Broken English

Poems by Zlatko Pranjic

Morning market in Vientiane

Morning market in Vientiane
I am looking for a shoesmith
A youth with bulging eyes
There – he says – there, there

His arm
A tightly strung ribbon of Karmic will
In the dazzling infinity of a mirage in turmoil

Pointing at an old man
Standing on the edge of the boulevard
His face white as wax

Waiting for her who is always late

Where are you from – the old man asks
From Yugoslavia
And where is this
Nowhere... hah, hah, hah
Nowhere... hah, hah, hah
You said that well

How can I find a shoesmith, I ask

His father was a shoesmith – he says
And a poor one at that
But he schooled the old man
who studied politics in Russia

That's where he learnt English
Now he lives in the country
Looking after his vegetables

What is he doing in Vientiane – I pull the old man's sleeve

He stabs the street with his tiny steps
Stopping often to tell me;

Many times the times were hard
This city was also torched
Only Si Saket was saved
And he joined the monks in his youth
Now he has a vegetable patch

What does he do in Vientiane

People now think – vegetables are easy
You just let them grow
The way they think – people are easy
You just let them take care of themselves
It does not work like that... no way
You have to cultivate vegetables
And temples need to be erected
Schools need to be built

Listen to the murmur of a rising river

Because it is easy to eat and to torch
Hah, hah, hah
It is easy, real easy

And in Vientiane?...

And in Vientiane...
He is crossing the street

A hellish sky above us
An abyss of stale time under us

The World wants to be One

She – omnipresent
(I will never find out about the shoesmith
Who was he waiting for
Why is he in town)

Undiscovered for centuries
On a wide boulevard
Traffic lights blinking red
We cross

Vientiane, the old man and I...

Budha wanted me to dedicate a poem to him

There's no-one about
The absent death is the only one around
I sensed it in Budha's gaze

He had no mercy for me, I thought

It was hanging above Laos – a warning
A sizzling December star
The air a densly-populated micro-cosmos
It stuck to the lips
The water stale, good
And he cruel
He preferred slow-witted Westerners
Their hollow hearts and sky-colored eyes

My eyes are like his
Only my sorrow is pathetic
And my self-conscience evidence  
Of my perfect nothingness

Budha is observing me
He's let me go
And I told him
You are harsh

Because in my world I'm important to someone
How am I then to die?

Budha responded in a child's voice
You have come to me with a hollow heart
And you talk of others
You are indifferent to life
Which is precious to some

You are evil

And I am your reflection
Not the other way around
You Balkan fool

Am I really evil?
I would have never decribed myself in those terms

Before facing your holiness
I was sitting in a cafe next to your shrine
A beggar approached me
The crippled one in a wheelchair
I gave him some spare change from last night
He came back today
I gave him but not enough
I was getting stingy at the end of my voyage
And the shaking of my head
This ominous morning
Was no good for both of us

But Socialism exists here
Someone look after him

Now I drink my coffee
I smoke my cigarette
The cafe is the only French one in town
This is my first croissant after months
And I cannot reach for my pocket
Too complicated

He looked at me with hatred
Pointed a finger at me
Swore loudly
Spat to the side
And left


That day I came down with a stomach illness
Something bit my leg
Or maybe worse
Nothing bit me
But the lump is growing 

I was in bed waiting
No end to the end
Nor a beginning

Nothing, my only hope
I was near
But I knew... I'm still not there  

Budha wanted me to dedicate a poem to him

Am famous – future tense

The curse of a clairvoyant dream
I woke up famous

My poetry found a way out of its labyrinth of solace
My pen is shaking from its ominous significance

It all started one undefined night
I wrote a strange poem about guilt
Who could imagine that an innocent poetic act
Would launch an avalanche of fate
Onto my head

That night I wrote until late
The poem come at the end

A heavy summer shower

Its clarity brought me joy
The smile of a child

Later I will find out that
Contrary to my deepest belief
I had not been followed

Phones rang in agencies that day
Immediate action must be taken, they said
The courier had arrived and the message was here
It consists of a series of poems in Serbian
Poems already translated, they said.

