Po-Chop: Lidija Dimkovska: National Soul

And we look for the Macedonian soul
among the number-plates on God’s East-West highway
in cardboard boxes labeled ‘Do not open! Genes!’
loaded on the backs of the transparent dead.
But one cannot rely on the dead.
The dead are illegal immigrants,
their swollen organs penetrating other peoples’ lands . . .
Lidija Dimkovska’s collection of poems pH Neutral History (Copper Canyon Press, September 2012)—translated from the Macedonian by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid—is a tug-of-war between personal and collective history as the speaker attempts to find neutral grounds between those two disparate worlds. With their electrode-like imagery, Dimkovska’s poems are the opposite of neutral; they depict an imbalanced world in which the speaker is torn between the dead and the living, the past and the present.

 

Divided into the chapters “Poems about Life and Death,” “Recognitions,” and “Ballads about Life and Death,” Dimkovska’s poems travel a great distance as they tackle themes of homelessness, loss of communication, questions of spirituality, and the decomposition of the human body and countries. Thanks to her wonderful translators we are able to appreciate the following lines from her poem “National Soul,” which addresses issues of geography and how they relate to national identities.

 

“And we look for the Macedonian soul
among the number-plates on God’s East-West highway
in cardboard boxes labeled ‘Do not open! Genes!’
loaded on the backs of the transparent dead.
But one cannot rely on the dead.
The dead are illegal immigrants,
their swollen organs penetrating other peoples’ lands . . .”

 

The search for “the Macedonian soul” on highways and in boxes suggests the absurdity of a nation’s identity in the face of borders being redrawn and people migrating back and forth. The dead are now illegal immigrants because their resting places are no longer within their country of origin. In fact, the dead are still travelling back and forth on “God’s East-West highway” and are considered intruders wherever they take a rest.

 

The body in particular, as a storehouse for genes, can’t be a locus for a country’s identity when it turns “transparent” and “swollen.” Dimkovska seems to suggest that the notion of national identity itself is transparent and swollen.

 

In a world where everything is at flux—people’s homes, political systems, territories, and languages—everyone faces the same ending: to be forgotten. “One cannot rely on the dead” is a statement that brings to mind loss of origin and ancestry. The “pH neutral history” Dimkovska’s speaker attempts to find does not exist; as a result, history becomes a burden—a parcel “loaded on the backs of the transparent dead.”

More Lidija Dimkovska:

Buy pH Neutral History at Copper Canyon Press

Read Danijela Marinković’s interview with Dimkovska

Read about her book Do Not Awaken Them With Hammers (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006) 

 


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