Zvonko Karanovic

Zvonko Karanovic
The Great Fatigue

I can’t even stand
my own skin anymore
or the golden crayon of the President and his audience
or the progress fast-track to a bright future
awaiting us just around the corner
with a rusty axe
or shiny words
echoing dully in damp rooms
basements and unfinished buildings
or the neon light of
giant supermarkets
or the chocolate in motley wrappers
past its expiration date

I can’t stand any longer
the almighty God of Soccer
the radiation that increases daily
or my own body of a porno menagerie extra
because I’m the son of Jesus’ son
in evolution’s zoo
I carry a TV in my trunk
and a case of cold beer
a pack of marked cards
hat and pigeon eggs
for performances
in public housing
community centers
and party cells

I can’t stand
the piles of crumpled laundry
piles of unpaid bills
piles of insurance pyramids
and multi-level take-the-money-and-run pyramids
I can’t stand
dancing with people
the army camp around the bend
gladiators battling a helpless audience
the ritual murder of princesses in kindergartens
empty photo albums
wet matches
because pyres
ready long ago grow rotten in the mist

and you
circle NO
circle what they tell you
and later run back to your misery
back into sinks
into rubber shoes
into the carnival of turbo folk trance
because I’ll raise glasshouses of words for you
in your stead I’ll circle YES
for the future
we left waiting on the dead track
instead of you I’ll be
fresh meat for the billy clubs
the only one to blame for
the tear gas and burning containers
and I forgot to say that
I’ll make a list of everyone who
sat in the front row and clapped
and I’ll read it aloud in public when it’s time
I’ll keep that little secret for the day when
despair floods the suitcases
and my country becomes
my womb
my topsoil
my marble slab

and I’ll ask for my years back
and your years, for you who don’t know how to write appeals
I’ll demand back with interest
disability pay
for uneaten southern fruit
for suitcases languishing in the basement
for missed chances
I’ll ask the people who moved to warmer places to come back
those birds that couldn’t live in a hencoop
I’ll hire Terminator to return
to the past
and kill the ones who started all this
I want to say that too many people have gone away
and that all this has gone too far
because the Dominican Republic and New Zealand seek new victims
young blood of engineers packed in a little red passport

and you, Serbia
you sleeping beauty under the plum tree
remember your own history of heads bowed
five hundred years of slavery
a thousand years of slavery
ten thousand years of slavery
are years to you just grains of sand
in infinity’s necklace
and where’s that rage now, at too many defeats
and too little courage
aren’t you tired
of small trade
smuggling and flea markets
while your men wear torn socks
a quarter of a bread loaf and a salami under their arm
cut down forests 24 hours a day
and turn them into election posters

two hundred hungry leaches suck your blood
two hundred hungry leaches appoint the world’s four corners
two hundred hungry leaches replace the sky with lamp shades
and while hands
so impotent
drop on history’s clouds
only the agents keep working diligently
reaping reports
and battering
they’re real pros
practiced NBA champs
a mighty eight with a coxswain
and carte blanche for excessive speed

ghosts and shadows
the fichus tree in the corner of the room and the chipboard desk
I eat seasonal fruits and think about the future
sign-posts are no longer valid
everybody lost their souls to cash
except the saints
and already
there’s too much tension in the streets
the Agency didn’t get the script
to the white magicians on time
the latest scenario
with a happy end

I’ll try to forget about death
but it’s so hard to stay silent
when you don’t fear
falling apart
I haven’t met real dissidents yet
the writers on a hunger strike
they’re keeping warm
in the dailies’ cultural supplements
you don’t traffic with eternity because it doesn’t exist
just a game of ego madness on the highway of
before the gates
apostles in white Armani suits
point at the vast human desert
the agents kneel and beg forgiveness from five-year-olds
high-circulation dictators weep abandoned by all
on hazard
on the God role
on sedatives
on underage girls
on magic wands

pet that dog
the smart husky in front of the drugstore
he didn’t deserve such a fate
but he’s wiser than me
and he doesn’t bark on
moonless nights
sirens wail
mad dogs unleashed
police raid every decent party
student housing’s open after hours
orgies in every room
cheap booze
and hick blood whirling deep into the night
the silicone breasts of turbo icons
and hands up
I saw rock-n-roll’s future
passed out drunk in the cafeteria

armored cars glisten in the sun
faces from Wanted posters ride behind dark glass
no remorse in their eyes
but their fate is clear
the film’s almost over
and the thieves are still making a getaway
the film’s almost over
and still they grin nervously
what do I care
I decided what to do long ago
I’ll get up and go into the street
because my life’s main protagonist
must win
at high noon
when the time comes

my rage doesn’t reach beyond the living room
the notes of a helpless man
are of no use to anyone
because souls are not innocent
and kids are not innocent
not even the sky is innocent
and I know there will be no remorse
or epiphany
the madmen have taken over the madhouse
they killed Corto
cremated Kafka
they’re camping out in front of the Kremlin
and I didn’t want that everyday-hero role
that’s for someone stronger and braver
and I didn’t want
that everyday rage
I wanted to be a tourist
to walk the rails
and be the older brother
to my own children

secret societies
a stomach ulcer
the mask on the sports fan’s face
the horror feature on vacant ground
to describe
or to close my eyes
those shells with pearls of opaque glass
take them public
or are these outpourings of tenderness
just poor therapy
I’m ten years older
and that experience doesn’t make me any stronger
just sadder and more tired
I sit in my living room but I don’t see death
just misery all around me
the swollen corpse expelled by the tide

trans. by Ana Božičević


Zvonko Karanović is a poet and fiction writer born in 1959 in Niš, Serbia. Today he lives in Belgrade. A writer of distinctly urban sensibilities, steeped in the spirit of riot and revolt, he has written some of the most significant politically engaged poetry critiquing the 90’s regime in Serbia. He is the author of ten books of poetry, most recently Box Set, and three award-winning novels. His voice uniquely brings together American Beat and New York School traditions with the European and Eastern European surrealism and avant-garde. A dissident and countercultural icon, for many years he was an underground cult figure and a seminal influence on a whole generation of younger poets. Zvonko Karanović was awarded the 2011 international writers’ scholarship by the Heinrich Boll Foundation (Koln, Germany).

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