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World Poetry Portfolio #53: Nikola Madzirov


© gezett

Nikola Madzirov was born in a family of Balkan Wars refugees in 1973 in Strumica, Macedonia. His award-winning poetry has been translated into thirty languages and published in collections and anthologies in US, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In 2011, BOA Editions published a selection of his poetry in the US titled Remnants of Another Age. Nikola Madzirov received the Hubert Burda international poetry award for authors born in East Europe; the most prestigious Macedonian poetry award “Brothers Miladinov” at Struga Poetry Evenings; and many other domestic and international awards and grants as IWP at the Iowa University in US, Literatur Raum in Berlin, and Villa Waldberta in Munich. American contemporary jazz composer and collaborator of Björk and Lou Reed, Oliver Lake, have composed music based on Madzirov’s poems. He is one of the coordinators of the world poetry net Lyrikline.

Translated from Macedonian by Peggy & Graham W. Reid, Magdalena Horvat and Adam Reed



One day someone will fold our blankets
and send them to the cleaners
to scrub the last grain of salt from them,
will open our letters and sort them out by date
instead of by how often they’ve been read.

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture
like chessmen at the start of a new game,
will open the old shoebox
where we hoard pyjama-buttons,
not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

One day the ache will return to our backs
from the weight of hotel room keys
and the receptionist’s suspicion
as he hands over the TV remote control.

Others’ pity will set out after us
like the moon after some wandering child.



for Marjan K.

In the embrace on the corner you will recognize
someone’s going away somewhere. It’s always so.
I live between two truths
like a neon light trembling in
an empty hall. My heart collects
more and more people, since they’re not here anymore.
It’s always so. One fourth of our waking hours
are spent in blinking. We forget
things even before we lose them –
the calligraphy notebook, for instance.
Nothing’s ever new. The bus
seat is always warm.
Last words are carried over
like oblique buckets to an ordinary summer fire.
The same will happen all over again tomorrow—
the face, before it vanishes from the photo,
will lose the wrinkles. When someone goes away
everything that’s been done comes back.



I inherited an unnumbered house
with several ruined nests
and cracks in the walls like the veins
of a lover aroused.
It is here the wind sleeps
and the words of condensed
absences. It’s summer
and there’s a scent of trampled thyme.
The monks finish telling their beads,
the sky opens to create a current of air
in our souls.
The trees are green, we are invisible,
and only thus can they be seen:
our unborn children and the night
which makes the angels
purer still.



We’ve given names
to the wild plants
behind unfinished buildings,
given names to all the monuments
of our invaders.
We’ve christened our children
with affectionate nicknames
taken from letters
read only once.

Afterwards in secret we’ve interpreted
signatures at the foot of prescriptions
for incurable diseases,
with binoculars we’ve zoomed in
on hands waving farewell
at windows.

We’ve left words
under stones with buried shadows,
on the hill that guards the echo
of the ancestors whose names are not
in the family tree.

What we have said without witnesses
will long haunt us.

The winters have piled up in us
without ever being mentioned.



We exist when the windows
and the secret documents are open.
We disperse the dust without mentioning
the dead and those they loved undyingly.
We always pack our pyjamas
at the bottom of the suitcase
and our shoes are never turned face to face.
We read our letters once
to hide some secret.
With hands stretched out we reveal the times,
stay silent, silent, whisper things
that matter less than the interrupted dream
of a butterfly that lives only for a day.



In the temporary embrace
I speak of eternity.
The wind brings us the calls of the church bells
among the feathers where we rest
our sleepy heads.
It’s morning. Moist air passes
under the viaducts, clouds part
at a touch, buildings at the swallows’ flight,
the farmhands pray for rain that stops,
while the trees give up their leaves
and so the sky grows vaster.

Your hands are soft this morning
and soft is the blossom of the hard almond.

In the nearby church
they have spoken for centuries of a love
that will outlive us.



In the wastebasket, I saw locks of hair
you’d brushed while the birds and the world were waking.
In the mirror, I saw a look
and in that look a lot of homes and skies.
I saw you going towards cities nonexistent in history books
and the bed parting itself into night and day while you were gone,
the day becoming night, and the night a hiding place.
I don’t have a sun
in my eyes, nor plants in my upturned palms.
I will bend the bars that protect gardens
from night travelers. I will cover the day
with the silk scarf from your neck,
with the still flag of the territories that have witnessed our presence.
Our email letters cannot fade,
our addresses remain the same even when we run away from here,
from ourselves, from the wideness of our ancient dependence.
I saw someone else writing our names
on walls of fortresses and snow-covered basilicas.
I saw your shadow, too, climbing up my body
as you were climbing down the discovered shelters
after all the official wars.
Since then, every piece of glass blinds me,
every rejected word covers my eyes with silence. I saw.
Our ruined homes were a move of the world,
of the memory, of the memory.



In strange towns
our thoughts wander calmly
like graves of forgotten circus artists,
dogs bark at dustbins and snowflakes
falling in them.

In strange towns we are unnoticed
like a crystal angel locked in an airless glass case,
like a second earthquake that merely
rearranges what is already ruined.



I am a beggar who lacks the courage
to beg charity from himself.
Lines and wounds from all the unfulfilled caresses
intersect on my palms,
from all the unmeasured temperatures on my brow
and the illicit excavations of love.

From every scar on my body
a truth emerges.

I grow and I diminish
together with the day, running fearlessly
towards the depths of origin,
and everything around me is in motion:
the stone becomes a house,
the rock – a grain of sand.

When I stop breathing
my heart beats louder still.



There is no silence in the world.
Monks have created it
to hear the horses every day
and feathers falling from wings.



Too many rises and falls
are not recorded in the books
that are burned in usual wars.
Has anyone written that crumbs
thrown from a window fall faster
than snowflakes, that waterfalls are merely
victims of their name? They write of the fall
of empires and epochs but not
of the old man who looks at a toy
dug up by a bulldozer.
Traffic-lights cannot stop time
and our uncertainty is just
a way of existence for secrets.
Fear exists in the distance
when soot splits off
from the sparks flying skywards,
but no one so far has written
a tractate on the candles’ smoke
that melts into night
or on the drops of wax
that harden on our shoes;
everyone speaks of the flame
that illuminates our faces.

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