TOMICA BAJSIĆ Poet, prose writer, translator and graphic artist. Studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, Croatia. Editor for translated poetry in POEZIJA / Poetry quarterly magazine, Croatia, and founder of Druga priča /Another Story publishing. Worked also in restoration, drawing and design. General secretary of Croatian PEN Center, vice-president (in charge of International collaboration) of Croatian Writers Society and vice-president of Croatian – Hispanic Society. Published in numerous anthologies and literary journals at home and abroad. Poetry and prose pieces translated into German, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, Slovenian, Slovakian, Hungarian, Chinese.
AWARDS: Južni križ / Southern Cross , 1998. awarded with Ivan Goran Kovačić award for younger poets in 1998. Zrak ispod mora / Air beneath the sea, 2009., awarded with Dobriša Cesarić prize.
BOOKS: Južni križ / Southern Cross, poetry ( Goranovo proljeće, 1998.) Pjesme svjetlosti i sjene / Songs of Light and Shadow, poetry (AGM, 2004.) Dva svijeta i još jedan / Two Worlds & One More, travel prose (Naklada Ljevak, 2007.) Ana i vila Velebita / Ana and the Velebit Fairy, drawings and story (National park Velebit 2007.)Pobuna obješenih / Mutiny of the Hanged, poetry (Fraktura 2008.) Zrak ispod mora / Air Beneath the Sea , poetry (Biblioteka nagrade Dobriša Cesarić 2009.) Amazona diše / Amazon breathes, text and photographs, 2015. Nevidljivo more / The Invisible Sea, poetry and drawings, scheduled for publishing 2017.
SOME TRANSLATIONS: Španjolske pjesme ljubavi i progonstva / Spanish Poems of Love and Exile” selection, essays and translation (DHK, Zagreb, 2002) Sve do srca svijeta / To the Heart of the World, poetry of Blaise Cendrars, selection, introduction and translation (MD, Zagreb, 2003) U Patagoniji / In Patagonia , prose travel book by Bruce Chatwin, SysPrint, 2006. Južna pošta / Southern Mail , traveling through the poetry of Southern America, translations and essays, (HDP Croatian Writers Society, 2009.) UREZI Antologija svjetske poezije o ratu, represiji, ropstvu … / Anthology of World Poetry about War, Repression, Slavery … 160 authors, 300 poems from Afganistan to Zimbabwe, from ancient Greece to contemporary days (Druga priča 2010.)
THE TWENTY SEVENTH DAY
To Mara, on the twenty seventh day of your birth
Light and shadow: separating …
And 27 days ago they were one!
Your dark almond shaped eyes are now looking for contours.
Born into this world with no gear of your own.
You are so little you don’t even know your name.
You want to win us over with that smile
Of a newly-built heaven.
What a smile that is! All the Alpine bees
And all the forest fires of Mongolia
All the 350 Church towers of Salvador
And all the plankton of the Atlantic
Have found recluse in the heaven
Of your smile forged in a secret place
Known only to a few levitating saints.
You look around yourself in wonder, but I have to tell you
That in your 10,000-year-old dark eyes
I can still see the reflection of that calm lake
Whose depth is immeasurable.
For me that lake is like an unknown memory.
Scientists call it the black hole of space.
Some simply call it a sack of coal.
While the religious call it the Spirit.
Your eyes until recently
Were like two Indian canoes
Rowing light-heartedly through the endless universe.
AN OAR WENT THROUGH WATER IN A WHIRL OF BLACK ICY NEEDLES
I entered the room and found you asleep, so still
I thought you were dead.
There would still be things we could say to each other
Even if we lived two hundred years.
HAVING PUT DOWN THE RECEIVER
I see you: opening a double doors to the patio
and sitting into the deck chair
facing the pine trees
the children are building a Lego tower
on a quarter of a blanket
Cling!- you raise your coffee cup
it’s almost night: the stars are out.
our boy runs into your lap saying:
“I’d love to see what’s up there.”
you wait together until his heart calms down.
a gust of wind, you thinking of a sweater
Tick-tick: flies hit the lampshade
DREAM OF THE CORN
Dedicated to children victims of war
I am running through a field of the corn; through the early evening, while the sun turns into the moon. The sky is low and oval, pressing down on the ground. The light emanates from the leaves, transparent and watery. Green becomes yellow. I notice that I am small, the corn is so much taller than me.
