Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Is this a later draft?


Russian Monument

For Nadya and her aunts

she has hidden proust’s madelaines away
and the cherries, chekhov’s cherries
and the dark chocolate biscuits
in dr. lahnevich’s sunday morning bed

her tailored blue suit too
with that silk-buttoned chemise
all those kisses foiled in snow
ebbing back and forth and back

somewhere central sofia for sale
for sale behind ministry of agriculture
take northern staircase prussian vaulting[1]
third floor apartment private entrance on left

three eastward facing chambers
a few broken ribs
innate valvular disease
and tuberoses in both lungs

A monument, unforged, I for myself erected[2]

but otherwise she’s been hiding

otherwise it is for sale for sale

but also they keep ebbing back and forth and back

Fairy Lights

For Leonid

This is a poem to stand at the end of a book, like a Christmas tree in the last days of December 1882, when electric Christmas lights were invented.

my sweetheart
is decorating me in the middle of the room
cotton glass and electricity
and electricity
then we sing
the body electric

I sing the body electric:

I am made of tiny pieces of glass
I purr prickle and buzz
and all the wiring leads
to my huge glass heart
one hundred candles bright

my sweetheart turns me on
and off and
on and

I purr prickle and buzz
I p-urrp-ri-ck-le-and-bu-zz
and love runs its circuits
in tiny mouthfuls

we play till midnight
all that remains is the filament
wet naked golden-hot
it twines around my sweetheart
still turning me on and off
and on and

until the elements [MRN1] short-circuit
then there is light

White goods for Lovers

It all starts with a few wet drops
at the back, paper bags going soft
and a supersonic cracking
in the icebox.

The broccoli gives off a faint smell
and the well chilled corpse
of the melon
lets out a suspicious sigh.

Next the jellied beef tongue
licks against the bean sprouts
who run wild
in the remains of [MRN2] [MRN2]yesterday’s salad.

The freezer compartment on the left
is heating up heating up heating
pumping up to the necessary
heart rate.

The fridge takes a final deep breath,
strains every volt and muscle,
then breaks its waters
on the unswept kitchen floor.

Food rots, love blossoms,
life, they say, came out of the water.
Our dinner for two is cancelled.
And we won’t sleep for a long time –

we are starving.[MRN3] [MRN3]


like a cat carrying her young by the scruff
the light drags me round the room
until the veins of the walls are blue
and the carpet spits out its woollen heart

there are no landlords here
only desires:

to slip out of myself
my sex
my last skin literature

the cat is a burning blackberry bush in the middle of the room
where all desires are met
without end
leaving nothing behind

later the cat sleeps under the bed
later we dance again
I pour milk into the bowl
even the milk is glowing

my friend is a maharani from a distant land

Poste Restante

Postcard: a photograph of
eight women
pulling up onions in a field.

I’ve been with them there for a month now -
the best thing
I could wish for.

The field is a scorched baking tray
and the clouds above are soft suds
which cannot shift the burnt bits.

That’s what we are doing, the women and I –
scraping at the burnt potato flour,
but it won’t come off, it won’t come off.

By noon we’ve taken out
a dozen buckets of onions –
we peel them and eat them whole
until the soap gets in our eyes
grateful tears.

We sleep in cold corridors, below stairs.

On the bed beside me lies a young Chinese woman,
her breasts like soya beans.
In a box under the bed she breeds crickets.
When the temperature falls below zero,
she takes them out and holds them under her shirt

so their voices don’t freeze.GEORGI

On Invention

It is woman who invented the troubadour
I’ll say it again:
She invented the inventor
Gaustin of Arles, 12th c.

It is time for me to invent myself,
for who else would ever invent me?
The gypsy women meant to praise me are gone -
thoughts like that make me hurry.

All you need to do is invent a woman,
the rest – the man – she’ll take care of.

So off she goes, her passion invents
my male body,
invents my two hands,
heavy and groping,
invents my lungs,
each and every alveolus,
my quickening breath,
invents my giant part
(that’s how she designs it – giant).

Such vision! Such imagination!

