Egon Tenert

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming


Window shades shaken
By the rain and autumn winds
Good to have a home!

Klappernde Fenster
In Regen und Herbstwind.
Wie gut ein Haus zu haben!

Returning home at night
How the hot tea is smelling
In my steaming pot!

Heimkehr am Abend –
Wie duftet der heiße Tee
In meiner Kanne!

Sun, rain, wind and snow
And always green the bamboo
In front of my door.

Sonne, Regen, Wind, Schnee –
Und immer grün der Bambus
Vor meiner Türe.

Even at nighttime
The sunflower still shines
In my silent room.

Auch noch am Abend
Leuchtet die Sonnenblume
In meinem Zimmer.

Horst Lothar Renner

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

wie eh und je …

innsbruck – eine reminiszenz

ich liebe innsbruck
immer noch
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
die mauern links und rechts
kommst du von osten
öffnen den spalt ins blau
und nur der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
wie eh und je
zieht auch die gruppe zinnsoldaten
durch die strassen
in früheren zeiten lächerlich
zur attraktion geworden
ich liebe innsbruck
immer noch
wer stehen bleibt und schaut
erfährt geschichte
wer nachliest in den lauten büchern
der bleibt
wie er gewesen ist
bleibt in der festung eingesperrt
hält seine meinung hoch
wie viele hier
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
die alten sterben langsam weg
erlerntes bleibt
wird auch gelebt
von mann und frau
auch wenn die tracht
nur mehr im inneren
getragen wird
das kleinkarierte bürgertum
hat sich zur sonne durchgefressen
was früher stumpf
und dümmlich schien
stellt sich im fenster nun zur schau
viel breiter
was vorher zu durchdenken war
reizt jetzt nur noch die sinne
und doch
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
die liebe bleibt
sie hat sich fest gefahren
die neuen freunde
gleichen nicht den alten
die alten freunde
waren gegenpol
nun trägt der untergrund
die oberfläche
ein aufbruch
ist nicht zu erwarten
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
ich liebe innsbruck
immer noch
ein flugzeug streift die kirchturmspitze
die runden berge grenzen ein
die spitzen berge grenzen aus
kultur ist wohlbehütet heute
und regen fruchtet nichts
die ausgebrachte saat liegt streng bewacht
in ihren beeten
ein neuer schrei ist nicht zu hören
das zeitgemässe grunzen
ist ein altes
fassaden spiegeln ihre pracht
und spiegeln wider
wo ist die hoffnung hingekommen
wo steht der widerstand
und wo
die kunst
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
wie eh und je
unverbindliches in strömen
die alten lieder werden noch gesungen
der alte glaube hält noch wacht
zum dekor verkommen
der nackte mann am kreuz
bleibt weggesperrt
ich liebe innsbruck
immer noch
und immer noch
verbindet sich hier sein und schein
und nur der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
wer in die berge flieht
flieht immer wieder
es sind versuche
ohne ziel
wer seine herren lobt
lobt immer wieder
das götzenbild
es prägt sich ein
es formt die menschen
trägt die menschen
dringt formvoll in die körper ein
im unverstand zeigt sich ein wandel
im rhythmus
und nach aussen hin
der standpunkt ist nur zeitbezogen
wer hellt die dunklen flächen auf
wer stellt infrage
wer dringt tiefer
wer will es wissen
wer hat zeit
wer kämpft
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
und spielt kulisse
der schönste berg der alpen
bringt sich ein
ein kleines dach
belegt die speicherplätze
vom filzhut kommt der kühle schatten
ich liebe innsbruck
immer noch
und auch den inn
wie eh und je
es war im garten
war in der stube
kroch in das dunkle holz
es war der geist der wilden jahre
es war ein ausbruch
war beginn
und musste auch das ende bringen
das richtige
hat seine zeit
und auch das falsche
auch das falsche
abrupt geplatzt das alibi
das rundgewölbe zeigt es nicht
ein blick hindurch
durchs morsche tor
der eichentisch
der alten steg
die bar in rot
das rundgemälde zeigt es nicht
und nichts war einbezogen
da ist das innere
wer fühlt
da ist das äussere
wer sieht
und nichts ist ausgesagt
ich liebe innsbruck
immer noch
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
ich kommer her
und gehe fort
der inn fliesst durch die stadt
wie eh und je
wie eh und je
und nichts hat sich geändert

