Bone to Bone: Vasko Popa. Katherine Klaric, translator.

Translator’s note: Vasko Popa was born on June 29, 1922 in Grebenac, Serbia. When the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was invaded in 1941, WWII had begun and Popa left for Bucharest to study medicine, then for Vienna to study philosophy; in 1943, he served a short stay at a German concentration camp; he survived; he returned to Vienna to study French and German literature and worked part-time as a tram conductor. When he finally moved to Belgrade for good in 1994, he got involved in publishing, writing and working for literary magazines, and finding a lasting niche in the Slavic society of letters. In a way, his poetry is a lasting tribute to his life—or life in general—especially in how it manages to assert itself as convoluted yet cohesive.

I. At the Beginning

Now it’s easy for us
We’re rescued from flesh

Now we’ll be what we’ll be
Say something

Do you want to be
The thunderbolt’s backbone

Say something more

What might I say to you
The storm’s hipbone

Say something else

I know nothing else
The heavens’ ribs

We’re no one’s bones
Say something else

II. After the Beginning

What will we now

Really what will we
Now we’ll dine on the core

The core we finished for lunch
Now the laburnum’s the hollow in me

Then we’ll make music
We love making

What will we when the dogs find us
They love bones

Then we’ll stop them by the neck
and bask

III. In the Sun

Divine is that naked sunlight
I never cared for flesh

And for me those rags were never seductive
The same way the wild naked was for you

Don’t let the sun caress you
It’s better that we’re loved as two

Only not here not in the sun
Here everyone sees the dear little bones

IV. Under the Earth

Muscle of darkness muscle of flesh
Captures you the same

But what will we now

We’ll call all bones of all time
We’ll be fried in the sun

What will we then

Then we’ll come up clean
Rise as far as is willed for us

What will we later

Nothing we’ll go there here
We’ll be eternal beings of bone

Wait just so the earth yawns

V. In Moonlight

Now what’s this
As if flesh some snowy flesh
Captures me

I don’t know what it is
As if my cross ran to my core
Some rimy core

Even I don’t know
As if it begins all again
With some worse beginning

You know what
Can you howl

VI. Before the End

Whither will we be now

Whither we’d be nowhere
Whither would be two bones anyway

What will we be there

There already a while we
There eagerly waiting we
Nobody and his wife nothing

What will we be to them

They’re aged they’re without bones
we will be daughters born for them

VII. At the End

I a bone you a bone
Why’d you swallow me
I’m no longer seen

What’s the matter with you
You swallowed me
Neither I nor myself am seen

Where am I now

Now it’s no longer known
Neither who is where nor who is who
All is unsightly slumber dust

Do you hear me

I hear both you and yourself
Crowing from our crowing

Translated from the Serbian poem, “Bone to Bone.”

About the translator: Katherine Klaric was born on September 19th, 1991 in Queens, New York. She has two older sisters, two even older parents, and two grandparents who thankfully keep things all in perspective. She is majoring in Russian, East European, Eurasian Studies at the University of Michigan.

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