Skip to content →

Category archive for: Ales Debeljak

My Fear, Your Courage

We stay on the trail, but behind

the events. We have nothing but echoes

of our own voices, when we sat in front

of the fireplace, where three men sank

to easy sleep in cinders. Sunbeams flitted

on the wine glasses, we stared at the surface

of things inside their form, hardly disfigured

by agreeing on their names. It’s enormous,

this world, huge with narcissistic thoughts

that evade a wayfarer’s way, poised to take

in each and every courtyard as his own,

but a master only once a century or so.

While the others are in front of the fire,

in a coma since yesterday, I’ve gotten up,

all covered in sweat, again dreaming nuns,

who usher an end to travel at the door before

the zone of no return, on one side of the river

bank, same side every time. I’d prefer to show you

where, between the chimney and the eaves,

the warbler’s nest, I’d fess up to small swindles,

I’m straining my ears like a ram’s horn, to catch

the chords the accordion bellows, elastic

and stretched by a crazy fellow, his sidekick sings along:

fear once put behind you is the start of being proud.

from Without AnesthesiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Finger of Light

Memory: a blot in the archives of history,

luxuriant river backwaters and tributaries

for fishing by flashlight, at the Špica

where polliwogs grow into frogs

and gangs of wrestling boys are restless,

recollections, wordless signals, the fluid

of the finest narrative, which no one can

retell in full, that’s why we pass it hand

to hand, respectful and inquisitive,

like a lid we lift slowly so not to be scalded,

the past doesn’t care, the truth doesn’t either,

whatever we think of them; the closer we get

the hotter it gets, that’s clear; if I step back,

if you stay behind, the story is strewn,

the instant restarts, the finger of light winnows out

among willows, and now I’m left with what I’ve

never liked: a half hunch I was very close,

but what’s it matter when I don’t have a witness,

let alone answers to questions I switch on and off

like a feeble light, so many lamps in an empty house,

the chapters of this story drowned in croaking,

disappearing as circles do, on the surface of a lake.

from Without AnesthesiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Poor Substitute

Our long lost brother watches windows

and, directing us to look up, we follow his

gaze to high above, into the indigo sky.

Together we all acknowledge the sudden

desire: to shatter the glass again and flutter up,

the stress in the groin sustains its pressure,

fearful of lust we gather as a flock, our eyes

closed, stand on tiptoe with little better to do,

seal our lips to the glass. We are distant kin,

orphans and prodigal sons, who open the bedroom

doors and glide down corridors, submerged

in moonlight striking the lips and cheeks,

onto last month’s magazines, the carpet,

across the back of the armchair, a girl forged

of doorknocker brass who carries a bucket

with no bottom, constant as a migraine, restless

as desire, embers sift over the roofs of our

neighborhood, replace our heartbeat with names

of the lost, who have found a home somewhere else,

as a brother finds his sister—it’s her I think of.

maybe you do too, when muscle tightens in a silver

line. I’m sorry no one noticed her out here.

from Without AnesthesiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

The Frozen Monarchy

after Tomaaž Šalamun,
A Ballad for Metka Krašovec

Deep below the bowels of a boat, cutting

through breakers no trouble, carting survivors

to god knows where, aware on a sunny day

of its sinking, so many years ago some have already

forgotten, you can see them: the cities

and piers, fun parks and parliaments, how they’re

in line to be punished. They last in a spasm, locked

in shocking ice. It glimmers a shade of blue, the same

hue for everyone, for the looters of nests and altars

as for dandies with a finger on the trigger, deep down,

where slackened wishes to be forgiven have tacked

like metal to ice, with a grimace of pain. The oldest

would know the song, it sounds like a face

from the fairy tales, pronounces the prophets different

from despots, although they all feel the cold, save

those who wanted to save themselves by climbing

the slippery crests of a slope to shear the surface

and swim. There, an old captain my country admires

dances on deck in his bare feet, and buttons from

blouses and whitish teeth are sprinkled all around,

Trieste—Vienna, September 2001

from Without AnesthesiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

No Choice

And half tenderly, half lazily,
With a kiss you brushed my hand—
And the eyes of mysterious, ancient faces
Gazed at me…

—Anna Akhmatova, “Confusion”

A sound comes up from the northern woods,

dark and sugary. Maybe, I think, not sure,

it’s only a goshawk. Yet maybe, just maybe

a Russian boy who jumped off the top of a tree

with his umbrella open, like sky above steppe,

and landed to the applause of the grass and,

without skipping a beat, picked up a tremulous

tune. I have to pass it on—but how? I’m not

saying it doesn’t make sense to stay at home

between books and the kids, yet I tend to forget

it escapes me, the summer league results,

for example, but I remember a teapot of clay

and the perfect patchwork stains on its circular

lip. I cover them with my tongue. I’m as precise

in my daily routine as the bell of a suburban

church, of equal ease to travelers and locals,

hatching plans for action among the extended

evening shadows. Yes? No? I don’t know, I have

no idea. All I know is that butterflies, freed

from tapestries, would not survive on their own, unless

for paper peddlers pedaling through alleys of trees,

these postmen of lightest sleep, as the dead poet

would have said, tossing out rolled-up bundles

of news, subscribers can’t read them, written

in the language of forgotten tribes who lived here

well before. They put their warriors in burial grounds

and committed their women to ash. They rule after death

and newspaper editorials keep praising them, until the cry

of a newborn breaks into guffaw. Yes? No? No choice.

Under an umbrella, I write the lines a soldier sings.

from Without AnesthesiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Ode to Wheat

They’ve axed the forests, plowed the meadows,

sown and sewed it up, task forces of tiny fingers

and hired hands are pruning back the cornflowers

that clamber and clamor for tenderness of sun

and water, for sympathetic looks without the help

of generations that celebrate the mother figure,

her lavish hips and license to give birth so

she need not fight any more, as she stands

in triumph among us, those who keep meat

on the menu, the love distilled in a spike

of wheat as the final measure of creation,

maybe even grace locked in a swollen grain.

Why would I lie to you? A harvest rots

right there on the ground, nobody feels like

carting it away. We prefer to fondle

the shiny blades and tears on the tips that

recall the etchings of provincial manors,

lost in the roiling mercury sea that stretches

across half the continent; stalks trickle out

of the baskets, leading from famished memory

should we let it drop. The competition between gain

and taste is ceaseless, and beauty falls by the wayside,

like a deserter who ducks the radar to prosper again,

multiplied a hundredfold, at the head of a huge

army that has laid its weapons down, and knees

bent enters the service of a goddess, pregnant

all the time, whose livelihood is gift and suffering.

from Without AnesthesiaFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2011
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.