three poems

Illustration by Joe Sacco from The Fixer, Drawn & Quarterly, 2004 (

a scene, after the war

I'd never been aware how beautiful my house is
until I saw it burning,
my schoolmate told me, who had twenty pieces of shrapnel
that remained deep under his skin after the war.
He wrote me how at the airport he enjoyed
having upset the customs officials who couldn't understand
why the checkpoint metal detector howled for no reason.

I had never been aware I was a nation
until they said they'd kill me,
my friend told me,
who'd escaped from a prison camp
only to be caught and raped by Gypsies
while she was roaming in the woods.
Then they sold her to some Italian pimps
who tattooed the owner's brand and number on her fist.
She says you cannot see it when she wears gloves.

I recognized them in a small town in Belgium.
They were sitting and watching the river
carry plastic bags, cans,
and garbage from the big city.
She was caressing the hard shrapnel lumps
through his shirt
and he was caressing her glove.

I wanted to say hello
and give them a jolly photograph from the times
when none of us knew the meaning
of House and Nation.

Then I realized that there was more meaning
in the language of silence
in which they were seeing off
the plastic bags down the river
than in the language
in which I would have tried to feign those faces
from the old photograph
that shows us all smiling long ago.

my accent (for Visnja)

I love my accent, I love that wild sea
which attacks my weak tongue.
It doesn't reside in the morning radio news
as much as in the rustle of the job offer flyers
stapled to the street poles.
In my accent you can find my past,
the different me who still talks with imagined fishes
in a glass of water.

My grandfather was a fisherman
and I grew up on a dock
waiting for him to come back.
He built a gigantic aquarium when I was born
and every time he brought a fish
he named it immediately by some word I had to learn
until the next came.
I remember the first two were called "I am"
and after that the beauty of language came to me
through the shining scales.
I learned watching the aquarium
and recognizing the words by the silent colors.
After returning home
my grandfather would spend whole nights
making sentences by combining the fishes
who would pass each other.
It's how I learned to speak.

I left the house the day when my grandfather went
fishing for a black fish he was missing
and never came back.
Now I am sitting in the middle of my empty room
as in an aquarium
and talking with ghosts of the fishes
I used to recognize by words,
talking with the shadows floating
over the flyers ripped off street poles.

"I love my accent....
I love my accent.."
I repeat and repeat again
just not to ask myself :

Who am I now.
Am I real or just the black fish
my grandfather failed to catch.

on graveyards and flowers

When I was twelve
on statutory holidays
I would secretly go to the Graveyard of Heroes at night
and steal fresh carnations from wreaths.
I would wrap them in cellophane
and sell them in the evenings
to enamoured couples in restaurants.
With the money I earned I would buy books.
At the time I thought that I would find a solution in books
to the mysterious relation between
wars and carnations.

In the meantime there were so many wars
that the graveyard spread almost
to the doors of the maternity hospital.
Nobody sells carnations in restaurants anymore
because there are fewer boys and more heroes.
Besides, fresh carnations in wreaths
have been replaced by plastic roses
because nobody has time anymore
to deal with flowers.

Now when I am almost fifty
I sometimes have the impression that
I haven't moved far from that twelve-year-old boy.
Only now
I sell my audience
those same old graves
for a few flowers on stage
beside the glass of water
and the microphone.

Poems reprinted from Immigrant Blues (Brick Books 2003).

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life