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Friday, June 30, 2006


by Sheila Black


I think I know when I begin
where I stand, but when I google your name
and “poetry,” 143, 214 sites appear
in which I cannot find a single poem.

One says you are vilified by the greedy
gods of Capitalism, their thunder-lust of
acquire and destroy. Another writes a book which
“vents his rage” at your “brutal regime.”

And there is “America” in my head and
somewhere else the experience of
being “American,” which are not remotely
one and the same, struggling through memories
of therapy-speak and banana seat bicycles to identify
that “engine of commerce,” which in the
words of yet another website, “continues
its devouring march yard by yard across the
besieged planet.”

I had forgotten you were a poet until
the day you were found dead in your cell
(to much unspoken relief and more
despair), the circumstances mysterious—
murder, suicide, conspiracy, accident?

You see even in these few simple verses
how the words unspool, multiply,
become in the words of Lacan
“unstoppable engine of desire” ?


A mad professor writes his opus of the
Neanderthals, who he claimed never gained
language but were experts in the teleology of
“hmmmm.” In other words, they sang.
Music he says is “holistic, the meaning
apprehended in simultaneity rather than being
tied to symbol, or to the narrative prison of
time always moving forward, in music “there is
never a reason distinct from emotion.”
His evidence for this? The Neanderthals'
society remained as it came into being unchanged
for a quarter of a million years.

Slodoban what can this mean for us, here, now?
Only what any fool could tell you:
Words are not to be trusted. Such powerful little
soliders, builders of utopias, raisers of palaces,
paradise. Do you still remember the stories you
were told? Here is a blue bowl. Here is a dead horse
whose eye is a flower of flies. Or:

swift, on horseback, the barbarians ride to the attack;
an enemy with horses as numerous as their flying arrows;
and they leave the whole land depopulated.
Some flee, and with their plowed furrows
unguarded, know their fields will be despoiled.
The poor products of their labor, in creaking carts
are driven with their flocks, all the poor peasant owns.
Among the refugees, some are seized as captives
and with their arms bound, march to an unknown fate;
they cast a sad eye behind them, at their homes and farms.
Some fall in agony, pierced by barbed arrows;
for the metal head of the shaft is loaded with poison.

Or again:

The wet logs on the open fire gave the only light to the closely packed peasants and their wives, wrapped in thick smoke. If I tried to penetrate the curtain of smoke, the most I could see were the eyes of the human beings, numerous, sad and glaring with some kind of fluid light coming from nowhere. Some kind of reproach, even threat, radiated from them, and many times since then they have awakened me from my dreams.


Yellow flower, watch face, twig underfoot. I have
seen the famous film of you with the rifle, firing down on
a city landscape, which is perhaps Sarajevo, is perhaps
Kosovo, is a maze of dense concrete buildings and
walkways and boarded windows where people fall
suddenly at random. You smile when the gun fires, retort of
it in your hand. Your smile is what one might call
mirthless; it is a smile meant to show steadfastness of
purpose, bared teeth. When you wrote a poem,
how many drafts, how many hours or minutes
moving the words about on the page? Surely you
learned much of the alchemy of governance
—nouns of interest, strong-are verbs, the active spark,
the craft of forging an image with sufficient traction to
slide into the reader, O unimaginable place in the body
where such visions are held, breathe, and grow, Slobodan
so many states, instants of being, and the obverse—
those burst bodies under the spreading lindens, the men-

words-who-have-joined-hands-with silence,

bodies seen in the grainy impressions of 16 mmm film
slick video stock, digital cameras, red flash and
light leaking into silver, capturing the whole mess.

And how can I slide down there, below the words,
into the bodies themselves on the layered ground
of the Croatian woods, leech into oak and ash,
the spring flower, carnivorous-looking in its mottled
creams and pinks, curled above them, tendriling,

for each word demands another, does it not? You,
Slobodan, stabbing pencil into paper with energy
as you did everything. Strongman. Now two hours
warming the search engine and not a single poem
by you in your language or in mine. Yet I can picture them
on the page. Noun, corrosive verb, rhetorical
flourish. Inspired by--- Meaning ---. Such small
beginnings, truly. Tell me one story you have never
spoken, one moment, be as humble and as accurate
as you can Slobodan, remember when you were small,
remember when you knew nothing? Here you are:

A doorway. There is perhaps some smoke somewhere.
A sky with skittish clouds. The wind is cold, iron, slice.
Or it smells of flowers as if of another world. Whose
face do you see? Whose voice calls out what phrase?


Slobodan, name like a rock, You see how it all goes and grows?
And the engine, the engine creaks on? The Neanderthals
went extinct, too, swallowed, the Professor says, by their
inability to dream beyond, no single artwork of any symbolic
content or reference, but they had what we lack:
the hmmm of the moment, the hmmm that takes all things
inside it, as the original poets aspired, mixing dance, song,
and word into Molpe, in which the participants assume
their masks, no longer men or women but the hollow
reed, the bone cup through which the thunder crackles,

Molpe: A name. Greek for song. Another Siren. In the Whorl, the goddess
music, dance, art, the winds, and lightness.

Historians describe that they moved and sang until the words were
swallowed, broken, garbled, the
name of the Siren, “Siren” chanted and
danced, as if the words themselves could be
distilled into the more-than-human-beyond where
language is said to lead.


From their chests up they had the form of sparrows, below they were women. Mythologers say that they were little birds with women's faces who beguiled sailors as they passed by, bewitching with lewd songs the hearing of those harkening to them. And the song of pleasure has no good consequence, only death.


Slobodan, you hear nothing,
look where the words have taken you. See the woods,
the silence of the earth? It is morning. A deadness in the
air. The sparrow sings regardless. And again the yellow
flower pushes up. The lightness that is not us.


✦Ovid (Tristia, III, x.), describing a raid 2,000 years ago by the Sarmatians, considered Slavs by some historians, against the ancestors of today’s Albanians.

✢Gavrilo Princip, letter to a friend, quoted in Vladimlr Dediler, The Road to Sarajevo, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966, p.190. Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, thus triggering the First World War Gavrilo Princip, who was born In Bosnia (in 1894).

✸“Suidas” the unknown compiler of the The Suda, a tenth-century Byzatine Greek historical encyclopaedia of the ancient world, selection from Select Epigrams from The Greek Anthology Edited with a Revised Text, Translation, and Notes, by J. W. Mackail London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890.

Sheila Black received her MFA in 1998 from the University of Montana. Her poems have appeared in many print and on-line journals including DMQ Review, Puerto Del Sol, and Blackbird. In 2000 she received the Frost-Pellicer Frontera Prize, given annually to one U.S. and one Mexican poet living along the U.S.-Mexico Border. Her first book House of Bone is forthcoming from CustomWords Press in 2007.