:: Article

Ten Poems

By Damir Šodan.


in 1934, having lost his patroness
who for forty years supported his writing
and political engagement, W.B. Yeats,
the Nobel prize winner, old and alone,
began suffering from high blood pressure
and a failing heart to the point
that his creativity almost waned.

but Yeats, that mystic
who would frown upon
any form of impersonal science
had heard somewhere about the latest
rejuvenation treatment and to the horror
of his friends found an Australian sexologist
on Harley Street in London who in the spring
of the same year performed on him
the so-called Steinach operation.
(A kind of vasectomy, first tested in Vienna,
which allegedly restored dormant drive).

the operation appeared successful,
judging by letters to his friends
wherein William proudly claimed
that had he regained his sexual desire
and fallen in love with a young and talented
poetess Margaret Ruddock
who was then all of 27,
in contrast to his ripe 69.

the cynical Dubliners immediately began
calling him a “gland old man”,
but W.B. began writing poetry again
and that was what mattered the most.
one of those new poems entitled “The Spur”
goes like this:

You think it horrible that lust and rage
should dance attention upon my old age.
They were not such a plague when I was young;
What else have I to spur me into song.

William soon compiled
The Oxford Book of Modern Verse
and started working on a new edition of his Collected Poems
so intensely “as if “- said witnesses –
“he was given a new lease on life”.
five long years later he died
of heart failure on the French Riviera,
of all places


hooligan-hero, anarchist leader,
son of a railway worker, a guerrilla
with the eyes of a child and the face of a savage
proletarian propagandist, Buenaventura Durruti
insisted most of all on clarity of expression.

when he had the floor everybody understood.
Emma Goldman said that she found him a veritable beehive
of activity
. and he was allegedly always in good mood.

Durruti’s Column
was built on self-sacrifice and libertarian spirit.
his funeral magnificently draped all of Barcelona in black
and red. A glorious crowd of half a million
poured down Via Layetana just like that.

even the Russian consul
was deeply moved
at the sight of that crowd with fists in the air
who swore in that anarchist
who believed that only generals rule by force
and that discipline always comes
like a spout of enlightenment
exclusively from within.


Tolstoy converted in the woods, so they say.
one day in late spring
he heard some strange noises
suddenly remembering it must have been ages
since he began forgetting about God
and his joyous gifts.
that’s what you would want to read to her
as she undresses slowly like a cautious cat
thinking (and hating your Martini)
that the size of one’s breasts
is the End of the World
from where you jump off into the abyss
only to return to it again readily
when all is said and done.
but Tolstoy embraced
an ordinary peasant’s life!
in the same manner that you hug her oily, allochtoon
olive legs as if they were the roots
of your entire well-being; two columns of salt
wherefrom you persistently profess
your liberation theology.
lame as lust.


while driving to meet the man
who in one day
between nine and five
(typical daily working hours
for an average clerk at Lloyds TSB Bank HQ
on London’s Gresham Street)
with bursts of gunfire
executed several hundred civilians,
the man at the wheel
tells me about his trip
through Indonesia
and how in Bali
he ventured into the wilderness
with no guide
all by himself!

have you ever held a snake in your hands?
anaconda, cobra, common adder, taipan, rattlesnake, water moccasin
or maybe a Spanish viper?
they are so cold, those reptiles
and so wiry and slippery
once you take them into your hands.
but you should try it
(A life unexamined is not worth living,
as blogger Socrates correctly pointed out)
in any case.


from Tanger
to West Sahara

stronger than kif
spicier than majoun

there is a beauty
bearing horror

hatching bedraggled
chicken in grottas

meaning multitudes
forming foreign legions

sometime in the 50ties
so the books say

there were 35,000
married to her

most of them inmates
of the madhouse in Ber Rechid

anno Domini 1953
she was particularly agile

calling to the wretched charmed ones
in their mothers’ voices

compared to her
Circe is no more than a cunning c—

seamen say
and polyhistorians too

because when you see those
poor creatures drilling into

the chapped soil
in the dried out river bed

as the kids
shower them with stones

you should know that no sorcery
or fqih can do the trick

because love
is always a pain

that one shares
with others.


entomology, dycotiledons,
busty college girls, the order of things in Gregor Samsa’s room,
the incurable melancholy of Charles the Bald,
Pale Fire, Lo, Vera in her bathing suit
with heart shaped sunglasses, the ugly wall-paper
in that hotel in Montreaux, the sweating Solzhenitsyn
aghast at the bourgeois display of wealth…
all this is still so far away
because now
they are nestling here in Abazzia
since VDN condemned Bloody Sunday
before the entire Duma.
soon he will return
to Sankt Peterburg
and they will proceed to Wiesbaden.
but for now
they will observe the distressed seagulls
from their deck chairs
and the sea as grey and as marble-like as whale’s carcass.
aunt Nathalie holds him by the hand
and points to a distant sail, somewhere there
in the direction of eternal Venice.
she thinks the little one would grow to become a painter or a cellist
or something even more magnificent,
but Humbert has nearly mastered his synesthesia
and already knows damn well that nothing ever turns out to be
the way Russian aunties expect it to be.


so here I stand again
observing certain ladies
in the small alley
across the street from Spinoza’s house
how some ten years ago
some of us landed here
‘round about the same time

in desperate search for jobs
craving with every limb those ripe fruits
of the democratic West
(or however you’d like to put it);

these ladies in the context
of monetary and flesh exchange
and myself pursuant to articles, paragraphs and subparagraphs
of my esteemed Institution.

and at the very first sight
I begin to realize
that even after a decade
wasted in a foreign country
we still have a lot in common:

flexible working hours
suspicion towards other foreigners
and similar modes
of prostitution.

