Antonije Nino Zalica – How, by Force of Circumstances, We Became Magicians

How, By Force of Circumstances, We Became Magicians
by Antonije Nino Zalica

During that summer of 1992, as the evening approached, I would go every day to the Academy of the Performing Arts to bake bread. It was extremely dangerous to go out of doors at all; it was dangerous to be in the open (it was not particularly safe indoors either, but in comparison this was always somehow forgotten). But there were a thousand reasons for going out and pretty much all of us spent several hours each day in the streets. But this was not at all easy. One had to invent one’s own rules for something that was entirely unpredictable, that had no rationality or regularity, which most often went by the official name of “non-selective bombardment of the city,” and was actually more or less continuous. When there was some sort of pause, when “the guns fell silent” as the saying goes, the possibility that all would start up again was present at every moment. Particularly the mortars—their shells could fall unheralded from the sky just anywhere, at any time. Anytime, anywhere—this was the only real rule of all that killing and destruction. The snipers would shoot all day long from all the surrounding hills; anti-aircraft machine guns would pepper any part of the city they saw fit, again without rationality or regularity; there was always the occasional bullet or tank shell, sometimes a rain of projectiles from some multiple rocket launcher.

But little by little, some sort of pattern tends to emerge even in the most unpredictable of situations; people would discover regularities for themselves, and each would construct his own, private, eccentric, defence mechanism. Later, as the war progressed and that first summer passed, as initial confusion gave way to a general familiarity with the situation, you could sometimes see a person on the street who, regardless of what was happening around him, would stroll at ease, as though promenading, calmly and collectedly—even across those bridges of crossroads, which were deemed the most “open,” the most “dangerous places,” in that illusory gradation of risk. “The Sarajevo people have reconciled themselves to dying,” was the interpretation of some, meaning that certain citizens had voluntarily accepted the possibility of death, that it was all the same to them whether they were killed or continued to walk. But I don’t think that this was quite accurate; reconciliation to something doesn’t necessarily mean its acceptance; rather it was a matter of understanding. You can only be reconciled to something or someone you know very well, like a friend or a former lover.

People simply found rules for themselves in this situation, which cannot be expressed in words or described in any way, yet, which were understood. I remember one old man who went out every morning and walked at the slowest, feeblest pace, to the market or the park. On one occasion shots began ringing out all around him; a youth began to run, and the old man sneered at him: “Run, run, you young fool. Do you think you’re faster than a bullet?” Yes, a person learns to distinguish the scarcely perceptible dividing line between existence and that which represents something “other,” to discover the secret map of safe ways though his native city, according to which the shortest is not necessarily the quickest. A person learns to sense death in the air, sometimes long before it actually arrives; he learns the strange metaphysics involved in recognizing the right moment to cross an open space—since, in fact, there is no point in waiting, you just have to choose the right moment.

One learns to read the hidden omens in apparently the most ordinary things (the order in which a few pebbles lie upon the ground, the angle at which a door stands open, the direction from which a pigeon flies and its choice of which branch to alight upon). Put simply, many learned to see (as Castaneda puts it), or entered deeply into the art of what the ancient Greeks called entelechy, or acquired knowledge of a secret science (in Rudolph Steiner’s phrase)—although, of course they had no idea that they had done this, and when they spoke of it at all, would call it luck (“Imagine—I stopped to tie my shoelace, and a mortar fell and killed three people right where I would have been”), or fate (“I was literally two paces ahead of my own death”), or impulse (“on an impulse I turned the corner by the department store, though I was actually headed for Marijin Dvor”), or instinct (“I simply knew that something was going to happen, so I ran outside and brought my  kid in”). In this way, many Sarajevans became metaphysicians (even though many of them had probably never even heard the word), or more simply, wizards—magicians trained in that subtlest of all arts, that balancing on the narrow tightrope between life and death. Naturally, without intending or desiring to do so—by force of circumstance, as some like to say. And what was in question were not merely necessary (and sometimes “unnecessary”) venturings out into the open, and the presence of Death, which breathed down our necks constantly, but the many other things which were in agreement with the ancient disciplines of occult practices: isolation, as in some Tibetan monastery, a reduction of intake as in the strictest ascetic tradition. There was no electricity, so night after night we kept vigil in total darkness, looking only “into” ourselves. All life was reduced to the four basic elements (fire, water, earth and air) in which the material word lost all meaning. Time lost all indicators of change (in Sarajevo only the seasons changed) and was reduced to a single, totally empty moment that simply lasted.

