Semezdin Mehmedinovic

Zenica Blues
It's snowing today, for the first
time this year, and there's a yellow
truck jack-knifed by the library:
piles of shiny pills litter the street.
Dusk gathers along the avenue
like the darkness under your eyes.
The snow will cover up miles
of rusty iron. Across the river,
rugby players in black and red uniforms
roll their own breath out before them.
A young guy with his head bowed down
shoots the wet pavement in front of him
with a video. Nothing else. You pass
by, stepping along with no love lost.
  • Strange, for over a year you
    haven't seen a fly here, even
    in the heat of summer.
    For sure there're no fish
    in the river either but plenty
    of gulls dive for old loaves
    of break soaked in the water.
    You couldn't ever see the
    cemetary from here, at least
    not till yesterday. Now there are
    two at the top of the hill: two
    grey cat-paws on the prison wall.
    And things are getting clearer.

  • You cover the bright bulb with
    am old sheet of newspaper:
    tired from the long wait,
    you lie in the shadows
    reading headlines.
    you hear the squeal of tires
    through the window:
    miniature red boxing gloves
    hang off the mirror in the lit
    up interior

  • The way out of town is long:
    the driver checks the tickets
    through his glasses but
    drives without them.
    A jailbird shoots the breeze with a cop.
    A narrow street with a container
    that has CULTURAL CENTER written on it
    lets out onto a square
    and nothing surprises you
    anymore as you see
    an old man trip over a gull
    on the sidewalk.

  • We go over the bridge slowly:
    a woman her face red from eczema
    puts two small figs into
    a straw basket full of apples.
    She cranes her neck to look at
    the rows of blue buildings in the fog,
    so downhearted that
    you know
    she'll never
    come back.

  • On the hill above Rajlovac,
    you move out of the sun.
    Black locusts fill the bare
    treetops, and a thousand crows
    cover the dry grass: evenings like
    this, January, 1990, you know they're
    not in the mood anymore: one way or
    another, they've reconciled themselves
    to move along quietly and
    migrate from Yugoslavia forever

  • In the café BALKAN, a local poet holds forth:
    What's written in books isn't history,
    it's all in the prison archives.
    Last time I was here I saw
    a famous émigré, everyone's
    writing about him now--what
    a tyrant he was. A real gentleman,
    who wouldn't be, with that kind
    of gold! He sat right here and drank
    and he's in an easychair on the edge
    of a Swiss lake scratching his cat
    and hiccuping from his name
    being mentioned so much.
    He had two tough dogs, though--
    Danes or Dobermans, dark
    jaws out to here on them, but
    not killers. And before you know it
    they'd be back with his dick
    in their teeth, right back
    to their master, the guy
    everyone feels so sorry for now

  • A few miles out of Zenica
    the bus goes into a sharp curve:
    you feel the weight of the girl
    in the seat next to you, the warmth
    of her shoulder. And you see three
    bouquets of roses wrapped in cellophane
    held to the cold cement with scotch-tape.
    Look, that won't last too long, I say,
    just to make small talk.
    And she nods. As if she knows

  • You look out the window of the bus:
    someone's set some dried shrubs on fire--
    the color of the flame leaps out of the grey
    and brown as kids circle around with long
    sticks transfixed by the blaze

  • An icy morning at the station--
    hot off the press, the newspapers
    under your sweater you keep warm
    It makes you even colder to look at those
    two as they part with short kisses
    frozen in an embrace as their
    glasses collide

  • The woman in a seat near you
    is talking to herself:
    Fine--she says--all right,
    just don't touch
    All eyes turn to you
    and you also turn to
    see who's at fault.
    you turn back,
    biting your shoulder

  • And on the way home:
    you go into a café on the outskirts of town.
    Fisherman joke around at the bar
    and even though it's your first time
    here, you've already seen it all:
    fisherman with yellow boots up to their hips
    and giant bottles of METAXA lined up
    at the bar, so big
    you could easily hug them.
    Maybe you're someone else,
    someone you don't even know.
    If you kept thinking about it, just
    the thought would devastate you

  • You find yourself in the
    toilet with
    a Sarajevo rocker
    and while you take
    a leak together you bond
    in perfect male solidarity:
    That's how it is, says the Jewish guy,
    and you nod in agreement even though
    it isn't like that
    nothing's for sure
    except two circumcisions
    by the flushing bowl

  • Without you everything
    in this town will still be the same.
    Or almost--you reassure yourself,
    like when you use a huge wooden
    match to light a cigarette.
    So remember a few details,
    like the rattling of silver rings,
    or your glass bowls.
    And all the instances that
    mercilessly surround your
    AWKWARDNESS: the clash
    of teech in a kiss, for instance,
    before you recognize the
    ghostly ratling of bones
    in the silence
    that you might have imagined
    like your fear of dying in winter
    when the laundry freezes on the line
    and the ribs of numb undershirts crack

    translated from the Bosnian
    by Ammiel Alcalay

    One of Bosnia's most prominent poets and writers, Semezdin Mehmedinovic was born in Tuzla, Bosnia in 1960 and is the author of four books. In 1993 he was co-writer and co-director, together with Benjamin Filipovic, of Mizaldo, one of the first Bosnian films shot during the war. The film was presented at the Berlin Film Festival in 1994, and won the first prize at the Mediterranean Festival in Rome the following year. He, his wife and their child left Bosnia and came to the U.S. as polical refugees in 1996 and live in Washington, D.C. "Zenica Blues" appears in Sarajevo Blues (City Lights 1999)


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