The field is endless.
Suddenly I collide with the traces of the passing of the one who is looking for me. I stay motionless. For a moment, I can only hear my own breathing. If I were to lean my ear to the ground I would hear the roar of his footsteps. The corn is broken here in hatred, trampled on. He runs blind, leaving behind him a corridor laden with emptiness. The speed with which he moves is many times greater than mine; the traces of his passing reveal the nature of the demon. I need more and more air. While I could, I breathed through my nose. Now I’m breathing through my mouth, I breath in deeply and breath out every ten steps. Soon it will be every five steps, then two …
It is important to control the rhythm of my breathing.
Running gives me courage. And the way the corn moves in front of me gives me courage. I will backtrack a little to cover my trails. When night falls, I will crawl into the corn to gather my strenght for the morning, for running. I will lock my fear into a room with no windows. I will let hope burn in the darkness, to lighten my dream.
He too will be still at night, but he will not sleep. His rage will keep him awake, blunt his senses. In the morning the sharp air will mist his eyesight. And while the lightness darkens I feel the blood boiling in the veins of my pursuer like a distant whisper in the cornfields. In front of my eyes floats the threat of total destruction which follows his passing, I do not need to see his face to know that the unknown who is pursuing me is the same man whose shadow passed by the walls one night without stars, one night in which I ended up alone.
I will run in the morning like never before in my life. The black house is far behind me already, it should be. Now I have something I have never had before, the freedom of choice. I can turn to the east, or to the south, or continue going west. As long as I run my destiny is in my hands. I just have to carry on.
THE GREAT GATES OF WAR
for Davor Sefić
We drove 2,000 miles all across Europe
in our Golden Boy, Robi’s old Kadett:
the three of us,
smoking, listening to the radio,
long arrows of light
stretched along the wet road. Miles pile behind us
and night emerges; we stop only
to change at the wheel, continuing on, breathlessly.
Drinking, smoking, listening to the radio
that’s how we meet the daylight. The sky expands
and you’re saying,
40 years, that’s just about right. I don’t need more,
that’s long enough for one life.
Shortly afterward a tank grenade near Dubrovnik
will take you up into the atmosphere; you lived 23 years
Seven years ago
we had driven relentlessly all across Europe
up to that Chetnik* roadblock at Plitvice.
It was Easter
and we passed through the Great Gates of War.
In your only photograph taken in uniform
you have a curious look, as if you can see what’s coming ahead.
On the wall above you a flash of white light
coming from the Spirit—its everpresence.
