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tearing the rag off the bush again
New Poems by Lidija Dimkovska PDF E-mail
 Lidija Dimkovska's bells toll for us

Translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid


Lidija Dimkovska


Translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid



Wannsee Diptych


Of course I can tell you what Eichmann said then

because I heard it with my own ears, and when somebody talks about food

I remember it all, word for word. They say it’s my professional deformation,

although I’d risen from cook in the kitchen to housekeeper serving coffee to important guests.

I can still see him, straining forward, anxious

to prevent the chair from creaking, and then it usually creaks louder,

his hand measuring the precise two spans between his coffee cup

and the table edge while his glance measured the others           

and as I placed the last cup on the table,

he said: “Gentlemen, this may sound banal, perhaps,

but this morning, as I was having my breakfast of butter and jam, I actually realized

what the Jew is for our Reich. The Jew, gentlemen, is a creation made of empty calories,”

he said, and leaned on his elbow between the cup and the edge of the dining table,

overlooking Grosser Wannsee,

legibly completing the protocol of 20th January, ’42.

“He’s like potato crisps,” he said, “like American hamburgers, or chocolate,

filling our nation with fats that are harmful to our blue veins,

the same in Poland or Albania, in millions or counted on the fingers,

he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, muddying the water for our holy shepherd.”  

And while the heads around nodded like fortune-tellers reading coffee grounds 

with a flourish Eichmann signed his name to the mass graveyard of Europe.

I stood in the doorway and peered with lowered eyes at the bellies of those present,

breathing peacefully under their fat – a living measure of life.

His was the only bony body; his face glazed with ice

had neither blood nor conscience. Who could love a man like that, I thought,

wiping my hands on my apron, but I couldn’t wipe them clean.

“Ah, if only you knew what’s being done there,” the villa’s victualler whispered to me in the kitchen,

“there,” he said, his finger pointing to the hell, “that is where all the Jews are,

ribs covered with striped rags, that is the necropolis of the world.

And no one will return to life, not even if they live to be a hundred.”


I have lived to be a hundred. My family have given me a telescope

so that I can bring the stars closer to me, and myself to the stars.  

The morning after my birthday party I asked my eldest great grandson

to take me to Wannsee. In the street, he started laughing. “Look,” he said,

“it says ‘Shut the gate. Danger―wild boars’ on the gate.”

But that was another villa, once occupied by a young man with red hair

who suddenly disappeared the night before the conference.

When we got there, it smelled of grilled fish and sausages.

The lake captured the windowpanes in its mirrors. Adolescent lovers

threw breadcrumbs to the ducks. The water

echoed like slaps. Two rabbis were leaving, pushing prams.

The latch on the gate clicked like a camera.

My great grandson pushed my wheelchair noiselessly

between the showerheads on hoses fixed to the walls. He winced.

”Earphones for the conscience,” I whispered to him. “Listen

to how the world touched the bottom.

In ’42 everything God had created was ruined for good.

And I was there. Housekeeper to the conference of evil. I served coffee

to those who served the devil. In the kitchen I stared at Eichmann’s coffee grounds

and do you know what I saw, son? A word in white letters. ENDE in the middle of blackness.”

The end of the world. It remained unrecognized. Yet with so many subtitles.

I didn’t go home that night. Tears overcame me

in the first sheltered place near the villa. When I left

I had no intention of going back again.

All I wanted was to give birth, to give Germany different children,

to lessen the human conscience with angels of life, not of death.

Today my great grandchildren love potato crisps, American hamburgers and chocolate

more than anything else. And I don’t forbid them.

They’re always in a hurry to go somewhere if I start, “When I was young …”

They go to Wannsee for picnics with boats and beer cans. They’ve never set foot in the villa.

Only from a distance, as if they’ve just remembered something, they shout:

“Look, that’s the villa where my great granny made coffee for the Nazis!”

And everyone looks amazed.

“And does she still remember what went on there?”

“Oh, yes. She’s a hundred and no longer knows where she is and forgets our names,

but she remembers Wannsee. Down to the smallest detail.

Sometimes we are not sure who’s riding in that wheelchair we push

–great granny or history.”


Berlin (2008) – London/Ljubljana (2011)




You collect stickers and shells with your children,

and stamps and postcards,

arrange them devotedly in drawers and boxes,

smiling as your wife calls out

“you’re only creating rubbish,”

not knowing that suddenly a day will come

or rather the night of

 that day

when you will be staggering blindly in your underwear 

down the wet iron fire-escape.

Tottering away from your home,

with hands as empty as a new-dug grave

and fists black from beating the flames,

you dive beyond the diameter of God’s will,

looking behind you, and they are not there, a distant cry and a profound silence.