The incident took place on the internet

In the title of a poem a name was found
Of the long-awaited operation
Who has set the woods on fire

A poem about two friends in action
The code has to be broken

The generals first called for
A state of emergency to be introduced
Then my poems were distributed
To all the secret agencies

Breaking the code of my poetry was complicated
Christmas arrived and so did Bairam
Spies were deployed around my home

They knew my poems by heart
They would recite them to their wives
The wives relayed them to their hairdressers
Their interpretations reached a tabloid editor
She published them

Total chaos ensued

The people will pay the price
Something is going on, we are fucked
How could he say that – the democrats asked for my head
Whats going on
The nationalists defended me

I hid from all of them

Well-disguised as an unaccountable lunatic
I visited dealers, smoked good dope
Passing by the parliament
I would look at the patriotic crowds
Reciting my poems

You will be held responsible for your words
My decaying ancestors warned me

Months passed by, I stayed indoors
One morning I ventured out
It was quiet
It seemed like the agencies had forgotten about me

Almost calm, I entered a park

Sat on a bench, read a report in the papers
A report by a certain detective Dubicek von Gruber
Who says:

The poetic diversion was executed through the very act of publication
This constitutes the crime of instigation of people
Pranjic's poems are part of dangerous enemy propaganda
The greatest plague of this century
According to the data gathered so far
He is a direct descendent of Cain

A so-called Serboid
Thus he has to be persecuted
If that does not shut him up
Then liquidate him!
As evidence
People will be shown the following poems
Both in Serbian and translated

Who has set the woods on fire

I know nothing, the first thing I learnt was
When, as a boy, I broke into the nursery with Husein
The police appeared out of nowhere and caught us in the act
(the dilligent neighbours must have reported the screams of the broken windows)
We played with multicolored geometric figures made of wood
Orgasmic with happiness
We ate sugar cubes
The secret treasure of our big-assed tutoresses
Husein just managed to whisper:
Remember, you know nothing...
... To this very day.

I remember


Gidra is dancing with excitement at the music lesson
The old Zenica rocker is telling us kids
About the life and travails of Beethoven
And his magnificent deafness

Gidra's rockabilly steps resound through the classroom
He's wearing snake-leather cowboy boots
Adorned nonchalantly with flowing Super Rifle jeans
Under the spiked leather jacket
His T-shirt screams the name of The Doors

He looked like you, Gidra points his finger
Everyone is looking at me

From then on they call me the Mad Wig, Bethovena. Ludvigana
And Deaf Head

I'd be glad to reclaim my old nickname of Duck
Too late, Gidra the musician has destroyed me
Even the teachers are calling me nicknames
History teacher Omer calls me Big Head

I'll get revenge some day


Boredom is distressing during the maths class
Suljo wanders from one end of the blackboard
To the other one – chalk squeaks nightmarishly
We are tired, we are squealing, yawning, muttering
Suljo draws the tip of the chalk across the blackboard
He bangs his fist on a table and screams: silence, you cretins!!


He hates us cretins from the Sead Skrgo primary
My aunt says he's got nothing, not even a wife
As long as he keeps flunking us he will never have one
Maybe he is queer, she says, wouldn't be the first one in the family

At that moment, guessing what
My mad aunt thinks of him
Suljo's crazed face turns into an unprecedented
Evil, dangerous and threatening grimace
Focused on me

I wished my aunt drank boiling coffee amid gossip

The sickening silence is broken by the singing from the minaret
Suljo's face suddenly turned to stone and then softened up
Quickly he steps towards the window
Firmly he closes it
And stands there...

With his gaze directed at the new playfield
Even further, beyond the iron fence
Into the backyard of a small cafe
Or further, towards the minaret
Suljo forgets about me...


After the grammar lesson
(In the park)
For the first time I believe in the word
And its power to besot young girls


Thirty years later
I am standing by a window looking at a school
London summers are depressing, schools and streets empty

Hmm, I think, my homeland Yugoslavia is dead
But my eyes still see the trees, the school, the high iron fence...