Sometimes it seems as if I’m living on borrowed time
my friends are dead and scattered across graveyards
wiped of the slate just like that, none of them even thirty
those people I used to break bread with
those people I slept in the same bunkers with
those people I walked the same grass with, climbing onto tanks and falling down
hitting my face against the ground showered with bullets and shells
(oh sweet quiet earth you know our prayers)
their ghosts still come back with the last of the echoing voices:
is there more juice? asks one who will die in an attack
take care of my brother, says another who will be killed by tank
the third one is trying to remember who he is and where he’s coming from
while his brain slowly switches off (he’d been hit in the head)
what’s over there? asks the fourth clutching a glass of red watered wine
his gaze fixed over the hill where an ambush has already been set up for him
and a fifth is silent but his eyes are able to pronounce:
sometimes it feels as if I’d broken off the chain
I wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air
hearing the hum of fourteen storeys through the open window
(the smell of burnt flesh rising out of wooden caskets)
Christ the Redeemer is a lasting fresh wound among the black clouds
electric fireflies scurry, curse and celebrate
the time when pigs fed on human flesh
down there is a house that once, a hundred years ago, used to be blue
now it is a roofless ruin with frameless windows like empty eye sockets
the inside is all wrecked but somehow at night it becomes alive
the forgotten balconies fill up with flowers and light
while round black women with turbans lean against
corroded fence and tiny echoes of their conversation
whisper that there are three hundred thousand dead people on those fields
where my boots lost their soles
where my eyes drowned into the mud of the universe
where my heart was like an iron rope cut off from its anchor
whizzing through the air in blind circles:
THE WOUNDED MAN IS TEMPTING GOD
I wandered around the forest of the enemy kingdom
and stumbled upon a piece of wire hidden in the grass
it was a buried PROM2 tripwire-activated
bounding anti-personnel mine
and in the split second before the explosion
I wanted God to make that cup pass me by
but when the detonation threw me in into the air I saw pieces
of iron, pieces of my uniform, pieces of my flesh whirling
in orbit / sand stars porcelain four winds tartan
razors ice / Joseph Conrad proposing to Freya the girl from
the Seven Islands / my enemies cats stealing the planet oxygen
digging through garbage / all lighthouses ablaze all the way
from the New Hebrides to the Pepper Coast / the President of Zimbabwe
Canaan Banana listening to the German radio / thousands of mumified fish heads
prophesying in alien tongues / Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
making airplanes out of a piece of a newspaper –
I never liked Mozart and that’s what threw me down on the ground
while the Vienna boy’s Choir sang:
“a jug goes to the water until it breaks
a jug goes to the water until it breaks”
God let that cup pass me by I thought there in the ambulance
let me live for a little bit longer at least for another 100 years
I don’t want to die now that our time has come
I wanted my medals to shine like oil platforms
lighting up the night flights over the Atlantic
and my veteran’s charisma to become electric
let my limousine slide through the crowd like Moby Dick
slid before the eyes of helpless captain Ahab
I never said I did not want to sell my soul
I was only negotiating the price
let me be invited at the presidential party
ther are so many dishes I never tasted
there are so many people on this Earth whose destiny
I never took in my hands
I want to rob and preach to the robbed ones
I want to lie and laugh at the deceived ones
I want my place in the Ark so I can
watch the flood with the cocktail glass in my hands
since it is better to set fires than to be burned
it’s better to humiliate than to be humiliated
so let’s lay all the cards on the table – we have but one life
give me a hundred cannibal whores from Borneo
let me recover myself in the purifying fountains of youth
give me power to last forever like the invisible poison
in the veins of all humans
give me parts of their spines hands eyes brains hearts kidneys
my hands are the hands of the sculptor thirsty for a work
– I’ll smile at you, the green pastures of Croatia
with a smile of a harvester
in front of the hospital alley cats rummage through garbage
they have conspired to steal the oxygen of the entire planet
the iron holders on the facade are empty
fifthy years ago three flags hung there
one for the gluttony another one for greed
and the third one for misery
instead of them we hoisted up our tricolor
the red is for the Christ’s mineral blood
the blood of our dead the guardian subterranean blood boiling
the white is for hope that we are fighting for a better civilization
the blue one is for our blazen adventure, for frendship firm as those
overseas telegraph cables that fishermen sometimes find
when their nets get lost somewhere
but the cats came overnight and did their dirty trick
so the red stands for gluttony once again
the white for greed
and the blue for misery
so, dear friends, one thing is certain:
those very cats are the guardians of that other world as well
these cunning cats that sometimes transform into politicians
the cats that are still rummaging through garbage
conspiring to steal the oxygen
of the entire planet.