So here I am alive, newly created, complete,
attractive in my own way,
a good age, seductive,
before I invent the dying fall.
For endings should be sad.
And beautiful.

So I invent my own:
should I die between the fingers
of a straight A schoolgirl,
as she copies me down in a careless scrawl,
or do it on my own?
Should I even die at all,

for who would reinvent me then?
Hey Jude, 7’09”

It’s the longest slow track ever and if you can’t score with a woman in that time, you are the biggest loser in the Universe.” Gaustin, Grade VIc

It’s the longest track ever,
just that: 7’09”.
7 minutes and 9 seconds,
your hands electric
with the mohair of her jumper.
7 minutes and 9 seconds,
for your most glamorous story.
7 minutes and 9 seconds,
you are dizzy,
it’s hard to believe
but you are spinning around,
it’s hard to believe but she is spinning
around you,
yes, she is spinning around.
7 minutes and 9 seconds.

Never again,
never at all,
(though you don’t know it yet)
will you be in love
with a woman
for this long.


She folds the newspaper and says:
you heard the news from Iowa?
It hailed – hailstones
the size of golf balls.
Yes, I say,
they play golf all the time there,
they’ve lost so many balls
and the balls are now coming back.
Don’t you see,[n4]
He is returning all their balls,
the Great Jester.
She is not amused.
She turns to me in terror:

He never misses.

A Bee

keeps hitting the glass
the stained glass with
the finely painted lilies
it’s been an hour
and not a speck of pollen
it will kill itself
this bee of art

(a photograph by Russel Sorgi, 1942)

This is a photo from the Forties, New York – the number of the street
escapes me. In the foreground
there’s a hotel cafe, three round tables
outside on the sidewalk, and at the fourth
the only two customers, cups in front of them,
idly smoking.
It’s deadly quiet
and if at this moment the two look up
they will see
(for us this is the centre of the photo),
between the ninth and the eighth floor,
like a fly, like a smudge on the print,
a woman

The photographer, so the story goes,
was an intern on the Buffalo Courier Express.
He just happened to be there taking a photo
of a lazy September, an empty New York street,
meaning to call it ‘Two in the afternoon’ or ‘Boredom’.
But things change,
the title has to go –
the woman is in shot, a starring role
which means nothing to her.
In the photo she is still alive
between the ninth and the eighth floor –
a cry in the throat, fear in the body –
her dress is intact, and that
shocks us all the more.

The coffee stains on the sidewalk
are still in the cups.Photograph II

Remembering our youth, dear Gaustin, and your enthusiasm for anarchism, and that broken little suitcase with the works of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Stirner – all Anarchy Editions – I dare to offer you the story of one more photograph of that October day in Sarajevo – a simple photo of no value to anyone else. It took me a whole day to find the bridge where in the summer of 1914 Gavrilo Princip, a nationalist and anarchist (a favourite combination in the Balkans), shot at point-blank range the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the person of crown prince Franz Ferdinand. Or to be more precise, in the throat.

Unwise of me to ask passers-by for directions to the bridge – they all glared at me and hurried on as if they did not understand. Eventually a man took pity on me and told me to look for the bridge with a broken plaque commemorating ‘that Serbian fucker’.

So here I am. I cross warily to the pavement on the other side of the street and nonchalantly light a cigarette, a Smyana[3] under my coat -- it’s simple but reliable, I’ve put it to the test many times. I am ready to shoot. I shiver, as if the car carrying Franz Ferdinand could whirr over the bridge any minute. Traffic goes by and a cold wind begins to blow. Right in the middle of this historic place, beside the broken plaque, an old man has laid out umbrellas for sale. Some of them are open. They add volume and movement to the photograph: the wind is rolling them away and the old man is trying to stop them by standing on their handles. I know this is it, my moment has come. I take out the Smyana and shoot. In the picture the old man has no head – either my hands shook or this place is cursed – but the concrete rail with the broken plaque is there, in focus. Just as my deadly mission was completed the Great Cloud Powers – as you would call them – interfered. Lightning wired the news around and thunder clouds voiced loud protests, forcing me to retreat. The old man was the last to withdraw, soaking wet. I stood under some nearby eaves, sodden with historic guilt. I thought back to my idiotic history books, which said ‘the bullet in Sarajevo was the spark that the dark clouds gathering over Europe were waiting for’. Well, my dear Gaustin, the clouds over Sarajevo that day were really dark. You can see how dark they were even though the photo is over-exposed. This is how big trouble comes about. Someone carelessly tosses up a few metaphors and they suddenly come true.

