Serbia

 – Oskar Davicho – 

I know all your  faces, what each of them wants, what each one’s brought, 
I’ve watched all your eyes, I know what they say or would rather hide.
Inside your hair, your thoughts I’ve thought, 
What your lips kiss, what they drink, I know deep inside.   

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on the pic: Stojanka majka Knežopoljka, Serbian mother in search for her three sons, boys killed by Croats

They drink out of sorrow, sweat and chagrin, 
for the night, for sorghum that’s hard to grind. 
Inside a mill, amidst the din
of the millstone, all your wishes I did find

and your worries, O Serbia, amongst songs and plum – trees you stand, 
O, Serbia, amongst people you stirred, 
on plots of arable land, 
O, Serbia, amongst songs and many a herd, 
O, Serbia, you song, amongst nations you’re heard. 

Sad song, whose softness endears
you to me, you cry like the blood of grapes, like musty* tears, 
like that kiss, the smell of feathers that a dove
wove into its coo of love. 

O, soft endearment, you’re like a wild duck’s cry
over the heat from which is born the red coal of the sun
In every grain of corn. 

But barefoot song of hollow wail, 
when do songs end and swearwords assail?
Hungry hand, blind moans to no avail, 
when will a rebel yell burst out of your shell?

Swearwords abound, for whose sake 
is tilling the land and harvesting in vain?
Curses abound, what cow had to die to make
the Morava region swell with wheat, and Machva expand like a wheat cake, 

in aid of what the storms and uprisings, whose lion’s teeth will break
to make a yew smoke with milk, or a mountainside stain
with some, when Machva is hungry yet again, hungry yet again?

The skin desiccates through the dull chains of day. 
It’s all torn by trench-like wrinkles leaving their mark. 
From trench warfare, the soil, the face turns blue, wastes away, 
and crusts over, covering hunger like bark;  

that face which is not a face, the days that are not days but hole, 
those days of wounded faces, those faces like soles; 
thorns are powerless against them  – so smash them…

And in a single day, from grief, 
they age and shrivel as though centuries bash them, 
O Serbia, amongst uprisings, amongst plum trees you stand, 

O, Serbia, amongst people 
on plots of arable land, 
O Serbia, amongst songs, amongst hilly undulations, 
O, Serbia, 
you, song amongst nations! 

Sad song, old mother of mine, 
My brother’s got a stone slab, with which to pay
for the sweat of our honey, for our work’s wine, 
from the city, in a cart, he brought it all the way. 

And children grow, in bottomless underpants, in the mud, 
amongst pigs, amongst ducks, hilly inclinations; 
you feed them, O, Serbia, with millet and by fasting, 
with fairy tales, lullabies, incantations, 

and cover them with darkness; it’s so hard under its sway
that their rage soars up to the sky all night with fiery intensity, 
rising from hovels, fields and vineyards, there to stay; 
you sing from a heart with no self-pity 
through the seventh hole on a flute far away, 

O, Serbia, amongst uprisings, amongst plum trees you stand, 
O, Serbia! amongst people you stirred
on plots of arable land, 
O Serbia! amongst songs from many bosoms heard, 
O Serbia, 
amongst nations, into rebellion spurred.  

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must* – freshly pressed grape juice

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