Stephen Mead

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

A Thousand Beautiful Things

Life Support

Feathers collected due to patterns or glint, and stones as well, depending on textures, ripples or mica sheen…so much of childhood condensed to palms or to pockets and what they could hold…milkweed pods, snail shells, wild grasses, flowers… Life reduced and then enlarged by a twig and a stream, that twig becoming a ship, that stream, an adventurous journey… Surely, even in our adult lives, these things have their places, a drawer, box or shelf, a secret and its journal written on air with invisible ink.

Where any object finds itself set can be a clue to that mystery.

I’ve visited many a home where the fridge is catch-all and patchwork shrine. Cars, keys, lighters, mail, business cards, magnets, pencils, safety pins, favorite cups, appointment notices, grocery lists, reminders of things ARE the things there just where last left and kept just in case…


In my apartment, right outside the kitchen where another small hallway starts, an old bookcase serves as sanctuary for what I think I might need. Well, it certainly is handy, and red corduroy covered, like a jewel case. Aside from the two shelves of novels and poetry, each a voyage booming between pages, on top of the case is another kind of library. Yes, there are more post cards and art cards and decks of both Animal Spirit and Goddess Knowledge cards, but there is also a reference catalogue in the very plethora of stuff among more stuff.

Not only do I have a bowl for mints, a dish for memo pads, a holder for chapstick, a tin for rubber bands, tacks, pens, paper clips and screws, a case for sun glasses, measuring tape, a spool of red thread, and spray bottles of essential oils, plus a flash light when I blow a fuse and the bats come out, I also have a diorama under glass. It’s sort of a large rectangular keepsake paperweight, beneath which are photos of my partner and me taken at various stages in our relationship. (Interesting how our weights change too, more towards the zaftig.) Strewn among these images are movie and concert stubs, tags from flowers, anniversary and birthday dates etc., a small blue peace banner hand stitched by a friend, and several gold dollars. These are to denote luck and a richness in love.

Of course, half the time, cigarettes, bills and left over coffee winds up covering this tableau. Plus I keep my electric razor there, a collection of angel, ribbon and butterfly pins, a silver “until there’s a cure” bracelet and a little black velvet pouch filled with three calming energy stones. A bit of the lazy half-baked pagan meets a bit of the lazy half-baked bleeding heart, I’m afraid, and all of this a throwback to my childhood country walks. Still, I see nothing fundamentally wrong with any of it. Better to hoard things which feed a private spirit than to hoard bitter grievances. Plus, there’s been occasion I’ve come across private offices, cubicles and homes that are so devoid of revealing any personality trait as to be either depressing or creepy.

I suppose in any artist there’s some of the voyeur, the detective, the shrink, yet I don’t feel it’s a matter of gossipy nosiness so much as plain interest in fellow humankind, a wanting to know what makes others tick. By what other means can one find understanding? Curiosity is often endemic to interactions between all. Judgment, however, based on ignorance, fear or hatred concerning that curiosity, is this what creates the use of weapons?

Some times I think certain objects which people have as little unknown oracles or votive flames. Back when I worked on an HIV unit there was one dear nervous Spanish patient who needed to keep his anxiety in check during all those long intervals between tests and waiting for results. In order to stay busy he found himself untangling the long tubes of nasal canula which provided his oxygen. Those things were always getting kinked, and when I gave him a fresh coil of the stuff he began to braid it, to make key chains out of it.

