The Siege of Sarajevo: Sarajlić and Simić



Izet Sarajlić:

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,

my friends?


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.






Goran Simić:

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?






Back Door



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

English language.


Translation into English:  Amela Simić