Tanja Bakić

Tanja Bakić

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 Tanja Bakić, born in 1981 in Montenegro, is the author of four highly-praised poetry collections, her debut being published when she was only 15, and the last one, Sjeme i druge pjesme (The Seed and Other Poems), in 2013. She is also a translator, has an MA in English language and literature, and also writes as a music and literary critic. Her poetry has been translated into 15 foreign languages, presented at festivals abroad, published in international magazines and anthologies.  She has been awarded fellowships several times, including Central European Initiative Fellowship for Writers Award (Vilenica Festival Slovenia), International Haus Des Autoren Graz, Slovenian Public Fund for Cultural Activities, etc. The lecture she presented at the Tate Britain in London, entitled “William Blake in the Former Yugoslavia” will be published by Bloomsbury in 2019. Her poetry translations include the works of William Blake, Yeats, Byron, Eliot… and most recently Don Paterson.

 

Together We Started Crying

 

Together we started crying

In the wee hours of the night

While noise was coming from outside

From people emerging from

The Rector Street subway station

When dawn was knocking at the door

Of your Manhattan flat

In the street overlooking

Battery Park

And New York Harbour.

Together we started crying.

First me, then you.

 

And those moments

Of our mutual crying

Which started for

Completely different reasons

Both on your side and mine

Lasted several minutes

But the impression was that

They lasted a new eternity

About which we knew nothing

Except that we were in it

Except that we were no longer us

But two different people

Who had just met

In some other place

Between dreaming and waking,

Talking or perhaps

Staring one another and saying nothing.

 

About that eternity

We knew nothing except that

We were obviously standing in it

Motionless and eavesdropping on

The sounds of our mutual crying

Which seemed like a distant echo

Of something

We did not understand

Or perhaps we did understand

But only pretended

We knew nothing about it.

 

Maybe we could have known

Something wasn’t right

That day when we went to

Central Park

To row a boat

When we came across

So many small bridges

On our cruise on the lake,

When a heavy atmosphere

Descended between you and me,

And I asked you, “Is everything

alright?”, and you told me

it was, and cast

your eyes down to one side.

Perhaps we could have known

Something wasn’t right

That night we got into

A broken-down subway train

In Grand Central

And I told you loudly:

“It’s not just the subway train that’s broken down,

everything else we have is too”,

And you responded:

“I think you’re right”.

……………………..

A deafening silence fell between us.

……………………..

 

Everything stopped,

Seemingly even time.

All of a sudden there was nothing,

Not even our crying,

Not even our mutual tears

Which you and I had both saved

For so many years before

Unpacked in the dusty boxes

Of life, love, desire, despair.

All at once we returned

From crying into silence,

Into the same heavy atmosphere

Which we had felt days before

In our boat on the lake

in Central Park.

 

Now I don’t want to speak

Nor even to listen to you talking.

Just take me by the hand, hug me

And take me to your favourite

Gramercy Theatre.

Everything will be alright once again.

 

 

A Completely Ordinary Man 

 

Yesterday I bumped into you in the street

Under that same bridge

Where we used to hide together

From the rain and kissed

Twenty-five years ago.

You were carrying an umbrella

Which dropped out of your hand

When you saw my face appear

From nowhere before you,

Danijela.

 

You hadn’t changed much.

You were still beautiful, as you had been back then

When you would read Prévert aloud to me

Or when, upon the creaky sofa

In my small rented flat,

You would sit next to me and catch my hand

Telling me how much you adore morning smells

Telling me how much you adore coffee.

But I would just let you talk

And ask you to close your eyes

So that I could descend the steps,

Leave the building

And purchase a sour cherry

Ice cream for you

Because you told me

You liked it best.

 

You haven’t changed much, Danijela.

Except that the dreams you dreamt

About the big city lights

Took you straight

Towards them.

Tokyo, Rio, New York, Hong Kong,

Sydney, Colombo, New Delhi,

Casablanca, Moscow, London,

Cape Town, Toronto, Beijing.

The years you decided not

to spend with me

In my shabby, rented flat

On one dead-end street

In a small quarter in Podgorica

You decided instead to stretch out

On the streets of the world’s metropolises.

You met new people,

Had conversations with them

Different to the ones

You had with me.

You wore new high heels

Put on trendy jewellery

You looked into another sun

Every morning when you woke up.

 

But I was left making ends meet

In that same small flat

In a dead-end street,

Waking up early in the morning,

Going to work,

Getting back late in the evening

After having some wine

In a local pub.

Once a month

Paying my bills.

Once a month

Splashing out on

A train ticket

To the next town.

 

And so the snowfalls would come and go,

The winds, rains, storms and fogs,

Although my impression was

That for years everything stood in the same place

Except that you weren’t here.

I had no idea where you might be,

Nor what you might be doing

But I knew you were a dreamer,

And that your dreams led you far away.

 

I still cannot forget visiting

Those packed cinema auditoriums

Together with you

I cannot forget

How back then you would tell me

How much you adored films starring Alain Delon

No, I cannot forget even that little gypsy girl

Who would approach us in the cinema

And tell us that were both good looking…

Twenty-five years ago.

 

I myself have never planted

A foot on another continent.

I have never seen

The big city lights.

I don’t know important people.

I don’t speak

Any foreign languages.

 

I am just a

Completely ordinary man,

With a modest

View of the world.

A man who can give you

Nothing but his

Small rented flat

In a dead-end street

In a poor quarter of Podgorica,

And the occasional night out,

An occasional nice word,

An occasional bowl

Of sour cherry ice cream.

 

You haven’t changed much, Danijela.

Feel free to pick up

That umbrella which dropped out of

Your hand to the ground

When you saw my face appear out of nowhere.

Take it in your hands

Open it back up

And just carry on walking

Wherever you were going.

And I will pretend that

I didn’t bump into you just now.

I will pretend that I never knew you.

Oh, Danijela.

You haven’t changed much.

 

You are Gone

 

I sat on the edge of her bed

That hot July afternoon

I brought her a fruit yoghurt

The one she liked most.

The light from the window was falling

On the floor of the hospital room

In which she was lying.

And it was as if everything

Was made of marble

And it was as if

All over us

Some strange

Fog was descending.

 

You are leaving us

With invisible

But creaky footsteps.

Other people told me

You were leaving,

But I didn’t believe them.

Other people told me.

 

I have collected

All the words you spoke

And am keeping them in a chest.

The sunflowers of your thoughts

Remain in my possession

Laid bare, then covered over.

 

Silent dust

Is slowly falling

on the marble around us.

And it is as if the air is missing

And it is as if

Many, many other things

Are missing.

 

I close my eyes and imagine

That now I am elsewhere, far away

That this here is not you

That this here is not me

That the hospital bed

On which you are lying

And this whole marble

Surrounding us –

Is just a tiny piece

Of a bizarre dream

From which at once

I desire to wake up

And open my eyes.

 

I quietly closed

The doors

Of the hospital room

And left on tiptoes.

 

The day after, they told me

You were gone.

 

I didn’t believe them

That you had left

 

I still don’t believe

You are gone.

 

Translated by Peter Stonelake and the author

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