I have once such key chain on that book case in my hall, a present. It lies next to a very clear light green glass heart, a heart not envious, but emerald with purity. I visualize that patient and that key chain sometimes when saying prayers for the earth: life in and on land, all land, in and on water, all water, in and on air, all air. That key chain is what air came down to for one whom I cared for.

High above the bookshelf, just below the ceiling, are about a dozen fox tail stalks. These are tied in the center with scotch plaid ribbon and have two branches of lavender tucked within them. The furry tufts of the stalks go in two directions to create a symmetry which covers both the threshold of the kitchen and the living room. A friend and I were driving along a highway when I saw a field of these past the guardrails. She was game enough to stop and let me cut some, the tall tawny stalks going over my head. A few cars honked as they passed, but I believe we were way off to the side of the road.

It’s amazing how long these fox tails have lasted without even a fixative spray. They remind me of an old Hallmark Hall of Fame Production called, I think, “The Littlest Angel”. This small country boy gets to heaven and is all excited because he’s going to give god his gift of treasures he keeps in a box, a box filled with butterfly wings, starfish etc. But then the small boy gets embarrassed, and starts feeling ashamed because all the other recently deceased spirits are some how coming up with celestial high brow game show merchandise, gold harps and the like. In the end all turns out all right for the little boy’s treasures have come from the heart, and of course everyone, finally listening to God for a change, feels that’s what is most essential.

Sentimental as it is, I still lean, unapologetic, toward such a way of thinking. I mean, it’s like this: on that oxygen canula key chain I could place a key to a Mercedes but it’s the key chain which was made by a spirit of someone whom I knew and loved, and the Mercedes, nice as it might be, would not alter that.

Once, in Canada, on the subway, my Mom had her purse pick pocketed. Weeks after returning home, a package from Ontario arrived in the mail. In it was her stolen Woolworth’s wallet with all its memorabilia. This included a news clipping about her Father, crackling and yellowed, sealed in with a lock of his hair. Of course the money and robbers were long gone, but she was given back what was most precious to her.

Now that my Mom, and others I’ve loved are gone, I know more than ever just what things are, and just what things are worth.

Nikola Madzirov

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

They return three times sadder


I open fearfully the door
to draw a border with the sun rays
upon the carpet.
I feel like shouting,
but the echo of the unfurnished room
is faster than me.
The sweat on the door-knob is not mine
and the rush on my neck
does not belong to this world.
I emerge in several
painted memories,
my soul is the womb’s palimpsest
of a far-off mother.
Hence the thought of return
and the quiet squeaking of the hinges.

I’d expand the space with a step
I’d thicken the grains of dust
and multiply the hairs that fall
down, always white
because of the light.

Translated from Macedonian by
Zoran Anceski


Es ist wahr, dass die Stadt
als Folge einer Lüge entstand
notwendig für die Menschen
die Blumentöpfe und die Haustiere

(so versorge ich mich mit
den nötigen Rechtfertigungen)

Es ist wahr, dass alle Menschen
die Gebäude verlassen
(wie bei einem Erdbeben)
und mit einer Vase in Händen
zu den Wiesen gehen

Sie kommen dreimal trauriger zurück
mit Staub in den Handflächen
und einigen Geräuschen
wie Löcher in der Erinnerung

wieder allgemeine Stille.

Aus dem Makedonischen von
Alexander Sitzmann


It is true that the town
grew as a result of a lie
necessary for people
flowerpots and pets

(that is how I provide myself with
the necessary justification)

It is true that all the people
get out of the buildings
(as during an earthquake)
and with a vase in their hands
head towards the meadows

They return three times sadder
with dust in their hands
and few murmurs
like holes in their memory

again common silence.