The faces of my dear aunt and Omer remain invisible

On communists

They were terrible
I always wince when others reminisce
How we fared under them – terrible
But I still choose to listen
I listen to my forefathers chewing crap
I listen to worms chewing my forefathers
I listen to their hungry sons who had nothing to chew
I can also hear the sob of their mothers 
It rebounds from the sound of a Titoist marching song 
Bastards, all of them who mixed with the other sides
I listen to stories about the pledge of silence
The romantic Adolph-like aspiration
Belonging to the great and good of today 
Stories about God being expelled and secret baptisms
In a country of religious rights.
The Jesus-like calvary of the vanquished
As the people celebrate instead of mourning

I listen about the lack of freedom, their arrogant path to riches
Earned by others
How they piss on the poor

I listen to the sobs of the poor
But can’t make out if they come out of the windows
Or from the moaning

So there I am listening to stories of hardship  
Under Tito’s tough boot

I listen but don’t remember a thing


Dark hour
I can hear scratching of a mouse

It’s him I sense
In a murky corner of my house

She would never come so close

But how naïve is he
Another lost soul
Crossing my path to find its end
In a wardrobe hole

Poor little thing 
Trembles like gelatine
I can smell his fear

I understand his fear

The mouse knows
I have been alive for centuries
He feels it, little mouse
People on the street
Would never guess
But little mouse
Scratching my floor
In a murky corner of my house
He knows me, yes

Last time I saw his great, great… grandfather
In a bush on a hill overlooking Danube
Where Turkish military camp was raised on my land
Curious mouse he was
He wanted to encounter mighty Sultan Murat
The very second I cut his head off

That night
Dressed like one of them
I walked among Turks
I heard Sultan’s heavy breath
From far away
He was abusing a boy
Brought to him by janichars

Old pervert Murat

He did it to Radu, my younger brother
He tried to seduce me too
But I do not surrender

To the end
I will seek revenge

I know where he hides
In that white tent next to the stables
I could come in now and kill him
But the retreat would be impossible

So that’s the last time I saw a mouse
What they wrote in Saxon’s pamphlets
That during my imprisonment in Višegrad
In Hungary, I prayed on mousse and ate them
It’s just another frivolous lie about me

I, the Prince of the Land Beyond The Forest
Hereby declare that I have neither seen nor heard
A mouse
For 600 years

The one in my wardrobe I sniffed
What a great coincidence

Far away from home
Seized by an ocean
Locked in a wardrobe

Morning in democracy

First morning in democracy
it rains just like yesterday
radio voice celebrates
peoples' will to stay at home
their desire to go to cinema
French, Spanish, Polish
movies everywhere
it promises
popcorn free of charge

first morning in democracy
it rains just like yesterday
out of the window
brave bourgeois youth
prepares for the battle;
cleaning backyards for elderly citizens

first morning in democracy
it rains
ministry of umbrellas
overwhelmed by demands
(enemies shout for joy
it's not clear yet whether
they should be prosecuted)

first morning in democracy
struggling to wake up

Unlike Bukowski

Being Sarajevo's poet living in Soho
makes me puke

with the generosity of state
after two bottles of cheap vodka
and a fistful of prescribed drugs
I am a legitimate bastard

only now I bow my forehead
I throw my mind
into dark nothingness
of a stinky sink

Being Sarajevo's poet living in Soho
makes me puke
with the generosity of state
unlike Bukowski


That is all crap Zlaya
she said – her eyes ahead
her boredom plays its way
she cross' her legs...
and stretch her arms
her polished nails await...

... instead
my words are dread
my obsessed mind...
my reason
she call it blind

she said; I reject...
it's bullshit
it's only in your head

I laugh...

she does not mind
she almost...
she almost cries
oh, it's just air
it's moist...
and night, so long
she has to go
(my throat is dry
she does not let me buy
another drink)

and at the end
with her immaculate voice
she said;
in my opinion you are Mad

Z... to J...

Don't feed the dog

on the front door
of an important embassy
a new letter reads:
no refugees are taken in
no queuing after midnight Please

our little dog
cocker spaniel
is seriously ill

strict silence !!
don't breathe !!!
fresh air
for our precious breed
is in great need

your stomach growling
upsets Them – Indeed

and for once
let's make it clear
it would be appreciated
if you could simply
… disappear

P. S.
(don't feed The Dog)

-What do you want

What do you want from me
you reason-telling-never
you sentenced to life story teller
you word-obsessed
you someone else
you sentence dweller

what do you want

… from me

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