Issue 23: Kristin Dimitrova, transl. Tom Phillips

Dear passengers

The hospital – network of corridors,

memory regularly scrubbed, grey zone

of meeting and farewell, portal past which

calendars no longer work.

You go in quietly, on tiptoe, and above

is intensive care – international airport

with bedridden clients.

‘Dear passengers,’ came the silent voice

of the pilot with folded wings.

‘We’re about to take off.

Loosen your seatbelts, please.’

‘What’s he saying?’ asked

the man with an amputated leg.

‘It’s not about you,’ replied

the woman in a coma.

Sometimes together again

In myself I carry days

with no longer existing furniture

and light which left the earth

a long time ago.

I lunch with my loved ones there,

I hand my mother the salt-cellar, not the salt,

I wanted the black pepper, thank you,

you've poured me a lot, take some away,

no need, it’s fine, dad, when you leave,

don’t rush, let’s wait for your gran,

when are you leaving? Will you be first to leave?

They’re at ease, make

effortless movements.

Again and again they dance the dance

that's been danced before.

And I’m there and I’m dancing.

And I, and I.

Don’t forget me.

At one of the stops in time

That night the restaurant lights

shone around your head and outside

travelled on towards stars.

Beyond every table, cars passed

each other on the street, their drivers

briefly able to glimpse

the happy tunnel at whose end

we’d wrapped our legs. The glow

of cigarettes, outdoor heaters and

a bottle of red wine were topping up

our blood, and we sat there

one against the other, poring over

each other’s eyes, gifting each other

thoughts in the long silences

and we walked, holding hands,

through a city of open windows

in which time remains unknown.

How many times I pass through

the same place, I see

that we still live there.

You and I

People come into your head

and disturb you – you told me

with appropriate added gestures:

forefinger touching your forehead,

eyes holding firmly to mine.

And I thought how much angrier

is the world you inhabit,

doing battle with krakens,

snakes, humanoid machines

with curious leanings

and clinging trunks

that seem at best to be

looking for your friendship. And how

much more warped the world I live in –

closed, unreliably sunny, with pollen

to scatter, with feathers to pluck,

with endless letters

and happily startling meetings.

Without you I’m air without a balloon,

a mouth without a tongue, a tongue without a bell,

an alphabet without language. Lungs without air.

And together

we raise a great noise.

Through the window of a song

This is not simply a song, simply a mouth.

It’s a hole the eternal world bursts through,

the breath of true chaos where intentions

are primordial sparks. Every sense

is equally awake, unreconciled, undistorted,

the point exists only for itself, time

has yet to be born.

It’s a gap the most ancient songs burst through

on their leather wings,

a narrow window onto that

                        which maybe we were

                        and which we could be.

Windows. They open, they close.

The fear of draught makes us extra careful.

Are you frightened of the dark?

With you – no.

Gifts of the weather

Autumn presents two coats:

one for the cold, the other –

for later on.

The day quickly abandons us.

The trees strew us with leaves,

with silence, a great finger

pressed to the lips behind.

We enter the dark, embrace

in its feather quilt,

sink into the earth, tell

stories around the kettle.

The snow overwhelms us.

Then we’ll scratch a way out

towards the light again, to pick

cherries together.

When the second coat’s turn comes,

I want to look good in it.

Today when the lighthouses are vanishing

The radio was as laden as a galleon

for a long voyage, a Noah’s Ark for a single beast

that growled and roared and howled.

I put my fingers on the buttons’ teeth,

pushing them one after the other.

A green eye – deep and alert –

was coming to life, but stayed silent.

The box was gaining power, gaining strength.

(Old appliances demanded respect. They waited

to get it.) After briefly warming up,

the radio would start sailing

across the sea of information. Under the canvas

of its hidden funnel music would start gushing out.

Official news emerged from the roar, then plunged back

into the fog of white noise. Politics lived on islands

of grey words where endless speeches

repeated them in a new order.

Distant stations called for attention

and in fading voices exchanged Morse code.

I twisted the buttons with both hands, breaking

the waves ahead and chasing the signals.

The yellow bulb over my childhood bed

was the lighthouse I could always

come back to.

Holy places in groups

I don’t know why I can’t see

the legend in the stone,

the angel, wings clasped above the altar,

beyond its expertise.