But a count was kept in Sarajevo, every day:  three, five, ten, twenty-five…. The news gave us the horrendous count every evening in bulletins to which, sad to say, we all became habituated and indifferent, despite the fact that people are certainly not numbers. And while we are on the subject of numbers—they hurled so many shells at us, so much ordnance, it was enough to kill every one of us a hundred times over. They should have killed us all, but they didn’t.

And me? I had an angel on my shoulder.

God in the Sky above Sarajevo

He wasn’t exactly sitting on my shoulder, but he was there, right behind my ear, on the nape of my neck where I couldn’t see him. When I needed to, I heard his voice, my sense of security gave me the idea that he was always there and was looking after me. Sometimes, too, I would try to speak directly to the Almighty, but on the whole it was easier to communicate with his deputy.

It was around Whitsuntide in Sarajevo in 1992 and, just as with occurrence of the yellow snow—many didn’t even notice it (why did the Almighty manifest Himself at precisely the moment when everyone had to take shelter in the cellars?) and those who did notice, did not ascribe the least significance to it. People in the main gave credence to their radios, they would press their ears to their sets praying that they would at last hear a bit of good news. There was no good news, every fresh bulletin was worse and more terrible than the last, until finally the bulletins began to repeat themselves, as though going in a circle.

My child needed milk, so in the midst of all uproar, I had to run upstairs to the flat. Hurriedly I poured the milk into the pan, heated it, and drained it off into the bottle. I was drawn to the window, and I thrust aside the curtain. The building was high up, and most of City was visible. Strange and dismaying was that scene of bombardment from above (almost as though on a cinema screen), it looked magical and marvelous—the red-lit night sky, the glare of fires, the flashes of exploding shells, the light of illuminated bullets like comets, the rockets leaving traces of themselves behind them, bursting into a thousand colours, the marker shells descending on parachutes shedding a warm-yellow light. Fuck it, I could even have enjoyed the beauty of it all were it not my city that was burning, were those houses not ours, were people not burning inside them, were they not breathing their last seeing their own arms and legs lopped off and thrown about their rooms, were those not our children in the cellar, was that not my own child’s fear that I saw in his eyes. I thought of that general up there in the mountain, fucking bastard, in charge of all this—sitting in some folding chair and gleefully directing the fire. Like a film director, fuck him, who has realized all his dreams—may his own film fuck him, may he be hoisted with his own petard. Yes, the Devil himself was manifesting his magnificent and magnetic beauty. Yes, fuck it, and maybe I too could succumb to the ghastly fascination of the evil that was taking place all about me; and maybe I would deliriously have continued with my pornographic-aesthetics “fuckings” had I not, God be thanked, raised my eyes—much higher than the paths of the rockets and shells straight up, to the stars (it was May, and the heaven was absolutely clear), where, despite everything, the universe still survived. I saw the moon, full of light, radiant; and right beside it, high above Hum hill and all Sarajevo, a tiny solitary cloud, a cloud in the shape of Heavenly Personage holding out a hand palm-upwards. I could hear that Tija had also come upstairs, he was stirring some pap for his daughter, and my aunt was searching around for a possible cigarette. I called them to come quickly to the window, held back the curtain.

“Look! It’s God Himself!”

“Uhuh,” said Tija, and made off downstairs while the pap was still warm.

The Angel on my Shoulder, “The Tower of Babel,” and C2H5OH

As I hurried down the stairs, I would recite the Lord’s Prayer to myself, and then a Hail Mary (these exactly fitted the time it took me to run from the fifth floor down to the ground floor), and when I got to the bottom and only a few metres of lobby floor separated me from the street, I would stop, usually on the third or second step, holding the banister (if someone else were to appear, it would look as though I had forgotten something upstairs in my flat, and was remembering it). Then I would wait for my Angel’s voice and, no matter how urgent my business, or that something “had to” be done, or that I had promised that I would meet someone somewhere, or the impulse to simply go out, if I just sensed that he was saying “no,” or that he was hesitant, I would return upstairs. And if I already found myself in the street, I would leave it to my Angel to choose which way I went, and sometimes he would take me a very long way about, through courtyards and passageways, but I always obeyed his directions. Was he always right in his choices? I don’t know; I never tried to test him—but here I am, in space and time, and this must mean something.

It was only when I went to the Academy of Theatre Arts to bake bread that I never asked Angel about anything. I did not pause on the third or second step; I would only ask him to take care of me, and would rush straight out, across the street, over the bridge, around the yard, and straight into the Academy. I had a two-year-old son and a pregnant wife at home, and they had to eat.

