Yesterday would have been my brother John’s 66th birthday. June 3rd. Since 1991 that date has been a reminder to me, an occasion to reflect again on fraternity and loss. Yesterday passed without a thought.
Today, writing about my friend and co-author Zarko Radakovic for our third book, I wrote the following:
I look across the deck to where Žarko alternately overlooks the valley and writes in his notebook. For years he used Waterman fountain pens. This one is a stylish Caran d’Ache. I buy my pens twelve for $10. Žarko’s gaze jumps from Utah Lake to Mt. Timpanogos to the alfalfa field 200 meters below us. His mind wears seven-league boots. My mind turns to my brother’s apartment after his death. One side of a cardboard box had holes where John had cut out the shapes of his feet to line his work shoes. I framed the cardboard, backed the holes with Miroslav Mandić’s drawings of feathery, grassy, and pebbly feet, traces of his poetic pilgrimage from Yugoslavia to Hölderlin’s grave in Tübingen. I break into Žarko’s reverie and ask if Mandić was part of the group with Era and him in Belgrade?
No, he answers, his pen still poised above his notebook, he was from Novi Sad, part of a group, mostly poets, who worked conceptually. They still see themselves as the origin of conceptualism in Yugoslavia. That’s absurd. We were all in the same boot, a boot that sank, as is well known. In Belgrade we were all visual artists, except for me, although I did that one piece you have seen in my flat: Medex. Typed it with my ancient typewriter. It was for our performance #1, 1971, at the Belgrade International Theater Festival.
I remember the piece of concrete poetry well, an extended hexagon fashioned by the letters med running horizontally, and, down the center, a vertical line. At the top and from the right side two sharp pointed swarms of “z”s enter or leave what strikes me as a hive.
Bees? I ask.
Yes, Žarko answers. I also wrote a poem about insects called “Events in a Dark Chamber.” Era was author of the performance piece called “Medex,” although it was a collective effort. We lived together in a creative commune in apartment number 10 b in Ljube Didića street. Three of us had studied literature together. Miodrag Vuković, one of the greatest Serbian-Montenegrin writers of my generation—he and I wrote some poems together; Nebojša Janković, now a journalist in Canada; and I. Era Milivojević joined us. He was already an artist of note, together with Marina Abramović who went on to stardom in New York. Medex was a Yugoslavian company that produced honey and honey products. Their motto was “good and healthy products” and we used that in the performance. The four of us were bees that produced honey.
The framed footprints hang in my study:
But the fact remains that I didn’t think about John yesterday. Is that because the publication of the book I worked on for 25 years is now in the past? Time passes. Memories dim. There are new urgencies. Responsibilities for the living. My son Tom’s birthday is tomorrow. My daughter Maren’s was on June 20th.
I myself, like John, am only immortal for quite some time.
. . . it was even worse than I thought. I am far enough removed from remembering John’s birthday that I didn’t remember until July 4th, when I wrote it was yesterday, June 3rd. I think I’ll plead the July heat for the “yesterday” slip.
Scott, in truth, the task of carrying these moments of immortality, John’s and yous, now lies with those of us who are reading your book, as I am now.
thank you for this Joseph. what you say is true, I think, and yet the rememberings are and have been highlights of my life and I surely don’t want to lose those experiences. I’m honored that you would read the book.