Translated from Macedonian by
Makedonka Bozhinovska


Over the airport speaker today
I address you: Turn around
before you put on the seat
of your autumn jacket.
Cut the air
with the dark movement of your face.
Don’t trust the guardians
of lasting values. In the houses
protected by law there are
no tenants. Don’t trust
the continent that
lowers its palm gently
over your forehead. Let’s go running
after cars, to soak in the smell
of burnt petrol.
Reject stories about whales
and explosions. The world’s secret
is written on the doors of run-down
public toilets. Kneel down, pray
and bow your head as a street
shoe-shine boy does. Lean your ear on the ground
and predict all earthquakes and resurrections.
Like a mirror in a lift reflect all
the heights of the Universe.

Translated from Macedonian by
Magdalena Horvat

John Leonard

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

Was it somewhere else?


There was a brighter rectangle
In the paint next to the front door,
Where someone’s name-plate had been
Removed, and no new one put up.

And that was my home—or was it
Somewhere else, where in an attic
I found a tattered flag, transparent,
Along with the pots and bedsteads?

And that was not my home, and
Wind and rain, all the weathers, and
All the seasons with their trees,
Not my country either, or ever thought.

And from the new- to the old-lands,
Out of my country and back again,
Where I play with book-names,
Mimic a set hand, and dot my iotas.

And where, in another place, another
Generation, I am housed just as before;
Home with no ownership, another
Cautious non-residence, all together.

In time, I shall settle down perhaps,
Become amenable, discover direction,
Answer all questions unambiguously—
But my answers will be worth nothing.

And all this, too, will have been as
Nothing, unless it is remembered
That wherever I was, my language,
Was never my own, or ever claimed.


It seems that, twenty years after,
I am getting well used to the life
I led then—the once empty days
In the country that never was.

I am finding my feet, exploring,
Settling gratefully into its comforts,
Its experiences; every day I wake
Anew there, and make new discoveries.

And in this neverland, at places
That perhaps existed, but may not
Any longer, I dwell on the sights
I saw then, but with different eyes.

The certainties that sprouted there
Out of the old walls have withered,
But what I learnt remains, informs
The two onces: here and now.

Green hills of then, set to music
Later—all these improvisations—
Fill out a life, assemble themselves;
Here, and there, come into their own.

Both poems are from John Leonard’s collection
Jesus in Kashmir (2003)

Anant Kumar

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

Islands are places far from land

“Islands are places far from land. They lie unknown to the world, separate, secluded, segregated. And one must leave the mainland to discover this new, little-known acquaintance. Yes, one must be mobile…and the arrival has to discover it; for when he arrives, in many instances he doesn’t not know whether the place is an island. Only during discovery and exploration does the far-off place prove to be an island. No other way”. Some such thing is what the foreigner said.

“Yes, it is important…” he continued, repeating himself, “…to explore the land, to discover it. And to notice that the space is an island…had the searcher known from the outset that was an island, then it would no longer remain an island…In that case it would long have turned into mainland.” At this point we both broke out laughing simultaneously.

There is a story by Graham Greene in which the plot revolves around a tiny little private island and its secrets. In the story, “Under the Garden,” the boy Winton grows up on a farm. There is a private lake and on the private lake there is an islet. This small isolated place with its shrubbery and plants hides within itself an array of riddles which cause the boy’s imagination to take flight more and more each day. Especially of an evening, when dusk falls. Winton wants to go there and thoroughly discover the island. Its secret treasures.

One evening the little fellow feels the urge to discover, he wishes to locate the secrets of the private lake as well as its island. As dusk falls, Winton hides while his older brother searches in vain for him. Only briefly, because the obedient George is afraid of the encroaching darkness. He withdraws into the house to Mom. The good boy.

The younger Winton stays away a long time that evening. He goes to the island on his journey of discovery. While explorating the unknown, space, size and levels of consciousness meld into one. In the ‘real’ imagination of the boy the tiny geographical space expands to a immeasurable secret place with giant trees and chasms.

