Home » Issues & Poems » Issue Sixteen » The Waves of the Belgrade Sea

The Waves of the Belgrade Sea

Dragan Jovanović Danilov

Belgrade has been pre-occupying me for a long time. In terms of civilization, it is one of the richest cities in the world, a city that offers enormous possibilities for literary shaping. A city with sediments of numerous identities. I attempted to offer a vertical sounding of those identities. In order to be able to write about Belgrade, it had to become my inner city. I also experience it as a dream dictionary, a catalog of collective subconscious, a unique encyclopedia, whose pages I leaf through with the greatest excitement. Writing poetry is ice-cold noting of what is essentially fire. I believe that what I write comes from the intuitive comprehension of religion, music and light. I say, I believe, because the things I write are vague and unknown to me as well. My poetry writing technique is almost painting-like. When I have a sharp, clear sight, I can draw an entire poem from the darkness to the light of day. The sight is actually a differently shaped reality, with which our imagination gilds the world. My ideal in poetry is a poetic text as magical spiritualization of life. A poem that will be alive like the pounding of a human heart. Poets invest their entire soul, and the poem returns, as an echo, something they didn’t even anticipate exists. Good, living poems travel through time.

The Waves of the Belgrade Sea

Translated from the Serbian by Goran Marić, Charles Simić, and Alison and Vladimir Kapor



A poem about married couples

from cold northern countries




Shrivelled old husbands and shrivelled old wives

already having steeped into the autumn of their lives,

old couples from cold northern countries

still in love, holding bony, arthritic hands, touring Belgrade.

Undoubtedly, they fulfilled their working years

honestly, they lived their lives through, the years passed quickly

and all that would happen in the days ahead would be a pure gift.

Idle, perhaps rich, perhaps devout, with surprising dignity

they walk from one destination to another,

from this to that crime scene from the past,

but I cannot help feeling that in fact

they do not go anywhere. Lit by the spring sun,

they hurry to take pictures of all city landmarks.

Gathered around their guide

munching on burgers and fries, they see

what they look at, they look at what they cannot see.

Everything is of interest to them

so every place gets visited and every detail photographed.

At peace with the world, calm, wrinkled all over,

I imagine these older European couples

standing in front of the great pyramid of Giza

standing in front of tombs that lift man beyond his transience.

These old men and women obviously know their place in this

world well

and, like builders from pharaonic times, for certain

they did not start building what they could not finish.

While they walk slowly toward Kalemegdan and disappear out of

my sight,

I turn my eyes on another Belgrade street scene:

at last, beside a water fountain pigeons gather, insatiable pigeons –

fighting over crumbs, their wings beating.

The little, feathered villains could not possibly know

the crumbs were left behind by married couples in love

who arrived from the north and continue

to live in my elegiac poem which I wrote

in this winter dusk, sleep deprived, prone to melancholy

and living in the wrong time zone.


Translated by Goran Marić





Confiding to a Shadow


I don`t see what I see; here the city ends

between buildings that are an elbow`s length

from one another, a crane reconnoiters

as if it knows the essence of the problem.


Middle-aged woman passes in the street in her dark

illegibility, a boy and a girl, exceedingly young,

are walking on the narrow path that leads into the woods.


On one of the balconies, a sparrow, like a stiff cut-out

of a pre-war corporal, pecks at crumbs of some untruth

about the world, a child plays with another bird; something

glows within him, while down below the top of a chestnut

tree is so beautiful, I am frightened.


That fear that grows deep inside no one sees,

though it exists fiercely like the monument to Prince Mickhael

on the Square of the Republic in the hot,

flickering light of the afternoon

when reason consents to be deceived.


There`s a war on and it`s dreary

like those easy-to-digest and shallow books

of briefly famous authors

who play with subcultural phenomena.


A cat stretches by the trash can, clearly

keeping mum about some deep matter,

she watches me as if for a moment

I`ve grown dear to her, and her eyes, blue like the limo

in which they shot Kennedy, are possibly

the last thing this day has to offer.


Translated by Charles Simić










The world exists through compassion! Only

that which we pray for speaks all of the world’s languages!

