To All Those Who Want Happy Poems
After my reading at the library near Cleveland
a woman asked me whether I had any happy poems.
The ones I’d read were too sad for her.
Elsewhere others asked similar questions.
We live for happy moments, but they seem to come
when we least expect them and are too often followed
by much worse events, so that what happened before
is often soon forgotten, and then can even be erased.
Just a few weeks ago on our trip to Venice I looked forward to
meeting Renata, the Croatian ice-cream and pizza place owner
near the hotel. But, when I saw her in a red cap
her hair seemed to be all falling off.
I didn’t know, but realized it proved to be true—cancer
of the lymph nodes, chemo, radiation…the works.
Or need I mention the fact that I used to love celebrating
New Year Eves as the start of a new beginning, erasing the old.
But, then that year almost ten years ago, the phone rang
at 4 a.m., and full of joy I jumped to answer the well wisher—
found out from Dad my mother had finally died
after nine years of breast cancer, six months of morphine, too much pain.
And the same spring I got my green card and happily reported it
to my father dying himself of yet another cancer. He died on the day
I was to interview for my tenure-track position, they gave me
Friday off, and the weekend to mourn, before interviewing me.
I got the job, and lost a father in one week.
OK, so too much about cancer, but remember that summer
three years ago when for the first time we went to Madrid,
I finally got to see Dürer’s Self-Portrait, that I’ve wanted to see
all my life? It was followed soon after by my citizenship exam
which I passed, followed by my taking of the oath and allegiance
to America. (Am I a traitor of the Serbs?) Well, of course all that was delayed—
my citizenship, the tenure-track job, even our happy marriage
almost ended—by Hurricane Katrina which flooded our home,
destroying the first floor, and almost everything on it.
I am afraid now of happy moments as I know that we will have to
pay for them dearly. I think this as I lie with a foot broken just before going
to see Rome which I have been looking forward to since I first flew an airplane there
on the way to Bombay (when my parents hid the fact a plane had crashed there
that very morning) in 1976. Well, the Forum, the Coliseum, St. Peter’s,
and the Sistine Chapel will have to wait till next year when I heal.
Biljana D. Obradović, a Serbian-American poet and translator, has lived in Yugoslavia, Greece, and India besides the United States. Her first collection of poems, Frozen Embraces, a bilingual edition (Center of Emigrants from Serbia, Belgrade 1997), won the Rastko Petrović Award for the Best Book of 1998. Her second collection, Le Riche Monde, is also a bilingual edition (Raška Škola, Belgrade 1999). Her poems also appear in Three Poets in New Orleans (Xavier Review Press, New Orleans 2000), and a new bilingual poetry collection, Little Disruptions (Mali Poremećaji) is forthcoming from the Niš Cultural Center. Obradovic is Professor of English at Xavier University of Louisiana, New Orleans, where she lives with her husband John Gery and son Petar.