“Until lions have their historians
tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter.”
I got tired of victimizing myself.
Empty perfume bottles overgrow
The pile of my mistakes
And a gigantic pen with its lame heart overpowers
My simple need to record
My little self.
I got tired of punishing myself,
Of apologies because the pigment of my skin can stand
Tired of myself looking like a dog,
Howling like a wolf,
Hidden in an immigrant services file.
Banned book covers inhabited me in the form
Of paper plates in the hands of Sunday park protesters.
I turned into kitsch,
A sweet monster who no longer hides a wedding ring
Made of barbed wire.
I became ashamed because I allowed bank clerks
To tune their beggar-producing machine
To my blood pressure,
Because I let my sorrow be measured
And packed in the same colourful boxes
That remained unopened under
Last year’s Christmas tree.
It was nobody’s fault but mine,
The maple tree started drying after I engraved the name
Of my forgotten homeland.
Now I am collecting dry leaves for my pillowcase,
For my ancestors who still bribe me with ampoules of blood.
My back turned to my chest,
The basement ceiling bent my spine
Into a hunch.
I buy shoes in the children’s department
And can’t remember how to stand tall
When bullets fly,
Or the difference between soldiers and heroes.
I got tired of the whispers I was sending myself
From countries I never memorized,
From cities that taxed me for eyes too big,
From beaches where old mocking turtles
Walked over a new old man covered with sand.
In those whispers
There is no return address,
Just the sound of a roaring garbage truck in the distance,
Grinding perfume bottles like an anthem,
There, a few blocks away,
At the place where my sorrow starts.
What did I miss before I was born?
Not much it seems to me,
Nothing that didn’t repeat itself in the same shape.
The way mothers incessantly curse the funeral home apprentice
Who sits idle at the Maternity Hospital gate
Eating toast with black milk.
The way the chicken obediently goes into the coop
Dreaming of the moment when a peacock will come out
Of an eggshell in full bloom, bravely stepping
In front of the hand groping for the stupid egg.
I am talking about millions of shells who chew
Their own brain for years, counting on the day
When a little pearl will shine on the neck of a fairy-tale queen.
Before the same queen all oceans turn into mirrors.
I am talking about my small hands
That worked for years to place a heavy metal door
In the window’s place,
To peep at the world through its keyhole.
The same world I helped to shape the way I dislike
So I could puke on it whenever I want.
Before nightfall I put on heavy drapes
Because of the mad sniper who has been active
Since the war that started before I was born.
He simply shot at ordinary and content people,
At policemen disguised in a preacher’s robe,
At war veterans that manage kindergartens,
At politicians disguised in a postman’s uniform,
Hidden deep in the womb of the red cloud
Above my scared town.
He aims at street signs named for heroes
But the streets are covered by
bloodthirsty pigeons’ bodies.
He’s not me. Still, I am not suspected.
Even neighbours reported seeing me content
While listening to a lullaby of metal rain
Tap on the roof
And pretending not to know that the sound comes
From the cocoons falling from the cloud.
The same cocoons I will obediently broom
From my doorstep.
I kept secret my birth
And I used not to retell events I could express
Only with tears.
As a butterfly larva in diapers, I never managed to fly.
Instead, it crawled blindly obedient to the mirror
To became an ugly spot,
The eye that looks at itself.
My imagination was born from my simple need
To be silent instead of cry
Because silence alone has the colour I am craving
To paint myself,
Which finds no place on the hardware store’s palette.
How many times the Coast Guard stopped me from
Swimming deep down toward the bottom of the ocean.
They begged me to give up
Because there is nothing there but moist darkness
But I would always swim underwater
In search of something already promised to me
That belongs to me
Which I have never truly defined.
That something that became my goal
Was perhaps already registered
In my skin
In the form of bruises from the golden sandbars
While I was swimming deeper and deeper,
In the fishes’ bites selfishly chewing eternal darkness,
In my own failure to breathe my own breath again,
Under the mask
In my smile
After defeat I swim back up to the silent beach.
Maybe I was right when marrying the silence,
Because my scream became my lover
Who doesn’t see the difference between a fishing boat
And a submarine,
Who doesn’t care if I breathe black water
Or white air.
