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
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
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
HOMER OF THE SUBURBS
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
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
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