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Ars Poetica Ballad

To dig out what is live in my writing
do I have to bury those living in the world?
The worst of the dead are the best characters,
but when my gran says, "Child, don't put us in a book,
so folks won't laugh at us,"
I'm troubled by that angst of talent that gives birth to uniqueness
and my fingers go numb before my eyes
as if I were standing on a skyscraper
and everything appeared within my reach
but if I jump there won't be any mattress waiting for me.
I've got sisters rotting in prison
I've got brothers who can't leave the country
I've got aunts casting black-magic spells on me
and my contemporaries have renounced me in the press,
some people will only remember that they know me
on their way to the Last Judgment,
ex-lovers measure my every word precisely,
free and furious for being the same yet different,
children at school say I'm a dog trainer
until I end up in intensive care.
Behind every sexual organ hides a political move
every opened grave hides a family vault
and I'm drawn by that discord among those I feel close to
and those I feel distant from,
I'm haunted by my own DNA for it's carried by my children too,
I'm vexed by a story that I similarly vex.
And this ascetic life hides a gourmet's memories
of a basin painted with a violet
that I scalded my granddad's feet in,
of the room/aquarium where my uncle, shortsighted,
feeds smaller fish with big ones,
of the tango danced on the bean pods
with the man who went off with another man,
and how on Saturdays we used a Figaro trimmer to thin each other's hair,
and on Mondays we secretly opened the dead neighbor's bank statements.
Rather than the police I always called an ambulance,
rather than appealing for the banishment of death
I looked for the salvation of life,
but for the living life is not the same presence
as is death nonpresence for the dead.
Seated cross-legged in a Chicago airport
halfway through the closed season for hunting
halfway through the season for organic child conception
A. and I pass now a ball then a red card to each other.
It's a spring coiled between God's commandment and the breach of it,
and the more familiar the apostate the better we know its essence,
it bounces under the skin, returns below the bone.
As long as they're not put in a book
the faults and virtues of those who are close to us
are like the years-long barking of the neighbor's dog
or the tolling of church bells
at a precisely determined time:
they don't bother us as long as the neighbor
doesn't buy a new dog, or the church a digital loudspeaker;
then one takes leave of God
and God of animals and everyone slanders everyone else,
while I hold in the thought like a full bladder to the nearest loo
but outside I can no longer remember
whose initials I wear on the birch-bark brooch
or whether Rimbaud used the Charleville support hose
to gather the dreams of beans
soaked in water he would change seven times,
and none come to the surface.
Clerics attend a course in creative writing,
practice sermons passed through the eye of a needle.
"Hold out your hands," they say, but mine are hollow:
at the next service I'll sit between two empty seats
or between war veterans without arms or prostheses.
Krakow remembered Czeslaw's breath for thirty years,
but forgot his signature, his handwriting,
and every four months I enter Skopje
with a different suitcase,
fifty-two journeys like fifty-two cards for Black Peter
which I no longer know how to play.
I never returned dead from any of my travels,
I never set off alive on any of them,
but, just before I left,
my red portable cassette-player smashed my glasses
and since then the world's been a giant picture-book
where the dwarves become invisible.
I've got a private graveyard with fifty-two tombstones
bearing no historic epitaphs, pulling at my sleeve
to play hide-and-seek, it's a nice graveyard,
where the dead know only their mother tongue.
I've inherited from my dad the ulcers in my mouth
and from my mum, my gran.
I wore a white slip under a blue-trimmed skirt
when I first set foot in the house of my father's forebears.
Seated on three-legged stools they scratched their skin,
black and rough like unwatered soil round tomato plants.
"You're ours as much as the dirt under our nails," they said to me,
and I had to open my manicure set. My uncle retorted
with the story about the mouse in a pumpkin who became a boy.
It was a struggle between aesthetic achievements:
unreturned umbrellas from promotional packages,
a typewriter from a state-owned enterprise,
ashtrays from restaurants' summer terraces,
a dictionary of angels from the supermarket,
copper rings from a country fair.
Objects I can't recognize when they don't spend the night at home,
they lead a life of their own:
the suit at the dry cleaner's
and Metamorphoses at the bishop's,
and the ID in the drawer in the council offices,
and the house in the truck in the schoolyard,
and the life transferred to a book,
but what will become of them when they return home,
will they be the same or estranged,
will they be poetics or poetry?
I can only fulfill one destiny, but not my own,
I can only write one poem, but not mine.
Yet I've repented of everything, and everything has been returned to me,
and I've returned everything
except myself,
because to the One who forgives our debts
we owe much, much more
than our debtors owe us.

Lidija Dimkovska

pH Neutral History
Copper Canyon Press

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