No, it wasn’t me
the one who would leave the house at dawn
dressed like a fisherman
going to the North to reconcile clever rebellious salmon
with thousands of stupid lures
and returning home with canisters full of oil in my hands.
It wasn’t me,
Who would shake out desert sand
From shoes made of polar bear fur.
I was born on the tarp in the military warehouse
And a flashlight was the very first star I saw.
Perhaps I watched in the wrong direction
And learned too late that only losers have a right
And that headaches are what remains for conquerors,
For fear of those who celebrate.
On my first trip from clinging to my mother’s skirt
To wearing my father’s military backpack
I was told: the safest way to go for a crocodile hunt
Is to wear crocodile-skin boots.
My pointer finger is still sweating while throwing
Celebratory fire crackers into the refugee camp,
While I sniff kerosene under the vulture’s wing
And read horror on the lips of the stewardess
Who smiles like a pregnant woman before takeoff.
But I was never the one
Who went to the North to chop down ancient trees
To carve an old pulpit.
God is my witness.
If any witness remains
At the end of the day.
So many times I moved from place to place,
That I don’t even remember my first address.
I remember the cities because of the train tickets
And continents because of the stamps in my passport.
I don’t even carry anything else in my suitcases
But city and road maps.
I don’t even get surprised anymore when the suitcase bites me
When I try to close it.
I live in the flight attendants’ fake smile
When watching suspiciously
The plastic rose in my hand.
I drink the train conductors’ politeness
When asking me for the origin of my face’s scars.
From the plastic plate I eat somebody else’s bitter bread
With its country of origin written on the bottom of each slice
That will eat me before I reach my stop.
My camera resists capturing the sunny landscapes,
My pen is dead to describe
Nameless stops and faceless people.
A pocket flashlight is my guide
When thinking of my true love, who agrees
To live in my imagination.
Behind me, blue snow falls from the sky,
On the streets that I have just passed.
In front of me hotel rooms still devour the bones of lovers
Who walked away with new dreams.
Strangers pronounce the name of the country they come from
Like they are pronouncing
The name of a terminal illness
That one dies from only in front
Of a blank TV screen.
Strangers’ voices sound like telephones that don’t ring
In new hotel rooms,
Email messages appear on the computer screen
On the roof of the old family house.
Afterwards the same swallows turn into storks
After patiently waiting for years on the frozen chimney
And then leave
For some other roof.
Every foreigner dies in a dream with the
Old country’s anthem
Stuck in his throat like a fishbone,
Dies with wide-open eyes
Too small to chew up new landscapes,
To wake up in a cold silence
After the pillow starts smelling
Of the flag bleached by rain
I am also one of those in search of home,
In search of the warmth of my mother’s womb.
In search of
My first address.
When you left the bar
Only your frozen gloves remained in my pocket.
I pretended nothing was left after you
Except your lipstick stamp on the glass
That morning will eat like breakfast.
Only the barman knows the reason he showed you
The exit door,
Only the waiter knows why you left him a condom
Instead of a tip,
Only I know how long I kept your gloves
In my pocket to make them soft and tasty like ice cream.
I shouldn’t drive
With your gloves already on the wheel,
I shouldn’t present you with a bracelet made of my hair,
I shouldn’t notice the moment when the bear tattooed on my chest
Bites your hand ready to stretch its golden claws.
I could guess,
Your wallet will knock on my door one day
To tell me that you were stolen
And liberate me from accusing myself
Of never giving you a chance.
When I fall in love for the first time
I promise to donate my organs
To anyone who believes that death happens
Only to those that wander from oneself to somebody else,
Like food in the market that moves
From shelf to shelf.
My brain could extend the life of some old man
That there is a difference between the brain rotten with cancer
And the brain already infected by life.
It could be of use to some suicide beginner
To make another try,
Or to some young preacher punishing himself in a cell
Whenever imagination overpowers rules.
My liver is my cellar
In which the smell of vine lives in forbidden relationship
With a young woman ready to taste her own skin.
It may be useful to someone who never tasted the shame
In front of a Red Cross kitchen,
In a long line of those who believe that food eats
Those who didn’t prepare it by themselves.