At the Academy, they had an oven and were using stage sets as fuel. The first to go had been The Bald Primadonna, and currently we were sawing up the props and properties of a production called The Tower of Babel. At this time a lot of people were living at the Academy. The Obala gallery was also on our premises, and there were the director of the gallery and his painter wife, a number of young men in hiding from army call-up, one old woman, some refugees from Grbavica and a student-director. They had organized themselves efficiently, and the life they lived was certainly not dull. Every day they were visited by a number of us who came to bake bread or to cook rice. Besides myself, an actress called Milijana with her boyfriend or husband, I can no longer remember which, would come, also an architect and a rock guitarist. From time to time many more people would gather and, in spite of everything, sometimes great parties would happen. The Teaching Academy was situated on the floor above, and included a deserted chemistry lab. Once I told them how we at the Television Centre had drunk all the alcohol used to clean the heads of video equipment, and that it was actually only methyl alcohol, CH4OH, that was dangerous (since it could blind you), what you could drink was C2H5OH, and how we had not been sure whether what was in the bottle was the one or the other, but had mixed it with water and drunk it anyway, and that afterwards no one had gone blind.

“What was that again?” a stagehand asked, chuckling.


He got up and left the room, repeating the formula out loud to himself.

He returned with a large white plastic bottle on which C2H5OH was written in large letters.

“Fuck it, if only I’d known, I would have studied harder,” he winked at me.

“So, what shall we do with this?”

“We’ll mix it with water.”

But he insisted that I drink first, then waited a bit, then got going himself.

And while we sipped our C2H5OH + H2O it finally became my turn to use the stove, and I put my bread into it, while on top of the stove some pepper-sprinkled rice simmered, and music played from a transistor plugged into a car battery. The bombardment started up again outside, but who cared? Then Glava, the student-director, approached me—he who during the first months of the war had worked as a volunteer in the surgery department of the hospital where, after amputations had been performed, it had been his job to carry human body parts to the crematorium. He seemed angry, moody and nervous. He began to scold me and to demand that next time I brought some firewood with me. How could I explain to him that had already used up all my furniture, and that I did not know how to (and in a case would not) cut down trees in the parks, that…? I couldn’t say anything, and he went off into a corner, sat down on the floor and stared miserably into space.

“What’s the matter with him?” I asked Miro, who was sort of in charge of the group. “Do I really need to bring fuel?”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” said Miro. “He’s upset. He’s been telling everyone they should start bringing wood. We’ve just about finished the sets of The Tower of Babel, and now it’s the turn of Woyzeck. I knew that there was no point that Glava would never again put on that production of Woyzeck that he had directed just before the war. But before the next time I went there, I did collect a few dry branches. It was only right.

As a reward for my “scientific discovery,” I was given two decilitres of pure alcohol. I used one half of it immediately in our spirit stove in order to make some tea for the little one, but my wife and I fought quite a bit over the other half, because she wanted to use it to make coffee. Dear God, where in the world do you use liquor to make coffee!

And something else. When I returned that evening from the Academy, I was a bit unsteady on my feet. Some sort of false joy possessed me, and I forgot about my Angel. Just as I got to the entrance of my block of flats, a shell exploded directly behind me and the force of it threw me—just as if someone had suddenly pushed me—straight through the doors into the hallway.

I was lucky—the shrapnel flew heavenwards.

Iclal Akcay – Nothing else moves

Nothing else moves
by Iclal Akcay

oy anam, oy babam,
oy gençliğim, geçmişim geleceğim
adım Bergen,
öyle diyorlar bana,
acıların kadınıyım
17‘imden beri şarkı söylerim
annem bile unuttu gerçek adımı
eşim, sevdiğim adam
kezzapla dağladı yüzümü
oy, bu aşk, oy, şöhret, para
27‘imde vurdu, koydu beni mezara.

Oh mother, oh father,
oh my youth, my past and my future,
my name is Bergen,
that’s what they call me
the woman of pain.
I’ve been singing since I was 17.
My gypsy mother forgot my real name.
Oh, this love, oh fortune and fame
my husband,
the man I loved
threw acid in my face
my husband,
the man I loved,
gunned me down at 27.

It’s pitch dark now.
a woman’s voice is the only link
to yesterday evening
streaming melancholy
among twittering street lights
she breaks into pieces
in another part of the city.

She was singing
scratching the ground
with her nails
an irresistible force
a gunshot
everybody else is numb
the song’s melody
still reaches my ears.

Now, it’s so quiet.
a gentle breeze moves a lock of my hair
from its original place.
the motion releases tension
into this steady night.

I can see
nothing else moves
except perhaps
a bird’s feather
making slow rounds
in mid air
totally undetermined
about its final destination
in the labyrinths
of the sudden breeze.

