Biography of Lidija Cvetkovic
Lidija Cvetkovic (born 1967) is a contemporary Australian poet.
Lidija Cvetkovic was born in the former Yugoslavia and emigrated to Australia with her family in 1980. She earned a BA at the University of Queensland and has worked as a teacher and currently as a psychologist. Her writing draws on her Yugoslav heritage and the former country's history in an intensely lyrical manner. Her War is Not the Season for Figs won the 2003 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize and the 2004 Anne Elder Award.
Lidija Cvetkovic's Works:
War Is Not The Season For Figs. (UQP, 2004)
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Lidija Cvetkovic Poems
A Return To Belgrade
In this grey town, Popa’s ‘white bone among the clouds’ the buildings stand still like shocked witnesses.
Sour Cabbage, Roses & Lies
After a decade of absence it’s the crumbling facades that strike me — chunks of paint split off like states on the map of former Yugoslavia. In the tenement flats everyone is spring cleaning —
SOUR CABBAGE, ROSES & LIES
After a decade of absence it's the crumbling facades that strike me — chunks of paint split off like states on the map of former Yugoslavia. In the tenement flats everyone is spring cleaning — tapestries, quilts, rugs expel the odours of winter months. Uncle Uros, not uncle by blood but by virtue of his age, welcomes me the traditional way: a teaspoon of preserved quince with a sip of plain water, a shot of plum brandy, and a cup of Turkish coffee. Dark sediment shifts invisibly as we talk. To close the ritual we turn over our cups. Fare unfolds before us. He orients me on the city map marking crosses where bombs fell, following with pen the ‘charred alley-ways' of his beloved Belgrade. He'll be off at dawn to queue for sugar — The worst thing's the company in these queues the fools who swear by Milosevic to the grave while he pockets their pension. I too had a chance to emigrate, but the state offered us this flat…then my wife died. It was then he planted the mass of roses by the wall. Over the years he's guided them to cover the cracks. April now. The wall exposed; mere buds. Next day uncle Uros's knee is bleeding — something about a slope and rain and a neighbour who was supposed to help and the son who hadn't called — Liars the lot of them! I ask about the opposition rally while dabbing yellow on his flowering knee — A mere two thousand, if you believe the Politkia. And the familiar smell I cannot place — Sour cabbage of course!from the basement where we crammed in round pickling vats playing cards and chess when the blasted sirens kept us up. One good thing, young Slobodan learned to play chess; I let him have my kind now and then. I'll be damned if I let his namesake win in September. He is finished! Traitor to his own name. We'll pickle him! When his knee stops bleeding, he purs us sljivovica — To clean the blood from the inside. In unison we sink them — To life! And he totters off to tend the roses, while I feel the blood rush, my cheeks bloom.
Conversations with my great-grandmother 1 What was it like when you were young? War had left its talismans . . . From forests and fields we brought in bombs and metal wrecks — a strange sort of harvest — to melt and shape and sharpen into picks, sickles, axes, ploughs. We trusted neither land nor sky and prayed and crossed ourselves whenever in the open. We grew cherries, sold cheese wove hemp into rope and cloth; we thanked the lord for the corn bread loaf coarse as it was it glowed like a jewel in our mud and straw hut. What was it like to be a woman back then? My lot could not afford a daughter, though I washed and scrubbed and loved them all I could. On my wedding day when I clung and cried, my mother consoled, ‘You'll wear a cotton skirt there you'll eat bread made of wheat, white as snow'. As I rode off on the cart drawn by our cow the accordion began to play, I turned to wave . . . but the sky had collapsed behind you. And on our wedding night . . . First night and he found the frayed seam of you. He pulled loose a thread to undo all you'd stitched up, when in a tangled mess I fell at his feet, ‘Don't waste your tears. The land is dry. We're out of salt. Cry me a barrel by morning!' I faced the next day split as a fallen fruit, plum-blue. You became an ice-crusted country Your voice a fish that nudged in the deep. Year after year it was so . . . with him devastating and you picking up. He felled saplings, spoiled crops, with a deluge of fists he pounded down. In secret I collected seeds, sowed and tilled the land I knew so well in darkness. I carried the sting of nettle, the strength of oak. When it got too much, my eyes would follow a fly spiral up. As it'd settle in a corner something in me would still with it. Was there God? It was useless with God. When first I turned to him he spat it was my lot! Even the saints betrayed me. Sweet martyr Paraskeva, giver of sight, whose icon I adorned with flax and birch, turned a blind eye. So I called on the Great Mother, ‘Strike with your lightning! Turn him to stone! Cut the thread, his life you weave', I called into a hole that with bare hands I'd dug. Silence but for the echo of your plea the crude snigger of crickets. I sought a gipsy for a curse — ‘Scoop the dust from his footprints wherewith he leaves his soul cut a lock of hair, his powers it holds, and coat with clay or mud. As the flames crumble mud to dust so will wither he.' The axe was the last resort? That night I breathed relief — an empty space beside me. He kept the spare axe under the mattress — I felt its head at the small of my back the handle braced my spine. Skipping the ritual of plaiting and looping covering my hair with scarf, bareheaded I tip-toed past my little ones to look for him in the yard. It was another drunken night with mates and booze and cards. He'd passed out beneath the cherry tree where I found him sleeping soundly and blossoms falling, falling . . . I crossed myself for forgiveness more out of habit that faith, I gripped the axe handle lifting it above my head — 2 Twelve at the time, standing at the window above her daughter counted while she fingered a wart on her thumb, ‘How like a toadstool', she mused as she set about to uproot it, ‘ . . . five six seven', by the time she drew blood she'd counted the last thud. Twelve resounded in her head like a spell of sleep till the buzzing of a fly brought her back and she heard the familiar drip from the white belly of cheese hung in a gauze sack, ‘Now like a cherry bitten in half'.
