Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/-22P3aWqIaY) 30.1.2022.
Tomaž Šalamun was born 4 July 1941 on the day the Communist Party of Yugoslavia called its populations to answer with total war: “Peoples of Yugoslavia: Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Macedonians and others! Now is the time, the hour has struck to rise like one man, in the battle against the invaders and hirelings, killers of our peoples. Do not falter in the face of any enemy terror. Answer terror with savage blows at the most vital points of the Fascist occupation bandits. Destroy everything – everything that is of use to the Fascist invaders.” When I think about Šalamun, I think about how is this imperative Mediterranean: Destroy everything — everything that is of use. In Šalamun’s case, the imperative recognizes the European horizon where hilarity and horror meet, the dawn of the Modern, but his poems refuse this, and instead portray the intaglio aquatint of Mediterranean high noon. Šalamun’s poetry in Opera Buffa is militant against poetry of use, sectional meaning, occupying ends and means. These poems are sculpted from divine violence of clouds, their absolute narcissism; it is just for unrest to stand against the absolute violence and divine narcissism of European systems of order and power.
THE INSTRUMENT I’m a statue who sees distances. The elephant’s muddy walk pacifies bootlickers. Cinnamon. It burns and reeks. I languored for days, with a snake. He basked on river mud. Include some heavy metal trash! Paint it. In horror, the frogs’ mouths will widen.
THE BRUSSELS GARDEN We seized the family with sponges full, I mean, we planted them around the table and tied sponges to the eyes. They thought they were swallows, rocked side to side. Some wore sandals. But Nonno was barefoot. I read them news then hit them with the anvil. This is a pharmacy! Nonno said, disgusted. The table began rocking. Then stenographers burst in in balaclavas. After, the storms passed over. That's how we sacrificed the clan Ursino. Under them the Chinese women huddled, their legs hid their faces.
LIONS MADE OF BRONZE Oh stench, oh stench, oh stench, cried the lady from Slavonska Požega and cut the elephant with a blade. She’s in the Golden Triangle. Go here to stick pegs in to measure out the earth. What trout and beggars dream is what they dream about. When the dreams come true, they dream about the King of Kamako. Today, dams beat all sophistication. Trout climb them. Strangled glamorous sleep. Tu peut bien faire ta soupe, mais ne mange pas la bétrave. La bétrave se casse la gueule. Our book is better than Prešeren. To comb the little ones. The little ones have peaceable heads.
SHE WAS A SECRETARY When I paused to drink the orange juice, I woke with a flat nostril. I rolled a leaf on tracks (thick as a buoy) snowbanks and hay stacks hugged around them. Where’s it look wide open? Country no. 9, or so? Agahs had our number. What we do not know, we do not know, we said. Agahs attacked me and died. Agahs are honorifics to brothers whose wounds we inflict.
COUSCOUS AND DARK BLUE
Let’s dance, Persian,
you eat great.
Shake your bracelets!
Get moving, Persian, you eat fine. Rip off your bracelets!
Tomaž Šalamun (1941–2014) published more than fifty books of poetry in Slovenian and English. He was awarded both the Prešeren Prize and the Jenko Prize, among his many other recognitions, and his poetry stands regarded among the great 20th and 21st century avant-garde poets. His most recent books, published in English posthumously by Black Ocean, are Andes (2016) and Druids (2019).
Matthew Moore is the translator of Tomaž Šalamun's Opera Buffa, forthcoming from Black Ocean in Winter 2022. He was born in Illinois.