He must be used to sorrow and doubts
That make love constantly,
Their pregnancy in the shape of tobacco smoke.
My liver might explode like a balloon
If the new owner starts baby-talking it
After yesterday’s storm comes again from the past.
That room is too small for one and too big for two.
My skin is like a map,
A battlefield where gentle fingerprints fight
With the bruises of a club.
Only I, hunter,
Can read the fear in the runaway’s roar,
Can read from my skin why I am going
With a gigantic pen on my shoulder
And a plastic gun in my pocket.
Out of my skin I never manage to make the flag
Adapt to the hundred colours of the belt
I purchased from the retired hangman.
My skin could easily be used
As a patch for the scars on someone’s cheek
But I don’t see any woman who would press her lips to it
Without feeling that the kiss already happened
A long time ago.
My heart could easily be placed in the chest
Of some young man
Ready for rebellion
But inexperienced in loss.
Unless that lucky man quickly learns
How to compare mystical bits of the new heart,
Already blue from ink,
With the bits from an old wall clock
Grinding hours into minutes.
But who would desire that kind of heart
Already infected by love?
I embrace you so tight
That drops of ink appear on your skin.
You hug me back and watch
A drop of orange juice glide down from my chest
Making a road like a scar.
You claim that your skin is a never-ending desert
Stretched before the masters of caravans.
You comfort me
My face got the shape of a camel
Only because of your imagination.
How horrible must be the moment of defining
Something that doesn’t exist.
How wonderful it is to be protected
By the cage of words
Soaked with the religion
Of the deaf and blind.
In the homeland of
Stupid, careless question marks
That will survive the desert even without ink
And a drop of orange.
— Goran Simić (translated by the author and edited by Tom Simpson)
Born in 1952, Goran Simić emigrated from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Canada in 1996 under the auspices of PEN Canada. In his native Yugoslavia he was a widely published poet and writer of short stories, puppet plays, librettos for opera, and radio plays. He was also an editor and columnist for magazines and radio networks.
He has been a Senior Resident of Massey College, University of Toronto (1996). He held a Fleck Fellowship at the Banff Centre for the Arts (2000), and he was Writer-in-Residence at the University of Guelph (2006). He has also been Writer-in-Exile at the University of Alberta (2011).
Since 1996 his literary work has been translated into 15 languages and was included in several world anthologies, such as Scanning the Century (Penguin, 2000) and Banned Poetry (Index of Censorship, 1997), as well as numerous anthologies in Canada and the former Yugoslavia. He received the Hellman-Hammett/PEN USA Freedom to Write award (1994), and the People’s Award, Canada (2006), along with numerous literary prizes for his work in puppet theatres. Recently the Canadian Association of Authors named his Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman the best poetry book in Canada of 2012.
His other published volumes include Sprinting from the Graveyard (Oxford University Press, 1997), Immigrant Blues (Brick Books, 2003), and From Sarajevo with Sorrow (Biblioasis, 2005). Additional collections of his selected poems are forthcoming in the UK, Romania, Russia, and Bulgaria.
Born and raised in western New York, Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, and philosophy at Phillips Exeter Academy. He holds a Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, whose faculty senate awarded him a dissertation-year fellowship for excellence in teaching and research. In 2006 he won the American Society of Church History’s Sidney Mead Prize, for the year’s best essay based on doctoral research. He has also received Phillips Exeter Academy’s New Teacher Award (2011) and Distinguished Faculty Fund Award (2013). His previous published writings have appeared in Religion and American Culture, Church History, Perspectives on the Social Gospel, the online gallery of Bosnian painter Samir Biščević, and the Bosnian website jmbg.org.
From 2002-2004 he directed Emory University’s “Journeys of Reconciliation,” an international travel program exploring the intersections of religion, violence, and peacebuilding. That work brought him to Bosnia-Herzegovina for the first time. Subsequent visits have led to collaborations with the Bosnian writer Goran Simić on a collection of poems and essays, which they plan to publish in Bosnian and English in 2015. He lives in Exeter, New Hampshire with his partner, Alexis, and their two children, Blake and Will.