I see the absent-minded Heloïse
still weaving some embroidery
and Alina
swiftly changing stations on her red transistor-radio
and Amra and Jammila
laughing uproariously while patting the bald head of their big black

while I push
my bicycle
(like a wheel of destiny)
thinking how
from Spinoza’s window
all the way to the last booth with red lights on
at this very moment
freely and easily
blooms and opens
(on the whims of Euclidian geometry)
a thousand flowers
of some invisible Bermuda triangle
composed of human petals
dipped deep in the mud
of a so-called “better life”
like stones trapped in the kidney channels
of our third-world bodies
which we dragged over here
like decanted sand boats from our Byelorussias, Ukraines, Ugandas,
Kirgisias, Ghanas, Romanias, Croatias …

only to end up staring at each other
in silence like those eels
in the aquariums
in Chinese restaurants.

and even if somebody would
turn us upside-down
slap us all over and connect us
to some cosmic polygraph
he unfortunately would not be able
to squeeze out
a single line
from Baruch’s great Ethics.


steel rope
pulls him up high
like a herring
in a tin can.

he is silent
serious and tough
like Lino Ventura
as he once again reads the carved slanted letters
J o l e t h e F o o l
that follow him daily
on his journey of ascension
from the ground floor supermarket
to the dented spot
of the flimsy couch high above.

and all of a sudden
out of nowhere
this thought appears
how the last time he bought
was that one time
in the last century
before that business trip
to Bratislava
cancelled at the very last moment
because the Russians
had in the meantime
entered Czechoslovakia.

having come
to terms with that
his heart sinks
down to his boots
tolling all along
the way

(reminiscent of the sound of that hammer
towards the end of Mahler’s Sixth
that maestro wanted to resound
so powerful
like an axe).

and then the elevator
and he finds himself alone
in that galaxy-dark

shaft – up
shaft – down

check – this one – mate!
so that’s that?

there’s no more.

it seems now that he wasted
all those years struggling
in vain.

was life just a joke
that only the devil may have cared about?


in Andalusia
in the heat that sharpens
the sense of justice and lust
you walk around coughing.
and you are tense.
because that animal
(but you’re not sure which one)
is no longer at your command.
right beside you a dog
whose leg had been chopped off
in the absence of a breeze
smells his own hasty trail.
at plus 40 degrees in the shade
the driver nervously lights his cigarette
and flings the still burning match
out of the window.
up there the dead sleep
(if one is to believe a tour-operator)
buried on their feet.
soon we’ll be out of here
and I think
that’s just about it.


for half an hour we fly over it.
down below us chimneys and factories,
bairros with the smell of feijoada made with black beans,
lazy residential quarters with beauties in fio dental bikinis,
concrete avenues with billboards advertising gargantuan corporations,
street gangs armed with stingers,
transsexuals worshiping Oxumare,
flocks of dusty kids riding bicicletas,
obligatory bumper-stickers
with Jesus’ picture …

here businesses are being run
exclusively via helicopter.
there are heliports on most downtown high-rises,
but if you are a foreigner
you are no more than a walking wallet …
I hear a voice coming from the next seat
and at that very moment
somehow I remember
Bajsić’s Cendrars:

here are some factories
a suburb
a nice little trolley
electric lines
a street crowded with people
doing their evening shopping
a natural gas tank
Finally we pull into the station
São Paulo
I feel like I’m in the station in Nice
or getting off at Charing Cross in London
I find all my friends
— it’s me.

translated by the author


Damir Šodan, b. 1964 in Split, Croatia, is a poet, playwright and translator. He has published three collections of poetry Glasovne promjene (Sound Changes) (Naklada MD, Zagreb, 1996), Srednji svijet (The Middle World), (Naklada MD, Zagreb, 2001), Pisma divljem Skitu (Letters to a Wild Scythian), (HDP, Zagreb, 2009) and two books of plays Zaštićena zona/Kain ili njegov brat (Safe Area/Cain or His Brother), Feral Tribune, Split (2002) and Noć dugih svjetala (The Night of the Fog Lights), Profil, Zagreb (2009).

His play Zaštićena zona (Safe Area) was awarded the 1st prize at the Playwriting competition for playwrights from the former Yugoslavia in Vienna (2000). Over the past decade he has translated numerous American poets and writers into Croatian (C. Simic, L. Cohen, d. a. levy, R. Brautigan, D. Johnson, C. Bukowski …), most notably the complete poems by Raymond Carver. He is an associate-editor of literary magazines Quorum and Poezija. Since 1996 he has worked as a translator for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, the Netherlands, where he currently lives.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, October 31st, 2011.