Contents
 

 
Books

I Wear My Shadow Inside Me

Inside me

I wear my shadow
inside me
no-one can measure
it by the sun.

My signposts spread
along my blood
it’s no good
trying to detect me.


Inkling

Not yesterday
not tomorrow
just an instant’s inkling.

I am
you are
and again the end.


Just so you’ll know

Just so you’ll know
it does happen
that heaven
descends
deep in the earth
it does happen
and you never know
when or how
trought disappears
soul dissolves.


Grant me

Grant me the gift
of glad song

of a bird soaring
in evening glory

of the darling word
of genesis

till its fine stem
chimes
in my breast.


It’ll be

When our eyes
meet and merge
then tell me the word
stuck in your throat.

It,ll be as if
I’d just missed death
as if we,d just met
and recognised each other.


Let me be a sign

Let me be
neither blood
nor flesh

let me be a step
a quiet word
of a beginning

let me be a sign in the sky
let somebody else
breathe in me.


Words

A wordgift when uttered
lasts longer than memory.
Unadorned and unassuming
words of love
come rare and sudden
as love itself.
Yield up those words.
Let their difficult gift
pass your lips.
Yield up at least the shadow
of what I most want to hear.
The rest I can build by myself.


Dream of love

If love fails to give you much
love then with gentler touch,
love with purer selflessness,
fuller joy
and deeper gladness,
for the more one yields
the more remains.


Love

If it is true that suffering ends
only when new pain descends,
if love is only clarified
in heart and mind when love has dried,
withered, lost itself, and died,
then we merely love what caused us pain
and all we loved, loved in vain.


Truth

Telling the truth is no more than speaking naturally.
Courage is bearing sleeplessness without and
searching across the blurred horizon
spending nights out in the cold
and on the palm of a still warm hand
making sacrifice to a song
and a time that will never come.


It doesn’t matter why

You didn’t turn up.
This bread this soundlessness
this wine are witness
and this table where everything
shudders in confusion
before my closed door
while I burn aut
instead of the candle.


Note I

In the sky
tonight
instead of
my star
my own image
spreads out
trying hard
not to open
the devil eye
from the face
of this mirage.


Clock

By which clock shall the time
of years without summer be reckoned?
How shall the untended
fruits be named?
On which side shall death be skirted
by one olready dead?


Ring-a-by

What can cast light on me
Now the soul is leaving and summer’s over?

Who can I come back to
now I have neither
you nor myself?

Shall I light another
magic lantern to shine
dream on another’s image?


Dream by dream

Dream by dream
we’re getting more real

further from the full rainbow
further from glad lips

dream by dream
we’re fleeing ashes

over-ripe soil
fire-blasted stone

invincible
we hide in the word

the word our world-wound
and whole human strength.


Spell

I raise my eyes
lights are going on
in all the windows
I raise my hand
lulled music starts
I open my mouth
everything’s moving
only the word sticks in my throat.


You know

You come
seek shelter
open your mouth
but there’s no more
you on the horizon
you know
you remain in all
you’ve loved
so there you are
in every fruit
growing together
yoked by sunlight
trough now the voice
is no longer a word
but a dry
grass blade no
cloud approaches.


Night

A pearled thought
ripened
in the eye
a pine tree
over plashing water
night
is a silent betrayal
of light almighty.


Evening calm

The hours pass slow
drop by drop
they glide down the dream
rough skinned
bareback rider
shriek piercing
holes in the song
eyes shutting
out this world.

I’m pursued
by a soundless
massive shadow
of unbridled troughts.
There’s nothing
out of shadow
except you
just an unreal evening.
Pointless.
Timeless.
And again calm.


Two spells

Two spells are conjured up by night,
either the thousands of lamps we light,
each with its individual spark
to chase out sorrow, dispel dark,
or our small suns’ inner rays
living in us, each in each,
beaming where the sun of days
in all its radiance dare not reach.


Before dusk

In a multi-mirrored image
the sky
has rolled out horizonless shadow.
Trough a trick
the bowl is drained
by ebb tide.
Ripe fruit
gathers
in a little lap.

Nothing is left
for you to remember
no bird no rain
nor glowing wreath
around your head.

Last light before dusk
quietly eddies
into the sails.
What we have lost
remains in us.

Let it go for good.
Heart intended
for another
useless to smother your living fire
under the ash of a poem.


Scene II

As in a picture
the boy is playing
with a skull

the threads
he ties it with
like musical strings

the boy is playing
with a skull

everything seems to him
that everything seems.