Yours G.

Global Autumn

I know we have no eyes and ears, nor language for the intrigue and plotting of the Great Natural Powers. We can only marvel at their harmonic anarchy.
Gaustin, Early Letters

This year I can say precisely
when and where the summer ended.
It was the 24th October,
Wednesday, 6.40 p.m., Sarajevo time.
A new Gavrilo Princip
shattered the sun point-blank.
It was all planned out, although
they say this happens every year
as a matter of principle:
cold Western fronts,
cyclones in alliances,
fragile truces, rain, depressions.
(Coming next: war reports from weathermen.)

This is how Global Autumns

Photograph IV

The key to this photo, my dear Gaustin, lies in its geography. Imagine the far northwestern corner of Greece, five hours from Thessalonica, three from Kozani, an hour from Florina. This is the area of the two Prespan lakes – where Greece, Albania and Macedonia meet. We arrive late at night and they put us up in a former school in the deserted village. Stern whitewashed walls and high ceilings. In the morning we go for a walk. It’s August, the sun is out, and we are glad to see that the place is alive. There are only old people around, but it’s alive. They stare as if they know us, the way only Balkan people do, and they come up and welcome us with words you won’t hear anywhere else. ‘Kalimera, ko praite?’[4] That’s just what they said, Gaustin, believe me. When we stared back they asked: ‘You speak our tongue?’ That’s right, ‘our tongue.’ My heart melted, I felt like a kind of linguistic Columbus -- ‘our tongue’ meant this peculiar mishmash of Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Turkish and Macedonian… I wondered, Gaustin, if this was the language from before Babel or some new hybrid coming out of the Balkan hullabaloo. Needless to say, you can’t see this on the picture.

The place was called Antarctico, which means ‘rebellious’ in Greek, and these dear old rebels complained to us that the Albanians come across the hills nearby, desecrate their church and steal hens from their backyards.

I know you are dying to hear about the woman in the picture. Good looking, isn’t she? And obviously not from round here. Gabriela, 35, worked on Broadway. A dancer. And Austrian. She came to visit 3 years ago, liked it, and stayed, leaving her life behind. She was on her own, if you don’t count that evil-looking dog in the lower left-hand corner. She’d lived in the most amazing places in the world, Gaustin, but the four nights we spent drinking retsina on the wooden table under the Greek-Albanian-Macedonian moon, she behaved as if this most distant of distant Balkan places were the centre of the universe. Madison Square Garden, Broadway and the Vienna Statsopera all rubbed against her feet under the table like abandoned kittens, begging for her company. Have you ever had moments when the centre of the world feels like something very light and agile, like a dog that’s following a woman? I don’t even want to think about what happens to the places she has left behind. Are you sure Austria is still there?

And her dog, Gaustin, it never once growled at me!

Yours G.

Gabriela’s Dog

His father is a Serbian shepherd
his mother an Albanian greyhound
his father’s line is Bulgarian Karakachani
his mother’s pedigree Thessalonican
he is a Balkan mongrel, Gabriela jokes
(she is Austrian, her mother Hungarian)
he is not afraid of gun shots
he is a good hunter
he licks everyone’s hands
he won’t be cross if you shout at him

sometimes just sometimes
(very rarely though)
he will jump up and bite and bite…


Armenia’s Childhood

My skinny black grandmother crawled out
from behind the cupboard with a smile and on the red-brick wall
hung a map of the sea

“Light your grandad’s pipe and wrap the chains
around your legs. I will knit you a pair of socks
out of sails and make you a pair of glasses
out of old telescopes.”

My eyes are complex, my eyes are long.
I’ve poked at that brick wall since I was a child –
I stick my pencils in there, and hide my bits of paper.

