A poet and prose writer, Faruk Šehić was born in 1970 and was studying to become a vet in Zagreb when the Bosnian war broke out in 1992. After fighting in the conflict as a combatant, Šehić started writing literature, publishing his debut, Acquired Poems, in 2000. Since then, he has also published an EU Prize for Literature-winning novel, Quiet Flows the Una, and Under Pressure, a collection of short stories. (Both are available in English translation from Istros Books.) Šehić has also published another collection of poetry and short prose. Today, he lives in Sarajevo and works as a journalist and columnist.
If I could afford to, I’d post myself to Berlin
with DHL or FedEx. I weigh around 85 kilos
and it would cost some to move my mass to Berlin
but I’ll borrow the money, for there are always people with cash
and it’s important I reach Berlin in a DHL parcel
I’ve decided against FedEx, the name of the company’s too long
and it rhymes with those Bosnian firms whose owners like
names ending in -ex, thinking internationalism brings success
I’ll post myself to the Hauptbahnhof, I’ve been there before
I can find my way from there, being somewhat familiar with the U-Bahn
with its enticing smell. I’m hooked on the odour of the Berlin underground,
promising speed and good times on pleasant nights out
I must post myself to Berlin, for I long to touch the Brandenburg Gate,
caress the stone buttocks of Greek goddesses the colour of white coffee,
drink coffee in Potsdamer Platz surrounded by sparrows,
that seem like feathery balls with beaks which they use
to navigate the glass domes of the arcades, seemingly strung with sails,
or what seems now like sails, and now like neckties made for giants,
and those sparrows surround me as I drank my coffee, basking in the sun
waiting for me to give them bread, while I sat in the garden of an Australian restaurant
that served crocodile steak and koala fillet
Berlin is a city where a surplus of indigestible history can’t give you a headache
this thought cleansed me as I walked over the dead German and
Allied soldiers, or rather the fragments of their skeletons
on the lawn in front of the Reichstag, by the river Spree, where
real eagles fly across the sky, while beneath the grass transparent history lies.
Hell-bent on escaping Sarajevo, I must post myself to Berlin
in a cardboard box onto which they’ll post an Urgent! sticker
I’ll rid myself of shop-soiled nations and stunted statelets
my blond hair and green eyes will help me through the X-ray control,
for they’ll know that, although I wasn’t born in Berlin, I’ve got
a trump card up my sleeve: a mysterious watermark on my irises
a biometric passport of a state, a borderless state
that hasn’t yet been created, but until it comes into being
Berlin will do me just fine.
When the dead cannot speak of themselves,
not even a whimper, order that the soil be moved
into the landslide of ideas, into the twilight of the 20th century.
Or raise tidal waves of metal and glass,
let fall grey snow like the ashes from Buchenwald.
But yet again nothing happens.
The grass is the indifference of the world, fabulously combed
over their eyes like holy green hair.
A victim is a victim, languageless and forever dead
the same body, killed several times,
with heavy machines and heavy oblivion
in primary, secondary, tertiary
mass graves and the dayless abyss.
Before being shot,
the body, as if diving into a murky lake,
will hold its breath, letting it fly away
into sunlit hills, the crowns of lush treetops,
where future events are but shades of themselves already.
Our song falls apart; the dead have lost the words
with which to start the story of themselves.
Let the silvery voices say: Evil conquered us this time.
Once I remembered Buchenwald in a Buddhist monastery,
in the hustle and bustle and the sweat and thyme,
and burst out crying, copiously.
They say the soul of the world is strong,
when in the leaves of Buddha’s tree
I almost saw his face and saw for myself
that tears can defend us from senselessness,
just as a woman in Potočari had once told me,
in that field of white headstones:
children are not mushrooms.
I found my salvation in a glass marble,
that had survived the shooting in a pocket
– the only sign of life in a horizontal body,
in the cold calm of the glass.
Its colours the flags of indestructible cities,
of sun and fire, its blue stripe the smile of the ocean.
The man who had warmed it in his pocket
is now free of the sorrows of this world.
Only in a poem can you bring back the dead.