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I'd never been aware how beautiful my house is
until I saw it burning,
my schoolmate told me, who had twenty pieces of shrapnel
that remained deep under his skin after the war.
He wrote me how at the airport he enjoyed
having upset the customs officials who couldn't understand
why the checkpoint metal detector howled for no reason.

I had never been aware I was a nation
until they said they'd kill me,
my friend told me,
who'd escaped from a prison camp
only to be caught and raped by Gypsies
while she was roaming in the woods.
Then they sold her to some Italian pimps
who tattooed the owner's brand and number on her fist.
She says you cannot see it when she wears gloves.

I recognized them in a small town in Belgium.
They were sitting and watching the river
carry plastic bags, cans,
and garbage from the big city.
She was caressing the hard shrapnel lumps
through his shirt
and he was caressing her glove.

I wanted to say hello
and give them a jolly photograph from the times
when none of us knew the meaning
of House and Nation.

Then I realized that there was more meaning
in the language of silence
in which they were seeing off
the plastic bags down the river
than in the language
in which I would have tried to feign those faces
from the old photograph
that shows us all smiling long ago.



(for Visnja)

I love my accent, I love that wild sea
which attacks my weak tongue.
It doesn't reside in the morning radio news
as much as in the rustle of the job offer flyers
stapled to the street poles.
In my accent you can find my past,
the different me who still talks with imagined fishes
in a glass of water.

My grandfather was a fisherman
and I grew up on a dock
waiting for him to come back.
He built a gigantic aquarium when I was born
and every time he brought a fish
he named it immediately by some word I had to learn
until the next came.
I remember the first two were called "I am"
and after that the beauty of language came to me
through the shining scales.
I learned watching the aquarium
and recognizing the words by the silent colors.
After returning home
my grandfather would spend whole nights
making sentences by combining the fishes
who would pass each other.
It's how I learned to speak.

I left the house the day when my grandfather went
fishing for a black fish he was missing
and never came back.

Now I am sitting in the middle of my empty room
as in an aquarium
and talking with ghosts of the fishes
I used to recognize by words,
talking with the shadows floating
over the flyers ripped off street poles.

"I love my accent....
I love my accent.."
I repeat and repeat again
just not to ask myself :

Who am I now.
Am I real or just the black fish
my grandfather failed to catch.




for Fraser Sutherland

A lamb escaped from me
and I sent the wolf to bring it back.
such lambs loiter about the forest,
and leave droppings where I like to watch the valley.
I am afraid something might happen to the wolf.
There are many fugitive lambs
very few such faithful wolves.
Years pass before you train them
not to look you in the eyes
but at your hands.

I've read in an encyclopedia
how many people were killed in Auschwitz.
Like lambs.
Later I read a book about the same camp
but 308 victims were missing from the list.

Between those two books
my wolf treads in the deep snow
and draws a thick red line with his tail,
contentedly sniffing the air.
The spring is coming again
when the snow melts as fast as memory
and lambs feel the urge to escape.




If on the subway my hand accidentally touched yours
on that merciless ride every evening back
to my cold bachelor apartment
perhaps you would look for my shy eyes
hidden under the cap
and think :
Is this the man who empties a pocket of silence into my
voice mail
a few times every day?

In the crowded train
nobody would notice me caressing a strand of your hair
that insolently smells of my pillow.
Nobody but you.
Perhaps for a moment you would think
that the world is full of lonely people
including the one
who has been sending unsigned Christmas cards
for years.

If I leaned on you tenderly
in that packed train full of tired or sleepy people
perhaps you would feel the fire in my skin
and wish to warm yourself one stop longer
on the shoulder of the shy weirdo
whose warmth reminds you of something
you have forgotten,
thinking :
The world is full of cold people with north in their bosoms
who fear touch might melt their ice.

I could have touched your hand if you hadn't got off
at the stop where you never get off.
I only needed a moment to show you
your earring
alive in my pocket all these years.
The same one I found in my bed
so long ago
before you forgot me.

But who knows if you would recognize it at all ?
You would think :
The world is full of lonely people
and lost earrings.

Arabic translation by Tahseen al-Khateeb)

It's Sunday, Mary Lou,
most terrible day of the week when even empty bottles
look happy keeping company with the spiders under my bed.
They know nothing about my loneliness
shaped by wet pillows and crumpled sheets,
nothing about the emptiness that attacks me
while watching night programs on TV
with one hand on a lottery ticket
and another on the glass.

It's Sunday Mary Lou,
and I'm already tired talking with ancestors
hidden in the basket full of my dirty work clothes.
She's fake, they tell me every time I kiss your photo.
As if I don't know it.
Your long blond hair is not the same color as your pubic bush
which obediently lies under somebody's hand. Like a lamb.
And your big breasts don't seem like the place where some baby
can get some sleep with a drop of milk between its lips.
Even your phone number
printed at the bottom of your widely spread legs
is a fake.
Or belongs to someone I didn't need to call.

My neighbor's wife, the house next to mine,
seems happy walking with her kids on Sunday evening
-she can be seen in the red light district every night.
Even the tiny woman next door,
holding hands with her boyfriend who just got out of jail
says "Hello" on Sunday.
And I pretend not to know she's wearing a big hat
just to cover the dark bruises under her eyes.

Even my landlady's dog,
fifth in the last year,
walks lamely before licking my hand. On Sunday.
But my ancestors don't want to see that scene
and dive into the pockets of my work clothes.

It's Sunday Mary Lou, lonely Sunday
when life seems different
and my loneliness has the shape of an empty bottle
keeping company with spiders and crumpled lottery tickets
under my bed.

It's Sunday Mary Lou,
and nobody sees the moment when I put your photo
back in my to keep company with the picture of my darling
who once promised to wait for me \
until I come back.

Nobody can see my pale eyes watching two pale photos
not able to tell which one is my darling
and which one is you, Mary Lou.

It's Sunday. Lonely Sunday.




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