However, here there are no gods, in this deserted region

and you yourself are absorbed in the great silence

of roadless space;

pre-condemned to apostasy; crushed

down to your nakedness; not to humility, but down to

the necessity of scarce bushes to fight for breath.


This is not the suburb where from his balcony

Rhapsod used to lean and with the first morning

Sun say: Ô quel beau jour!

This is a suburb of a small provincial town

with unfinished houses and courtyards full

of irises, where these women of ours with long moustaches


tablecloths and hand-worked collars.


They move with difficulty, the sad elephant articulated

buses at three in the afternoon, when workers

after terrible drudgery leave factories,

spaceships of sorrow; on a torrid summer

afternoon, here nearby, some bulls and naked

people go down to the Morava, as if it was the Ganges.


A seller, depressed, languishes in his kiosk, his lair,

as if ashamed of life, while some drunk

empties his who-knows-which-number beer under a mulberry

tree; right next to

a car repair store, in his gypsy ghetto, lame Hephaestus

still forges pocket-knives and hardens the iron until it

hisses, and some kids that maybe have lice mess around

with the deity of a Skinned Pig, before Christmas.


On fields of stubble gathers a suspicious

population of crows and abandoned dogs, while small

sparrow snoopers fight over grains

with heavy-winged poultry; they move about among

frozen snow patches, the outside toilet

and the chicken-house – they are not concerned by the hysterical

fluctuation of prices on the gold market.


A night bird gives voice unexpectedly

commenting on the world with her level of intelligence;

rotten willows torn down by some inexplicable

treachery do not mark any event;

around the bin, the orphanage in which rots

our common damnation, dance abandoned

pregnant cats and dogs who belong to almost nobody,

for whom there is no

blessing; here a shabby, malicious tom-cat loafs

in young, spring sun, inviolable

as a ruler, debauched by long reflection.


This is, finally, the child’s world – in this narrow

courtyard among brick-walls, I used to play

on a patch of grass, where there was sun, just like any other

animal; I was mourning for a kitten that had

died straight after being born and had not managed with its paw

to touch the spring; no one can know − to me

angels would come, and sometimes they would not.


In spite of crows’ rhetorical tournaments, here

the un-past time is swelled with some blunt,

surviving fatigue; in this lazaretto where sorrow

shows as a colour, you are nothing but what you have

always been; you have fallen out of God’s arms

into this abandoned transitoriness in which the days go by,

and you are not even their fins.



Translated by Alison and Vladimir Kapor





Cursed City



cursed city

wrapped in fog

in which faded images flit

charred city of frayed conscience

sad rag of the world

ugly city like an iron cage

I once thought was beautiful

like the gait of a pregnant woman


Vomited city

hometown pious woman

cursed like the year

covered with wounds and rips

not even your unexpected gentleness

will visit me in the hospice

where I spent my whole life


Cursed cursed city

from whose claws I`ll never tear

the empty vessel of my body

city of ghosts

where again I seek my refuge


Here I`m made of ice suffocating

the day is dying and there`s no one to lengthen it

despite the rumor about me

I`m inside a cauldron-like voice

of someone who doesn`t exist

I have no other body no other city


my hand only clings on to the fire



Translated by Charles Simić







In this haunted little town

I had my holy place as well –

The comfy refuge of a warm pigeon-house,

where pigeons for me nameless,

resided in scared confusion.


At the holy time of dusk, when mysteriously

fluids of night and day mixed,

under the trembling cherry branches

that hid half of the town,

they cooed in the righteousness of their sensuality,

as if they were celebrating some holiday known only to them.


Some lived miserably and wordlessly, almost

Like old men, for instance a couple of pigeons, faithful,

Haunted pair, one was a complete blackguard −

he stole grains, terrorised others, even

rushed at cats and rats, the dark princes

of this world, some passed themselves off as my

fiends, and there were pigeons about whom I would not

be wrong if I were to say they were my brothers.



A quiet sorrow, like after making love,

would crush me when it fell to me to take the old

and feeble ones up the ladder

to the nest, and sometimes, I found, in the pigeon-house

or right next to it, a dead pigeon.


I say, I used to have my altar too in that haunted,

Small town in which I was not loved.

In days of solitude, in front of this pigeon-house

I prayed and prayed, I myself do not know to what.



Translated by Alison and Vladimir Kapor

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