All of this Winton describes and recounts as an adult when he learns that the house with its garden and island are to be sold by his older brother. In recollecting he is deeply amazed at the actual size of the islet in the private lake and at its intense effect on his childhood soul.

The older George is a mainland boy through and through. A businessman in the making, who pursues a ‘rational’ life and then becomes captive to it. George marries, has children and a home.
Winton on the other hand remains a child of the island. One who becomes enmeshed over and over in the charm of irrational secrets and is always on the move in order to unravel its mysteries. Changing his job and abandoning places, he finds himself even as a fifty-year old, ever searching.

When I read Graham Greene’s “Under the Garden”, my own childhood danced before my eyes as I was reading.
Back then, the East Indian town of Motihari was small, pretty and full of secrets. In contrast to the overcrowded city of today, whose half-paved streets full of holes threaten to explode with all manner of primitive and modern means of transportation – from horse and ox cart, bike and motorcycle. Indian and half-Indian cars (Suzuki, Daihatsu, Ford…), trucks and busses, tractors, rickshaws.
In the holidays, when my big brother came to visit from the boarding school, the syllables of two children’s nicknames could be hear rhyming with one another. As soon as these sounds reached our ears on lonely evenings, our mouths would automatically answer “Yes, Papa, we’re coming.”

A curious, quite amusing anecdote occurs to me about this very thing. At this very time in my life, a new street vendor whose voice was markedly like that of Papa’s, began ramble the lanes in our part of town. And whenever he called out the names of his “nutty delicacies” (Chole-Chole), I heard my own and my brother’s names in Papa’s voice. Promptly as an automaton I replied, “Yes, coming!” Immediately, however, the fact became clear – even after I’d repeatedly searched the house – that neither Papa nor my brother were there on that still afternoon. My child’s soul queried in bafflement whether I’d heard correctly or merely imagined the calls. My childish brain puzzled over it. In the days to follow I heard the odd calls that I’d initially answered mechanically a few more times. Then I was baffled. A few more days passed until I investigated myself and laughingly discovered the embarrassing reality – a peddlar!

The playgrounds of my childhood were the streets of Motihari. Back then that little East Indian town was not overpopulated, and the dry, clean streets of every part of town were ideal for our games: marbles, tops, badminton.
And back then Motihari was a wide distance away from the big world.
There were very many mango and lichee trees, fragrant lemon bushes, broad, large fields…and very few people. There were scattered decrepit hawelis1 and bungalows, in which frightening bhuts, geniis and juraels2 dwelled.

My childhood on that island was cosy, enchanted and now and then, jinxed. Every day brought with it a renewed sense of riddles in new unknown quarters, whose secrets always enthralled me anew.

The bejinxed evenings in Motihari repeated themselves and resembled one another, and at the same time there were far from any sort of boredom.

And I left Motihari, and today I live on the mainland. Yes, we leave islands. Perhaps unwillingly, but not unseldomly. And some of us travel without interruption, from land to island and from island to land. Ah, as blissful as shepherds.


Translated from German by
Marilya Veteto Reese

1 Richly decorated traditional trading posts in the desert of Rajasthan
2 Various male and female forms of ghosts

S.K. Kelen

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

The captain says it’s cold

Coming Home (from my Papuan holiday)

Goodbye Moresby.
Goodbye jungle.
Flying home. Over the phosphorescent green reef
where the wing of a Japanese transport plane
stands like a broken soldier.
Across a jade desert that joins the sky.
Over the mountains that were really clouds.
At thirty-thousand feet: when clouds look like
they’re just on top of the sea. Through a
chicken leg, a glass of white table wine and
six continental cakes.
Over more sea.
The Great Barrier Reef.
Sugar plantations, rivers, towns.
Factories and roads.
Keeping the plane late by being the only person
to declare his carvings in customs at Brisbane airport.
Flying farther south into night.
The sun is a red ball at the edge of a purple sky:
a piece of blue left-over daylight touches
the horizon. The sun slips over
the side of the world. Then darker blue, darker blue,
then purple, indigo giving way to black sky.
And stars all across it.
Somewhere down there is my house.
Sydney the city and I can see buses and lights on the streets.
And it’s raining. The captain says it’s cold.
All those fools in their Bombay bloomers
and safari shirts trundle off the jet
and run across the tarmac through the rain.
Mum, Dad. It’s your boy.
Home after three weeks.
Hugs and kisses when we get home, please!
A transistor radio for you, little brother.
I’ll tell you about it all in the car.
How are things? How’s that dumb dog of mine?
Have I learned anything?
Sure, sure.

