Issue 23: Kristin Dimitrova, transl. Tom Phillips
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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.