Twenty-six items from Special Collections (n)

Exhibit ‘N’: Serbian. (Vasko Popa, 'Homage to the Lame Wolf,' 1975)

Bibliography: Homage to the Lame Wolf: Selected Poems, Vasko Popa, translated with an introduction by Charles Simic (Oberlin College Press, 1987).

Comment: People who were baby poets in the 1980s, and who went to college at more or less shabby state schools—people who compose, in a word, my milieu—were all exposed to the anthology Another Republic: Seventeen European and South American Writers, edited by Charles Simic and Mark Strand (Ecco, 1976). The 1984 reprint of that book, with its emphatically drab cover and unappetizing title, was in every writing major's dorm room. It didn't have to be assigned to you by a prof; your friends would assign it. We all wanted to be Czech and Polish.
   A glance, this evening, at the Table of Contents confirms that Simic and Strand knew what they were about. Ponge, Pessoa, Parra . . . Celan, Ritsos, Calvino . . . these and almost every single one of the others in there are still being passed around. Vasko Popa, it so happens, is the next-to-last writer in the set—one of several in the glittering sequence who left me quite cold when I was twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five.
   The thing is I just reread the Popa pieces in the book (pages 213–227), this week, and they still don't do anything for me. So... no clue how I wound up buying the book pictured above. It may have been on principle. Whatever Simic translates—worth a look. Maybe I'd simply forgotten that Popa wasn't my kind of thing. 
   Good thing I forgot. The sequence called "Homage to the Lame Wolf" (not present in Another Republic) answers some of my most pressing needs. Answers, and has answered, for twenty years.
   Favorite time I ever shared it with anybody was when I took it with me into Stateville Prison, here in Illinois. The guys got it right away: The humiliated are still gods. Approach with respect.

Homage to the Lame Wolf

Go back to your lair
Humiliated lame wolf

And sleep there
Until the barking turns to ice
And the curses rust and the torches die
Of the common hunt

Until everyone falls
Empty-handed into himself
And bites his tongue in despair

The dogheaded tyrants with knives behind their ears
The hunters with cut genitals over their shoulders
And their wolf-eating dragons

On all fours I crawl before you
And howl in your glory
As into your great
Green ages

And I pray to you my old lame god
Go back to your lair

I prostrate myself before you
Lame wolf

I lie between your effigies
Mutilated and burning
And disguised to look like mud

I fall among them
With my face in your holy nettles
And together with them I burn

My mouth is full 
Of their wooden flesh
And golden eyebrows

I prostrate myself before you
Give me a sign growl for me to rise
Lame wolf

Accept my pauper's gifts
Lame wolf

A lamb of iron I bring on my back
A sip of mead in my mouth
For your jaws to amuse themselves

A bit of living water in my palm
To train yourself in miracles with

A wreath of iris
Plaited to the size of your head
To remind you of who you are

And a sample of the latest wolf traps
For you to examine carefully

Accept my gifts 
Do not scatter them with your divine tail
Lame wolf

Turn your eyes toward me
Lame wolf

Breathe on me with the embers in your mouth
Make me sing in the glory of your name
With the old mother tongue of linden

Scratch on my forehead with your claws
Heavenly lines and notches so that I may become 
The interpreter of your silence

And bite into my left hand
So that our wolves may bow to me
And elect me their shepherd

Turn your eyes toward me
Don't stare anymore at your fallen statue
Lame wolf

Raise the stone from your heart
Lame wolf

Show me how you turn a stone
Into a sun-bearing cloud
And a cloud into a deer with golden horns

And if this doesn't tire you show me
How you turn the deer into white basil
And basil into six-winged swallow

And explain to me if you still remember
How you change the swallow into a fire-snake
And snake into precious stone

Raise the stone from your heart
And lay it on mine
Lame wolf

Let me approach you
Lame wolf

Let me pluck
Three magical hairs
From your triangular head

Let me touch with a stick
The star on your forehead
The stone over your heart
The left and then the right ear

And let me kiss
The wounded holy paw
Resting on a cloud

Let me approach you
Don't scare me with your divine yawning
Lame wolf

Go back to your lair
Lame wolf

And sleep there
Until your fur changes
And new iron teeth grow

Sleep until the bones of my ancestors
Flower and branch out
And pierce the earth crust

Sleep until your lair shakes
And tumbles down on your head

Sleep until your tribe 
From the other side of heaven
Is wakened by this howling

Go back to your lair
I'll visit you and serve you in dreams
Lame wolf

Appendix: I had wanted to hunt up the original in Serbian, but I've run into the usual troubles. I ordered a print-on-demand selected Popa in Serbian, but they only selected the fifth section of the sequence. This gave me something to Google, true, but after two hours of fuss I had only assembled five of the seven parts. I don't know Serbian, so I can't check the stuff for even elementary accuracy. My one year of Russian, twenty-five years ago, was all I had to go on, which I think is like trusting your English to help you edit a text in Danish. If anybody wants to email me corrections, please do. I also need sections 3 and 7.

Poklonjenje hromome vuku

Vrati se u svoju jazbinu
Osramoćeni hromi vuče

I tamo spavaj
Dok se ne zaledi lavež
I zarđaju psovke i crknu baklje
Sveopšte hajke 

I dok se svi ne skljokaju
Praznih ruku u sebe
I pregrizu sebi jezik od muke

I silnici psoglavci s nožem za uvom
I hajkači sa polnim udom na ramenu
I lovački zmajevi vukožderi

Četvoronoške puzim pred tobom
I urlam u tvoju slavu
Kao u velika
Zelena tvoja vremena

I molim ti se stari moj hromi bože
Vrati se u svoju jazbinu

Prostro sam se pred tobom
Hromi vuče

Ležim između tvojih kipova
Unakaženih i zapaljenih
I preodevenih u blato

Pao sam između njih
Licem u tvoje svete koprive
I zajedno sa njima gorim

Puna si mi usta
Njihovog drvenog mesa
I zlatnih obrva

Prostro sam se pred tobom
Daj mi režanjem znak da se dignem
Hromi vuče

Skreni pogled prema meni
Hromi vuče

I nadahni me ognjem iz čeljusti
Da propevam u tvoje ime
Pramaternjim lipovim jezikom

Ispiši mi kandžom na čelu
Nebeske crte i reze
Da stasam u tumača tvoga ćutanja

I ugrizi me za levu ruku
Da mi se poklone tvoji vukovi
I da me za pastira izviču

Skreni pogled prema meni
I ne bulji više u srušeni svoj kip
Hromi vuče

Podigni kamen sa svoga srca
Hromi vuče

I pokaži mi kako pretvaraš
Kamen u sunconosni oblak
I kako oblak u jelena zlatoroga

I ako te to ne zamara pokaži mi
Kako pretvaraš jelena u beli bosiljak
I kako bosiljak u šestokrilnu lastu

I pokaži mi ako se još sećaš
Kako pretvaraš lastu u žar-zmiju
I kako zmiju u alem kamen

Podigni kamen sa svoga srca
I na moje ga položi
Hromi vuče

Daj da ti priđem
Hromi vuče

Daj da ti iščupam
Tri čudotvorne dlake
Iz trouglaste glave

Daj da ti štapom dodirnem
Zvezdu na čelu i kamen na srcu
I levo i desno uvo

I daj da ti poljubim
Ranjenu božansku šapu
Naslonjenu na oblak

Daj da ti priđem
I ne plaši me svetim zevanjem
Hromi vuče