I closed the cupboard so it didn’t pull down the room

and crossing the wooden floor, saw my grandmother off.
I am turning around.
The sea is flowing out of the map. Down my brick wall
-- dripping.
The Black Sea down my wall.
Dark is the sea –
Down the wall – becks and outcrops…
through rough stucco.
The sea will overwhelm my childhood…
and so it did – my pencils rotted,
scraps of paper now floating rafts –
each with a history nailed together with consonants.
This is how grandmothers bring up children in Armenia –
they give them maps
and salt from deep waters.
The salt is so the eyes can see.

“Come, Yohannes…”

I know I can wade through the water -
I am on my grandmother’s back.
Her eyes are complex, her eyes are long,
her hands old telescopes.
By and by we leave the room;
on the door a sign made of wax:
“Houses are old grandmothers”.


… in the morning there were loads of pineapples, there were walnuts in the juicy apples
the mulled wine was full of cinnamon
and long tobacco leaves floated in the hazelnut-and-star-anise tea.
At noon the amber honey from the oranges
oozed into softening figs
and we smoked sandalwood
with drops of thick pine-tree milk.
At dusk we placed pink grapefruits
in hot jugfuls of caramel
and lay down for the night
amongst green lemons
drinking long mouthfuls of strawberry cream
with Constantinople almonds
and syrupy tishpishtil.
Amid the scent of linseed
and fat olives
big nocturnal raisins
in our mouths
like Armenian white jam
until the ginger tree awoke…


The ropes I used to tie my son
are still tight and wet.
The wardrobe hides the attic door,
the hanging dresses swing.

We parade bottles of cologne,
we’re back in Sofia at last,
two careful soldiers, maybe,
tying the threads of our past.

We are leaning over the cast-iron sink
in furnished quarters neither of us own.
We stand in front of the mirror and think:
in the end we put on our make-up alone.

We’ve grown old and look like brothers –
the way it’s always been.
We are used to this. My son and I are silent:
theatrical, exhausted, smiling.

Men always want.

To be the hero – to swing from the gallows
with a terrible force towards Earth.[5] That’s why
they play cards, drink spirits and tell dirty jokes.
And each has a war in his back pocket.
Infidelity in his jeans.
And a childhood full of pirates.

But there aren’t enough films to go round,
or women-directors to make them.

And so – building sites and tables
turn into silent movies.
Because whatever you say – it’s like
you never said it.
All your life, not even one [mr5] [mr4]memorable one-liner.

That’s why tired-looking men sit in stations,
waiting to be called up.
Men under the table belting out songs,
waiting to be booked for mutiny.
Men who stay there
and wait with a terrible force…

In truth there aren’t enough heroes to go round,
or film-makers who believe in themselves.

…and not even one memorable one-liner,
except the last:“That’s life…”

Strange Vista

…how ‘Confused’ our physical Geography seems
when you look south from Moldova:
our country has no shape (we are slightly to the West), ‘sweaty’ –
a Caucasian province with gigantic memories.
‘Unnoticed in the lefthand corner of sea’ – X.
(scaled high up beyond the Danube and squeezed from Above.)
How different the Grammar sounds in
the suburbs of Kishinev and Kagul
(even more so in their sup:urbs or on the lower banks
of the Dnester) and how strangely we conjugate our verbs,
worrying about History and Geology (ours),
eyes staring to the right, Yarzhidva.
(high up, so we can look beyond the Alps)
and then anthropomorphic,
we rediscover our miracled Landschaft –
like pilgrims
around the closed looking-glass of the Black Sea.
backwards. forwards.
I head south from Moldova,
but my reflections march towards Kiev –
only here do Dneper and Danube meet.

The Caucuses
(an operation)

My home against my castle.
I’ve quit.
Theatre is the oldest cunning (art). Here amongst the Ossetians
the images of history become theatre (remoteness).
The accents of objects shift. The mechanical factories
are started up by Gramophones. Every factory a song.

