Gifts for the Past
Because you want to draw a portrait of me
wearing the two-pointed coned island hat,
and you breathe, Pose for me, my bare-shouldered
Croat, I say, yes, I’ll ask my people by the sea
to dig up the old seamstresses from the ground,
that because you want to render the Liburnian
in me, they’ll have to make one last hat that peaks
like the sea brakes. It may take a while, though—
the old girls are asleep, breathless and bare-boned.
Let’s not rush them, no one wants to see them mad,
I say. But I don’t tell you that I ask for another hat,
or that I like dead women to wake up slowly,
to take their time rubbing their long fingers with sap,
and I don’t tell you that I want a portrait together—
black moon draped down your face, split cliff above mine—
because in the old portraits you had shown me,
your past bare-shouldered beauties stayed posing alone.
While Looking at a Photograph You Send from Afar, Winds of the Pacific Mold the Monterey Cypress
If each small moment contains everything,
a universe and an eternity, contains both the wren
and the beat of a wild swan’s wings,
if it holds the feral scent of yesterday (and it does),
then the 8,000 miles between this foggy shore
and the Persian Gulf, and these eleven ubiquitous hours
of time difference, are just one blink. And so, in your photo
the twitching Arabian skyline is simply skin static,
your late father’s guayabera you wear is the damp
breath of forever, the shisha you hold is my wrist,
that tea on the copper tray is for us, and the black tattoo
inked down your chest has always been ropes of my hair
that I wish you’d touch as you write, We’re in the world of things,
Little Lupine Lover, the world of coming and going.
I Close My Hand – Stars Fall Through My Fingers
When sleep starts to fade out of your bodies,
and then you tire them again, no one knows
what happens next: desire insists, love doesn’t.
And when you hear your lover’s knuckles
tap gypsy beats on your kitchen table,
when you notice that forgotten daylight
breaking inside your hollow chest, it’s time
to turn away—drive into the known night,
away from the sounds that loosen your sinews,
leave your car at the edge of the damp woods,
and like a grown woman under the bare sky,
palm your own clenched fist, cling to your shins,
but escape the urge to make your needy
hand grab the one that makes music for you.
Andrea Jurjević’s poems have recently appeared in Harpur Palate, The Journal, Raleigh Review, Midwest Quarterly, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. She is the 2013 Robinson Jeffers Tor Prize Winner. A native of Croatia, she lives in Atlanta, where she translates, paints and teaches writing.
Q: What is your approach to getting “unstuck” on a poem?
A: I distance myself from it. Often I’ll leave it alone for a few months. Writing poetry, for me, can be like burning through a relationship. I need some space and time before the desire for writing comes back and I plunge again into that kind of intensity.
Q: If you were to choose a painter or filmmaker to bring your poems to a visual life, who would that be, and why?
A: Jean Genet, because of his Un Chant d’Amour, his unflinching portrayal of the complexity of human emotion, the simultaneous intensity and worthlessness of desire, for his hardboiled symbolism and hauntingly beautiful cinematography.
Q: Who or what are you reading now? Is it a source for, or a response to, your own work?
A: Right now on my nightstand are Lidia Yuknavitch, Will Christopher Baer, Diane Seuss, Viktor Pelevin and Naguib Mahfouz. Occasionally something I read—a passage or a perfect line—will slay me. Perhaps send me writing. But it’s not that I seek new books just to forage them for ideas or inspiration. It is more likely that I read because I need to escape my own writing mindset and my own tricks.
Q: What a lovely moment: “desire insists, love doesn’t.” Talk with us about writing love poetry in the 21st century.
A: The line you mentioned is from a poem that’s part of a series about these lovers whose bond is primarily sex. The intimacy they share is urgent and beautiful but also emotionally precarious. Love hasn’t aged much through time but the way we use language and express ourselves has. We are more open and comfortable with our sexual expression. We’ve expanded the notions of love. However, emotionally we are still an awkward mess about it. So, lovers in these poems stay swaddled in their separate emotional solitudes and continue loving the sex.