May 1972

Port Moresby, 1972

Halvard Johnson

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

A Poem from Finland


Say we return in half a thousand years
to find no streets or roads, but
everybody staying in the same place

never suspecting there is anywhere else to go.
Say we return and hear not one piece of music,
one sonata or symphony or opera, but

only one child humming “On the Trail.”
Say we find no paintings or statues or books,
no radios, TVs or computers.

Say we say hello and no one hears us but
one bony man who fixes us with his one good eye
and lifts one finger to his silent lips in “Sshhh.”


First published in Finland. xPress(ed). ISBN 951-9198-62-8.

Walter Hoelbling

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

wondering how to resume

going home

the world
is with me
on my way
through rolling hills
green after spring rain

metallic evening light
casts into sharp relief
the contours of young leaves
and orchards blooming

a daring hare
abruptly stops
by the approaching car
and in one
vanishes in the brush

the farmer neighbours
have taken to their beds already
when I nudge my engine smoothly
past their house
and up the hill

to continue my life
where I left it
after breakfast

my mobile home

it travels without trucks
builds quickly
and undoes itself
with ease

its walls are just
my frames of thought
its bed
the conscience of a day
well lived
with few regrets

its gourmet restaurant
mostly beckons somewhere
from across the street
where people meet
keep company
and eat
and share
and talk

our home

the moment
we walked in
the walls said
the stairs adapted gently
to our step
the kitchen was about
to blow a handle
with the excitement
of being used soon

the patio opened its walls
to receive us in pure white
the down-downstairs
turned into a vaulting womb
yearning to be filled
the fireplaces rattled their flues
expectant of the heat

I guess it was
the beating of our hearts
that filled the house with warmth
made bare walls radiant with life
softened the glare of yet uncovered bulbs
made people feel
relaxed and comfortable
when we had the glorious idea
to throw a dinner party
the day after we had moved in

and when they left
to go on with their lives
we started ours
new again
making love happily
held steady by firm oak
and our love
that stretches
and covers us
in the warming folds
of a wide


speeding away southeast from Vienna
suburban shopping malls give way
to fields of corn
chased by sunflowers
between pine forests

the train pushing
with 100 miles per hour
against the heat
of a summer noon
towards the mountains
hidden in a haze

then the ascent
on Gegha’s artful mountain track
wheels screeching
through tunnels and
at the narrow turns
between occasional small houses
built of stone
a hundredandfifty years ago

the silhouette of a big bird
among the spruce,
of cragged peaks
outlined against the sun

steep mountain meadows
mowed in morning coolness,
the grass already turning into hay

my birthplace coming up
a renovated station
a short stop
moving on

I see
an uphill forest road
on whose high point
a wily stone
thrown long ago with young ferocity
had killed a squirrel

none of my tears
would make it
climb up on its tree again

with gathering speed downhill
on through the river valley
flanked by wooded hills
spiked with farms
and cluttered haystacks,

rushing by
old steeples in old towns
with some new factories

then turning southward
downhill still
more narrow in the valley
past steep rocks
ruins of castles
above sprawling freeways

until the hills recede
and cumulating houses
in a widening basin
suggest the temporary end
of travelling

I step out

wondering how
to resume

Ferida Durakovic

Lit.-Mag #36
Home & Homecoming

Too much sadness and too little hair

A baby with hair

The rubber doll, probably conceived in the Russian doll factory as a boy baby, or a baby in general, sexless like all dolls and all toys in the world, her treasure, her baby kin, which her Mother had bought her in the city market, her most beloved baby, that is her only one – had no hair.