Azerbaijan – first song
“One cart after the other, a ship in each cart – bulging
wooden ships… Drowned people grazing. They graze and sing…”
Oh, my native land – dead buffalo and pregnant women
beneath your centrifugal fields. And at the very bottom lies
Black, copper Iran. How can I save your limbs from flight
or idolatry?
And the greatest Fear here – Earth has a Direction.

Armenia – second song
“…he is holding the Church in his palm, and inside it – human bustle.
In the same palm – Ararat. Forest and society used to be one.
Leave us alone. Leave us lonely.”
… But there are no gallows here! That means there is no Order, no hope…
History is a simple word,
preserved in a nervous stomach and the mouth.
I stand out, lost, while at home the watercolours
show the mutability of the field: it is
dangerous there, but I am a Creatress: I take my place and await
the new Modernism: God exists – and God is other people…

Georgia – third song
“To stay in my native land and lose my Georgian eyes,
and to forget, to leave behind electric posts as high as skies
and copper wiring in the ground only here, only here.
Let me be cursed then [n6] stuck-in-the-dirt.”
The Black Sea is the most mediterranean – it is an outsourced Archive.
The only way for deep byzantiums
to reach the North. Our deep sleep is a useless hole.
And the night here is a physical condition:
here matter slowly turns its womb inside out
and in the dark the Sounds sink into the body –
each Object with its own voice in the night.

…I’ve quit, but I am coming back.
To my Caucuses. And fear of an echo.


Party at the Home for the Disabled

Among the incomplete figures
the singer crooned
a vast song. I warned him
that the river was right behind, but he
led me to the edge and pushed.
Clutching him I pulled us down.
As we fell towards the rocks,
I asked why he’d done it. There was still
time for me to hear his reply:
“Just to show you
nothing’s a joke.”

Love Story

They played games with each other –
he with her head,
she with his legs.
Then he gave back her head,
a little worn out,
and she – I’m not sure
what she did with his legs,
This is as much as I know.

Post Card to our brothers, the little Green Men

Celestial greetings!
Accept our
celestial greetings!
We are all fine
down here, we keep
taking our pills.

Passing On

This man
was innocent,
he had nothing to do
with life, although
that’s where he was coming from.
Give back your teeth –
a magic hand said
and smacked him in the mouth.
The man looked round
one last time, gave thanks
for the sunshine, and
as he left cried out:
It washn’t worsh the hasshle.


The two of them were walking up the path,
quietly discussing the menage
of fate, the 10 o’clock news
and their own defensive strategies…

In the distance the sun dripped through the branches,
refusing to communicate. The leaves,
tucked up in frost,
counted down their days.

Who loved what?
How did we get here?

He, once so practical, is now drowning in music,
she, the artist, is just a stitch
along the silk road.

In a clearing two magi ate out of a can,
making the most of the thin light, waiting for the third,
who had disappeared into the bushes.

Changeable times. The prophets
have lost their jobs.
My friend,

bent like a willow tree branch,
who took away your name?
Why is that unpaid electricity bill
dangling from your mouth?
I see you hanging out of your window,
freshly painted by sunrise,
untouched by the sunset,
always stuck in the same day.
It’s a shame.
My friend,
strung on a wire through your heart,
who is holding the wire?
Other friends of mine,
but that is the least of my worries.

Seaside Holiday

The sizzling of sun screen.
The heat has closed over us
like a mouth made of lead –

shouting won’t break it,
beach games
won’t lift it.

We lie in various positions
trying to prove
that we still

make some choices.
In the distance a tiny boat
is hurrying towards the white edge of the sea –

no moorings, no doubts,
no life guards,
no suffocation…

“No trumps...”
It’s Almost Cozy

It’s almost cozy,
the lack of sun
on this slow morning

I hold on with both hands
to my coffee cup while you
– the mercury in my homespun

alchemy - somehow manage
to put cheese and bread
in your mouth quietly,

gaze fixed on the newspaper.
From inside their bowl
the turtles’ transparent eyes

follow how we both
vanish into stillness
and how from time to time

a hand appears
reaching for the sugar bowl,
or a mouth curves downwards

into a smile.

Cold War Memories

We were told
there were two worlds at war
when there was really only one.

