Mario Suško & Renée Sigel.
A Poetry Co-collection on Love, War and Exile
Two poets brought together very different experiences of war, exile and alienation, join forces to co-author this collection of poems, taking the reader through private lives of memories, loss, the brutality of witneess into the alienation of exile and rediscovery. Mario Suško was born Born December 17, 1941, in Sarajevo, (Yugoslavia) and was witness to the brutal war that followed the decline of Communism and the declaration of independence by Croatia from the then Yugoslavia in 1991. The conflict unfolded amid the Bosnia-Herzegovina war and lasted until 1995. During this time, Suško and his family endured hardships and chilling confrontations, which he details without sentiment in his writing. In his selection of 20 poems, the reader is invited into his memories of childhood alongside the recounting of sniper fire and living in a bombed out apartment, before he was able to leave for the United States.
Grandmother and I shared a small crammed room.
I slept on the sofa, she, in a high white bed.
She died when I was thirteen years old.
It was a cold gray January afternoon,
the kind that made your nostrils glue together
and the eyes burn from the coal smoke
belched by asthmatic chimneys in the street.
I came back from school and found my aunt
sitting on a rickety chair in the hall.
She pressed my stiff hands against her cheeks,
whispering, You’ll be alone tonight, my dear,
but I thought only of her soft velvet skin.
She took me into the room and to the bed
where my grandmother lay in her long blue dress,
with a small bouquet of satin violets on the pillow
and two wavering candles on the marble top table.
The curtains were drawn, the wall mirror covered.
It was grandma’s shoes that kept me transfixed,
pointed black caps sticking up like crows’ beaks,
and when my aunt went to close the cupboard door
which always squeaked open mysteriously on its own
I spat silently three times to chase away bad luck.
The cupboard was a giant magic hat, things inside,
never seen, like a gold rabbit foot she smuggled
through the German checkpoint, an endless source
of her night stories. After each she’d kiss me
and say softly, Adesso dormi e fai un bel sogno.
My mother was to arrive by a late train, so I
had to sleep at my place. I stood guard, the major
in the third room, requisitioned for war veterans
by the commissariat, listening to patriotic airs.
I pretended to be asleep when mother tiptoed in.
I tried to remember every song my grandmother sang
to me in Italian, about her homeland, lost love,
and that morning I awoke in the frigid room, alone,
with a shameful erection. I propped myself up,
looking at her waxed face and saw her wink at me.
Two days later I raided the cupboard, digging
out a pistol lighter, cancelled banknotes, letters,
sepia photos of sailing ships, a cracked telescope,
an old broken compass; I got so angry I ran down
to the shed in the yard, dragged out my treasure,
a wobbly corroding bike with no brakes, and rode it
around the oak tree until I was blinded by tea
at the checkpoint made of tree
trunks and barrels filled with sand,
a group of pale bus riders standing
in a meandering line depends
on one man whose belly will
soon have his blouse buttons burst.
am I a Jew, a Muslim, a Catholic:
which one does he want to hate more
today: will my name on the soiled piece
of paper confuse him or make him
pull me out by my shirt sleeve
as if I were a disposable part
of the human race, deemed perhaps
to be worthy of living or dying,
as my uncle used to say, by the look
of my penis: am I saved or doomed
if he suddenly remembers, or I do,
that we went to the same high school:
as I try to keep my sternomastoids
from twitching, my mind from being forced
to accept that someone who has no power
over life is a bigger coward than someone
who does, he positions himself before me,
his sourish breath becoming my breath:
Do you know if Maria’s still there:
his words burn on my face like amber:
there, meaning in the city: and I feel
cold sweat run down my spine: am I
done for if I say yes, or if I say no,
pretend I did or did not recognize him:
but he just grins and hands me
back my papers, moving to a young woman
next to me and motioning with his hand
for her to step out, still glancing at me,
while I rock back and forth, staring
past him, past my life, at the jagged line
of skeleton trees on the mountain ridge
where the dying daylight still lingers.
In stark contrast, yet no less violent, are the experiences shared in Renée Sigel’s writing about her experiences of conflict during the oppressive, violent years that sought to bring an end to Apartheid. Both private and public conflict shape her poems and offer testimony to a life abducted by dyfunction, addiction and political depravity.
Is the moment muscle declines
into heartache of paint, eating away
any visceral breath of dank vermillion
is where we fathom the rope,
or at a convergence of eyes, sunk to the view?
To morsel a different life against the brush,
is it the thing to tell you
who you are because you love:
Or did de Beauvoir wrap these wounds
for a summer school of it ?
Is how we bind the rope, a bruising blue
that sleeps on irreverent canvas stretched
as it tills breasts to a deeper scent of light?
Come to the end of the rope of someone,
would you find an edge of Growl,
like a battle of heroes grown from your soil?
Or are we, with adulterous surge, spread like
a gusted headsail, raw and grazed with salt
in its gaunt naked truth, only to be reigned
the egregious twine of grief, become our earthquake weather
THE SLOW WOMEN
The slow women of vast Sunday
afternoons sit knitting hedgerows;
unfathomable currents against frigid wisdom.
Stitched in brutal delicacy of small comforts;
the hypnotic rounding of knots, encircle corners
held to ransom.
Poems of wool to the gashing wound;
a thesaurus of rooms blown to hell.
Wombs gutted, requisitioned for war.
blows spilling saliva
into the dust where rivers breed flies for
the silt of rotting meat;
Drones copulate overhead.
Young Sycamores along narrow straits blush
to a long bluegrey drape of bones;
Matters of prayer
get a beating each sunrise from the slow
dark hands, their ethereal symmetry along the abyss.
No reflection or shadow.
Just the howl of random bags filled with God.
No bodies to be bitten or stolen from forgotten
the only dark crime to complete this precarious
squat of imperative uncertainty.
The gall of men who’d drink your dignity
and blood for a year strokes every encounter
with the stare of boredom ready to detonate
red and awkward mouths. The indelible
of hell. Unmarked graves dusted with
The slow women drape the sun in charred skirts.
A wedding cake adorned in its frill.
Beauty thickens despite death folded at the
Slowly they congregate, siding with their own lives, to set
free their children from bone-riddled ground.
This collection drawn from insight, hindsight and the realities of life and love alienated by war and exile, offer testimony and a stark truth; no one is immune to having their lives turned upside down by political ideology, yet together, these poems poignantly illustrate that neither terror or tyranny deny the human spirit.