The Little Girl did not like male babies, did not like boys, she was ashamed and disgusted by them; she wanted a baby with hair. But Mummy had no money to buy her a doll with hair, like the one belonging to the daughter, an only child, or the one belonging to Mirica, her cousin, an only child: the one from Italy, the magnificent one that sat in the middle of the double bed in the beautiful big house, where the bed linen had Mirica’s name embroidered on it, the one in the magnificent pink dress with lace flounces… But never mind the dress; it was the hair that mattered, those cascades of locks which fell over the shoulders of Italian dolls – oh…

The Little Girl longed, wished, dreamed, daydreamed, that she had that doll, and knew that she would never, n e v e r, NEVER ask her mummy to buy it for her. She knew that it could not be bought; it was rude even to enquire.

In the evening, under her heavy woollen quilt that stifled her, pressing her thin little hands onto her stomach, she would repeat God, give me a baby with hair, and with that desire drifted into sleep and surfaced from sleep, astonished that God had not fulfilled her desire – just as she would wake astonished in adulthood if He ever did fulfil one.

If on her way to school she went a hundred steps without treading on the line between the paving stones, Father would buy her a doll with hair. Father loved her, more than all of them, and every day he bought her something which her brothers and sister would not get, he held her in his lap and caressed her, which he didn’t do with the other children because he didn’t have time, but she was sickly, thin as a twig, her heart jumped and stifled her, and she went regularly to the sea because she had to, to Zelenika, when the sick children went there, and Father would understand why she needed that doll baby with hair so badly, and … she had stepped on a line between the stones… She wouldn’t even ask him.

The Little Girl was an excellent pupil, she worked hard, she learned her lessons in advance because she was bored in class, and the other children were so slow to understand, she was a good girl, she longed for someone to praise her because she was good, she never went anywhere she was not supposed to, she didn’t say bad words, so why couldn’t she have a doll from Italy? Or some other doll, just so long as it had hair? She didn’t understand the words: there’s no money. How come, when there was money for everything else just not for that doll? Why did they have to buy so much food and wood and clothes? You could do without all of those.

It was the spring of 1968. The little girl took her cardboard box out onto the meadow behind the house and took out each of her treasures one by one and placed them on the damp ground: brightly coloured chintz rags she would use to sew a dress for the baby she dreamed of; silk embroidery thread which she would weave into a ribbon for the hair of the baby she dreamed of; a little shoe box, she would use it to make a bed for the baby she dreamed of. Here too was her only, boy baby, the one without hair … what would she do with it when she got the baby she dreamed of? She took the baby without hair and cuddled it, saying I won’t leave you, don’t worry, and she nearly cried for sadness that this one didn’t have hair, and that she had to not love it because it had no hair, and that she had to dream of the one with hair, which she had to love in advance, even without seeing it.


Father had shouted last night, he came home tipsy and snored on the double Bed; something had happened that the Little Girl didn’t understand, but she knew that it wasn’t good. Mummy had big blue bags under her eyes this morning, and she had not stroked her head and said Mummy’s lambkin. Father came out and said to her and her sister, Get ready, we’re going out. They didn’t dare ask where, and got ready and set off after him down the steep street, holding hands, without a word, like every time they went anywhere together. The Little Girl didn’t like holding her sister’s hand, for her Sister hated holding hands and she hated the Little Girl because of that hand holding as though it was her idea, but this morning she liked it because she was afraid of being alone and her Sister’s hand was something that connected her to the house which had been so sad that morning, suffocating and cramped for everyone who lived in it.

