Who are you? I asked him, sitting on the bank of the Rhine, again upriver from the city center.
Cologne is a good place to ask me that question, he answered. It is a city that has repeatedly stretched my sense for who I am. Zarko once asked me to compose a one-sentence answer to that question for a book of such sentences by Serbian writers.
You’re no Serbian writer, I told him.
No one knows that better than I do, he said. But Zarko insisted. You’re the co-author of two books with me, he argued, and they have been published in Serbia, in Serbian.
So I wrote this sentence:
After Ljubica Radakovic fed me chicken soup and taught me to say Srbi su dobri ljudi, after our Belgrade publisher realized I was not a figment of Zarko’s fertile imagination, after translating Peter Handke’s Justice for Serbia, after traveling up the Drina River between the wars, after the man in Bajina Bašta said he had read our book and I said “so you’re the one,” after the cruise missile bought with my tax dollars shook the stove that cooked the chicken soup, after I left the homophobic Mormon Church (which I still loved) and denounced my xenophobic country (which I still loved as well), after my hair turned silver and the divorce was final and my children grew up and Lyn taught me her vegetarian ways, after fifty-five years I still wanted, with an only partially embarrassing adolescent intensity, to be a writer.
That’s still true, he said, especially the part about adolescent intensity, even at the age of 63.