16 January 2011
During my last library trip, I grabbed books like a madwoman and made my getaway via the checkout counter. I picked up "Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers" by Lidija Dimkovska, a Macedonian poet. I didn't know that when I grabbed it, but it was a pleasant surprise. To be honest, I found the poetry borderline absurd. It's very avant garde and half prose, which I don't mind, but I found myself scratching my head a lot. I don't claim to know enough about the tradition of poetry in Macedonia or her work in general to come to any relevant conclusions. I also know no Macedonian or any Slavic language, so I have even less to go on. Simply, I don't know how to make head or tails of 90% of the poems. (Though this blog article helped a little after the fact) It does make me want to learn the dang Cyrillic alphabet and a Slavic language (I'm thinking Polish..). Despite my lack of affinity for the collection as a whole, I really loved a few of her poems. I'm going to share three of my favorites:
Had you not set out to conquer the void
between the balcony and Budapest
I wouldn't have left you without one ear,
I wouldn't have held you in a total derangement of nerves.
Rimbaud could not foresee everything.
Let him come and judge for himself
if life is more expensive than a TV set ––
particularly as the Romanians have PRO-TV
and Macedonians have 200,000 refugees ––
and if life can be fenced in by a TV screen without turning love
into a public performance of trained cats.
I owe you a small spoon of Immunal for every word
and for your nails –– a book of poems on which, according to decree No. 07-39442
issued by the Ministry of Culture, a reduced tax shall be paid.
Fantasy is a dogma, you accept it or you don't.
Atrophy of conscience, and our bed is shared.
The dental floss becomes apocalyptic
when you decide to get to Budapest or bust,
but it's closed for inventory.
The three girls who once picked pumpkins
whisper in your ear: I want you!
The folk hero of the Eastern World
has outdone Kierkegaard in the tactics of the Seducer, B.A.
The West eavesdrops in the church vestibule ––
"To him that belong the sheep belongs the mountain" ––
and trips God on the way to Budapest.
Self service is confirmed individuality. You can even eat raw meat
and nobody will reprimand you. Atrophy of conscience, my love
babies understanding Sanskirt and screaming in ancient Greek,
Homer, Je te manque! How much longer will the walls
be walls, that's something only dermatologists know
but they keep silent. What? You didn't know I was a mason?
Only Hölderlin's tower will save us
from the sous chefs of literature.
Yes, but had you not set out to conquer the void
between the balcony and Budapest,
I would not have left you without one ear, with empty pockets.
I could, as you yourself have said,
have unburdened my conscience into them.
Fantasy is a dogma, you accept it or you don't,
and the fact hat I'm a women changes nothing
except, it seems, the infrastructure of Budapest.
Since I took their nail clippers abroad with me by mistake,
my family's nails have been growing out of control and unevenly,
and breaking out through their shoes and handshakes with strangers,
and the horrified neighbors no longer try to eavesdrop.
I call them from far away wishing, between two surges of shouting,
to mollify them, singing them popular newly-written folk songs,
begging their forgiveness with the great thoughts of small nations.
So what are long nails compared with my thirst for the truth,
don't you see you're becoming immortal already?
But you take it so hard.
The nail clippers gape at me from the bedside table,
just as unhappy with the change of environment.
This is madness, I scream, I'll mail them to you,
but then they all shriek on this and that end of the line:
"No way! Customs confiscates nail clippers!"
When crossing the border, I hid them in my right sneaker.
My family threatened to cut their nails with the kitchen scissors.
No matter what, they weigh on my conscience like a plaster collar.
All night I dream of them with bleeding fingers and fainting.
The next morning I woke up with hemorrhoids,
and desperation plugged my spirit.
Claustrophobia is more powerful between a nail clipper's blades
than among people who have forgotten God.
The rainbow colored peacock on the clippers
murmured in a human voice:
"Life is the choice to nails, hair, and skin,
but manicuring, that's the choice of divinity.
You're been biting your nails all your life,
but brought me here just to spite me. Get me back.
I don't care how, you godless no-nail, or get your family here
to trim their nails like human beings." And come they did,
and never even looked at me, but settled cozily on the bed
and trimmed and manicured their nails with the clippers,
throwing the parings on the floor and smiling contentedly at the peacock:
"A little while, and we'll be going home."
The walls hurt my mother's Gobelin tapestries.
The girl with a small hat, the Pirate Woman, Dirty Jean,
and even more from the photographs hung beside them
of my sister's wedding, of the reception at the President's.
Today they have hung my diploma on a nail
and room will be made from some Medals of Labor, too.
Tomorrow we should stick up the Orthodox calendar
next to the one which allegedly counts a different time.
Whoever comes leaves traces of themselves,
sticks up small pictures and plastic hooks,
and they hang their shadows around the wall clock
on newly hammered nails.
I had to support the walls with my life till dawn
when the masons came to rebuild them again.
The walls fell asleep, I had already died,
Do not awaken them with hammers, pray do not awaken them,
leave them bare, and me alone with them, and me along with them.