At night

In flowers at night
spectres nestle
swell the sap
of afternoon sun
the gone dream
is wiped aut slow
so now choose
restless soul.

Tonight alien
shadows chase you
the blaze in my breast
grows dimmer and dimmer
till there’s nothing left
of you, dismal thought
and in your place
gape the jaws of a rose.


23. 2. 1977.

Unannounced
like a secret
like revenge
all night someone
has been racking my soul
a cold hand
a rusted palm
otherworldly
eyes empty
as if sensing
I’m not dead enough
No I’m not dead
enough not to try
to open watery eyes
although it’s dark
and what I am
and what I’m not
can’t be seen.


When a child dies

For Nikola

When a child dies
it’s wrong to weep
everi sob
and tear
are far too loud
for the womb
it nestled in
when a child dies
no star falls
but climbs higher
climbs forever
on its damned
starry way.


Prayer for a good day

Bubbling laughter
rips out of me
into words
humming
white scent of incense
I can’t help speaking
I see through petals
centuries old
and my hands claps
in a prayer for a good day.

Then something wizened
something blackened
turns to smoke
starts shifting
rips out the heart of laughter
stamps pain on my forehead
with a spring wind
ties my hands
and so dries up
my prayer for a good day.


Memento vivere

I just go on
as if this were
the one way possible
a soul in blood and flesh
a step
planted
towards sorrow always
to origins
again and again
touching earth and grass
and being earth
in the ken of the kin
of windspeech and flowerspeech
in the poem I plant
whatever can’t be breathed.


Had we

Had we reached
where we were bound for
had our prayers
been endless shadow
had we been happy
with mere survival
our poem would not have been a sonnet
knitted out of bloodshot dream
but the heavens themselves
would have rolled out
and our children
would have been tame lambs
not wolves to us
fangs buried in our flesh.


Sisters

To Vera and Radica

Today it’s just
as if I were treading
in one of the footsteps
you missed.
Sometimes
on Sundays
I visit you,
and I belive
you sense and see
over this side too.
And you appear
of your own accord
flitting by
like a white butterfly
and you announce,
Sisters are not
two drops of one blood.
Sisters are two mornings
on a single day.
So today again
it’s as if I werw treading
in one of the footsteps
you missed.


Parting of friends

You and I
are the past tense

a play whose plot
is completely worked out

our eternities are ended
although this is your day

together we have disappeared
together closed dusk’s account e

xcept I’am the one leaving
even though we’re friends.


Sometimes

Sometimes it’s hard to admit
you’re scattered
over unknown
over alien
and distant waters
that your eyes have fallen
on a star
and the word is powerless
sometimes it’s hard
this huge alien state
and you’re a corpse
in the middle of the desert
still bearing live
and healthy children.


Visitation

Twelve heavy
red apples
last night
ripened underneath my window.
Come rainy morning they will fall
onto dewdecked grass.
With the sun
at the gate
you’ll be hatched out of dream
and whit your balmy
hypocrite hand
you’ll start to speak.
That’s when your smooth words
akinless and fleshless
traitors
will proffer us both the curse
of the hundred headed bedpost
of the bridal hearse.


Reward

She who has known love
let her not fear death
the sun’s radiance ending
or setting aut on the last journey.

She who has known love
let her be assured
love will return to her
dressed in finest attire
To light her way.

She who has known love
knows life, like wool, forms
a tight-spun ball of yoj and pain
and death will come to her easy.
That woman

When that woman picks apples
two rainbows reach up to the sky
and the red apples at her fingertips
quiver and fall like burning kisses.

When that woman plucks wild flowers
her back bent like a bow brings fortune
the scent of her hair is primal desire
and the horizon turns gold and thickens.

When that woman dresses her child
everything about her subtly shifts
and suddenly out of nowhere he sees
their house full of children together.


Dugout I

Day by day we build this life
full of crosses, cliffs, walls, shields,
and everyone runs his own spellbound circle,
the same riders, barriers, roads,
and everyone carts his own excuses.

I know, all that’s left in me is my own world.

And now I no longer want to count
the days before departure,
when my star finally falls
I shall shoot up there and shine
every dusk and daybreak
like a burning dewdrop on a lost face.


Dugout II

Damned impossible night.
What are these ghostwakes that ooze from each pore
howling to crawl back under my skin?
If I could just spread my arms, open my eyes,
what damned impossible word would I utter,
a word that limped on
from dusk to dusk
entirely made of maimed movements.
I carry on, but still I glance back.
I dare not even grasp a knife
to this deep quiet, this calling,
I have been utterly emptied out
but still some kind of song limps on,
a rotten fruit sprouts in my breast
and, powerless, crows morning.


