But something’s gone wrong —
Instead of talking
I’m singin’ a song —
And when I try to tell it,
Enunciate & yell it,
I start to sing —
And I don’ say a thing —
I start to sing —
And I don’ say a thing —-
Stanza four of “Pain (II):
the whole body
too tight to fit
into & walk about
wearing my face
hands are gloves for my hands
my feet are shoes for my
feet & I’m all dressed
to kill (no one but myself)
Thoughts of suicide lead the poet to John Berryman, to the biography of his end, and then to a poem in his memory in which Alex becomes Edgar and Berryman becomes Henry (click on the pages for larger images): I use Alex’s “biographies of suicides” for my own examination of pain after my brother John died — Immortal For Quite Some Time. And in lines “From the Life of Edgar” I find my life lived because of a death remembered: “Between the pages of the book / written / and the pages of the book / being written, there’s a life lived / and a death remembered.” Coincidentally, I also ran into John Berryman in the company of Zarko Radakovic:
We walk on through the sweltering city. Zarko wants to introduce me to the poet Srba Mitrovic “He was the librarian at our gymnasium in Zemun,” Zarko explains. He told us what books to read. We met with him weekly for discussions. Several of us from that class became writers. With our encouragement, he began to publish his poems. He has won several major prizes.
The retired librarian and active poet lives several floors up in an aged but once splendid apartment house. The elevator rises reluctantly through an open iron-work cage and delivers us to a landing where a short, solid, bald man dressed in half-slippers, shorts, and a purple cotton shirt greets us.
On the table in the front room, a game of solitaire is laid out next to a tabloid newspaper with a naked woman on the cover.
The poet introduces me to Milan Djordjevic, a younger man, bearded, slight, with whom he has translated English and American poetry.
We sit, four translators, around the table. The poet brings out a bottle of amber-colored rakija. A black oak cross floats in the aged brandy. Zarko proclaims the smooth-biting liquid a wonder of the art.
The poet’s bald head glistens with sweat. Behind thick glasses, his eyes shine brightly. “It was at this table,” he says, “that Milan Djordjevic and I translated John Berryman.”
Djordjevic remembers the table heaped with dictionaries and grows ecstatic as he describes the quantities of rakija imbibed in the process.
Zarko asks if we can’t see the poet’s study. It is a spacious room, or was once spacious. Lined with books floor to ceiling, a bed tucked into one corner, a big desk into another, the room is navigable only by means of a pathway snaking through piles of books and boxes. “Here,” the poet points out, “is my unmade bed. There, my desk. There my literary prize. And hanging from the bookshelf, my pants.”
Back at the front-room table, I ask about the other persons we have seen in the apartment, several of whom are watching TV in a closed-off end of the front room.
Refugees, the poet says, relatives, three families of them, Serb refugees from Bosnia.
Zarko mentions our trip along the Drina River. The poet says an acquaintance of his recently ran into trouble there, a Serb who had owned an inn in Gorazda before the war. Emboldened by the agreements in Dayton, he drove back to see what was left. He parked his car and went in. Having a drink with several people he had known, he heard glass crashing outside. He went out and found his car being demolished. The crowd grabbed him and might have demolished him as well if SFOR soldiers hadn’t appeared on the scene.
He opens the newspaper with the naked woman and shows us a photo of the man.
“I was in the United States last month,” he says. “I went to Minnesota to visit a family member at the Mayo Clinic. While I was at the clinic, I had an examination. The doctor told me I had several physical problems, that I drink too much, that I eat too much, and that I don’t exercise enough. I told him that far from being physical problems, those were signs of a good life. The real reason I went to Minnesota, however, was to find the bridge John Berryman jumped from. I asked several people which bridge it was, but none of them had heard of Berryman.”
We exchange books. The poet receives Zarko’s and my Ponavljanja (Repetitions), which I inscribe “from one translator to another.” I receive Snapshots for a Panorama (From the Abyss), published in 1996 in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Alex, I wrote inside the copy of Zarko’s and my Vampires & A Reasonable Dictionary (which includes this visit with Srba Mitrovic), you and Zarko are present in every sentence I write. As is pain.