Born in Yugoslavia in 1952, Goran Simić has become a major literary figure in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the author of more than 20 books of poetry and short stories. He was caught in the siege of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995, leading him to migrated to Canada in 1995 where he taught at the University of Toronto. Six years ago, he returned to Bosnia where he currently lives. The two poems below are from his collection, New and Selected Sorrows, published by Stack Books. As a bonus, you can listen to British actor Alan Rickman’s reading of Simić’s poems here.
Now I know that my father hasn’t learned anything about war.
He hasn’t learned anything about bees, either.
At the beginning of the Second World War
he put on a uniform and went to fight against Fascism
leaving his family home and his beehives.
When the bees went wild and started attacking children,
the locals suffocated them with smoke.
After two years of the new war,
he went to the old family house
and started raising bees again.
He stopped reading newspapers,
he swears at the authorities less and less
and disappears when someone starts talking
He sent me a jar of honey. I haven’t opened it yet.
I’ve heard that some 10 kilometres from the old family house
4,000 people were killed and buried.
I’ve heard that the stench of rotting corpses
buried at the soccer field overpowers the smell of linden.
They say that nobody can sleep at night
from the detonations of the empty stomachs of the dead
that explode in the summer heat.
My father doesn’t know that.
He only raises bees and sends jars of honey.
I skim through the encyclopaedias to find out
How far bees fly and do they run away from stench.
Then I start crying.
And I can’t explain to my children why I forbid them
to open the jar of honey that my father sent them.
The warrior and beekeeper
Who has never learned anything about the war
Or about the bees.
Sorry, Mother, sorry
I didn’t have the heart to tell you I died that day
when I reached the border.
Customs officials could tell you about that
if they remember the boy
with a burning suitcase in one hand
and an empty extinguisher in another.
They took everything from me,
even the flag I was wrapped in when I was born.
I could keep just what wasn’t written in my
just sorrow, memory and pain.
It’s hard to live as a mouse
once you’ve died as the cat.
I am lonely, Mother,
lonely as a forgotten toy in the window of a shop shut for Christmas,
lonely as the strange face in my mirror.
Only the neighbour’s cat notices how gently
I am locking the door behind me
going to the bar to smile
and how hard I slam it
when I come back.