We were
the other.


They were all listening,
drawn up in columns
like a Chinese terracotta army.
They stared, their bald heads
round as pterodactyls’ eggs,
waiting for a gesture
that would finally
and conclusively
discredit the candidate.
‘Er… what I was about to say…’
They listened.
‘… is that freedom is not something we are born with,
the way we are born with two hands and two legs,
if we are lucky, that is…’
Some of the heads bent towards each other, puzzled
or so the speaker suspected.
‘… E-er, I mean that
freedom is not inherent in us,
it is not a given…’
(Wasn’t that ridiculously trite?)
They sat back indignantly
and sharpened their eyebrows.
‘And then parents,
teachers, colleagues, society,
they all somehow… want you
but they don’t like you.
And I want to be liked.’
‘Aah’ – the room almost stirred.
(So I wasn’t imagining!)
‘… and then I,
who have wanted
to come here all my life
and be one of you, I understand…’
Some of the boulder heads looked at each other.
A shifting rock groaned.
‘I have always
belonged to you,
and that freedom comes
when you reject the prizes,
grab the ropes
and start cutting! cutting! cutting!...’
A clay head
rolled down.

Three Ships

There were three ships.
One was carrying silk.
The second was sailing into nothingness.
The third was coming back
from a world of enduring myths.

We waved at each other.

Three times I jumped ship
and I’m still on the same one.

The Writer

I am sure
he didn’t see himself
as a kid.
He hesitated before crossing
and then at the last moment
jumped on the bus.
I don’t know how
he managed the steps.

‘What’s your name, pet?
What’s your name?’ asked
the fussy old biddies, sensing
that something was wrong.

He didn’t reply.

His face was scrawled with
complicated shapes –
a line connected a lozenge with a dot
from one cheek to the opposite eyebrow,
striking through everything on its way.

‘His mother will be worried sick!
Yes, she will! She will be
so worried,’ the old women fretted.

It was quite possible
he could not talk yet,

but he had spent the morning writing letters
on his face, and those who
cared to, could read:

‘I have no one to be worried sick
about me.’

The doors opened to let more people on
and that’s where I lost him.
Art on Slaveikov Sq.[6]

The wind riffles through
the thin pages of poetry
crowded in the corner of the bookstall.
Some of them are losing their hair – you can see it
through the covers: hair from the right is combed to the left,
hair from the left is combed to the right.
They have raised their round heads
to demand attention one last time, from behind
the lectern in the empty auditorium. A sigh
can be heard in the microphone,
an awkward laugh,
and a line that gets repeated by everyone
goes from mouth to mouth, straight through
the back of the head, and comes out at the throat,
stitching the poets together:

‘Life proved so short a day
and once promised so much meaning.’

The young books, dishevelled, piled on top of the old ones,
shout louder, know just what to say, but are
underfed as football fans from a sink estate
after losing to the champions.

“We are the greatest team
the world has ever seen!”

The cries hit the satellite dishes
and bounce back – the next news bulletin is on.
Life is as important as it ever was. The question is
who breaks the news.

[1][1] A type of construction used in Sofia in the beginning of the 20th c.
[2][2] A quote from Pushkin’s Monument (Pamyatnik in the Russian original).
[3][3] The inexpensive Soviet camera which was ubiquitous throughout the Soviet Block.
[4][4] Greek: ‘Good morning’, ‘Good day’
[5][6] A phrase used in a poem by the 19 c. revolutionary poet Hristo Botev to describe the scene of the hanging of Vassil Levski. Levski was the mastermind behind the Bulgarian national revolutionary movement and set up a system of revolutionary committees whose goal was to overthrow the Ottoman regime throughout the Bulgarian lands. He was hanged by the Ottoman authorities in 1873. The phrase is commonly used in everyday language.
[6][7] Sofia’s large open-air book market.

Page: 2 [MRN1]Or filaments

Page: 3 [MRN2]or: what is left of

Page: 3 [MRN3]or: we are so hungry

[n4]It's hard to put this kind of remark in after 'The Great Jester' -- too formal. So we've tried it before.

[mr5]could break line here