Dugout III

At the time I loved you
I walled an invisible house
over our heads, and under your skin
I laid a mass of fertilised cells,
in your gaze I bricked a hearth
and on its stone my breath fanned fire
until you grew, and yielded
like a surrendering virgin.
At the time I received you in
and so released you from yourself,
on a thread around our bed
I beaded ripe autumnal fruits,
and turned rain droplets into milk.
At the time I loved you
all that was yours found repose in me
and I believed we would save each other.
But now, here we are, separating
and neither of us knows how
we’ll forget each other, our selves.


On Oplenac Hill

As I listen to the leaves
on this restless noon wind
at the top of Oplenac Hill
and look down over the vineyards
with all their countless
parched, twisted, bony hands,
and see how the vines intertwine,
again I repeat in myself the words
that have always followed me
and helped me survive.
I strive never to forget
even the faintest of them,
even those half uttered,
for the word restores
the voice and the place,
unwinds time backwards,
confirms me as guardian
and mistress of gifts
prepared for myself alone.

Translators’ note

Oplenac Hill, near Topola, in central Seria, a place of national historic importance, is the site of a summer palace of the Karadjordjevic dynasty, and the crypt of its monastery is their burial place. Inspired by its loneliness, the autor composed many of the poems for her book Glas na pragu (‘On the Threshold’) in this peaceful and secluded place.


Being

When out of nowhere, evening
begins to spread its dark
intangible gauzy veil
like voices through memory,
and when the glue of day-dusk
begins to ooze over space, spreading
right over my head, then
my senses imperceptibly sharpen:
everything wakes, stands alert, listens,
and unfathomed eyes are opened
to announce the arrival of Being;
neither sadness nor yearning,
nor hope against hope, wearing-caring,
but Being, of this flesh, this breath,
joy that cannot be self-snaring.


Pass and pass by

I pass and pass by
like the years.
Sadness makes runnels down my face
and my stilled hands are speechless.
Fireflies no longer inhabit my eyes.
I can hardly remember
when we last met.
Everything passes us by
losing definition in haze
and mere images of our love remain.
Our glad eyes, faces, lips
which memory renews
each night I spend alone
cannot fade even though
the nights grow perpetually longer –
unbearably long and alone.


Between bed and table

Between bed and table
we encounter each other, my love,
each morning of each day
before we go out and greet the world.

Between doorstep and window
we meet, but utterly detached, neither
lording, neither subservient, carrying
our own lamps to light and put out.

Yesterday’s glass of wine is left over
on the table. We awoke neither
separately nor together. Both of us
beckon our own birds to the window
and both avoid any voice truly our own.

The tracks behind us have parted,
with steps out of tune and discordant.
Somewhere along the way we have hopelessly
lost our words - between bed and table
before we go out and greet the world.


Isidora

Thirty years, thirty summers,
you have lain here, my Isidora,
knitting moonlight in Topčider Cemetery,
your arms full of rains,
your face covered by handfuls of earth,
surrounded by swarms of glow-worms,
glimmering guardians of crucified light.

You still lie alone, dreaming
of a white room, and a bed
too wide for your own body
too narrow for longing.

I often call on you here
to pay my respects from afar
yet would not disturb the wing of a swallow
perching on your shoulder.

It is late afternoon
in a time
whe we stagger from exhaustion
and give up the ghost.

I see you pass
down the flagstone pavement
down the crooked path
of the last ray of light.

For an instant, as if by chance,
you turn and glance back:
Serbs du not like intelligent women.
They respect them, but do not love them.

Thirty years, thirty summers,
you have passed here, my Isidora,
knitting moonlight in Topčider Cemetery,
and your fellow travellers
pass through the room where I write
to touch my forehead with a cold hand,
pausing to scrawl, on the same prescription,
their cure for fever, their poison for the soul.

Translators’ note

The poem is dedicated to Isidora Sekulić (1887-1958), one of Yugoslavia’s foremost twentieth-century women writers, who is buried in the cemetery in Topčider Park, on the outskirts of Belgrade. Born in Mošorin, Vojvodina, Isidora Sekulić was a distinguished linguist and scholar whogratuated from the Sorbonne and Buhapest and obtained her doctoral degree in Germany. She worked as a maths teacher in several Serbian towns, and eventually in Belgrade, living modestly and alone. She wrote fiction, travel books and essays, was devoted to her country’s people and traditions, and translated extensively, especially from English. A reference is made in the poem to her collection of short stories, ‘Fellow travellers’.

Translated from the Serbian by Richard Burns with Vera Radojević

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