Naked and small under the hose that brings you back to life,

while you shove it away,

to die is all you want, to expire under the blanket behind the hedge.

They are dead.


You drag yourself to the rubbish bin where you threw the last rubbish yesterday.

With numb fingers you rummage the stench, there, the green plastic bag of orange peel,

the silver paper from the chocolate you bought coming home from work,

the end of the last salami and the crushed cartons

the children drank their juice from before they went to bed:

all that is left of all of you, of your life where now you’re alone.

You smell them, kiss them, and restore each peel to wholeness,

you gather the chocolate crumbs in the silver paper, the end of the salami

makes you dizzy with its familiar homeliness,

your children’s last saliva is on the drinking-straws. 

This green plastic bag of rubbish is all that is yours now.

You need to start again from the beginning, they tell you,

while you would know only how to start from the middle, how to change the old,

make it better, nicer, more loved.

But when the dead are no longer alive

nobody knows how to start from either the end or the beginning.

You know, you know very well, how life is turned into scraps of rubbish,

but not how these scraps of rubbish can be turned into life.




Like in a New York taxi,

divided by glass from the driver,

that’s how I am with God in my life:

he’s out of reach and so am I

but we ride in the same direction.

Lynceus’s eye follows us both in the rear-view mirror.

It probes into us through heavens and earth,

a gastroscope that penetrates the tunnel of the being,

bores into knowing and unknowing,

a tiny camera filming the nonexistent life.

Only God has such sight too.

I am short-sighted, an ideal bride for Yahweh,

and only when I become longsighted shall I be Christ’s.

I open the door myself, pick up my baggage.

It’s heavy, heavy but vital.

In the suitcase I carry my past,

which often misses my destination,

my present is crammed in the holdall

that hangs perilously over my head wherever I travel.

When I arrive there’s always someone to meet me.

And it is Him I look for in the throng,

but my name is always on someone else’s signboard.

And as I dismally trudge behind the bearer of my burden,

I ask myself – does God need a vitamin shot in the shoulder

before I can lean on Him?

Or is it me that needs it,

before I can support Him in my own life?  


The Prophets of Jerusalem


The hotel beds are empty at night.

Jerusalem sobs.

Bodies in stamped hotel sheets

wall up Christ.

Among them run receptionists

calling out the names of guests.

And they sing, weep and laugh.

They are mad, these tourists are mad,

blessed prophets of the 21st century.

They don’t want to go home anymore,

they want to be married to God.

In the restaurants they order fish and wine,

and instead of feeding thousands of souls

a fishbone and an empty glass gape before them.

In the morning they kneel, at noon they pray, in the evening they crawl.

They renounce what they are not

to be what they are.

Holy Fools, prophets of the new world.                                   

Their families wait for them, look for them,

then declare them missing.

Their return tickets are not used,

their telephone numbers become non-existent,

their hotel rooms are let to others.

Their relatives think them dead.

But they are alive, livelier than ever

they roam around the walls of Jerusalem,

eat grass and roots, doze in the bushes,

capture sleep in the bags under their eyes, and the sky in their eyes.

Hands raised to God they sing

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth,

until a white van with bars stops by them,

the hotel linen is replaced with hospital sheets,

the report on the prophets is signed.

After forty days Jerusalem sends them home,

not across the border, but through the skies.


What is it like


to be a child of parents killed in war,

to be a child of parents who’ve divorced,

or an African child on a jumbo poster,

to live in an institution for the handicapped,

to have a key to a social housing flat,

to receive aid in the form of flour, oil,

sanitary towels and cotton buds,            

to have a bone marrow transplantation donation bank account in your name,

to live in an SOS Village with a Big Mother of nine children

and an auntie who comes once a week to iron clothes and play cards,

to sleep in a cardboard box in front of the parliament

or in the subway of a metropolis hosting a summit meeting,

to be a doll in a traditional costume

instead of a traffic policeman at the crossroads,

what is it like when children adopt parents, and not the other way round,

to down blood quickly before it oxidizes,

to be the thyroid gland of the family politics,

to be with people who make you drool,

and others who give you a lump in the throat,

to keep the softest towel for the visitor from abroad,   

and the hardest bed for the suicide who has survived,

to be sling-shot in God’s eye,                       

to gather knowledge in a teaspoon of sticky syrup,

to have views like washed stockings

that cannot find their pairs,

to feel that neither your skin nor the homeland fit you any more,

to hang on a monastery lime tree

the man who was the last to kiss you on the brow,

to be the topical issue in a low-budget film,

to have a belly-button that draws in before the tongue,

and the tongue before the live measure of the spirit,

to become a tenant of your own existence,

to become aware that life is a non-swimmer’s game

with waves higher than oneself. 




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