Daring to Remember

The Everyday Twentieth Century

A poem by Balša Brković from Montenegro, translated by Randall A. Major.

Everyday I live out
The first sixty years
Of the twentieth century.

Every day:

At exactly 19:00
Nietzsche and Wilde died.
The craziest people and the most dignified
Death embrace in history.

At 19:18 Montenegro disappeared.
(Everything’s cool – it would return in less than
an hour.)

At 19:33 Constantine Cavafy died.
The greatest Greek poet
He lived in Alexandria. Which is a good
fate, because poets enjoy it both when they’re
among books
And at the sites of fires.
I always found it nice – he spoke
Greek with a strong English accent.
But, he was a dandy, and that is an excellent, chic detail,
Certainly more a matter of sound and style than of attitude.
(It’s good when you speak any language
a little differently
than everyone else.)
I’m sorry, it seems to me, that
I didn’t live for at least a year
In Germany, so I could irritate the Montenegrins by
Speaking Montenegrin with a discrete
German accent.
But, such is the madness of southerners...

If it is 19:43, or one minute
Plus or minus, I quickly turn my eyes
From looking at Medusa’s face.
I hate wars and I hurry on
To the merry defeat,
To years of relaxation and great hope.

At 19:57 I imagine-see
Ginsberg, jazzing it up: America,
I gave you everything and now I am nothing...
With 57 cents in my pocket.

If I look at exactly 19:52,
That’s the Hydrogen Bomb, and all because of
One photograph – an explosion
Somewhere in the Pacific –
As a twenty year-old, for weeks
I watched it, every day, for at least then minutes.
I tried to imagine
The sound, the size of the Mushroom, the color, and again the sound...

Like it was in the time of Archimedes
The most insane weapons are made by the smartest.

The most about the Cosmos, about space,
We learned from making that bomb,
We learned the most
thanks to our passion for killing.

Wisdom has a trace of blood on its lips.
Always has.
In the year 1959, my game
with the century on the clock
comes to an end.
Just when it was getting interesting,
Here comes the jubilee number 20:00.

Thus my everyday
twentieth century is amputated at
its most beautiful part.
The 20th century without
The sixties, seventies,
eighties and nineties
is a freak of a century.
Two huge wars,
Several brilliant minds and
A few nice portents.

Only after 19:59, it started
The insanity, the very best.

But all of that, in my everyday
Century, disappears in an instant.

And, then the clock is just a clock again
And not the throat of a precious crazy century.

My clock, my shield with the
Gorgon head, that
General symbol of the non-existing
Victory over the Monster,
Every day it offers – twenty-four,
Though shortened, centuries
Or – sixty years of every century
till the year 2400.
O.K. I thought, many times
Why not some other century,
Past or future,
Why not this one, the present one: because, it falls
At such a nice time of day, and because it
Sways so gracefully,
Like a diva walking down the red carpet
Just before a magnificent
movie premiere.

Yet, still,
every day
only one century appears to me, or more precisely
sixty percent of it.

(That’s the big, serious flaw
These clock centuries
Lack the fin de siècle epoch.
And that is, after all, the worst possible thing that
can happen to a century.
When there is no confusing autumn.)

Why not the 18th?
The last great period of eccentrics,
Calvino says in the preface
To Il Barone rampante.

Why not trecento?
What kind of dance would that be with
Three Florentines. (At 13:08 begins the
Writing of Inferno.

There would be here, in the enormous calendar of my
Digital timepiece, more
Excellent choices, but
Not a single other century ever happens.

Every day – just the twentieth.

I think sometimes that
That century-stamp
Shows on me, on my body,
Like an indelible tattoo,
A sign for all times,
Like my concentration camp number...

 

Balša Brković © Balša Brković
Balša Brković from Montenegro
Balša Brković was born in 1966 in Podgorica, Montenegro, and lives in Podgorica. He studied general literature and literary theory at the Faculty of Philology of Belgrade University. He is a theater critic, editor of the cultural department and vice editor-in-chief of the Montenegrin daily “Vijesti”, a member of the editorial board of the literary magazine “Ars” as well as a free-lance author (of poetry, prose and essays). To date, Brković has published five books of poetry and a novel, Privatna galerija (2002), in an edition reaching over 20.000 copies, which was translated and published in 2007 in the Czech Republic, in 2006 in Slovenia and in 2007 in Albania. His novel Privatna galerija was also awarded the “Mirosavljevo jevandjelje” prize for the best work of prose in Serbia and Montenegro in 2001-2003. Brković is a member of the Montenegrin PEN-Center.

 

Translation by Gudrun Krivokapić
Gudrun Krivokapić was born in 1941 in Göttingen, Germany. She studied history and English literature in Göttingen and Munich, before moving to Belgrade and changing her major to German Philology, in which she completed her Diploma degree. She is a translator and presenter for programs broadcast abroad by Radio Belgrade, as well as a lecturer for the German language at the Department of German philology at the University of Belgrade. She also works as a translator and simultaneous interpreter (for Serbian and German). Until 2006, she was the director of the Library at the Belgrade Goethe-Institut. She lives in Belgrade and Göttingen.