CARDINAL KUHARIĆ AT 9827
It’s Christmas Eve
and a gang of drunks is tasting bottles of Šipon
and Silvanac at the illegal winery at the cemetery
filling plastic and glass flasks of all sizes
Cars rush over the edges of pavements
Tonight when glassy bones of old men are humming
there’s a draft in the church as someone left
the door open
Grannies are protesting angrily and justifiably so
counting who lit up more of those tiny candles
I would be also lighting tiny candles
and playing dumb
if I were old
They say this pre-holiday shopping frenzy
has been imported from the materialistic West
and that gradually every sense has been lost
of that sacred day when the Word became flesh
but if you ask me it is the poultry that fared the worst
having been decapitated
each and every one of them
Six years ago they fed us ox roast
and now they’re staging mass spectacles for us
with free sausages
and cheap pop stars
Tito fed us a pig’s head
that he stole from the attic
and our stomachs ached afterwards
for decades on end
Now it’s starting to snow and I am also drunk
like the other honest
Our path to the future is called
— still life
with a pig’s head
— while the Pharaoh
tucked inside his winter palace
perhaps contemplating another revenge
while Cardinal Kuharić is at tel: 9872
— just a recorded Christmas message —
giving no answers.
WHEN YOU HIT YOURSELF WITH AN AXE WHILE CHOPPING THE WOOD
you don’t think about poetry then
or about great deeds
or about politics
you don’t defy God
you are as small as a pea
as you wait for the pain
to go away.
When you are riddled with shrapnel
from a mortar grenade
you don’t think about the impression
you leave upon women
or about the national anthem
you crawl under a rock
and wait for the pain
to go away.
when the door of the remand prison
shuts behind your back
– that’s when you think about freedom.
Tito gnaws a pig’s head in the attic
eyeing the street in fear that his parents might catch him
I don’t give a damn / he thinks / I’ll escape on my bicycle
Tito riding a tram in Vienna under cover
wearing his best grey suit thinking:
why should I be any worse than those students?
Tito riding over Mt Romanija
followed by old Nazor stumbling through the snow
Vladimir Vladimir / thinks Tito benevolently
Tito waving at the rows of kids from his Mercedes
red bandannas are tied around their necks like nooses / the Sun
will once grow dark / ponders Tito philosophically
Tito is elegant even in death
here are the mourners listed alphabetically:
bears rhinos lions / chess players
cineastes / circus acrobats / clerks
corn seller at work station no 7
Cuban cigar industry / employees of the Institute for the History
of the Working Class Movement / the English Queen
Greenpeace activists / heads of the tenant’s councils
historic figures / hippies / honour students
Ilich Ramirez Sanchez a.k.a. “Carlos” / men with moustaches
officers from firemen’s clubs / opera singers
presidents of fishermen’s societies / pretty women
primary school teachers / punks / reserve policemen
retired warrant officers / Sai Baba
soccer players / tailors
Tito showed up again in a balloon above eastern Africa
pointing his binoculars at a herd of zebras
those devils with stripes / thinks Tito to himself / they are all the same
Tito says NO to Stalin and Stalin
responds I don’t care anymore / who gives a fuck
do you know how to calculate?
I have twenty one thousand eight hundred and fifty six of them
ground into the leaves of the Katyn forest / I have three hundred thousand
secretly burried ones
I have ten million of those liquidated in liquidations
I have all of their IDs / the photographs of their children / the letters
filled with unwarranted optimism / their pencils / small change
I’ve got them all neatly placed on file
NEW YORK, CHICAGO, HOLLYWOOD
I’m holding in my hand a 20×26 photograph
of Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet
I place it under the lamp to check
if the signature is an authentic one
Best Wishes, is written in black felt-tip pen,
and in the corner bellow the photograph:
Associated Booking Corp. Joe Glaser,
New York, Chicago, Hollywood
who would have thought?
under the lamp there is a small mirror
casting white shadows all across the room
the winter lights
straigth from the photograph, glaciers glistening
ever so restlessly
ELEVEN THOUSAND METERS ABOVE THE GREAT PLAINS
part from “Antarctic,” in Poems of Light and Shadow
On the airplane Miss Love sits next to the window so that she can watch
the clouds, white clouds, dense and soft like spun sugar
those foamy clouds that are good only for walking
in sleeveless T-shirt. Late in the afternoon
(the hour when her hair receives that golden hue)
the sun tends to beat hard up there
at these haights.
There is a man sitting next to her
Suspiciously observing her hands
Full of scratches and bruises.
