Between Belgrade and Zagreb the light
slopes like a sheet metal roof.
Diesel trucks on desperate schedules
roar with frustration. Small rivers
forth and fidget through fields gone
coppery with frost. The old Volvo
fights the road, but I clutch the wheel
as if drowning. If you were here
you’d speak a language respected
in the onion-domed churches spiked
in villages groaning with hogs
penned for early winter slaughter.
You’d demand I stop for tea
at a roadside café where men
shaped like pistons would grimace
a hairy brown grimace and shake
my hand to make sure I’m real.
They’d stare so hard at you the teeth
would loosen in their heavy jaws.
I don’t know how deeply the wars
of the Nineties plumbed this area
but no ruins offend the eye—
the forests pouring down the slopes
confident as troupes of dancers
and the streams only slightly tainted
by whispers of blood. You’d laugh
to see how I focus the highway
so firmly in my gaze. The trucks
pass with blue exhaust shuddering
and a sign warns that Zagreb
lies eighty kilometers ahead.
In that comfortable old city
I’ll spot you a dozen times
strolling in your long black coat
but you’ll refuse to catch my eye
because relaxed inside your skin
you parade along Fifth Avenue
in the company of men too rich
to find the Balkans on the map—
the gloom of Manhattan blossoming
with Christmas décor that flatters
rather than offends the disbelief
we share the way this landscape
shares a thousand secret wounds.