Theory of maintaining distance
The theory of maintaining distance
was discovered by writers of post-scripts,
those who don’t want to risk anything.
I myself belong among those who believe
that on Monday you have to talk about Monday,
because by Tuesday it might be too late.
It’s hard, of course,
to write poems in the cellar,
when mortars are exploding above your head.
Only it’s harder not to write poems.
To my former Yugoslav friends
What happened to us in just one night,
I don’t know what your’re doing,
what you’re writing,
with whom you’re drinking,
in which books you’ve buried yourselves.
I don’t even know
if we are still friends.
The beginning, after everything
After I buried my mother, running from the
shelling of the graveyard; after soldiers returned
my brother’s body wrapped in a tarp; after I saw
the fire reflected in the eyes of my children as
they ran to the cellar among the dreadful rats;
after I wiped with a dishtowel the blood from
the face of an old woman, fearing I would
recognize her; after I saw a hungry dog licking
the blood of a man lying at a crossing; after
everything, I would like to write poems which
resemble newspaper reports, so bare and cold
that I could forget them the very moment a
stranger asks: Why do you write poems which
resemble newspaper reports?
While I watch the front door, officers with gold
buttons for eyes enter my back door and look for
my glasses. Their gloves leave the prints of their
ranks on the plates in which I find my reflection,
on the cups from which I never drink, on the
windows bending outward. Then they leave
with crude jokes about the women I once loved.
Through my back door the police enter
regularly, with rubber pencils behind their belts.
Like kisses their ears splash when they stick to
my books which whine at night like pet dogs
in the snow. Their fingerprints remain on my
doorknob when they leave through my back
door, and their uniforms fade like cans in the
Why do postmen enter through my back door
with bags stinking of formalin? Their heavy
soldier boots march through my bathroom and I
can hear them looking for the pyjamas hidden in
a box of carbon paper. I ask them why they need
my pyjamas and their eyes flash for a moment
with April tenderness. Then they slam the door
and the room is illumined by darkness.
And I still watch the front door where the
shadow of someone’s hand lies by the doorbell.
Someone should enter. Someone should enter
Izet Sarajlić (1930-2002) was a Bosnian poet
who lived in Sarajevo for 57 years. The two poems
featured here are from his Sarajevo War Journal (1993).
Translation from Serbo-Croatian into English: C. Polony
Goran Simić (born 1952) was active in Bosnia’s literary life
and ran a bookstore in the capital, Sarajevo. He survived the city’s
Siege (1992-1995) by Serbian troops and the Yugoslav Army – an assault
that cost 11,000 lives. Simić has lived in Canada since 1996.
Written during the Siege, the two poems above were part of a collection
Simić had published at the time – then lost control over, being cut off
from the world. The vagabond volume took on a life of its own,
turning up in Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, France and England – in
piecemeal forms and translations.
In 2005 From Sarajevo with Sorrow was finally re-published,
in Canada, in a translation that gives the poems a new home in the
Translation into English: Amela Simić