Ales DebeljakSloveniaWriting2002

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A Letter Home

I yearn for consolation, without bounds,

for forgotten caves where Bach

does not reach, for bells ringing plangently

across the monarchy that no globe reveals,

for the feverish concentration of hunters assiduously

caressing their guns, for the taste of tears I yearn,

for bubbling bone marrow, and for the miracle

that opens up like lips into a silent scream I yearn.

I alone pay heed, and in a second I respond

To the rhythm of tenderness down my spine, and I spring off,

as no one ever taught me, without bounds,

alone on a trail that’s unknown to any brotherhood,

I follow the line of neck and head pushed backwards.

I give in to the inescapable command

that weighs on all my muscles and eventually forces

me to flower like a thousand sweet shots and to begin to sing from the city

that is at once Rome, Medina, and Jerusalem, and

that consoles me as only one's homeland can.

An Émigré Writer on the Dragon Bridge

Open suitcases, it has sometimes been thought, hide fates that are unknown to us: from the hotel to the airport and beyond, through centuries of wind all the way to the constellation Orion, travelers mince carefully, searching in the rites of sleepy nations for the consolation they can no longer get from old photographs and books about the life of their ancestors. An everyday request could still become a prayer, medicinal tea, the bitterness of endless explanations, a language that refuses to yield to them, scattered coins and suffocatingly low ceilings, immensely large things that multiply fear in little souls. A warmth that they all remember will blow up from the south: for everyone is maximally guilty in the name of love, of course. From the uncomfortable chairs in waiting rooms and on the platforms they have but one desire that rises quietly and is deceitful as the mist over the railing that cracks beneath them. It groans and lets them hang there for a second, why should they be an exception, before floating off toward the tranquil river which swells in the dry season, carrying suitcases and books to the delta, to false consolation, to a poorly sung elegy.


To Chosen Friends

Released by a child’s hand a kite appears for a moment, totally scarlet, above the herd of white cities and above the fires. Come. Follow me now. It’s not far to a spot where you will get a good look at ripened fruit lying on the wet ground as if fulfilling a command. Unbearably necessary, like the horizon here that checks the light and softens the defeats of human shadows. You, too, will lie there. You are good at that. You’ll count up reconciliations with your neighbors, slips of your tongue, the horror of deserting armies, the biography of castle walls, streets and squares, spittle, your heartbeat and tensed nerves, some portraits on murals, and, perhaps, supreme court documents. Come. Follow me now. You will quiver, just as I quiver in love and exertion: without memory I survive fairly easily, though not without a legacy of juices. I kneel alone for now, though I wouldn’t want to do it forever: Come. Follow me now. Kneel down before the family nest and place your hope in wisdom that oozes thickly from the gaping fruit. Come. Follow me now to a place where nobody dares to go, for they exhale sweetly there or disappear beyond the visible world in stammering and rain.

All writing translated from the Slovenian by Andrew Wachtel