–for Goran Simic

I dropped into sleep while reading a book of poems

by the Bosnian friend I write for here. They’re brilliant,

full of red flowers and graves and wrenching accounts

of his homeland during the 90s. They lend some perspective


on our COVID-19 scourge, which I don’t mean to downplay,

much less to discount the unforgivable part

in worsening it of our leader, jackass and villain.

Goran’s a Serb, and his wife was a Muslim woman:


during the troubles, he really had nowhere to turn.

His poetry makes my guts knot; it’s not a sort

you’d think of as soporific, but being so anxious

for three generations of family has made me restless


almost each night, and so of course I was tired.

I’d been sitting in my wife’s dear grandfather’s rocker,

handsome but sternly wooden. I still nodded off,

and when I came to, I noticed I had drooled


on my shirtfront, like any old fool might do; and yet

the sun of afternoon through the kitchen window

turned even the spot of spittle to something lovely.

Unlikely enough, and the next things to snare my attention


were a once-vivid mum in a glass and a reddish balloon

left from my wondrous partner’s 64th birthday,

back before we knew what the world was in for–

though that contemptible leader had been forewarned.


Our grandchildren’s eyes turned bright as my wife blew out candles,

the smaller kids batting balloons like that one up

into air… All that before some weeks unraveled

and people got sick, many died, and that balloon


and that flower, sole survivors, puckered and shrank

to half their old sizes and somehow looked so sad

that I went back– it makes no sense, I know–

to those agonizing poems of plunder and murder.