Miss Love sits on the plane with her knees pressed tight against each other
clutching a macrobiotic dinner in her lap while the items
she purchased nestle under her legs. there is a teddy bear-shaped rucksack
on her back where she keeps her wedding dress and the urn
with the ashes of her late husband, the well known singer
whose name she forgot.
He’s been sitting there in that teddy-bear-shaped knapsack for quite some time now
Miss had burried a handful of his ashes
under the willow tree in her garden while she mixed the other two with clay
and made tiny saucers, and a handful of it was unfortunately
inadvertent blown away:
ending up in the ventilation system shaft.
As for the rest: Miss Love always carries it with herself on her journeys
keeping it close to her heart – like a talisman.
WE HAVE ALL GATHERED TOGETHER AGAIN
Out of tobbaco, coffee, wine,
they appear at the edge of night
like those voices you hear singing
somewhere far down the street,
but you cannot recognize the song.
(Julio Cortazar “Los Amigos”)
it came to me in a a dream that we have all gathered together again
at the long wooden table set up somewhere
in the middle of nowhere in the mountains
at the white wooden table covered with a chequered table-cloth
with red embroideres
we are sitting silent on a plateau surrounded with tall vegetation
focusing on the transparent lemon blossoms
floating around in the dreary May sky and
into our glasses and sticking onto the mud on our uniforms sliding
down the frozen barrels of our rifles dissapearing in the grass
among it’s shiny sharp blades wrapping around our boots
several thousand years old. some of us
drink pure wine while I drink it mixed
with bubbling water pregnant with minerals
those quartz crystals of roaring waterfalls
some pour ordinary water into wine; there is a jug on the table
that we fill at the well brimming with water as crystal
as the air around us so vacant that through it I can see the cracks
in the snow
melting as the furthest of those glassy blak mountain tops.
from here it is
perfectly clear that the Earth is round. the salty wind
that rose from the sea overnight tiptoes across its flat surface
passing through invisible labyrinths
in an attempt to surprise the German shepherd
asleep in the shadow of the only tree that grows on this plain
(none of us is worried too much about the enemy dogs.)
I light up a cigarette and throw the match into the grass filling my lungs with smoke
so powerful that it blurs my eyesight.
we’re sitting silent sensing the lava of future volcanoes churning
somewhere deep down bellow our feet
– the soil is born again having spent the entire winter locked under the snow
rolling in its sleep and sucking on dead organisms
renewing itself and sprouting roots – hardening and widening,
bearing bitter, coloured sprouts.
we sit there placidly watching the fruits of the mountain lemon tree ripening.
the food on the table is modest as it always has been:
a few loaves of bread, thirty hard boiled eggs. there are the maps
(maps of some other far regions) plus seven
Motorola radios and five to six bandages, three infra red night visors, two regular binoculars for daily observation + seven military compasses who point nowhere safe.
On page 87 of the Oxford Atlas
I found the pencil-drawn line of a long forgotten
journey I once planned. The curved arrow
points to the Amazon estuary then draws a circle around Belém,
Tocatins, running further across Rio Paro to Ilha dos Macacos,
the line then follows the river upstream:
Paraguara, Santarem, Terra Santa, Ita-
piranga, Sao Jose, Manaus, Arcuipelago de
las Anavilhanas, Taupecacu, Moura.
Finally, circled, with a small arrow
inside the circle – Rio Negro, Rio Negro.
LUNGS FULL OF AIR
Lungs full of air
Black greyish milky
Like the Baltic inclined to evil
Take these lights
High-rise buildings and trails of man
Let only Christ-the-lighthouse remain
In the circle of the sharp hills
Stuck into the sky like glaciers
The worlds of rainforests – what an adventure!
THE CUNNING BARBER
I went for a haircut
To a barber to whom I’d not yet been
Before I sat in the chair
I said to him looking straight into his eyes:
I don’t want one of those modern hairstyles.
Said he in a hurt voice, I would never,
I cut hair in a good old way.
While he was cutting my hair it seemed fine —
I looked at myself in the mirror
And it seemed to me that I saw Simon
Turning a bend
Up in the rocky peaks,
Riding into death
Wrapped in a blanket, incited by fever.
