The sky changing color at night; something I notice
in Vinca, my body less than one short trail
from that eternal river. My mother once said
that when she met him, my father would swim across
from his country to hers, shaking his hair out when
he reached her,
waiting by the river bank in Croatia.
There is some kind of violent purple in the distance
above centuries of trees. A wind carries the sound
of the dead language, exchanged by a couple
passing in the dark. Behind me, the house is full
I have met once, between us a faint path
of what should have happened, if. Had I known
the words would want me back I would have learned
to read this language. Now, it raises eyebrows in the markets.
I say bread and they shake their heads. I speak: tomorrow,
Gone. Coming back here
is like entering a house you know
through a basement window. Relearning speech,
I am waiting to see a path through trees
when I touch my grandmother’s arm. Soft.
Blood, my mother once said, is the way
we recognize each other, we don’t need to understand.
The river is not motionless, as it appears. The river
I am seeing is not the sky, the changing
of the light like a pendulum in one direction.
I am one short trail from the river.
One short trail from if. If is the violent country
I am living in when I speak. The river can’t cross,
trees by the water, standing or uprooted,
are shadows sloping into the bank.
Sarajevo and Belgrade
Before anything started, the people
in our lives began coupling off with strangers
who had level ideas.
An aunt became pairs
with the Socialist down the street, the fortune
teller took up a kiosk and sold daily papers.
There was no place for us,
watching their fears make love in and out
of the homes at sundown. We drove
from every city and saw rust powering the lampposts,
varnished in the red streets. Every radio made threats
for a civil war, and said we didn’t have a
There were no crows—vultures.
No definitive beast.
The pigeons ate everything
and scattered the papers. The mice left the fields
for more daring stakes. The choice was already gone
for those who looked.
Our soldiers opened the Zoos
to let the great elephants into the streets
and shot them, standing, with liquor at their feet.
A refugee of the Serbo-Croatian conflict, Ena Djordjevic
is an MFA candidate at the University of Maryland. She has work forthcoming in