Doors in a Meadow by Bratislav R. Milanović
Biljana D. Obradović, tr. Lewiston, New York. Edwin Mellen. 2010. ix + 97 pages. $99.95. isbn 978-0-7734-1462-4
In this bilingual edition of Vrata u Polju, awarded Serbia's Prosveta award in 1999, Biljana Obradoviﬂ faithfully renders Milanoviﬂ's long lines, preserves where possible his alliterative patterns, and carefully selects the English words that function as powerful signs throughout the volume. The voice of this collection—written post-Bosnian War and before, during, and just after the NATO bombings of Milanović's birth city, Aleksinac, and current home, Belgrade, in spring 1999—is both haunted and haunting. Yet unlike the poems of Novica Tadić, with their dark grotesques, these celebrate life's small beauties. Despite "mushroom clouds" and "markets where . . . cashiers overcharge / the poor," the persona of "The Unnecessary Chronicle" asks, "Who needs a chronicle that records only fraud and pestilence / instead of a hand reaching to grasp the extravagant day?" In "As If Submerged in Water," the persona "suck[s] pieces of the summer: markets, sparrows / preening their feathers on a watermelon rind . . . such beauty, completely unnecessary to existence, / but without which / the world would be an unnecessary place." Milanoviﬂ's "lonely scribe" finds solace in the Orphic myth and the natural cycle, where death brings rebirth.
"Tripartition for Aleksinac" clearly enunciates these themes as the speaker ponders the NATO bombing of his first home: Though "bathed in death, / under April plum trees in bloom, / between tulips blown apart by the black hawks' breath," he must rescue not Eurydice but his city. Finally he "drag[s] up the wreck of history," "return[s] to a faith in the half-dead," and "resurrect[s] those walls demolished by madness" as "The scattered city has hoisted itself from its sacred ground, alive again, and it climbs / to the heavens, toward its children, raising itself."
Staircases, hills, and liminal spaces pervade these poems, as the Orphic persona traces his archetypal descent and ascent. Pondering what might come if, as in Faust's augenblick, a fair moment should last, he realizes that "death itself will be prolonged / and that is why it is better, when the hour comes, / to push off completely, towards the bottom." One must die to be reborn.
The eleven poems from "Doors in a Meadow" recapitulate these signs and themes. As doors open "on a silent staircase" that "rises towards the sky," the persona asks, "Are we expecting someone to arrive, / or is it that we're departing before it's time to go?" He wonders, "Why have we chosen to recline here, on this threshold, without / a church?" A tolling bell, heard in other poems, marks "the passing over the threshold." In the eighth poem, noting abandoned weapons from all eras of Serbian history, the speaker reflects, "Who needs them now, before the gate of doom?" The final poem, meanwhile, "To Verica" (Milanoviﬂ's wife), embodies resurrection. The first lines of its first three stanzas begin, "Before these doors we stand," while each ends differently: "dear," "transparent," and "purified." This progression enables the conclusion: "before these doors through which one can only depart / we stand pure as we once were / before these doors we stand ready to enter / only to leave."
Despite the tragic recent history of Yugoslavia and Serbia, this fine collection embodies hope: "love will mean love until, / in the freezing desert, / it quietly builds a nest from which / the world will be reborn" ("Small Lamps in the Darkness").
North Carolina A&T University
In this issue of WLT, a special section devoted to Post-Soviet Literature features recent work from Russia and other former republics, twenty years after the collapse of the regime.
Table of Contents
Post-Soviet Literature: Twenty Years
After the Fall
- INTRO: "Twenty Years after the Collapse of the Soviet Union: Russian and East European Literature Today," Emily D. Johnson
- ESSAY: "Censorship in Russia: Old and New Faces," Nadezhda Azhgikhina
- ESSAY: "Poetry in the Cloud: An Experiment, Results, and n+1 Hypotheses," Kevin M. F. Platt
- FICTION: "Petrov and Markov," Oleg Woolf
- ESSAY: "Re-Visioning the Past: Russian Literary Classics in Film," Catharine Nepomnyashchy
- POETRY: "The Rock or, A Third Anecdote about Wallace Stevens," Grigory Kruzhkov
- EXCERPT: The Button, Iren Rozdobudko
- READING LIST: WLT's post-Soviet reading list
- New! VIDEO: Multimedia poetry from Orbita 4
- "Zoran Živković: A Biographical Sketch," Michael Morrison
- "Rendezvous in Front of the House," Zoran Živković
- "The Metaphysical Fantasias of Zoran Živković," Michael Morrison
- FICTION: "The Teashop," Zoran Živković
- INTERVIEW: "Fantastika and the Literature of Serbia: A Conversation with Zoran Živković," Michael A. Morrison
- A Bibliography of the Works of Zoran Živković
- "My Life as Cinema: A Conversation with Samuel Shimon," Kaitlin Hawkins
- "Literary Cairo, A Conversation with Samia Mehrez," Michelle Johnson
- "The Demon of Hunger," Tania Malyarchuk
- "Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction," Mario Bellatin
- Three Poems by Askold Bazhanov
- Two Poems, Alistair Noon
IN EVERY ISSUE
- LETTERS/EDITOR'S CHOICE
- BOOK CLUB: An Iraqi in Paris by Samuel Shimon
- AUTHOR PROFILE: Zoe Whittall
- WHAT TO READ NOW: Zimbabwe
- CITY PROFILE: Yerevan, Armenia
- INTERNATIONAL CRIME & MYSTERY: Meet "Bo from Ro": Building Romanian Crime Writing, J. Madison Davis
- OUTPOST: Los Angeles