Novi Sad

Born in Novi Sad
the Serbian Athens,
on the beautiful blue Danube,
on which, in my dreams,
white ships sail.

The Danube I swam across
with my brother and his friends,
both ways, so they wouldn't think of me
as a girl, only.

There on the beach, while they played chess,
I snuck into a boat and rowed up the river,
far away. Stowing the oars,
I lay on the bottom
watching the skies flow
while the Danube stood still.

Suddenly, a huge white ship
appeared right behind me.
A ship?
I had no time to be scared,
it was so beautiful.

It passed and the waves
rocked me slowly back to the beach.

I did this often in the evenings.
Everyone gone, I rowed up the river
landing at a sandbar, and walked
on the cool, wet sand
I, the owner of the land
upon which there was nothing
but the sand and I.

How would it be
to live on this deserted island,
I wondered.
My family would miss me.
"You are wild like your father,"
Mom always said.
The city would go on with life without me.

When it rained, I took off my swimsuit,
tied it around my neck and swam topless.
Mom would be shocked if she knew!
I dared not think what I would do
if – God forbid –
the water took it away.

Sometimes, on the surface of the water
tiny snake heads shimmered,
like a pearly necklace.
The snakes swim too? The River teaches.

Novi Sad. The city of my youth,
of farmers' market, opera, and the Danube Park
in which a college boy tried to kiss me.
I wouldn't let him.
.
"We will never walk together again,"
he said.
Let's see how that feels, I thought,
flipping my hair, like a horse's mane.
It's best not to threaten me.

He was a silent type, a mathematician.
And those are unpredictable.
We never talked again.
I have no idea what equation he solved,
I confirmed mine.

Novi Sad, unique in the world.
There I wrote poetry, went to school,
collected chestnuts in the fall,
smooth and shiny, like my hair,
"chestnutty" Mom called it, with a smile.

Novi Sad, close to Strazhilovo
where each spring we went on a field trip
to the grave of poet Branko Radichevich.
We took a short train ride,
and climbed the mountain
to the sun-drenched, brilliant top.
One year, the train moved back
and cut off a boy's legs.
Shocked and silent, our day darkened,
we returned home never to go back again.
Strazhilovo for me now means Branko Radichevic
but this other memory has moved in as well.

Novi Sad, the city where I graduated,
left for Belgrade and college,
married and returned with my husband and child,
to visit my parents.

First my parents gone, then my husband too,
I left with my child for America.

Now Novi Sad means memories;
no more home, only Mom's grave
in the churchyard overgrown with weeds.

The city changed by the bombing.
Not the one during WWII
which, as a little child, in our cellar I experienced,
but the last war, that half a century later,
is even harder to endure.

There are too many wars in one human life,
not to mention the life of a nation.

And now, far-away, in America,
I remember it all.
I crave to hear about Novi Sad,
but all I hear from other people
sounds like some other Novi Sad.
Unrecognizable. With some other youth.

Yet Matica Srpska, as a sentinel,
is still there. I grew up in its Library,
in "Letopis" published my first poetry.

I am not there to walk the bridge
and watch my city from the ancient
Petervarad  Fortress
upon which the old tower clock
still relentlessly counts the time.

There is no bridge anymore, I hear.
Much of what I knew is not there.
But the Danube still flows
and the new generation grows.

They will build new bridges, and write poetry,
make love in the parks,
and read books in the Matica Library.

I have nothing to regret.
Rich with memories, I know,
Life is always precious and beautiful.
Those who love life
have subscribed to Eternity.                 

California, 2000
Mira Mataric
Accident

A screech of tires
crash of glass.
Silence. Then sirens,
police cars,
ambulance.
The real background
still is silence
a strange silence
of the bodies in the smashed car
and the medics
busily working on them.

At home
a child will miss
his mother's kiss
before going to sleep
not understanding why
the neighbor is there
red eyed, avoiding to tell
where the parents have gone.
Pasadena, 2006


Improper  Things

I could’ve been happier in life
if I were not raised so frugal,
if I used more toothpaste to brush my teeth
and splurged on large ice creams,
instead of small cones.

I could’ve been happier in life
if I hadn’t been told ladies do not laugh loud,
walk barefoot in the park, swim naked in the river,

yet I have always craved to do just that
to experience if once only
the feel of a gentle summer rain
on my bare body.

I could’ve been happy, I believe
if I had worn Katherine Hepburn’s hats,
Marilyn Monroe’s shoes, even Sofia Loren’s bras.

I wish I allowed myself to run with the wolves,
and pee in the woods.
That path is dangerous, I know.
But I’ve always done what pleased my parents,
even now when they are long gone
and it is too late to turn the page,

do all of these improper things
that might have made me happy,
with an illusion of freedom and unity with myself.
Pasadena, 1998.


KATRINA

On a plane
33,000 feet above the ground
over the Atlantic Ocean.

On the TV screen
devastation after the hurricane.
Passengers nap, read magazines,
eat chocolate and drink red wine.
Some absorbed in science fiction,
others in sappy love stories,
younger passengers listen
to the metal and rock.
.
Just then, an announcement:
Somebody is caught in the lavatory – smoking.
They are kindly asked
to get Nicorette chewing gum instead.
The federal offence for smoking
on the flights is not mentioned.
"Poor, old and black
forced to stay behind
as the hurricane strikes" –
the newspaper in the hands
of my neighbor says.
If we are all equal
in God's eyes
and democracy is about equal rights
what is amiss here?

We are not in the God's Kingdom yet
(only high in the sky).
But aren't we in a democracy either?
The flight attendants
start serving food.
The aroma of chicken pilaf
envelopes all.
Everybody hastens to eat
the TV program abandoned.
A baby in the front,
close to the TV screen
with the disaster news
cries incessantly.
Parents try warm milk,
rocking and singing lullabies.
Nothing works.
The baby cries on.
The only one
on the entire big plane.
September 5, 2005.

Awakening

The dream thins
and vanishes
and quietly I touch
the bank
of the day.

Behind me
rustling of the mist
and the river.

I'll push the boat
into the mist
into the dream

and enter the light
alone.
Belgrade, 1959.
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