Five Poems by Lidija Dimkovska Translated from Macedonian

These poems by Lidija Dimkovska have been translated from the original Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Patricia Marsh.

Syrian Morning

At 7.40 am
the cleaner passes a broom
over the fence bars
in front of the Syrian Embassy.
The moths fall
through the sieve of the waking world,
the gnats come unstuck with a jerk,
whisked away from their being.
The cleaner dips the broom into the blue bucket
and, holding it with two hands,
sweeps the bars one by one.
The last mosquitoes also crumble.
Only the drops of smeared blood
won’t wash out,
having penetrated deep under the skin of the iron
where they silently shiver.
The cleaner scratches spot after spot with his nails.
But the blood of Syria has clotted,
every new drop flows inwards, not out of the wound.
“How can it still be night at 8.00 am?”
the cleaner wonders,
emptying the bucket into the drain
and, with the broom dripping onto his shoulder,
setting off round the back of the Embassy.
And there – a myriad of ladybirds, big, medium and small,
cover the terrace, while a boy at the window above
calls to them in a muffled voice: “Fly away, get out of here!”
As if in a stupor the ladybirds don’t know
that irony can always be
larger than life,
and that they, refugees from Syria,
have been thrown by the smuggler out of the truck
right behind the Syrian Embassy.
They stand bewildered like a still life
in front of the cleaner, who knows the world would squash them
even if he managed to save the lot of them.
Nevertheless, he pushes them with his broom down towards the railway tracks,
across yet another border.
Life thins, death thickens.
“In this neighborhood dawn will never come,” he says to himself.
We always come out of history with its inner bleeding our hands
and no matter how much we shake the broom behind us
it’s still weightier than even the future of a newborn baby.


In the lift of the world
Freedom always presses the wrong button:
instead of on the ground floor she gets out in the basement
where masked robbers stand in front of the lift
who kick and slap her,
or grinning maniacs with their trousers down,
or security officers who pinch her bottom
when she turns back to the door of the lift,
which is already squeaking its way back up,
and then they all grab her by the breasts,
drag her by the legs, and she struggles,
beaten black and blue she drags herself up the stairs to the ground floor,
where children stand with their satchels
waiting for the lift to come down from the top floor.

“What does she look like!” they whisper,
then run up the stairs to their homes and lock the doors behind them,
afraid that Freedom might
lean against their door,
sprawl at their threshold,
ask them for water, bread or a bed.

And they don’t know that the freedom they have in their life
is measured with the remaining cups from the tea set
in the Jewish museums across the world,
they don’t know that the seas wash up people too, not just seashells,
they don’t know that the executioner becomes a victim when he beheads her
and the victims become executioners when they forget her,
they don’t know that the metal head of the hammer is always loose
and falls off before the hammer is swung, straight onto your fingers,
they don’t know that it is that same freedom
they learn about in history classes,
but is easily run down by the train on the nearby railway,
they don’t know that the freedom they have in their life
is a white surface over a black pit,
the same as the belly of a pregnant woman
that they too were born from,
but it is only in death
that some will also become free.

A Letter from Prison

This prison allows letters
of up to four pages
every four months.
50 words a day.
1,500 a month. A lot? Too little?
Don’t be so foolish as to write in them
about appeals to the court,
political moves,
financial calculations,
religious revelations,
sexual allusions,
coded secrets,
or mention weapons and drugs,
threats, plans,
escapes and attacks.
While you’re here
write love letters only.
50 words a day.
1,500 a month,
four pages
every four months –
enough to tell all those dear to you
that you love them.
Once you’re out of here
it’s no longer our business
what you tell
the others.

Going back

When you go back to your home town
you visit museums and galleries,
pause to listen to the buskers,
light candles in all the churches,
buy books by local authors
and the CDs by local bands
which have come out over the last six months,
treat yourself to some chocs from the town factory facing bankruptcy,
make a detour to the outdoor market you haven’t visited for a long time,
meet friends for an hour or two
before going to a local film or theatre production
they’re not interested in,
you do a lightning tour of your home town
in just a few days, drinking water from the bottle in your bag,
buying souvenir magnets and keyrings,
sitting on all the surviving benches
from your past,
turning down all the alleyways that have remained the same,
taking photos of the new buildings which look like warts,
mumbling to yourself, incomprehensible to everyone else,
when you go back to your home town
you realize you no longer have one,
that it has turned into a simple fact in a document,
Place of Birth, a point of birth and of no return.

Chopin’s Heart

Chopin’s heart in Warsaw –
walled up in the interior pillar of the church,
cannot, even if it wanted to, miss a single mass.
It attends the confessions of the adulterous and the wretched,
counts signatures on petitions
against abortion and same-sex marriage,
cringes at the sight of national symbols,
remembers the past as if it was yesterday,
tourists take selfies in front of it,
it shivers with cold, fear, doubt, faith,
it falls in love, falls out of love,
at the musical evenings in its honor
either it turns over in its niche
or sighs blissfully,
lulls itself to sleep under the sounds of the organ
and lapses into insomnia in the face of historic changes,
in the eternal hide-and-seek with God,
now God can’t find it, now it can’t find God,
before the end of every mass
the priest says “Go in peace”,
and the believers hurrying to the doors sing
“Thanks be to God”.
Then Chopin’s heart wants to get out too,
at all costs, through the emergency exit,
or through the crack in the arch,
but a head can’t knock down walls let alone a heart,
so trapped in the church pillar
its muteness makes it struggle for breath, it skips beats,
and I fear it won’t be able to hold out and,
trapped between the priest and the believers,
it will have a heart attack
in front of them all.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Sessums via Creative Commons

About the author

Lidija Dimkovska (b.1971, Skopje, Macedonia) has published six books of poetry and three novels, awarded and translated in more than 20 languages. In the States in 2006 Ugly Duckling Press from N.Y. published her first collection of poetry in English “Do Not Awaken Them with Hammers”, in 2012 Copper Canyon Press published her second book of poetry »pH Neutral History« (short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award 2013), and in 2016 Two Lines Press published her novel “A Spare Life” (long-listed for the Best Translated Book Award 2017).

About the author

Ljubica Arsovska is editor-in-chief of the long-established Skopje cultural magazine Kulturen Život and a distinguished literary translator from English into Macedonian, and vice versa. Her translations from English into Macedonian include books by Isaiah Berlin, Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag, and plays of Lope De Vega, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, and Tenessee Williams. Her translations from Macedonian into English include works by Lidija Dimkovska, Dejan Dukovski, Tomislav Osmanli, Ilija Petrushevski, Sotir Golabovski, Dimitar Bashevski, Radovan Pavlovski, Gordana Mihailova Boshnakoska, Katica Kulafkova, and Liljana Dirjan, among others.

About the author

Patricia Marsh is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, author of The Scribe of the Soul and The Enigma of the Margate Shell Grotto, and translator of a number of plays and poems from Macedonian into English. She lectured in English at the University of Skopje for a long period before returning to live and work in the UK in 1992.

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