My Greek grandmother
whose name comes from Purity
was teaching me how to walk
with the help of the vacuum cleaner’s tubes,
she had forced me to eat as I did not like food
through a sheer persuasion by saying that the doves
were singing just in order to greet only me.
Before our final saying good-bye
she wished me love
and repeated three times :
Agapi, agapi, agapi.
My Greek grandmother
had understood well the destiny of the Balkans,
she had learnt how to live in between two wars.
She had learnt not to grieve the fact that – though, a descendant
from the rich, overnight she became a seamstress,
she was obliged to remember that warmness of her nest,
recreate it in the rudeness of a Serbian village
when one of those wars had expulsed her from a big city
Life was not easy towards that young widow
(« easy to win Greek trophee»)
with her two every-hungry children ;
there were soldiers looting these regions
asking for gold, brandy or seks
in five different languages and she, herself
did not even fathom the language of
the native villagers.
my Greek grandmother
started swallowing chunks of life
greedily as they would show in short intervals
between two wars
The mussels she ate directly from the sea
freshly split up by a jack-knife
she never lost her calm on the unnerving trivia
such as where the next pay comes from;
always ready to listen to those sad love songs,
but she kept her smile on!
She played cards, the game of Bridge » so that she could
keep her friend’s company a bit longer,
at the table where everyone smoked
and once they downed a shot or two of Metaxa
they would sing the song «when you were a young girl, Mare»
as they did not give a damn if they sang in falsetto
or whether singing was healthy for their thyroid or not ….
However, when the going really seemed to quite a few
or was truly deemed
impossible – she had never abandoned
her very own golden rule-
take everything with moderation–
once you mastered it, you could do whatever you want…
Of course she thought of that one thing
which is hedonism or life as such –
consisting of love, tobacco, food and alcohol
and of sea, that immense infinite sea.
We shared the room.
She stayed in her bed day and night
lying on her back and eying either
our TV set of the forgotten tall chimney
made of brick, its smoke had already
been sold, see that Tender offer which happened a while ago.
How can she be watching that chimney for 10 years?
How the friend’s words can hurt, inconsiderate
once they forgot how to keep quiet.
I would enter our room in order to change her, feed her or give her
water or coffee or help her light a cigarette.
I would also lie down and wait for my moment to fly away with that flock
that returned, quite like the kids from their excursion, to the botanical
garden for the night, and then greet the morning only to fly off together again.
And where do we end all this and how ?
The lady doctor pounded my utter exhaustion
as she noticed the ash-tray, the cigarettes without a filter,
a pack of cigarette-holders which caused her voice
reach that shrieking pitch.
I repeated the word uttering it softly,
not having directed it, in fact,
to any living or possible listener around.
Marija Knežević was born in Belgrade, Serbia in 1963. She has an MA in Comparative Literature studies in addition to nine books of poetry, two books of short stories, two novels published as well as two books of essays. Her first novel For Ekaterina, her poetry and her essays have been translated into English, German, Polish and Russian. Her short story ‘Change is not a Scary Thing’ was included in the anthology of Best European Fiction in 2012. Her selected poems are to be published in Serbian and the American publisher Zephyre Press will print a bilingual edition of her selected poems as well.
Nina Zivancevic is a poet, essayist, writer, art critic and cinema theorist, translator and a long- term correspondent to New York Arts magazine and Modern Painters. She was born in former Yugoslavia in 1957. Her wok has been published in Serbian, English and French, including 15 books of poetry, four books of short-stories, two novels and two studies on the exile of writers and artists (11 Women Artists, Nomads and Slavs as well as a monography on life of Miloš Crnjanski, her doctoral dissertation.) She is also a former assistant to Allen Ginsberg.