He has dropped to forty five kilos
But still does not give up.
Behind him seven mules carrying the luggage
With seventy medals of honour,
Next to him ride colonel Wilson and a handful of loyal
Desperados, vagabonds and soldiers of fortune;
Above them the eternal snow of the Andes and yellow bells,
And down in the depths were fields in which
A man could drown.
But when I came out I saw that on
The barber’s shop front sign it said:
MODERN HAIR STYLES
And really, looking at my reflection in the glass
I realised that the old mule had tricked me,
Which was most upsetting.
A MAN FELL IN THE STREET FROM THE RED PLAGUE
Ivana! I will build you a house from pigmented Brazilian wood
(that’s the wood that does not lose the battle with time)
a house with no sharp angles in one of the old ports from the Gold Fever era
(for everything is allowed in search for gold)
It’s a small colonial harbour with three churches:
one is the church of the black slaves, the other the church of free mulattos
and the third one is the church of white land-owners —
the name of the port is Parati!
the front door will be past-resistant
the walls would be covered in books: only valuable books,
thousands of books
titles by Melville, Conrad, Stevenson and others
I’ll build you a house from wood that cannot be eaten away by salt
or hardened by the Sun
it’s going to be a house with long windows to the east
commanding a view onto the hills and forests and steam railway
leading to the old mines
and from the west side you can see through binoculars the French castle
built to defend from pirates
and the passage leading through the islands
We’re going to eat big fish caught in the ocean – one to one.
Life will be easy for you!
So easy that your eyes will turn into clear emeralds
growing underneath the humus of Mato Grosso
instead of forest strawberries
Yes, the windows will always be open and the curtains
will travel down the corridors
white as the dresses of the old Bahian ladies whispering: candomble!
and on the ceiling I’ll build in a skylight
so our children can dream
deep dreams under that Southern Cross
ENGRAVED ON THE ASPHALT OF RIO DE JANEIRO
atoms of the sun’s energy
piss-soaked “O Globo” newspapers
pigments of black colour
compressed caoutchouc remembering
the schooners of unshaved thieves
Crossing the street, I saw a butterfly falling somewhere between myself and a fat black lady with her hands full of plastic bags.
Lemon yellow, blue, and soft black:
I thought how come such colours on a dead butterfly and then I looked up to the tree tops, the granite hills and the clouds, and it came to my knowledge that this is the New World.
IN THE HILLS ABOVE PETROPOLIS
In the hills above Petropolis over the rain forests
On the black asphalt road slippery with a thin film of lemon dust
Along the sunny plain on top by the stone marker
At the verge of an abyss descending everywhere around you
Into the mist of oceans
Park your old round sky-coloured truck
With its gaucho decal: “Jesus was a truck driver too”
Wait until the engine dies down, steam disappears
And everything becomes quiet; light a cigarette and take a
Careful drag (for the air is thin)
And think of the dead, think of the dead.
THE WANDERER BUTTERFLY
Beyond coral reefs
a deserted sea where a light
breeze and a bird in the sky
announce the longed-for land
of scuba diving harmony.
It is where Vietnamese bamboo rafts
cross the ocean in search of bread
and when they see a butterfly
they remember for ever
each of its pores
breathing in spouting colours
because that means the land is near
and they are not going to drown
or die of thirst.
There beyond the seabed
of petrified lava
THE BOOK OF BOOKS
There are poets who write
One and the same book their whole life: the book
About the end of the world – once they are no longer there.
That makes them similar to prophets
Who shake the ground as they kick at it
With their knotty sticks in order to
Block the movement of time.
But unlike prophets, poets know that time
Actually stands still as we travel
Conversely, unlike poets, prophets are destined
To write only one book, the book that poets
Write over and over again,
Thinking it’s a new one.
