Marko Vešović

GRAVE, CAVERN
(poetry)

         

Marko Vešović Poet, essayist, and translator, born in Montenegro in 1945, teaches literature at the University of Sarajevo. Vešović's latest book of poetry is entitled Parting with Arenzano (2007).
Vešoviæ insists that his language is Montenegrin, Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian, in whichever order

 

GRAVE, CAVERN
(poetry)

O, Arabic writing, you are full of curved
Sabers and crescent moons.

There are no more dragons in the Ropušnica Cavern
But the treasure is also gone upon which they once lay

Through here, who knows when,
The conquerors rode their horses,
And even now, we still sneeze from the dust
That their hooves
Disturbed.

And where has it gone now, the hundred-eared soul of the child
That listened to the paths of the snowflakes.
Listened to the steps of the shades from before the Nemanjićes.

Are you crumbling, o world, o flower of the orange tree,
Or am I ever more gossamer,
Just as this writing from Asia is shallower and shallower every day,
Fainter and fainter

These Damascus swords, these new moons
On the slanting gravestone.

(Translated by Wayles Browne and Omer Hadžiselimović)

 

 DAYBREAK

I'm doing sentry duty. At dawn. Nearby is a house. Actually,
a yellowish hovel. Beside it--a poplar above a well.
The poplar is as tall, it somehow seems to me, as
the well is deep. Above the house white smoke is unfolding
Like a baby's diapers.
In the house a child is crying. Long. For years already.
It seems: The shack would come down if the child fell silent.
Anything can come to mind when one is
Doing sentry duty.
All of a sudden, a goldenheaded girl comes out of the house,
She's about ten years old--twelve, at the most.
Missing a leg. A gorgeous invalid. An angel on crutches.
With a ruddy face, as if from the daybreak.
And I started crying. From that ruddiness on her face.
From that daybreak on crutches! All kinds of things
can cross your mind when you are doing sentry duty.
And the child's weeping seems never to stop. As if it had
its own electric motor. The weeping which, it seems,
will not cease, as long as this world exists. As long as there is
a soul alive under these skies. A weeping that will
resound through all eternities. For time, when you are a sentry,
moves slowly like a glacier. When you are a sentry, your soul
sometimes hears galloping messengers bringing the news
that for a long time, under these skies, there's nothing.
Not even you. On sentry duty.

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović



SIGNATURE

I'm running home with my little daughter –
Again, shells have surprised us on the street.
Shells have, for centuries, been falling every day,
And every day they surprise us.
I'm hurrying her on with angry words:
Transferring my rage from the Serb gunners
To a child awaited for ten years.
Let me write my name, she tells me, as we were passing
A patch of virgin snow in the park.
Instead of scolding her,
I--God knows why--let her forefinger
Break the delicate whiteness
And then, around the Cyrillic IVANA VEŠOVIC
My forefinger described a circle
Impenetrable
Like in fairy-tales.

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović



THIS SHOOTING

This shooting has gotten into our blood. Without shooting
(just like without your morning coffee) you can't get your day going.
And do you remember how, at the start of the war, after a shell
burst a hush would fall, like the deadly silence when someone
in a bar blabbed something against Tito or the Party?
Shells have now gotten into our bones. When there is a silence,
you're as taut as a string. You keep thinking: My God, what are
they fixing for us now? With that silence they only instill
more fear into our bones. But as soon as a heavy
machine gun makes itself heard, I loosen up right away,
my wife begins making a pie, the kids start chattering around
the house. They are shooting again-- everything's all right, then.
Yesterday, back home from work, I asked: was there any shooting
while I was gone? My youngest daughter told me:
You should have seen, Dad, how nicely two of them whizzed by!

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović



THE LIGHTERS

A mixed marriage. Without children. And wonderful people, both.
No doubt the handsomest old people in our high-rise.
The loveliest and the purest. As if minted from silver.
Look at them, fit for an exhibition, Neven would often say.
The old man used to say: I'm not afraid of hunger or thirst,
Or cold, or shells, more than other people.
When my father saw me off to that other war—
Fifty-odd years ago
This is what he told me: I'm not asking you, son,
To be a hero. Heroes' graves are what dogs
Piss on. But it wouldn't be good, either, for you to be
a coward. It would be a shame for you to fear for your life,
More than other people fear for theirs.
First the old man died. Of heart failure. In his sleep. One simple
Envies him. Two weeks later, he was followed by
the old woman. And she'd been fit as a fiddle.
That is what often happens: old spouses are like wartime
lighters: one lacks flint, the other gas--and only as a pair
can they operate!

       Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović


THE "LAV" CEMETERY

a fog transparent like tissue paper
that separates pictures in albums
and a gravedigger is digging
her
grave
eagerly as if he were
digging
the foundations of his best man's house

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović


IN THE EVENING YOU LIE DOWN IN BED

and you know you are lying down in vain: tomorrow you will
get up still more enervated than when you lay down. In the morning
you get up from bed and you know that you are getting up in vain:
yesterday's day is awaiting you, with yesterday's stress.
With the humiliations of the day before yesterday. With the despair
of the day before that. This siege has been going on not for two years
but for a single day that has no end.

From this I could find rest, it seems to me,
Only by the sea. And who knows if we will ever see it again?
Will I ever again be able to stand on those cliffs
Where the air currents are so strong they
Return the cap you threw?!
But I do not long, this time, for the sea with the fleshy
Leaves of agaves in which the names
Of love are carved. For the olive trees feverishly
Twisted like green laocoons. For the hats of jellyfish
That look like silken tents from Oriental
Tales. I do not long for the monotony of waves which
the poet compares to Homer's metrics. I do not long for that ink
With which one could write billions and billions of
Iliads and Odysseys.

I long for that sadness that
Comes over you when, looking at the eternal blueness
You listen to the murmur of that eternity.
For the sadness that tells you that you have a soul again.
Maybe not even for that sadness, but I long for that
Magnificent and balmy emptiness.
To plunge the soul into the emptiness that relaxes.
That heals and rejuvenates. To stare for hours not even
at the open seas, nor above the open seas, but--just so!
The Bosnian way. Until you  forget both what you are and where
You are and where you're from and what your name is.
The only thing you know is that within you are--miles
And miles of emptiness. And that the sea's vastness has sucked
Out of you all the centuries, all the way to Adam.
The blue emptiness stretches to the end of the world and, backwards,
To its beginning. And you grasp--actually, you don't grasp, you feel
It on your palate: the sweetness that will take over after Judgment Day!
Everything will be obliterated, like a child's scribble on a blackboard
And only pure rapture will remain!
So you taste ahead of time, albeit with a teaspoon only,
The bliss the world will explode in!

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović



GIRL'S BLOUSE

It's getting dark, and in the west someone's foot
Has knocked over a jug of wine, pouring it all over the horizon.
The new moon looks like horns on a helmet in which,
in films, Moses is shown. Pines smell
of lemons and incense
A soldier, long and brittle like a rye stalk, is doing sentry duty.
He's brittle with youth and love. Carefully he pulls out
of his breast pocket a girl's white blouse. And he plunges
his face in it. He drinks its scent for a long time. Those five
or six grams of fabric he could pull through a wedding ring
A sight divinely unutterable. Saying it in words
would be like measuring the weight
of a sun's ray on a scale.
Suddenly, from all this--from the wine-colored west
from the new moon with horns, from the girl's blouse,
whose scent can, like a thread, lead you out of hell—
suddenly, from all this, I feel relieved in my soul.
And in the world
You know that war still exists
on earth like a black ball of yarn. But the soul could
play with it like a kitten. Death still shows through everything.
Yet not like a skull showing through the skin of the face
But like a seed through a grape:
making it more magical

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović



A DEATHLESS MOMENT

A sniper is shooting on a street crossing.
Two girls, breathless from running.
They exude heat, perfumed/scented, like silk
underwear being ironed. One of them doesn't have a hairdo,
but bristling wheat sprouts on her head. She's fuming,
thundering, and cursing at the sniper: I seem to be
watching, like out of a window, a glorious storm!
The other's words are pleasant like the flapping of an umbrella,
in the morning, at the Budva beach.
She tosses her head from time to time. For our sake!
For she knows: with each toss, her long hair will smell sweetly.
A beauty. But one of those who never
fail to smile at you. Both lavishly and stingily.
Lavishly enough to make you happy. Stingily enough
that it costs them nothing. Their smile
let's you know that for them you are not a thing among things.
They wish perhaps to break the spell put on you
by an icy female look that has turned you into a thing.
The air smelled sweetly of my youth of long ago
when every tree-lined lane led to the end of the world.
When life was not yet worn thin like a proverb.
They left, leaving in me the tendernes
that comes over you when you look long at the skies
swarming with snowflakes. They went, chattering--not two girls,
but two breezes, blowing suddenly  through scorching heat of the siege.
Through the dogs days of existence.

         Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović



I, TOO, LIKE PRINCE ANDREY
 
From a green meadow, wounded, was staring at the skies.
  There was nothing for a million miles around.
  Yes, miles, as if the immense void that
  Roared around me was in fact the open seas.
  Empty and boundless.   From everything, under the sky,
  Only an unseeing emptiness remained that roared inhumanly.

  At first, to be sure,  Serb frogs could be heard
  In Dobrinja's ponds.   But they soon fell silent.
  Oh, wonder of wonders: a chorus of frogs is seeing me off
  To the other world (I thought, if that could be
  Called thinking.  For it was my skin that was thinking).

  I, too, like Prince Andrey, before death,
   suddenly felt that there was nothing
  In the world but that immeasurable distance
  Above me, and the still more immeasurable distance,
  Inside.  As if the soul was looking upon itself
  From an immensity
                             powerfully healing.
  Or as if it were looking on its pain after a million summers.
  Pain turned into a white waterfall roaring like the spring of the Bosna.
 
  I, too, like Prince Andrey, realized
     that nothing matters more
  than those distances that multiplied with lightning speed.
  Seventy-seven immensities, the soul
  drinking from each like from the seventy-seven fountains of home,
  The world was, all around, ground to powder,
       and looked like that
  Ruddy column of dust that surges upward
  When a shell smashes into someone's house in Sarajevo.

  And I understood that those many distances
  Can only come to the good.
  And you are happy because, in those distances,  you are a tiny wisp,
  But a wisp containing all those distances.

  And I felt they, those distances, were
  Suddenly pouring into me, like Krka Falls near Knin,
  But a million times bigger.  With a million rainbows
  Created in watery dust.

  And I listened to those distances rushing to
  Cleanse me from the inside, to wash the blood stains in which
  The whole world had been dissolved.

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović

 

STILLNESS AND SOLITUDE OF WOODS

It is a stillness and solitude from which perhaps God begins
Green and blue they are like polar ice
The stillness and solitude one can find only in a soul that,
Having just torn itself from its flesh and, delivered from the world’s
Evil, is looking upon the earthly globe from above
With the eyes of an eagle.

It is a stillness and solitude when you listen to a baby bird’s feathers
Growing, when you listen to an elder tree
Sprouting from human absence amid the ramparts,
And when rocks start looking, for a moment,
Like gigantic layers of police files
With the fingerprints of millions of vanished beings
Whose murmur is heard anew.

It is a stillness and solitude on a fairy’s steed which,
While flying, stands still.
In that stillness and solitude even a blade of grass has
Sway over the soul.

In that stillness and solitude the cry of a hawk
Can light up the soul
Like headlights a hare
By the roadside at night.
The soul, suddenly, in that stillness and solitude,
Has nothing
Needs nothing
Either to give or take away.

As it listens to the trees rustling their leaves in darkness
Like the audience their programs
It is a stillness and solitude in which hours
Stand still, while passing.
It is a stillness which by the cavities of trees
Is looking through you.
The stillness of woods in which to the will of God
You surrender like a plant.

        Translated by Omer Hadžiselimović



Nel mezzo del cammin

You are only half-way there, and already between your hands –
Lying prostrate on the table, looking like a crayfish
You used to pull, once upon a time, from the calms in streams –
Already, the Evangelical distance grows! In those darknesses,

Sleepless and full of demons, when you wish to turn your hands
Against yourself, it so happens that some ancestor arises
From the earth and, around these wrists, claps on handcuffs!
They embrace, ever more fleetingly. They neither kindle fires

Nor quench them any longer. And with the same lassitude
They turn the key, in the morning, when among people you go forth,
And when, in the evening, you return home with the face of Buddha
Who forever banged his head – against the wall of filth!

And the touch of the fingers, through much leafing in books,
Is becoming less and less sensitive, ever more withered.
Born only yesterday, and full of century-old worries!
Last night’s mushroom, it seems, remembers the Flood.

There in your lap, are they the very same
That, once upon a time for the herbarium, longed to press together
Drops of dew with a stem of dodder?
Now you don’t know: what they fear, what it is that fears them.

And they have still to stroke the head of a little son
And it seems they never will. That’s why they seem so weighty,
So constantly unsupple. And they watch from on
High, eagle-eyed, all there is. That’s why, so easily,

They knock the ashtray off the table: they’d never shatter,
They know, a child’s dream! Yet they never want
For all that much. What little they do hold
Quickly falls out of them. And each hand hovers,

Timidly, around the essence. Instead of grabbing it
By the gills, the bloody gills! Somehow they move sideways
In everything they do, like the streams’ crayfish
You used to catch once, in which century was that?

         Translated by Chriss Agee and Antonela Glavinić