New East Digital Archive

‘We yearn for a world tender enough to embrace us’: 4 Bosnian poems on life after war

‘We yearn for a world tender enough to embrace us’: 4 Bosnian poems on life after war
Image: Markus Winkler via Unsplash

4 June 2021
Selection: Faruk Šehić

The Bosnian War ended in 1995, but scars from the conflict remain present in many everyday lives. Feeling abandoned by government and the state, some have turned to art and artists to find coping mechanisms and ways of healing.

Bosnian poetry often finds an audience beyond its state borders, in Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro, thanks to their shared language. Its roots, too, are multinational: for centuries, Bosnian poets wrote in the Persian and Arab tradition due to Ottoman occupation. The poetry selection below, however, feels more influenced by the American confessional tradition that has shaped so many contemporary poets, rather than ancient, local schools.


Written by Adisa Bašić and translated by Una Tanović

We’re the kids from the neighborhood

that will never end up

on postcards.

To our parts tourists do not venture.

We don’t win presidential elections in a run-off.

And no language do we speak better than our mother tongue.

We do not know that our twin brothers live

in all of the cities of the world.

To our parts tourists do not venture.

There is nothing well known here:

an elementary school,

a supermarket, and an old walnut tree long cut down.

To our parts tourists do not venture.

And we have nothing to show them.

Except ourselves.

Born in 1979, Adisa Bašić lives in Sarajevo. She is a poet and a professor of literature at University of Sarajevo.

Rain in My City

Written by Senka Marić and translated by Mirza Purić

The facades are cracking, flaking like sloughed skin,

stained with mould,

embraced by the boughs of the tree of heaven

that plant is solace

a sure sign the world is stronger than us

it’s the mouth of nature

swallows us together with our houses when we shut our eyes

we never sleep not at all

we fear being eaten

lost in that green sea

where you cannot make out the roads, the road signs,

the signage by which to recognise our home

and know that we should enter,

turn on the light, the stove, the telly, the fridge,

all the things that buzz when lit,

and know that we are alive,

we gods of small things,

ontologically perfect rulers of electrics,

we stab the night through our window panes

let it bleed in the streets until morning

all is well, all things in their place, we comfort ourselves

until the rain starts

and the tree of heaven crawls through the cracks

rutting the asphalt, gnawing at the walls, undercutting the houses

whilst we, fallen gods,

unaware of the love afforded to us,

yearn for a world tender enough

to embrace us

Born in 1972, Senka Marić is a poet and bestselling novelist from Mostar.

Pythia’s Fate

Written by Tanja Stupar Trifunović and translated by Petar Penda

An old woman sits in the corner spins wool and mumbles

this thread is for the beginning of the world

look blood still drips down the fibre’s line

and fish spawn in the soft womb’s wall

in a far-away sea

look how heads ripen

and time picks them and glasses are filled and emptied

and the clock strikes on a wall

Flies hang their traces

the art of adding yellow spots on the glass wall and things

She can’t see well but her sight catches the other side

she speaks fluently and long in the world’s ears

which doesn’t want to grow old and learn of itself

full of infantile old men with tight skins

and bloodshot eyes

towards huchens

which swim on the water’s surface

thinking naively it is dark in the dim depths

and light on the surface

While false clairvoyants lift skirts

and move faces to freshly printed papers

While false prophets put on robes

and preach restraining from unripe fruit

and material goods

with heavy pockets touching the floor

(it is hard too hard to serve you Lord)

while children dream of a better world

breaking legs on too high thresholds

their fathers set for them

while all happens by a mysterious plan

old woman talks with spin fibres feigning madness and tells the truth

for only mad people can still

let themselves fall into disfavour of futile truths

about this world

where people gently slide towards their own emptiness

cleaning rooms and whitening the teeth by the way

smiling dully at soft cotton of the new time

putting lumps of wax in ears so not to hear

not to be disturbed in their nap

by the boring nagging of the old woman

like a TV set you can’t turn off

nobody pays attention to horrible Pythia

who doesn’t want to shut up

You silly gammer in a girl’s robe which hangs on a wrinkled body

there are no duties for old women anymore

nobody needs your prophecies and visions

abandoned prophets

sit behind every corner

it is not decent to use opiates at your age

shower of scorns

No rulers bow their heads coming to her

now they ask for mercy of another god thinking they can bribe him

as his officials

someone is bold enough to push her from the stool

she carries everywhere

Pythia gets up and brushes off the dust

Glittering of her eyes scares all but children

They embroil in her dress and rejoice at her colourful clothes and are happy

with a terrible tone of her prophecy

giving each of them a thread of the spin

and whispering in their ears

children save the world

From rotten and greedy old people

Born in 1977, Tanja Stupar Trifunović is a celebrated poet and novelist based in Banjaluka. As a young refugee from Croatia, she has experienced war first-hand.

My Father’s Skin Looks Like the Surface of the Moon

Written by Selma Asotić

They told you shrapnel made men

celestial, that’s why you joined

the army. In midsummer, when weathervanes

carousel, you pull your silence

taut over our house. Nothing bad

will happen to us now, not with you

standing sentinel at the edge

of our sleep, guarding

against the peace thieves.

In the living room you and I mummify

waiting for the rains to pass.

Dust settles on our eyelids, the choleric

mahogany. Should you ever speak, I’d tie

my hair to the hooves of your voice,

I’d have my death by dragging

out what the water dreams sunk. I’d ask

if you’ve seen the moles

in the garden, the bird nest

under the eaves. I’d ask how many

you captured. How many did you kill?

Born in 1992, Selma Asotić currently lives in New York and writes in English.

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