“It’s too late to teach my heart anything”


National Poetry Month continues. As much as I love ‘standards’ that we get in English-language literature and poetry education, I love much more the stuff we don’t get and have spent my entire adult life seeking those things out. The university-era me, greedily slurping up the lit – whenever I could find it – of the former Yugoslavia, by then in tatters, fell in love with Radmila Lazić (Радмила Лазић), expressing as she does, so much contempt for the binary, the boundaries, the rules, the restrictions. It mirrored how I felt then, before I had fully found my way or knew where I might go in my life, wanting to burst out of the confines of expectation, the humdrum and some life requiring obedience to anyone but myself.

A Woman’s Letter
-Radmila Lazić
I don’t want to be obedient and tame.
Coddled like a cat. Faithful like a dog.
With a belly to my teeth, hands in the dough,
Face covered with flour, my heart a cinder
And his hand on my ass.

I don’t want to be a welcome flag at his door,
Nor the guardian snake under his threshold,
Neither the snake nor Eve from Genesis.

I don’t want to pace between the door and the window,
To listen hard and be able to distinguish
Footsteps from night-sounds.
I don’t want to follow the leaden movement of the watch-hands,
Nor see falling stars
For him to gore me drunkenly like an elephant.

I don’t want to be sewn with needlepoint
To the family portrait
Next to the fireplace with balled up children,
In the garden with puppy children,
And I the shade tree,
And I the winter landscape,
A statue under the snow.
In a pleated wedding dress
I’ll fly to heaven.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
I don’t want a bridegroom.

I want gray hair, a hump and a basket
To go roaming in the woods,
Picking strawberries and dry twigs.

With my whole life behind me,
The smile of that boy,
So dear and irreplaceable.

Twilight Metaphysics
-Radmila Lazić
It’s too late to teach my heart anything.
The alphabet of suffering
I already know by heart. I test it live.
Life knows more than the Sybil.

Time has stopped. What bliss is there in flowing?
Reality resembles a moth-eaten sweater —
This is poetry.
Life limps like a crippled girl
Who hopes to marry well
Even though her heart is scarred with memories.
Biography of fire and water.
These are the worthless and painful reserves
With which one starts on a long, uncertain journey
Over one’s own private homeland
On which every foot steps on in boots.

Older than Cain is every suffering,
Even this one which like a cousin from far away
Has come for a three-day visit
And stayed, made herself comfortable,
Took up all the room —
And says nothing about leaving!

The time of miracles is behind us.
Time of tower-building,
Heavenly and earthly gardens
From schoolbooks and poems.
The so-called Greek luck awaits us
Where we will never arrive.
Therefore, if you can,
Water the flowers and the heart
From the same pitcher.
Time doesn’t dry up,
Nor make steps quicker, as they say.
Time swallows its own images
As if they were its children.

Get it through your head, throwing a blanket
Over your face won’t help you.
Even if underneath it a dear body waits for you.
No use stuffing wax in your ears either.
The siren’s song will be a part of your scream.

Those born happy and less happy
Die before their own body dies.
They wear their faces like other people’s clothes
As in paintings of Hieronymus Bosch.

The one who wrote the sky, the earth and the sea,
And above all, snow and dreams,
The phases of the moon, the color of leaves, our faces,
Seems distant and cold like the North Pole.

Don’t call that nihilism or blasphemy.
With wrong syntax and bad diction
Was how the world was created —
So many apples of divisiveness
Have been tossed between us,
One of them will roll even at your feet,
Perhaps, just as you’ve brought in the harvest,
Added up the accounts,
Thrown your hands over your head
Chasing rings of smoke and reveries.

Dead-born will be your wishes.
Your every hope will be a widow.
And as for love, not enough
To spread on a slice of bread.

Photo by Toa Heftiba used under Creative Commons license.

On second thought


“So wrapped up were they in the minutiae of whether she was his ‘type’ that she failed to realize that he had ceased to be hers.”

Sometimes things seem resolved, she thinks to herself standing in the tram, keeping her balance while rounding a corner, but they keep turning around and around until they no longer are. That is, resolved or sensible. It’s so easy to ignore all the underlying debris, just being glad for the semblance of resolution. It doesn’t matter that what’s left isn’t what is wanted – or needed.

The tram stops. The bustle of the busiest stop in a not-terribly-busy city causes her to shift her place. Without realizing, her place is shifting all the time. A place standing in the rickety, ambling tram as much as a place in the lives of others. The pseudo-aunt to friends’ children; the daughter, the sister, the sister-in-law with all the connections; the invitations to all the events she never attends; the go-to, last-minute, “she’ll save this project from the fire” person when chaos ensues. It is no wonder, she thinks, leaning against the railing, that it always ends up being this way: what someone else wants and me trying to comply. I can’t fucking say no.

She keeps wanting nothing; she wonders, Is that lack of want the problem? Does it not imply that I’d cling by the fingernails, with a mix of fight, fortitude and relief, to something just to triumph, to say I fixed it, to hold fast to belief in illusions? To believe I’d seen a project, an opportunity, a clear path, a spark, an idea, a personality, an intellect, a humor, a humanity, a problem-solution axiom, an openness, a compassion, a depth, a cure, a caring, a kindred spirit, a team, a folk song, a story, a beauty, when in fact all were proven incomplete or figments of my imagination?

The tram winds its way to the other end of town, the outskirts, one of the places she never wants to go. She promised more than a year ago that she’d never go again, but here she is. Jumping off, heading toward this place she’d eagerly departed, everything feels like a soft ultimatum. Ending up here, with hand-wringing automatons or a pit of vipers, depending, still fighting against the long-irrelevant tune of the eternal freelancer: feast or famine. She feels like merchandise on a shelf, with a set of traits that can be picked and chosen, handled, and cast aside when it’s not quite right or when the novelty’s gone. A mute toy, still silently filled with the weird internal exclamation of elation, I’m a toy that was picked up and played with! Thankful, grateful, lucky, relieved for a split second, thinking she has a chance to show that she is worthwhile, and is in fact capable of doing anything.

But, goddamn: Just say no.