Poems by Tsvetanka Elenkova

From Crookedness (2013):



When you hold a bottle and hear the wind
through the open throat
when you put a conch to your ear
the echo pain from the emptied body
and when a single slight hiss
as of a punctured bicycle tyre
finally fills the empty space
like a newborn’s wail
Take it carefully in your arms
and give it or don’t to its mother
but take it carefully
it’s so fragile all cartilage
Give it water or leave it on the shelf
by your head




You step on the swollen lens
of its body
thrown onto dry land which makes it
more slippery
You hardly keep your balance
with your hands tied
and then to be safer
they mourn you in a boat
hanging from a cross in the sky
the same a mythological creature
once held on a plate
The balance is simple –
fish bones in a skull
And there above you
milk-filled breasts
cut from crags




The line of your shoulder
or that sheet
is the only border
between past and future
your thumb passes over
when hitch-hiking
or learning tenses
not vertically like an emperor
or salt-cellar
or pistol which can also be
a blessing
not the pressing down of walls
before they collapse
but like the four tunnels
we travel through with
our infant son
who doesn’t distinguish them from bridges
that telescope of a half-
clenched fist
so you can focus better
he sticks his finger




One click
and you’re on the outside
or have lost a finger
children especially
with every folding-unfolding
of wings
I saw on TV
the loading of cartridges
of tubes for gas
buttons even –
the tapping of blind men’s sticks
on studded pavements by a crossing –
this absolute unconditional fit
whatever comes before
though often it’s euphoria
has nothing in common with
a gentle knock at the door




A sting
after you have lost
your finger



From The Seventh Gesture (2010):



Some buy leather leads for dogs of a definite length. Others prefer automatic leads with a reel. You let the dog run at will but you decide when to retrieve it. I set mine free. But two or three times it ran away and came back covered in wounds, so now I set it free but only in my yard. My dog howls at the squirrels, in the evening at the moon. And when we pile firewood next to the fence it climbs up and jumps over it. And again comes back with wounds. After that I decided to keep it on a chain. For my dog to be free of wounds.




If skin has memory, as doctors maintain, it means the house you leaned on last, the sea you swam in, have not forgotten. Only my dresses have forgotten because I take them to be dry-cleaned or wash them often. But our sea, which is so enclosed streams can’t reach it – the vertical wall under the eaves the wet can’t get to – they have not forgotten. Like a pelican’s bill or a camel’s hump, they save the memory for a rainy day. Like a victim’s nails, which still keep hairs from a killer’s skin.




There is a wire between the thighs and palate. A wire on which the organs are hung like laundry. Trousers with their two legs, corsets, handkerchieves of various sizes. In a gust of wind the line comes undone and they all fall down. There is a wire that conducts electricity, and at each end a small tongue. Sometimes there’s a short circuit and the electricity board sends someone out. They open the door of the meter affixed to the wall, check the seals, you pay up. If you do not wish to pay, they lay your wire underground.




I want you exhausted like a blue cloud which has just stopped raining, like a mature brandy, like a snail whose shell has been broken, which ever so slowly descends a steep slope, like laundry which dried long ago, like an old woman’s mottled hands, I want you exhausted like a blue cloud hanging over me, as I wait at a red light and a warm spring breeze rises, melting the snow, sifting the leaves, and we sit in short sleeves at the café tables, I want you exhausted like a sliced liver.




With finger on mouth, when you do not want to wake someone or the teacher walks in. He puts a finger to his mouth when he wants to quieten the class. Or he tells you straight to shut up. But what intrigues me most is the way it slides down, pulls away from the lips. After you’ve imposed the silence. Some just loosen their hand, others draw it out to point, others hold it longer like this. And a fold in the fingers, bliss from the tiredness of the unwonted gesture. This is how the Byzantine iconographers first painted them. The saints.



Translated from Bulgarian by Jonathan Dunne

English editions of Tsveta’s books Crookedness and The Seventh Gesture are published by Tebot Bach and Shearsman Books