Tourists flood from the light at the entrance,

crowd around illegible slates,

winding in a queue.

The Russian women have covered their heads

with pious scarves, the Americans

are blushing beneath their baseball caps.

The Poles buy packets of incense

as gifts for home.

Everyone takes secret photographs.

Outside it smells of saffron,

kebabs, hot pita bread, unsold salad

tomatoes and cucumbers.

The candles laid out on the stall

have no price. Strawberries for ten shekels,

yarmulkes for twenty.

The rosaries are made

in Sri Lanka. The Arabs

hurry to prayers at the mosque,

closing the lokum stalls.

Kirkor Pizza awaits the hungry

from the Via Dolorosa.

The peoples of the world gather on God’s grave

only to pass by each other again

following the tour leaders’ flags.

At night the church, built

in five different ways, is locked

by a Muslim family.

The cries disappear. The wind

blows in from the desert,

sweeps up the trash of exultation.

The Women’s Market, Sofia


Everyone keeps going to the market entrance,

but Khairi takes me aside to treat me

to Arabic pita bread.

I choose savoury. ‘Salaam alaikum,’ says

Khairi as he takes the snacks. The baker

nods respectfully. It means ‘peace be with you’,

I am told, but you stop thinking about the meaning

when you’ve got used to peace.

‘Where did you two get to?’ asks Niki Boykov later.

We are standing between Dubai Marquee

and Zoran’s Serbian Grill.

‘In the Iraqi bakery.’

‘I don’t think I know it. Not the Bagdadi one?’

‘No, the whole of Iraq. Just down

from the Syrian bakery.’

Travelling the world is difficult –

we can’t always do it. But in the market

it takes just a few steps.

And there you are:

some as if they’re aboard,

others as if they’re home.


‘The world is flat,’ writes Thomas Friedman

from the New York Times’ high tower.

But the world’s not like that in the Women’s Market,

it's as round as a peach,

as bright as a tomato, curly like kale,

hunched like the underwear seller,

dark as the woman with the potatoes.

There’s no way to see this from

The Big Apple but even here you can’t

miss it. New York written on tracksuits

hanging by the Tommy Hilfiger shirts. The clothes

are almost brands, almost festive,

pretty wearable,

the names of vague dreams

written across their chests.

Globalisation came here long ago

through the back entrance,

locked itself tight in the market

and remained unseen by the world.

The synagogue and mosque can confirm this,

but officially they don’t talk to each other.


A little garden in front of the monument

to Georgi Kirkov, socialist politician,

perched on by pigeons.

Bunches of leeks line up beneath

his stone gaze, children screaming around,

three young Gypsies, hair cut like Mohicans,

argue about a Facebook status, two girls

stealthily circle my bag.

Kirkov defended the poor and

the Women’s Market was named

after him for a time.

Then the women took back the name

and the poor stayed poor.

They circle his monument.

They don’t give two bucks for him.

If you’ve got two bucks, give them to the grill.

If you don’t, take them from your neighbour.

Or go on Facebook.

It’s free.


Socrates loved markets. They reminded him

of how many things he didn’t need.

The legless lady beggar would hardly

say the same. Do we expect her

to say anything at all?

The Tower of Babel might be a blessing.

I give the lady beggar a lev for the right

to imagine I’m good.

Kristin Dimitrova is a poet, writer and translator from Sofia, Bulgaria. Her most recent publications include the poetry collections My Life in Squares (2010), The Garden of Expectations and the Opposite Door (2012) and Dear Passengers (2018) and the short story collections The Secret Way of the Ink (2010) and Give me a Call When You Arrive (2017). She is the winner of five awards for poetry, four for fiction and two for poetry translation (The Anagram, selected poetry by John Donne, and The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll). Her poems, short stories and essays have been translated into 27 languages and published in 36 countries.

Tom Phillips lives in Sofia, where he works as a writer, translator and lecturer. He has translated work by many of Bulgaria’s leading contemporary poets and is the founding editor of Balkan Poetry Today. His own poetry has been published in a wide range of magazines, anthologies, pamphlets and the full-length collections Unknown Translations (Scalino, 2016) and Recreation Ground (Two Rivers Press, 2012).

Copyright © 2019 by Kristin Dimitrova, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.