Poetry by Aleš Debeljak

Essential Equipment

A bench, almost a memorial to Edvard Kocbek
Tivoli Park, Ljubljana

Again I am here, again half at home. Before lunch I guide
tourists from expensive hotels, students and ladies, to you.
I speak ecstatically about ancient suns, about Altamira
and Palomar, some of it serious, much of it empty straw.

In the afternoon I drop by with my family on a stroll, inline skates,
sore knees, in the evening or, even better, at night, dark blue,
I come on my bike and without a lamp, a young man
from old times who respects agreements. I don’t have a bell

and don’t need one, the essential equipment is enough: sparrows
on the rack and ruins in my head. A cradle and a grave,
where is the distinction here? I whisper your poems toward town,
which seems gigantic, sometimes as tiny as a graphite dot.

Disruptions in communication, a broken telescope, the heady scent
of acacia. Tomorrow we will be ruthless, though in small
doses. I’d rather ride away, turning the pedals, breathing heavily,
ride into your diary from Dalmatia, the inviting shore.

Insomniacs Society

Slavko Grum Street, Ljubljana

I came as usual, with an umbrella to the roof
and by elevator to the cellar, then to the threshold
of a narrow door. A question, an answer: velvet alarm clock!
I’m in. Just this time I shake off my shoes, next time

I already will have been promoted. I will no longer carry
the suitcases of those who have become regulars, they’ve gone fishing
with the owner in the Adriatic Sea, also in the rivers of Canada.
I will no longer stand. I will be as imperceptible as tweezers

that fall from a doctor’s table. Enough to raise
a curious glance, but the body doesn’t move. It is wrapped
in patchouli and Turkish carpets. A winter sale.
Yet a little, a little less, nothing will remain. Many rooms:

who’d count them. My goal is modest. I’d like to separate
from the beginners’ group, I’d like to walk around
on the ceiling and scatter the seeds of sevdalinka like ivy
and measure my time on both sides of the pillow.

Speedway Racetrack

Ilirija Stadium, Ljubljana

There’s no one greater than the Flying Kranjec, I’m telling you,
no czar like him, my man! Down there, look carefully,
he drifts in red dust, slides with a skid through the curves,
tilted low above his bike and veins on his forehead quivering,

dry mouth, four laps, drenched jersey. Look carefully,
how I am beside myself and most myself, it is not yesterday,
but now: I hold my father’s hand and listen
in a sweet trance, motorbikes and the roaring in the pit,

courage, delight and speed. I forget the lists of all the prizes,
complications in the Czech league and chubby girls
during breaks. Like a hazel bush I sway in a gentle breeze,
forward, a sweet trance in a crowd as thick as spit.

Down there, look carefully at the people, crowded here
with longing for the future, golden boys and flunkies,
young guns and talents with vivid force that evaporates
and vanishes like the smell of gasoline.

Note: Ludvik Starič (1906-1989), nicknamed the Flying Kranjec, was a speedway (motorcycle racing) star from the Kranjska Gora region of Slovenia. He was active between World War I and World War II.

Botanical Garden

Ižanska Road, Ljubljana

…………………………………………for Simona Škrabec

Time passes more slowly. When the air is cold,
I expect more inaccuracies. I am cheered by the plants
and haystacks that have grown on the beaches
beneath skyscrapers. Not all is quiet on the western front.

And later: to pour hot coffee and to bring the ceramic cup
with the same hand to the mouth, this is a tremendous gift.
To praise the achievements of gardeners and ruffle the parrots
shrieking in the parks of Barcelona, to grow up in the language

of a strict mother and absent husband, to write requests,
to murmur harvest songs, to nibble on the branch of a weeping
willow on sleepless nights hoping for an answer from a high place.
It will come like a silent whistle and a long train

with a carriage for dreams. Later, when the air is warm,
I expect unstoppable growth and the blooming of magnetic
eyes, black-red elderberry juice and living things.
Honor to whom honor is due: I’m left with only silent reading.

Once Upon a Time in America

Komuna Cinema, Cankarjeva Street, Ljubljana

The same shiver on both sides of the skin, the same slight revelation:
nowhere are there so many stars as in a broken window in your own home,
nowhere are there so many ways for a person to easily drop his rhyme
into a glass and a planet of darkness, nowhere are there so many friends,

silent if necessary, faithful like an anchor on a temporary job in the depths.
I like stopping by here, properly announced, though my stay
is sadly brief, not enough for real blues, but I like to sit around.
To tell the truth, I like lying down and watching shadow stems

on the wall. A calendar is in the way, but I do not complain:
I idle in installments, moderately, I watch from conviction
how the swirls of light swing and wave, sparks and aching loins.
No one makes me, I alone deny myself the right to speak,

and gratefully I stare at images. It’s good that I’m lying down
and watching from a distance, rarely from nearby, how someone else
gives away what I am missing, a simple formless miracle and pleasure,
which isn’t much less when I flow into chilled bowls.


Aleš Debeljak

Aleš Debeljak (b. 1961, Ljubljana) has published eight books of poetry and twelve books of essays. His books have appeared in English, Japanese, German, Croatian, Serbian, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Spanish, Slovak, Finnish, Lithuanian, and Italian translation. Without Anesthesia: New and Selected Poems was published by Persea Books in 2010. He has won the Preseren Foundation Prize (Slovenian National Book Award), the Miriam Lindberg Israel Poetry for Peace Prize, the Chiqyu Poetry Prize in Japan, and the Jenko Prize. Debeljak teaches in the Department of Cultural Studies at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia.

Brian Henry

Brian Henry has translated Tomaž Šalamun's Woods and Chalices (Harcourt, 2008) and Aleš Šteger's The Book of Things (BOA Editions, 2010), which won both the 2011 Best Translated Book Award for poetry and the 2011 Best Translation into English award from AATSEEL. His translations have received other honors as well, including fellowships from the NEA, the Howard Foundation, and the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has published ten books of poetry, most recently Brother No One (Salt Publishing, 2013), and has co-edited the journal Verse since 1995.

Tihotapci. Copyright (c) Aleš Debeljak, 2009. English translation copyright (c) Brian Henry, 2014.