poetry

Damir Šodan: The Afternoon of a Clown

Damir Šodan (1964, Split) is a poet, playwright, editor and translator who graduated from Zagreb University with a BA in English Literature and History. He has published four volumes of poetry: Sound Changes (1996), The Middle World (2001), Letters to a Wild Scythian, (2009) and Café Apollinaire (2013), two collections of plays: Safe Area (2002), The Night of the Long Beams (2009) and an anthology of contemporary Croatian "neorealist" poetry: Walk on the Other Side (2010). He was awarded the Držić prize for the burlesque Chick Lit (2012) and the 1st prize at the playwriting competition for ex-Yugoslav writers in Vienna (2000) for the dark comedy Safe Area. Internationally, his work has been among other featured in The American Poetry Review (2007), New European Poets, (Graywolf Press, USA, 2008), Les Poètes de la Méditerranée (Gallimard, 2010), The World Record and A Hundred Years' War (Bloodaxe, 2012 and 2014). He translated Raymond Carver, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Charles Simic, Richard Brautigan and Frank O'Hara into Croatian. He is an associate editor of Poezija and Quorum magazines in Zagreb.



 

Madiba in "Top Gear"

 

"have you ever had a lap-dance?"

roared from the doorway

the former traveling salesman

 

of plush Paddington bears,

Mr Jeremy Clarkson, nowadays a slightly arrogant

and supposedly humorous

 

British TV-star;

the host of an automobile show

viewed devotedly all across Europe.

 

upon hearing that, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

(whose life and work need no discussion here)

simply raised his eyebrows gently

 

and directed his gaze towards the ceiling fan

as if the answer to such an unexpected

and ludicrous question could drop down

 

from somewhere above.

"Madiba, you don't have to answer that!"

the ever-considerate and attentive Zelda

 

quickly jumped in, but in his thoughts

he was already racing back to

Robben Island during that fatal 1964

 

trying to remember if back then

anyone around him had been shaking

their ass except maybe when stung

  

by Apartheid's eel-like baton

slippery and hard

that always unmistakably found its way

 

to a piece of black flesh

classified as "class D"

and locked in an eight-by-seven foot cell  

 

or maybe later in 1982

in that "comfy" maximum security facility Pollsmoor

where those upgraded into a lighter category

 

were allowed to receive and send

as many as fifty-two letters a year!

no, he could not remember if anyone had

 

merrily wriggled his behind

unless plagued by a case of bloody dysentery

or tortured by a sneaky pubic crab or two...

 

but maybe later in 1988 somebody

had done it at that quite permissible establishment Victor Verster

but Nelson had hardly been aware of anything then

 

as he was recovering from a mean case of TBC...

"you don't have to answer, Madiba"!

repeated Ms La Grange

 

and Nelson just smiled

as if watching a kid walking towards him

with a rare specimen of turtle in his hand...

 

"no!" he finally replied succinctly

so that the conversation might continue

with the expected civility and finesse.

 

yet, at the end of the meeting

he looked Clarkson in the eye and asked:

"have you ever been on the Moon, Jeremy"?

 

for it is only from there perhaps

that the dry British humor could hit the even drier

heart of black Africa - in the right place.

 

The Fifties

                                           after Adam Zagajewski

 

father and his father

stomp down the gravel road

all the way to the town to see a football game.

 

high noon buzzes through the young summer air;

the roar of cicadas in the pine trees, 

glassy hoppers glint in the grass:

 

the Mediterranean

as we once knew it

– is still there.

 

a bit further to the north

the airy crowns of convicts

melt under the belting Sun

 

dripping like the sweat underneath

their sleeveless white T-shirts

as their sad and bitter sigh

 

carries itself all the way to the gray Maltese docks

then echoing out into the icy mountains

of the Altai region in the far east. 

 

somewhere behind Žrnovnica

grandfather, like an ancient lizard, 

suddenly scowls his fissured face.

 

wincing from his tight shoes

that are killing him,

that damn pair of footwear

 

he's sharing with his first cousin, 

a locksmith who compulsively steals rusty pliers

and steel nails from the dusty workshop

 

of the local power-plant,

absolutely unable to explain to himself for what

purpose in the devil's name he needs them for. 

 

simultaneously, in a Dedinje salon in Belgrade, 

Tito cracks jokes as comrades

from the Central Committee laugh raucously

 

while he tries out his new metallic

- polished as a dog's balls -

light duty lathe machine.

 

all across the country

generations with pointed chins, much like Modigliani's, 

are busy building Socialism

 

with a human face: the system

that would gradually like mean drops of vitriol

burn a deep hole in their souls.

 

but in father's head

the world still bubbles unexplored, 

floating like a translucent jellyfish across the unsailed sea 

 

as he daydreams of a new DKW motorcycle

as black and shiny as Silvana Mangano's high heels

and as powerful as Mons Jerko's untied robe;   

 

so in my thoughts

- for I can't help it -

I worry endlessly about that boy,

 

because I know his ride

will be an uncertain and long one.

