Snezana Bukal was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1957 and lives in Maastricht, Holland. Her books of short stories include Tamna strana (Matica srpska, 1986), which won the Federal Price for best debut book of the year; Cuvarkuca (Manufaktura snova, 1994), which was not published as scheduled due to war; Vliegend hert (De bezige bij, 1995); and her first novel Eerste sneeuw (De bezige bij, 1996). She has translated into the Serbo-Croatian select works of R.L. Stevenson and James Joyce. Her own work has been translated into Slovenian, Macedonian, Hungarian, English, Dutch and French.

Waiting to Leave

That's me
That woman in black
With the blue purse
Who is squatting
By the edge of the road
Concentrating as if
Putting thread in a needle

Next to me
There is a red bus
And travellers
Standing along a deserted road
Nervously looking
Toward the curve
Where the road disappears

All is dust and silence
Till somebody shouts:
There he is!
And points his finger
Toward the man
Who appears
With something red
In his hand.
Everybody feels better

Only I
Can not turn my eyes
From the abyss
Everything that ever happened
And what will happen
Is unrolling
In the depth
Below me

Ionian Cabin

On Briar Island we met Ion –
Nighteen years old,
Water polo player, member of the national team
He quit a good career
To be on his Island
‘I was homesick’ he said, and smiled
While serving chowder soup

The guests were just like the hotel,
Cool and distant and quiet above all.
What a temple! I thought when we entered
And only hunger prevented me from turning back.

Ion was not quiet. He wanted to know everything.
Where are we from? Why we are on the Island?
Why do I wear five rings? Are we backpackers?
But above all Ion wanted to know
The Belgian recipe for mussels he ate day after day
While training in Antwerp.
Andre said: You do this and this and this
And that’s all.
Old fisherman’s knowledge!

When we paid the bill and were about to leave
Ion took a piece of paper and drew a map.
‘Something not to be missed –
When you are half way down Long Island Road,
Park the car and walk toward a bush –
You will see an old Chevrolet and not far away
The skeleton of a wooden schooner.
If you find it, after that it is easy.
Just look and follow the Signs.’

The next day I recalled: Ion’s map!
We parked the car along the deserted road and indeed
Found the Chevrolet and the schooner eaten by worms
And shortly after, going uphill,
It was clear we found the Signs too
So we walked in silence from Sign to Sign
And it was, I have to say, scary for a while
Til at the top of the hill we met an old wooden plate ‘Half Way’
And saw blue, blue, blue ocean below.

Ion’s cabin was built on rock above the ocean
Like a wooden house from Grimm’s stories.
There’s no comparison
Was the thought I had when I saw it.
Next to the cabin there was a watch tower –
Wooden construction, well-built with three platforms.
Andre climbed to the top
And for several hours he was mostly quiet.
From time to time he would shout
What the whale he just spotted was doing.

‘The doors are never closed,’
Ion said yesterday.
‘Everything you need is there:
Jar with water pillows sleeping bags
First aid kit spoons forks knives
Owen on wood flavour salt tea sugar
Wooden table and one chair
View to the ocean
And along all four walls
One shelf with a row of books’

I sat next to the open window
And read Moby Dick,
The edition for children
With great drawings,
Then I saw a notebook
And a pen next to it,
Leafed through the notebook –
Many people were here
In the last three decades.
I figured out Ion’s notes.
He was writing love letters
To somebody who sometimes replied
With less enthusiasm
And more irony.

Went to the rocks
Took jeans off
And sat on the rock
Watching how
A humpback whale was jumping
Out of the water
Again and again.
Felt great:
I knew
I simply knew
I found the End of the Line
All the walking
All seven pair of shoes destroyed
Were not in vain


                     Maastricht, 2002

Some time ago I was in Belgrade.
It was in the month of Etanim,
The golden one.

In the evening
I would lie in bed
Next to an open window,
Gentle wind playing
The poplar leaves,
I thought:
This is not a city
This is a huuuge book
Many times read
And pages are turning
And turning
Only for me.
And fell asleep like a lamb.

Under the window in the street,
Some children were chatting
About politics black holes in space
And their stupid mathematics teacher –
That's how I learned
That absence of my language
Is the cause of my eternal insomnia.

I walked through the city
Thinking nothing
Following my own feet
Which did not forget
Even the smallest street
Once I was passing through it.

The few friends I still had there
Were mostly complaining
About salaries
About hypocrisy
About years passed in vain
And most often
About the ugliness of the city.

What I could tell them?
I was quiet:
Enjoyed a home cooked meal
And smiled.
It does not happen often to me
To drink wine made
From the same vineyard I picked once
As a child
In a village which is now
My deepest deepest dream.

A decade ago
The morning I left
The city was blue with early dawn
Cold and distant
And the sharpness
Was out of focus
But for that I blame
My crying eyes.
The streets were passing by
As if the bus was standing
And city was going away.

That image bothered me for years
That feeling
That frozen
In time
What ever may be me
Stayed there for ever.

A few months ago
I said: Basta!
And finally went back.
It was St. Michael's summer.
The city was gold gold gold
And my search began.

At the beginning of
Duke Mihailo street
A farmer was playing pipes
But nobody paid attention to him.
A bit further
Inca Indians were performing –
Same Incas I saw a hundred times
On Leidse plain in Amsterdam.

I smiled at the farmer.
He asked me
If I knew
Which round dance he just played –
No, I did not know.
“Rajko-kukurajko,” he said,
And we both laughed and laughed.
Some pilgrim sitting next to us
Missed the beauty of the moment –
He was busy analyzing his bare feet.

Then I walked along the street,
Met some old man who was selling
Icons drawn on smallest pieces of wood.
There were hundreds of saints there.
“Which saint you want?”
I took one randomly and said
St. Minas I want.
It was St. Minas in my hands.
That's how I learned what I forgot –
That miracles do exist.

Many other places I passed by alone –
Making photos for my children,
Making stories to fit the photos,
Knowing that all my storytelling
Will miss the gold and warmth and sounds
But I did not care,
Not really.
It was my journey.
I went there
To bring
Her, once left behind,
Back to me.

I should

Did you find
A good place with music
Or you are just wandering
Through the city
And even your river
Under the bridge
Can not
Change your
Restless thoughts

It’s music here
Kind Hearted Woman
Whom you brought to me
Unhappy as me
And equally serious
Is singing her story

How come
You love her so much
And fear my pain?
Should I sing more?

Too many questions

Yesterday I laughed loudly
And said
The best place for my leg
Is your shoulder

Today I was aging
As I usually am
And was not clear
Who was laughing yesterday
Or me?

More light1

Where are the cats?
Are they also gone?
What happened to the lilac trees?
And why is the aspen so wise?
And the moon?
Where is the moon?
I need light.
The moon and all the stars
I can hold with two hands.
A bit more:
Huge river
Small roads
Early breakfast
Chestnut trees
Why not
They are said to be
Great rooted blossomers
As you are
My gentle tired friend

1 More lights, they say, were Goethe’s last words. Do you believe that? I do not.