'After Us' and other poems

01 August, 2014

ABOUT THE POEMS Reading the work of Nikola Madzirov is like having someone cut cleanly with a ruler through many pages of one’s memories congealed by time. The fine metaphors (“One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture/ like chessmen at the start of a new game”), the vividly worked images, and the strikingly individual view of transience and permanence in human affairs make this Macedonian poet, whose work has been translated into more than thirty languages, an indispensable voice of our literary age.

After Us

One day someone will fold our blankets

and send them to the cleaners

to scrub the last grain of salt from them,

will open our letters and sort them out by date

instead of by how often they’ve been read.

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture

like chessmen at the start of a new game,

will open the old shoebox

where we hoard pyjama-buttons,

not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

One day the ache will return to our backs

from the weight of hotel room keys

and the receptionist’s suspicion

as he hands over the TV remote control.

Others’ pity will set out after us

like the moon after some wandering child.


I lived at the edge of the town

like a streetlamp whose light bulb

no one ever replaces.

Cobwebs held the walls together,

and sweat our clasped hands.

I hid my teddy bear

in holes in crudely built stone walls

saving him from dreams.

Day and night I made the threshold come alive

returning like a bee that

always returns to the previous flower.

It was a time of peace when I left home:

the bitten apple was not bruised,

on the letter a stamp with an old abandoned house.

From birth I’ve migrated to quiet places

and voids have clung beneath me

like snow that doesn’t know if it belongs

to the earth or to the air.

Perfection Is Born

I want someone to tell me

about the messages in the water in our bodies,

about yesterday’s air

in telephone booths,

about flights postponed because of

poor visibility, despite

all the invisible angels on the calendars.

The fan that weeps for tropical winds,

the incense that smells best

as it vanishes—I want someone to tell me about these things.

I believe that when perfection is born

all forms and truths

crack like eggshells.

Only the sigh of gentle partings

can tear a cobweb apart

and the perfection of imagined lands

can postpone the secret

migration of souls.

And what can I do with my imperfect body:

I go and I return, go and return

like a plastic sandal on the waves

by the shore.

Before We Were Born

The streets were asphalted

before we were born and all

the constellations were already formed.

The leaves were rotting

on the edge of the pavement,

the silver was tarnishing

on the workers’ skin,

someone’s bones were growing through

the length of the sleep.

Europe was uniting

before we were born and

a woman’s hair was spreading

calmly over the surface

of the sea.

Nikola Madzirov is a Macedonian poet whose work has been translated into many languages. A bilingual Macedonian–English edition of his poems, Remnants of Another Age, is published by Bloodaxe Books.