GASPARD OF THE NIGHT (ART HISTORY REVISITED)
Let someone else explain who Gaspard of the Night was,
That horrible creature of the abyss, the vapor of the brassy
Mold in vine cellars where only artificial light shines. I don’t want to read a poem
Bearing his name nor do I want to know its author
Or the period he belongs to:
It’s France, fine, but I couldn’t care less what came before or after this
Or that, let him just disappear from the library shelves,
If he is still somewhere there collecting dust and being eaten by worms.
He had those extraordinary visions – fine – many a prophet has them.
Baudelaire gave him body and Maurice Ravel
Packed him inside his slippery notes, but that was some hundred years ago.
Don’t pull him out of the storage of forgotten wishes
Or out of the penniless wee-wee hours,
But rather forget him for the sake of future generations.
Unfortunately, I met him by chance,
But not in a book, or in a poem, or through his author,
But personally: the dark Gaspard himself.
However, it is Gaspard of the Night, the disappeared one,
Who interests me here. So don’t mention Gaspard to anyone
For he belongs to those whose IDs are a mere mirage,
A water-soaked unpaid bill whereon blue ink dances
Its mechanic dance on the table in some inn.
Though I didn’t read him, I know that under his light
All glasses and bottles elongate like those maiden faces on Modigliani’s paintings.
The chairs are pilled up like Apollinaire’s calligrams
While salty sardines are being served on turpentine as the folk
Debate endlessly what’s better: a goose’s feather or aqua ink,
As they produce empty canvasses like travel maps of pilgrims.
Understanding Gaspard of the Night means realizing
That all those multidimensional cuts and appearances
In Cubist paintings represent the layers of underskirts
Of those party girls, suspended in drunken flight.
Look at all those half top hats, hats and sticks
Made of ballistic glass climbing at dawn into a carriage
Driven by an old man in a long overcoat or wrapped in a cloak,
Black patch covering his eye.
The parrot he wears on his shoulder once plucked his eye out
But he still refuses to renounce it for sudden injuries
And illnesses are the stamp of true art.
The wheels reinforced with iron rings roll
Or even better – rotate – down the cobbled stones occasionally flickering,
As the stripped chimneys on the horizon carve themselves into the sky:
That’s how the Italian futurism came into being!
Whereas impressionism was created one afternoon
Out of pure leisure accompanied with a glass of a quality wine, made of pollen
That wind receives from birches and linen.
Expressionism, on the other hand, cut a bit deeper into the sawdust
Of bars frequented by Gaspard and his kind.
Surrealism resorted to quarrel to unite stubborn people
While Dadaism entirely ignored the palpable world
Outside of Gaspard’s realm.
Fauvists and their jarring colors stand for the rebellious cry
Of an individual shut behind the doors of an asylum for the disturbed ones
Whereas Malevich’s Ride of the Red Cavalry had been painted in flux
Seemingly pouring out of the barrel of red wine, which is also the trace of Gaspard
Of the Night. Because of him Gauguin left for Tahiti moonlighting in his wooden clogs
Disturbing the sleep of honest folk. Answering to his debtor’s urgent telegrams
In incomprehensible Polynesian language for the first people to whom he now belonged
Did not know of usurious contracts. Marc Chagall went gray from worrying
About Gaspard: figures floating above the canvass
As the vistas of the wide Russian winter merge unexpectedly with violet
And green bottle-like colors, his paintings growing narrower and narrower
With fewer and fewer figures as he himself grew more and more frugal:
Where there used to be three animals, now you could spot only one
While the whole house would fit inside a single window-frame as the church
Is reduced to a belfry. Delaunay’s paintings, replete with light seeping in
Through the shutters, represent the view from inside the rib cage
Of a human body stumbling exhausted from all that burden.
Gaspard of the Night like the life of the art created under his cloak belongs to that daring
And unique part of synchronized time.
All those artists with their different visions…
Who but Gaspard could bring them together?
I don’t even know who wrote it, I never read it
But to me Gaspard of the Night is that what John Barleycorn was
To Jack London, and Apollinaire also called him out
When he named his book of verse – ALCOHOL.
*Aloysius Bertrand, was a writer whose Gaspard de la nuit (“Gaspard of the Night”) introduced the prose poem into French literature and was a source of inspiration to the Symbolist poets and later to the Surrealists.
