(m)other words

Another one of those forbidden words ...
... and other poems by Tzveta Sofronieva


Another one of those forbidden words

if you weren't an angel i would have loved you

would swallow your body and explore every corner of the earth

if you had a body

then you would be much too close you wouldn't be an angel

oxygen burns

you burn yourself with nitrogen which doesn't burn

angels burn

you get burnt by people who don't burn

pathos is indeed old-fashioned

pathos and angels fit well together

if you weren't an angel I'd have loved you

aggressively in the way women love men who aren't angels

women do that and they do it over and over again

liquid nitrogen is always a challenge

in fact it isn't material has wrinkles hurts

becomes fog becomes vapor becomes dark will suffocate

yearning don't disappear


['noch eines der verbotenen worte' was first published in the anthology Verbotene Worte in 2005. Translated from the German by Zaia Alexander at the Villa Aurora, 2005. (c) Tzveta Sofronieva, 2005]


Homeland or Caught in Light

often i ask myself in the dark whether you feel

the glitter of words and see their souls unfurled

around me fall flags and stones while stars are

pouring down around you in my house children cry they'll

never learn the taste of milk on the islands of my soul

play torture me the words shadows the souls of my tongue

untranslatable into verses or into your tribe's tongues

to you i am coming into light far from myself

to be exiled does it mean longing for god who is light

is god not words my tongue wanders inside me

we are alone my tongue and i and we are locked in light

i wish you could understand how much i miss its freedom

for the darkness of the deeps the drowning one is thirsty


Journey to the West

for Margaret Atwood

A word in an unknown language.

I know there must be a sense,

must be a meaning.

It's probably marginal.

Maybe a preposition

or a noun.

Either used often or

too strange for the ear.

Learning all languages

I listen attentively

to the springs of their speech.

I follow the air in the circles

of the vowels coming to me

from mouths of people

close to me and far away;

search for a language in which

I am a word.

I am already acquainted with it. It's foreign.

I have no idea about its syntax and morphology.

Even after studying the grammar for a long time,

I do not appear in the right place in the sentence.

Foreign in my own language, too,

in the Bulgarian spoken on the streets of Sofia

and used in my mom's letters.

What a funny accident - right now,

history sits at my parents' tea-table.

In Bulgaria words slowly acquire

their old meanings.



security and chaos

calmness and desire

peace and the unreachable

security and creativity

peace and dreams

others' dreams

and my dream

the permitted dream

and a piece of the dream I always dreamed. empty


Choice is somewhere else.

Somewhere where there's no choice.

No choice exists

in a room called "Between".


[The three poems above were first published in the Bulgarian collection Chicago Blues in 1992. Translated from the Bulgarian by the poet herself in Joseph Brodsky's masterclass. (c) Tzveta Sofronieva, 1992]



A traveler, I wander between

suitcases and somewhere to belong.

A life lived in bags and bundles

like a person learning to love jazz,

like the lonely, dreaming my own life

I am a soul whose music is a mix

of confused sounds, new, unpredictable,

drunk, tired, murmuring, grumbling,

loving, falling, loving, traveling sounds,


do I change souls when I change the places I inhabit?


[This poem was written in English in 1992 and first published in the Bulgarian collection Conceiving Memory in 1995. (c) Tzveta Sofronieva, 1995]


On happiness after reading Schopenhauer, in California 6.

And while we're on happiness - what a word ! - reread Schopenhauer.

My analysis is comparative, not objective.

Happiness has its lacunae, the English word luck with its u like an a, lacquer

that conceals, a layering.

In Bulgarian happiness is schtastie, you choke on it, all that ch and t, all that cht,

silence, there is silence in happiness,

but also plenty of st, a fear that sets in, stagnant, static, stigmata, steppe, stop.

The phenomenon of schtastie, of things that stick in the throat,

is pleasant to consider.

Not the tortured longing of happiness but an honest stammering

is what surfaces in other languages.

Happiness totters on its p,

Glück bubbles in the gullet,

kasmet, or more exactly kismet,

curdles and goes bitter if you leave it out of the fridge,

you don't want to swallow it and you stutter convulsively

when you pronounce the a, that is to say the i.

For happiness to keep you need the right container.


['Über das Glück nach der Lektüre von Schopenhauer, in Kalifornien' is one part of a cycle of poems written in German at the Villa Aurora, and was first published by akzente (Heft 3 / 2007). It was translated into English by Rufo Quintavalle, 2006, working from Jean Portante's translation into French and in discussion with the poet. (c) Tzveta Sofronieva, 2005.] ..................................................................................................................................


Editor's note: Tzveta Sofronieva writes her poetry in Bulgarian, German and English. She has self-translated several of her own poems, sometimes working together with native-speaker editors. Some of her poems have been translated directly from their original language by a translator(s), others have been translated by a translator(s) working from a translation in an intermediate language, and in discussion with the poet. We have endeavoured to give as much information as possible about the provenance of individual poems here.



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