many human evils. The wings of gods
I believed in and swore on. The wings that even today
take me to the city of my birth. To the city sunken
in darkness. Which – like you, books – angels,
house gods – like you, rests awake
in this grim night. Just as I used to lie there
so many times in grim darkness. Awake.
In love. Or, like the city, punished unjustly.

I am building a house anew

I am building a house anew. From inarticulate voices.
From chains of catterpillars. From tufts of nettles in bloom…
From clipped nails, wisps of cut-off hair, dried
semen turned to white dust. From screams in a dream
out of which I will never awake. I am building it
in a meadow gone wild, where a woman lay
naked, with a golden cloud in her eyes and a peony blossom
on her breast. Mother of all mothers and lover of all
lovers. Overgrown with ivy. With an anthill under
each armpit. With a tuft of grass in place of pubic hair.
And with a ladybird on a blade of grass swayed by an invisible wind
and the coolness wafting from a poet's grave. With a cow's
piss dripping on her, mingling with large drops of warm milk.
With the smell of jasmine that gushes from the ashes
of her memory, moving a lock of hair off her forehead. I am building a house.
A chapel and a brothel. A house even more vacant and sad
than it was before this thought of mine about a tiny place
in which a poem needs to be completed
in the same way a life ends, flowing
out of the veins cut by a rusty razor.
A small place where I can, painlessly, give birth to my mother,
as she gave birth to me. My mother who kept,
right until her death, the news of which still
hasn't reached me, my umbilical cord
and a lock of my once long fair hairin a flaxen bag
on the bottom of a closet made of walnut wood.
I am building a house anew. Out of nothing. For no-one.
A house made of language.

Have no other brothers but poets

I have no other brothers but poets. Those
with whom I share the good and the evil of this world.
Rare joys and incurable grief. My pain
and the pain of another. Human suffering and sleeplessness.
Masters who keep their skill a secret,
and their even more able apprentices. Minters
of false sovereigns that are yet worth
more than gold. Those who smile
with a tear in their eye. Who sing
of those they have never seen, and sleep
pressing to their breast or burning cheeks books
written by those they will never see or meet.
Bearers of light, knights of lustful longing,
boys who will never grow up… I have
no other brothers but poets. Those who turn
the light on and off in the universal twilight.
Who lead on and seduce, without knowing
where they go. Who steal to be able to give.
Who fight the two-headed dragon of tenderness
and cruelty within. Who cannot be touched,
but are easily hurt. Of pale skin, blood
underneath it, as in any other human being.
Better and worse than any other human being.
Victim and evildoer rolled into one.
Dark angels of doom and self-destruction,
hungry for the glory and power they despise.
Paragons of virtue and master scoundrels.
Who die while they are living, but live on
even after they are dead.

Have I been left without a language?

Have I been left without my tongue,
the only possession that I still have left?
Everything is and isn't in a name,
I say in the nameless tongue
with which I speak to myself
and all things around. Does my tongue,
cut in two by the sharp blade of a knife,
wiggle like a snake's? Aren't gentle words whispered
even by snakes entwined in a dead knot?
And their offspring, fruit of a poisonous love,
that expose their beautiful naked forms
to the sun all day long? Should I learn to speak anew,
or forever fall silent
and only gaze at you endlessly,
my soul, and caress you?

created by