AWAKENING OF SPRING
It is World Poetry Day,
when it is better not to meet the poets,
so I am taking our labrador Luna to the park.
One yellow butterfly
– in the name of the first day of spring –
draws its orbit of freedom from earth to sky.
It looks as if we are all made of sun,
though the source of the poetry
of our world remains invisible.
Like that butterfly’s drawing in the air,
the glimpse you try to catch before
is already gone for good.
FIRES CAME AND GONE
(To brother Vladimir, who left Zagreb as a young boy on an oceanliner for Rio de Janeiro, and never returned home again…)
This bitter earth / What fruit it bears / What good is love / That no one shares…*
Shouts and harsh voices disappear in the silence of the ashes of the burnt trees.
There came the rain; but oblivion was nowhere to be found. In swings, like a pendulum, dull light of pain.
Fires came and went.
No doubt they will return, like the sea which cannot forget its shores. Surrounded by pine trees I was daydreaming in a hammock on my balcony. Somewhere a passing truck echoed hoarsely over the street holes. It sounded like souls were battering from the other side.
I open my eyes.
We have buried my older brother in Rio de Janeiro, in Sao Bento cemetery.
After I pushed the casket through the hole in the wall, the assistant cemented the cracks in a few skilfull moves. I asked him the number of this vault. He did not reply. Another employee approached and outlined the number with white chalk.
21, he said.
21, I said to everybody else behind me and looked at the sharp black hills, the Tijuca rainforest and the Organ Mountains where under the concave sky of the megalopolis lie millions of souls, some with neither name nor number to confirm their existence, and felt a sudden weakness in my knees thinking how some trees, when they burn down, become a shade of the earth, disappear in the shadow. But some, after they burn down, stay with us forever, because the love they had in their lives stays as an ember which cannot ever be extinguished.
The lions at Trafalgar Square in London,
in quartier Montparnasse and all over Paris, lions
at the tomb of King Richard in the Rouen Cathedral,
the Tiergarten park and the Museum Island in Berlin.
They guard the Chain Bridge in Budapest, the entrance
to the Royal Palace of Brussels; slumber
at the foot of the Columbus monument in Barcelona,
daydream at the Marquise Pombala square in Lisbon.
Long ago their gaze of stone escorted the grand ships
of East – India Company out of Port of Amsterdam.
We have more of them here than in Africa and India.
The capitals of the former European Empires
are not adorned with dolphins or birds, but lions,
whose strength is in their loneliness.
One harsh winter as a twelve year old
I went ice skating in park near our ZOO.
On the frozen lake no one but me.
Sliding under one of the bridges
I felt the presence of a lion.
Through the snow frosted trees
I could barely see the winter’s den
but the lion’s roar frightened me
and made me return to where I started.
But when it seems that they see you, you’re wrong,
lions are actually looking straight through your bones,
through the walls, bars and trees, across the lake
where I skated and all the way over the Roman Colosseum
towards the wilderness carved deeply into their memory,
their gaze steadfastly rooted to the grasslands of Africa
before the colonies.
Dictators are marching
like figures in mechanical circus.
That Merry-go-round is not inspired by
electric, or some other artificial energy.
It is fueled by our own will, or rather,
The lack of will.
Dictators get dethroned
Because of fatigue of material,
Or they get eaten by
Their own kind,
They even kill themselves sometimes, or
They perish in calm sweetness of old age.
But it is our greed that recycles them,
They are impersonated by the hopes
That we failed to accomplish
In our own youth.
Tomica Bajsić, Poems in English, from Gobshite Quarterly magazine; from “The Consolation of Chaos” Anthology of contemporary Croatian poetry, 1995 – 2005; from “If We Crash into a Cloud, It Won’t Hurt,” Croatian Poetry 1989 – 2009., “The Hundred Years’ War: Modern War Poems” Bloodaxe Books 2014., ed. by Neil Astley. Most poems translated into English by Damir Šodan, some by the author and Gabeba Baderoon.