RETURN TO BELGRADE
In this grey town, Popa's ‘white bone among the clouds' the buildings stand still like shocked witnesses. Pigeons coo in the ruins of a high rise. Amid dandelions and debris a security guard dozes in the sun in his hand a cigarette smokes itself . . . pigeons overhead, ash in his lap. Refugees sell Lucky Strike and Marlboro smuggled in from Kosovo they cane smell a cop a mile off can disappear in a blink. They are the invisible people they are the dirty laundry in Milosevic's basket piled underground far from the hole in the wall where he drops his bundle. Meanwhile, in full light of public eye Slobo's making links crossing bridges he's rebuilt bragging of progress to visitors from the East. Everybody's working on an exit scheme. In an internet café a guy with dreads extrapolates the physics of tofu to a blonde bombshell who's sipping Nescafé — the latest thing to hit Belgrade since the air raid. On a street corner a woman, barefoot sings old socialist songs — Druze Tito mi ti se kunemo da sa tvoga puta ne skrenemo . . . Nostalgia tugs at the heart of a man passing by the heart which lies behind ‘I Love USA' rebellious on his t-shirt and he drops a Deutschmark at the altar of her feet. She kisses him not for the Deutschmark but for paying his respects. A red smudge brands his forehead like once a star.
A SEED, A CRUTCH, A HEART
1 from the pig's slit throat a red carpet unrolls all his life he's been fed for this the matron of honour lays birds' eggs in her braid they'll seal the nuptial kiss with their hatching the bride's kin descends from the hills making wide gestures with splintered hands, carrying the scent of humus and wolves they meet at crossroads and laugh through the ruins of their teeth as they hand the groom a gun when he shoots the apple off the bride's head a seed flies into her eye and grows into a seedling clumsy virgins flirt with guests' lapels, pin rosemary for fidelity, flaunt drops of blood from pricked fingers the bride holds back from pulling a loose thread off the priest's vestment lest it unstitch him she back-flips her bouquet towards a young widow marked with mourning, but the wind blows it back the groom's hand mounts the bride's over the knife his thumb crushes a frosted rose beneath the arbour when midnight snips the marionette strings the bride and groom collapse, cannot hold each other up the groom chops the slender apple tree and carves crutches, etches a heart in her iris 2 an apple tree grows from youth's eye youth saw through its white bow an apple thumped youth on the head youth was never the same again they cut the apple tree to protect youth somebody etched a heart on the stump that's all that remains in youth's eye and a flicker now and then
A PORTRAIT OF MY FATHER
My father draws a blade along the wired frame as we watch perfect rectangles of honeycomb topple into a stainless steel bowl. From a hard earned 78 centimetre TV screen a voice fires . . . massacres mass graves like bullets into our lounge room shooting father. Blood thick as honey runs along his fragile frame. On the antenna outside crows congregate for attack on the raw liver and heart he set out as bait. Father waits by the shed, air rifle aimed, and fires a bullet of revenge. Long ago in his motherland as he dozed beneath a poplar, a snake supped nectar from his angel trumpet ear, the translucent vessel of his wisdom. He foresaw the scenes that flash before us on the screen. So we packed our grief and headed for the land of his dreams the step-motherland who'd gag his deepest cries with lumps of creamed honey. I watched my father's tongue sink to the clay riverbed of his mouth like a stone. My ageing father nursing his swollen knees collapsed under two decades of laying tiles, when at dusk he'd return throwing dollars in the air like pollen. My father rescuing drowning bees and ducklings from his pool; stuck in the prickly middle between mother and me — calling truce between the warring sides; bringing in honey unaware of the sticky trail he leaves behind.
THE BODY'S INNUENDO
1 At first I only sensed the obvious — in the body's crypts there were signs but I couldn't read their textured meaning — there was nothing but the shedding season. I mapped the crests and troughs looking to heat to tell me the seasons; but the knowledge was always retrospective (you only know the highest point once you have fallen — and because) I'd carry the sky in my pocket-mirror if my iris would flush lilac in the bower. I'd grow a sparse black lace of plumes from my elbow to my wrist, speckles of my skin. Instead I must decipher this body's innuendo. 2 We row in the shallows, suggestion of shadow; tannins' wash of gold makes luminous beneath ornament of rotten log, grace of stone. We glide beneath the bellies of water birds. Effortlessly they double themselves in the water's black stillness. The repetition of ripples, comforting as when your tongue through the dark of me like a leaf fallen in sweet water. Loops of light sew the skin of paperbarks. Without rain the logs will elbow through to the harsh light of day to become dead-wood. 3 You hold my hand through the slit of plastic curtain. The doctor comments on my socks and my womb appears on a screen, displaced there, lunar, strewn with shadows. I wish for a better reception as she takes the measurement, the egg's diameter. I turn my head to the side — through the window a frangipani blooms; I can almost smell its sickly clusters of scent. The sky presses down with all its grey weight. I feel your fingers come to life as I clench my fist around them.
The Body's Innuendo
At first I only sensed the obvious — in the body’s crypts there were signs but I couldn’t read their textured meaning — there was nothing but the shedding season.
What was it like when you were young? War had left its talismans . . . From forests and fields we brought in bombs and metal wrecks —
A Seed, A Crutch, A Heart
from the pig’s slit throat a red carpet unrolls all his life he’s been fed for this
A Portrait Of My Father
My father draws a blade along the wired frame as we watch perfect rectangles of honeycomb topple into
A Portrait Of My Father
My father draws a blade
along the wired frame
as we watch perfect rectangles
of honeycomb topple into
a stainless steel bowl.
From a hard earned
78 centimetre TV screen
a voice fires . . . massacres mass graves