They went into a shop where the sign said Men’s Hairdresser; a man with combed hair full of brilliantine sat them down on seats, one beside the other, and cut off their beautiful long plaits, first her Sister’s, then the Little Girl’s. The Little Girl did not remember much apart from the circle of her hair lying round the hairdresser’s chair, and sorrow, and the horror with which she knew Mummy would look at them both, two plucked chickens with short spiky boys’ hair, and Father’s smirk when he saw their mother’s face. I’ve got my own back, was written all over that face, which the Little Girl had never seen so ugly, and he handed Mummy an old newspaper with four plaits wrapped in it, sad and lonely and tearful, like Mummy, who unwrapped them, and wrapped them up again, and put them in the drawer of the dresser, where she kept needles and thread and some old yellow photographs.

A few days passed; Father was calm, Mummy was calmer, at school the Little Girl and her Sister were ashamed of their haircuts, but there was nothing to be done. The Little Girl went on dreaming about the baby she dreamed of, and life, which she had thought would come to an end with her parents’ quarrel, returned to the house. Her eldest brother went off to demonstrate, no one knew exactly what that was, but Father said The only way to talk to them is with a belt. Mummy rushed agitatedly through the house, opening and shutting cupboards, rummaging through the same drawers twice, putting away her hair that was already put away, dusting what had already been dusted, stroking the Little Girl’s head, although she had already done so that morning. Because of all of that the Little Girl wound round her Mother’s legs like a kitten, trying to provoke another caress, trying to summon the strength to ask Mummy, Will you buy me a baby with hair? Suddenly, Mummy – mummy knows – opened the drawer in the dresser once again, and said Hey, mummy’s lambkin, here take this and make your baby some hair, and handed her the newspaper with the four plaits wrapped in it, and then disappeared out of the kitchen into the bedroom, where she could be heard stifling sobs, but no one dared go in there.

The Little Girl went out onto the meadow behind the house, unwrapped the newspaper and looked at the plaits of dead hair, and saw the solution of her desires.

From that moment, until the moment when a pile of hair was stuck to the boy baby with O-HO glue, several long days passed. But that didn’t matter to the Little Girl, what mattered was that at last she had the baby with hair that she dreamed of. What the Little Girl could not see, but everyone around her could – first her Sister, then her brothers, then the neighbours, and the writer of these lines – was the fact that her little clumsy hands had not known how to stick the hair on properly, so that the baby, in fact, looked like a little typhus victim, with big patches of bald head and a few locks of hair which moulted like dogs’ fur and fell out every time the Little Girl wanted to comb it.

But, here is the important idea of the story, it is important that I wanted to say something, says the writer, while the Little Girl says What’s important is the hair, and we ought, in fact, all to be pretty happy with the outcome of this story, in which there is too much sadness and too little hair.

It’s not important that we are (I know, I know) on the side of the Little Girl and that finally, as in all stories about Divine justice, a year after this event her Mother would buy her a doll with hair, after she had her tonsils out, as a present for being brave, and that, after that, the Little Girl would connect every act of bravery in her life with dolls with hair, which no one bought her as a reward.

And it’s not important that the Little Girl, by Divine injustice, at the age of twenty-nine would lose almost all her hair, without anyone knowing why, not even the omniscient doctors. And that, by Divine justice, new hair would grow again almost over night: new, curly, beautiful, healthy, like her life, which from the moment she got her new hair developed like a long love story which survived even the people who did not get the main parts in it.

After the war in 1992, one in history and the hundredth for a Little Girl of this kind, the Little Girl gave birth to a Little Girl, a tiny baby – her baby kin. When they placed her on her breast, tightly wrapped in a dirty hospital nappy in the maternity ward where they washed the babies in cold water from war canisters because there was no power, the only thing that she wanted to know – before she fainted with pain – was whether the baby had hair. Of course, said the nurse, it’s a real miracle. She has long black hair.

Translated from Bosnian
by Celia Hawkesworth