I wish I could tell him not to worry,

 

to relax and take it easy for everything will

more or less someday fall into place.

but words fail to leave me:

 

perhaps I have no mouth to speak them yet,  

perhaps I'm not around as much as I should be,

perhaps I'm myself still only - slowly but surely - just getting there.

 

 

Ramones On the Bedroom Wall

                                              

the first thing I see

every morning

is Dee Dee's reproving gaze

 

the man is no moralist,

but his knowing, junkie eyes

have that effect

 

they give me the urge to start my day off

by apologising to everything: from the flowers in the Ikea vase

to the Pentecostal Church across the street

 

but in the end

like a born-again opportunist

I sneakily manage to avoid it

 

leaning further to the right is Joey

the perpetually understated

obsessive-compulsive

 

with the hips of a Russian gymnast

and the hair of a crazy headmistress

like a shaggy Heraclites from Queens

 

he tells you that everything can change

that at any moment you can be grabbed by a dark avatar

or end up blacklisted by some secret sect, trade, ministry or committee

 

on the far left - oh the irony! - is the Nazi-schatzi marmot

Johnny, whose face says that he’s in it

(the band, not the picture)

 

only for the money, the papers, the royalties

and Joey’s ex-girlfriend, leading the former to pen him the ditty

The KKK Took my Baby Away!

 

beside him stands the always amiable Tamás Erdélyi

aka Tommy Ramone1, a Holocaust survivor, born in Budapest,

now a mandolin player with his own bluegrass band,

 

the steady compass and last remaining member

of the legendary foursome’s first line-up, dubbed by Spin magazine

 - alongside The Beatles - as the greatest r'n'r band of all time. 

 

so these are my four morning perspectives:

the four blackbirds of Wallace Stevens,

my wife’s four zen-jokes,

 

who carefully guard

the gentle rebelliousness of her Anglo-American

maiden roots,  

 

all those innocent and rosy dreams

of a perfect world, where Courtney, like Amfortas,

still embraces her dead Kurt

 

while poet Ann Lauterbach

wallows endlessly in her affectations,

like the ethereal essence of mannerism,

 

and Germaine Greer lives in a home

 

on three acres, with two dogs, sixteen geese

and a fluctuating number of pigeon wings,

 

a world so far removed

from my toothless Balkan accordionists

and their bloody war cries,

 

a world where it’s perfectly natural

for high school girls to dream of translucent, expensive,

engagement rings,

 

gaudy

and shiny, kitschy and smooth,

huge like the lobby of Fitzgerald’s Ritz,

 

even though these are nothing more

than transitional objects,

as psychologists call them,

 

which we use to clip the wings

of that sweet bird of youth

before she turns her back on us for good.   

 

 

 

The Afternoon of a Clown 

 

                                      for Leopoldo María Panero2

 

a serpent of light

draws unbearably close.

 

the epaulette

of Franco's raincoat

 

expands in the orange pupil

 

of its eye. 

 

under a massive desk

the stony faces of cardinals

 

silently service 

the horny black bulge. 

 

someone's taking out the trash

with a tattooed siren on his arm

 

and a leather dog collar

around his neck.

 

but there's no one else

on the street

 

except for the unbuttoned

widow on the balcony

 

caressing a shiny spike

behind the cast iron fence.

 

on the muggy blanket of summer

amidst a siesta

 

overturned garbage cans

rattle like dying

 

industrial plants

in the ploughed

 

silicone valleys

of some relative future tense. 

 

finally, out of a cat's fur

you clearly hear

 

the pompous and vile

Devil's cough

 

as loud as

an empty silo.

 

at 03:00 PM on a Friday

in the yard of the mental clinic in Las Palmas

 

there you are

- el poeta es un pequeño dios!3

 

 

On the Train to Cascais

 

on the train to Cascais

you saw the most beautiful girl.

 

with olive skin

and round breasts

(just like Ornella Muti's)

wearing a T-shirt

by Dolce & Gabbana,

poised like St. Theresa of Avila

contemplating that spear

about to pierce her chest

etc.

 

she must have been put off

by the Wittgenstein's biography

in your hands, for she suddenly

sprung up and exited

in Estoril,

as you continued to Cascais

with the sad realisation

that you'd just missed

the woman of your life

(or somebody else's):

 

 

an Atlantean as beautiful 

as the body of her slippery language,

juicy and rustling

like the samba

you heard that summer

on the lake of Bohinj

when you were eighteen. 

 

so what choice did you have, 

but to continue reading that damn book

bitter in the knowledge

that the limits of your language

are indeed the limits of your world

that is the case;

much like this one

whereof you wouldn't want to be silent; 

not even in death. 

 

 

 

                                                    Translated by Damir Šodan and Majda Bakočević

 

_______________________________

[1] Tommy Ramone died in 2014. 

[2] Leopoldo María Panero (1948-2014), arguably one of the finest contemporary Spanish poets, a victim of Franco's regime, who lived and died in a psychiatric asylum in Las Palmas, Canary Islands.  

 

[3] Vincente Huidobro (1893-1948) Chilean poet known for promoting avant-garde literary movements in Chile, creator and the greatest exponent of the literary movement called Creacionismo. 

 

 

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