Balkan poetry by Bruce Sterling

I wrote this six years ago. My, time flies here in glamorous Belgrade.


by Bruce Sterling

for Rasa Livada (1948–2007)

Damp streets, a dark alley outside the garage,

How many poets can one city bury?

The full moon over Belgrade expects an eclipse.

Gritty, dear old Beograd, she’s strewn with Xmas decorations,

Tourist-luring tinsel for the graveyard of empires.

Selling dead dad’s dead car, dressed in dead dad’s overcoat and hat,

I’m the silent gunsel here, I’m the diesel-punk Communist assassin;

Lady, what on Earth are you doin’, letting this cheap hood in your garage,

With that gat hangin’ out of his overcoat?

Three used-car guys are keen to defraud my wife tonight:

Some dopey kid, a fat mechanic, and the huckster who does all the talking.

This crook has got a black toupee the color of his patent-leather shoes,

And he’s eager to talk her price down.

She fends them off expertly, all chirpy in her snow-bunny jacket,

A sun-colored Yankee contraption, all snaps, puffs, cuffs, and zipper pockets.

The fat mechanic slowly checks the engine and the shocks.

The vehicle is powder-blue, gone thick with a powder-brown dust.

It’s as helpless as the worldly goods of the late Mr. Scrooge.

Those stencilled license plates are out-of-date.

Age, entropy and helpless imperial decline.

They’re not just for the feeble flesh of fine old men.

Metallic knocks to test the dead man’s hood, and his trunk, to boot.

The driver-side hinge groans in protest.

They search for underbody rust with two small prying flashlights.

This garage doesn’t look all that great either, mind you.

White nitre on its peeling plaster walls,

Vast, damp, leaky, ochre ceiling stains,

Spiderwebs thick with toxic brown urban smog,

In moony glare from one bare ceiling bulb.

Voices echo from the bare cement as they pretend to debate

All the necessary steps “to get her running.”

Boy, what a whale of a hangover I had this morning.

I staggered through my jet-lagged dawn on yogurt and squares of cheap chocolate.

But that sure beat sleeping in some frozen European airport,

Like five thousand other Balkan wanderers tonight.

This metal carcass has to leave its bay somehow.

We’ll pocket the cash that pays for our time and the wicked street-smarts

Of this fantastic trio of holiday hustlers.

Tomorrow, we’ll go eat some schnitzel.

I had to stop my poem just now, to lend my pen to sign the contract.

Business before poesy, for that silent hood in his overcoat.

Good thing my deep pockets swarm with spare pens,

And this new pen, now that I stare at it, turns out to be Brazilian.

And now that I think of it, my other pen was Japanese,

That pen the bald guy just used to sign away one thousand euros.

Oh well, my wife remarks to me in English,

This guy in the cheap toupee used to know my dad;

For many years they worked together,

Although I never knew quite what they did, or why.

I know for a fact that he’s chiseling me now,

But no reason he shouldn’t profit by the old man’s passing.

Even though, every time he’s seen me for the past twenty years,

He always hits on me, because he thinks I’m cute.

He gives me my pen back, it’s not working out for him;

The ink ran out in the middle of his signature.

But we’re done now anyhow, so we’re all leaving.

There’s a big jet contrail whipping past the moon.

Someone’s cellphone rings-out comically.

“Good night, sir.” “Laku noć.”

one of the better-known Bruce Sterlings

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