Our Names Long And Foreign

By Kapka Kassabova

Here they are, inside the album,
they squint in the September sun
of nineteen-fifty-eight,
of nineteen-eighty-four.
On this page, a girl is born,
a piece of dark flesh in a dark time.
Class-room, ribbons in the hair.
On this page, she is across the border to get married,
and be lonely and homesick,
and eat from despair.
Here, her brother gets divorced,
the second cousin’s crowned
the town’s beauty and has twins,
the other brother comes back from the war
and almost drowns in the Ohrid lake,
but the pages are mixed up,
this war should come before the rest.
Here, the twins without a mother.
The beautiful go first, and then the good.
And then the other way.
It’s hard to say, the ink of years
is smudged like tears from nineteen-twenty-four.
Here, borders lift, the family meet
after seven years. Nervous smiles.
Their shadows stretch across the pier,
beach, veranda, cypress, pine.
The Ohrid lake has no reflections,
the babies are anonymous,
the children mute with secrets,
the adults in a slow decline.
They wave, they smile,
they’re happy, but they feel
there’s something on the other side
behind the camera.
No matter how much flesh
and hope they throw at it,
it gets them in the end,
them and their children who smile
in black and white, then colour,
then I’m in the picture too.
Hello! we call out one last time
from the shadow of September,
and trip into unmarked containers
stacked in silent Balkan rooms,
our ink smudged,
our names long and foreign
in the mouths of the unborn.

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