Am I mistaken?
it’s difficult to know
if anything else really moves.
not even the weightless curves
of my lavish dress
though it gently sweeps
the surface of my legs.

A memory suddenly slits my heart
a butcher’s knife finding its way
through a dying animal.
the familiarity of the pain
isn’t soothing.
it’s massive,
it’s here.

Madalina Florea – Ulla

by Madalina Florea

She came—in between conversations of various kinds—
an appearance
from behind the unknown mountain
which you, in your famous stubbornness, wanted to climb
on your own strength

You’re taking a breather
You notice the way up it’s steeper
than you thought

We’re taking a breather
We’re speaking about you and others
Stubborn like you, brave like you

The word is powerful these days
like in the beginning
we are whispering and yet the word
can be felt on the skin like the air we breathe

we say her name
and the impossible is present—
in less flesh and blood
than usual
Ulla has come
to encourage you for the last time

She proudly shows her short hair
“I’ve already prepared myself
for the challenge;
we’ll see each other up there soon,”
she says to you
and points with fresh blood around the fingernails
to a mountain top
still invisible to us.


A venit—printer subiecte de tot felul—
o aparitie
de dincolo de muntele necunoscut
pe care tu, in celebra ta incapatanare, ai vrut sa-l uric
pe propria-ti putere

Ai luat o pauza ca sa respiri
vezi ca urcusul e mai abrupt
decat ti-ai imaginat

Am luat si noi o pauza sa respiram
vorbim despre tine si altii
incapatnati ca tine, curajosi ca tine

cuvantul e puternic zilele acestea
ca la inceputuri
vorbim in soapta si totusi cuvantul
se simte pe piele precum aerul pe care-l respiram

ii spunem numele
si imposibilul e present—
in mai putina carne si oase
decat de obicei
Ulla a venit
sa te incurajeze pentru ultima data

iti arata mandra parul ei scurt
“m-am pregatit déjà
pentru marea incercare
ne vedem acolo sus in curand”
iti spune
si arata cu sange proaspat in jurul unghiilor
catre un varf de munte
pentru noi inca invisibil.

Kate Foley – Postcards

by Kate Foley

Slumbering on my mantelpiece
the Fat Lady from a Maltese tomb.

She doesn’t have to prove anything
or ever wake up.

Heaped as a croissant
whatever caused her to lie down forever

has left only a trace of red
ochre. Her neighbour,

the Hooded Lady, carved from the horn
of an unimaginable beast,

no longer smokes with cold
or listens to the bone flute

play a tune we’ll never know
if we’ve remembered

or reinvented.
Stone tools or pixels.

Tracks of long dead silences.
A bell ringing underwater.

Kate Foley – To the Field of Reeds

To the Field Of Reeds
by Kate Foley

The heart is measured in a scale against the feather of truth
in the Egyptian Book of the Dead

42 gods waiting,
a placard held up,
one for each sin.

My heart, fat, elderly, shabby,
surely deserves some credit for keeping on
keeping on?

Over there the Field of Reeds.
My heart gives a little shall-I-make-it? skip.
Your feather trembles. Ever since I said I’m a liar

and a coward and you said ‘yes, but I love you’
I’ve borrowed your compass.
Now that 42 pairs of eyes

are sizing up my canopic heart,
measuring the equilibrium of the scales,
I need it.

OK, OK, myth and procrastination.
You know and I know the Field of Reeds
is nothing more or less

than a Sunday morning in our bed
while we can. But lend me your feather
and I’ll look very hard for my own.

One feather on each side
trimmed and steady
as she goes.

Charles Jensen – A Past Life Archaeology in Measurable Terms

A Past Life Archaeology in Measurable Terms
by Charles Jensen

OMM SETY, born Dorothy Eady (1904-1981), is considered the most compelling argument for
reincarnation. Following a freak accident in her house at age 4, claimed to almost fully recover
a past life memory of being an Egyptian priestess. Scientists were unable to explain her high
rate of success in predicting the location of buried antiquities.

I know how much a year weighs,
how many days rest in a spade’s single dip

as it cuts into sand.
I pull day after day from the ground—

I say, Here there was a garden.
The diggers dig and find what I remember.

Nothing is ever lost—my other life in Egypt you may not believe true,
but my memories sift upward through the brain and I discover things,

impossible things. I know where the bodies are buried,
where the dogs curled in sleep head to tail,

exactly where clay pots shattered when they fell.
Lives have simple beginnings and ends. Artifacts sleep.

We turn the earth upside down
as if years would pass again.

