Poems from APOLLINAIRE DREAMS OF LOVE

Yellow-tubes

 

By Danilo Kiš
Translations by John K. Cox

 

                          Biography
 

That Eduard Kohn was a prodigious drunk.
He wore eyeglasses of glistening prisms and watched
the world through them as if through a rainbow.

 
             1
 

Even as a child he had to urinate
   after the others at school, for he was circumcised.
Once he loved a baker’s daughter and was a little happy.
When she learned he was circumcised, she didn’t think
   she could share his bed.
From then on he loved slipping his wages to csárdás-fiddlers
   and trading kisses with Gypsies.
And then, seeking comfort, he grew fond of Deliria, and she
   wrapped him up in her sincere embrace.
 
             2
 
The wind scattered his ashes through the narrow smokestack
             at the crematorium, higher and higher,
                          all the way to the rainbow.
 
 

(1955)

#

                          Sunset

              1

Take one ripe orange (with peel)
then two or three slices of ripe lemon
Then drive your fingers into the soft red earth,
and mix it all together

Of course this still isn’t the color of sun over sea
                                                                  fatigued from its day
nor will the pap thicken without egg whites
So you need to tank up on red wine
and wait till it mingles with your blood.
(Listen carefully: blood sweeps through the veins
                                                                  like seething geysers.)

Then
when the blood boils over and the vessels swell
sever the artery on your left hand with a piece of glass
and mix the pulp like dough till it sets
and your eyes go white and your strength gives out.

              2

Then you must dive in the sea
                                                     deep down
and catch an octopus (the bigger the better)
pin it to the wall with a harpoon or nails and
slice its tentacles open lengthwise
                                                     with a keen razor.
Watch it dying in cold blood.
Then get a big red rose
and pluck its petals gently
                                                     one
                                                                  by
                                                                              one.

(1962)

#

                          Golden Rain

The thing that happened
comes quite close to a miscarriage
in which between intercourse and birth
the borders of time are effaced
and things take place
in impossible simultaneity

the condition of peculiar weakness
and power
and I feel it as
the epiphany and as
blasphemy and as
annunciation as
the arrival of someone unknown
as uncertainty itself
as general enervation
and universal strain
as the focal point
where all contradictions
cross
as a golden rain
impregnated by sperm
that is divine

even my friends
value this hour
and they (likely) sense
my power
that’s nearly divine
and looking on in fear are
my sister and my
wife
for it probably reminds them
of their miscarriages
and their labor
pains
and so they leave me alone
my wife retreats
into a fertile
ambiguous silence
and my sister goes about on
tip-toes and automatically
brings me a bowl
of tepid water
a little confused and
alarmed
with the justification
after all quite naive
and transparent
that the basin with water
could be of use
if the vertigo should make me start
to vomit
or at least I could moisten my brow
or wash my feet

and perhaps out of all of this
that monster was born
(this poem)
because his coming
was not accompanied by
a flash of lightning or the obligatory
scream of maternity or
paternity and not
by a comet either

although the silence
was worthy
of respect

yet what saw the light of day was some
bizarre little freak
my son or father or
brother twin who the hell
knows what
a slimy toad
a ball of snake
blindworm lizard fish
a bloody blob
with no eyes without a face
tadpole
wingless bird
suicide-bird
ejecta of the species
abortion of the blood
abomination of reason not resembling
me in the least but yet
so close to my
blood
conceived in my
consumptive handkerchief
a phenomenon they write about
in medical journals
a monster that one
stores on the shelf
in formaldehyde the fruit of sinful
love of incest
oedipus’ seed in statu nascendi
fatal flaw of infallible
god beast
of self-exaltation Medusa
amoeba unfertilized sputum
self-generating fruit of onanism
agony’s embryo hybrid
of black blood
and green herbs

(and it could have been
judging from the harbingers
the song of songs winged
nike, right arm of the venus
di milo the smile of the gioconda
christ moses
god incarnate)

but the fault is mine
for being unable to carry
the fruit even if heavenly
for the 184 days in my blood in
my gut and
what else was there to do
than take the freak
throw it into the toilet and
pull the chain
like it had been
nothing
I guess I’m not crazy and won’t
preserve it self-indulgently in
a jar in
some alcohol

(the sin is enough and
so is this poem
and every poem)

my sister clears away the bowl
stony-faced as if
a corpse lay on display
in the house my wife without
a word lays out a white
shirt for me

(22.VIII.1961)

 
 
 

 

APOLLINAIRE DREAMS OF LOVE, to be published soon by Autumn Hill Books, is the first collection of Danilo Kiš’s poetry to be released in English. Almost none of the twenty-five poems in this volume–which represent about half of Kiš’s poetic output–have ever been published in English. The selections include lyric poetry and prose poems and one lengthy political satire. In them readers will find autobiographical elements (both familiar and unfamiliar) and formal and lexical experimentation that paralleled Kiš’s work in prose. Images of war and loss figure frequently in the poems, and the topical political work helps place Kiš in the domestic Yugoslav context that remained very important to him despite his self-imposed expatriate status in France.

John K. Cox is a professor of East European history at North Dakota State University in Fargo. He is a graduate of Guilford College (BA) and Indiana University (MA, PhD). The History of Serbia (2002), Slovenia: Evolving Loyalties (2005), and translations of novels by Danilo Kiš, Ivan Cankar, and Vjenceslav Novak are among his chief book publications. His ongoing projects include a study of the fiction of Ismail Kadare and translations of novels by László Végel and Ajla Terzić. He is currently a Fulbright visiting professor at the University of Szeged in Hungary.

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