Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sarajevo post script

I hadn't written a poem in probably twenty years, and I was never much of a poet anyway, but I was sobered by our trip to Sarajevo and somehow found myself compelled. Especially when we ended up with two hours hours to kill at the bare-bones train station (the only real visual perk being this guy to the right), our train to Mostar delayed without explanation. As one of our innkeepers had noted, "This isn't Japan."

I guess I offer this as one last memory of our trip to the Balkans, and an important contrast to photos that may have made the region seem of sunny climate and disposition round the clock. It's very much that way, but there's weight there as well.

The Loneliness of the Sarajevo Natural History Museum

No one comes to the museum anymore.
Maybe a family on holiday from Frankfurt
A lone traveler from Kyoto
A handful of American tourists on their way to Prague,
who complain of the heat on the second floor
as they tire of the exhibits of woodpeckers, thrushes,
and so many swifts.
Ideally they’ve carried their own toilet tissue.

Paid staff outnumber customers by three lab coats to one
A woman behind a locked glass door prepares a sparrow for taxidermy,
emptying its insides,
placing it in a room full of predatory beetles
who will finish the job, tissue and all.
Then she’ll steady her needle and thread.

A man with a nametag follows visitors from room to room
as closing time approaches. He speaks quietly in Bosnian:
“Do not touch the cases,” perhaps.
His face has a mild disfigurement,
maybe from birth, maybe later.

And the handsome woman who tears tickets at the door,
who wears her hair tightly back in a bun,
explaining which rooms are open
and which are off limits,
offers in a baritone,
“Enjoy your visit.”

But she says this only three, possibly four times a day
As cases full of mice, pumice, jackrabbits, scarabs, walking sticks, bears, travertine, moths, and mollusks
turn to paper, dust, and skeleton.


leslie said...

A lovely, lonely portrait. I've always admired the loyalty of small-museum staff; I imagine in Sarajevo the sense of commitment is even more acute, perhaps? You've captured the quiet determination beautifully.

Rosemary said...

Fantastic images--and I love the humor you've injected here and there.

tracy said...

This is amazing. You should write more poetry!