The earth,
an hourglass.

Charles Jensen – Omm Sety Rides the Night Train to Giza

Omm Sety Rides the Night Train to Giza
by Charles Jensen

Omm Sety, born Dorothy Eady (1904-1981), is considered the most compelling argument
for reincarnation, having recovered the memory of a past life in ancient Egypt.

Two trains pass each other in darkness,
the lights of one zip past the windows of the other:

a swarming glow of fireflies.

And then darkness fills the window with its inkblots
until I see my own face

murky, hesitant in the spill of night.

I wonder if the souls of these two trains
recognize each other as they cut through the air

never touching, but aware

another train exists. Such heavy questions.
The car’s hypnotic rock makes a cradle of my seat;

my mind is tired.

All my years I lived feeling shorn in two. Pieces missing.
When this train finds its station, men will chop it up,

an earthworm spliced into segments.

The cars will pull apart so easily those men won’t think
to listen for their cries. Much of life’s pain is released this silently.

And the train doesn’t die. It lives, ridiculously, in ruin.

Bryan R. Monte – What You Left Behind

What You Left Behind
by Bryan R. Monte

The Yellow Pages A through L
A half dozen empty Pepsi cans
The fluorescent lamp over the kitchen sink
An empty refrigerator, its door ajar, humming in the corner
Postcards of Joseph and Emma Smith
Taken out of their frames, taped to the wall
A blue striped vine torn out of its pot
Soil streaked across the white living room rug
Four holes in the wall behind the rocking chair
Six red sequins from your skating suit on the closet floor
An empty Imodium D bottle in the medicine chest
Five purple cough syrup stains in the bathroom sink
Auburn hairs in my electric razor and the shower drain
Echoes in the empty back bedroom.

Wat je achter liet

De Gouden Gids A tot L
Zes lege Pepsi blikken
De TL buis boven de keuken aanrecht
Een lege koelkast, zijn deur open, zoemend in de hoek
Ansichtkaarten van Joseph en Emma Smith
Uit hun lijsten gehaald, geplakt aan de muur
Een blauw-gestreepte klimplant, uit zijn pot gerukt
Aarde gestrooid over het witte woonkamer tapijt
Vier gaten in de muur achter de schommelstoel
Zes rode lovertjes van jouw schaatspak op de halkastvloer
Een lege Imodium doosje in de medicijnkast
Vijf paarse hoestsiroopvlekken in de wastafel
Rode haren in mijn scheerapparaat en de douche afvoer
Weergalmen in de lege achter slaapkamer.

Andrea Rubin – New and Used

New and Used
by Andrea Rubin

the stick it’s so sexy it’s not a dick the tension point where it starts to go by itself the repetitive journey from arousal to second to third like bases and the chemistry between driver and car or is it more like master and hound the car responsive and obedient the hand on the reins no the car’s not a machine it’s a steed or from certain angles it’s a girl wearing barrettes it lunges forward like a dog in a dog park foaming at the temp gauge the car’s been through a lot, been used like a dog from the pound it has issues it will serve you well yet i would have liked to know the car when it was young, all dressed up for the buyer on the dealer’s lot – the rust not yet formed like scabs or scars on the hood. i shudder to think of the accident that dented the hood. did someone die? is my car scared now like i am every time i approach the freeway? and the car was found abandoned, the ceiling peeled off – shall i buy a pretty duct tape with flowers from the hardware store and bandage your wounds? who did this to you?

Andrea Rubin – There is No Drug Whose Name is Not Pretend

There is No Drug Whose Name is Not Pretend
by Andrea Rubin

Mustn’t reveal anxiety the kind like a fetid galaxy that is writhing like maggots the pointless kind you can’t reveal like a pit or pool of boiling and motion a slow motion sped up because if you reveal it, even the best people try to correct it which only makes it worse how they tell you things you already know or have heard about how “it will be all right” but those words those pale wet flaps of pasta and language have nothing to do with what you must sit and attend to while at the same time you must go boldly forward through your day. What you can’t say about a candle that has no wick, a flame without any candle aside from your own observation and your continuation and endurance you mustn’t say because the thing and the words that you or they might use as approach they are not cosmic enough for spinning and writhing as when you stub your toe the intensity and the event are out of sync the pain quite private though quite universal. Avoid all pronouns and corrections, reductions, adjustments when you are speaking simply walk around the perimeter in other words expatiate. Pretend you have never met anyone before and make us all anonymous; erase all of our edges slightly so we shimmer with our same basic outlines. There is no virtue and no honor for traversing miles of debris there is no drug whose name is not pretend.