Translation Tuesday: “Sketch” by Zerina Zahirović

Translated by our editor-at-large Mirza Purić

She died quietly, she died the death of those who love stubbornly, angrily, jealously, secretly, and

elephantishly. At a neighbour’s urge, she treated rheumatoid arthritis with crude oil. The therapy resulted in second-degree burns. On the inside of my eyelids I sketch her knees – two magical orbs of glass – and I rub them with devil’s claw unguent. Prayer and displeasure spill softly in the room in which we are alone and furtive, for

where, why, and for whom does the devil

make unguent from his claw? She died quietly, to render loud some mornings that had tumbled down and stuck into me like hedgehogs. I sketch those mornings as a


crooked bicycle tyre. I push the bicycle uphill into the whitish dawn, I hurry to spill before her the smell of the lead from the newspaper, the smell of the pastry which is a crumbled sketch of her face on the inside of my eyelids. The way I close the distance between us is like the way her eyebrows come together in a frown, she pushes hard sugar cubes into my mouth, and I buzz in the garden for hours and I sip the sap of a liquorice. I sketch her as

the days she painted blue for me.

And green.

And grey.

And red.

Orange. Ochre. Pale yellow.

And turquoise. Marine blue. I sketch those days as

us, her nine grandchildren, nine slices of a cleaved, over-roasted orange pumpkin, picking potato bugs off potato leaves for days on end. I sketch them as her dizzyingly colourful scarves which she ties round our waists, then fastens empty shortening buckets to them and sends us into the crowns of the trees to fetch the sun. I sketch them as a cramp with which I am now fetching her. I sketch them as the car tyre which we, alone, quietly and furtively burn in the back garden late in the morning on Georgemas, so we don’t have to account for it in the stock book of the alchemy storehouse. I sketch them as the wheat which I spill,

for the love of her

for the anger of her

for the wrath of her

for the silence of her

for the distant death of her

for the near death of her

for the brimming bags of our secrets,

on each threshold, lest adders should slither in. The leftover basil brew with which we’d sprayed the potatoes I gave to the goats and they died soon after. She claimed that she didn’t

know it was poisonous and long did we



conspiratorially cry. Long were

others mad at us.

Long did they lock the storehouses.

And lumber rooms. Long did they not

let us be squirrels. I draw her


as an ember in front of the TV, safety pins and bags under the carpet and

swallows which we,

alone, furtively and quietly,

observe as they build a nest under the eaves. I sketch her as the nest and an

apple tree, over twenty years old, mercilessly riven by a shaky hand like a slice of bread, for crowns of trees block the view of the road, split logs roll down my lids into my eye sockets – we should never have given up our



sipping of the juices of grapes, our absorbing of the smell of bran in the mill,

our spilling of a shower of maize in the garden. The grains popped as if in a pot.

And the water spilt on the hot cement dried quickly.

And the day was like embers.

And at night we looked for crickets behind the fridge.

And caught fireflies.

And told secrets.

And whispered nothings.

She died quietly

as a secret

so quietly grandly ostentatiously as an elephant and all the days with her are hedgehogs

stuck in me. I sketch


her shaking hand

her betraying hand

the frightened hand of hers

her featherhand

her birdhand, I sketch it

as the head of an axe above my head – with unexpected accuracy she clips the wings of a hen lest it should escape through the raised crack in the door. I sketch her as numberless cracks and open doors. I sketch her as the smell of vinegar when we prepare rotten apples for the cows for hours. She died quietly and the summer when I triumphantly stand on the top of the haystack onto which I’ve spilt tonnes of salt is much too loud. She died quietly and on the inside of my shut eyelids slow worms slither, with my scream in their wake they squeeze through the broken teeth of the rake with which I used to comb the grass,

with which I now comb the back of a frightened hedgehog,

with which I comb the lines crumpled up in the kaleidoscope she

left me

to replace herself.


She died quietly, convincing others all night that it was dawn and her wardrobes were brimming with hidden toys money coins cans caps chocolate bars pumpkin seeds walnuts acorns acacias rubber bands and elephantine love which thunders in me like a child banging a drum. I sketch her


as a kaleidoscope, a great, big, stubborn, angry sun, on the engraved copper whorl on the wall. They amputated her leg – we wanted to make a prosthesis out of leather, for the devil makes plastic, too, out of his claw. She died after a massive pulmonary embolism, they’d amputated a myriad of her legs.


I watched her suffocate. I watched


her fade, telling myself we would soon be furtively looking for acorns and moving them to the corners of summer.

And of autumn.

And into some drawers of spring – we’re cautious in springtime,

we’re lizards in springtime and we don’t trust the sun. And to the corners of winter,

when we freeze and furiously feed the fire with whatever we get our hands on and

flee deep into the room

deep into jumpers

into summer and deep

under each other’s skin. I thought her leg would grow back, I co-suffered her phantom pain, I thought, I didn’t think, I didn’t believe, I believed, I wanted, I wanted so badly to believe that the two of us would build, quietly and



out of rubber bands caps cans acorns and split logs, a

new leg, an armful of legs, and that every day,

in late summer mornings we would




smear colours on the corners of the day.

She died quietly, treacherously, and the moments when she



and stubbornly sketches herself on the insides of my shut eyelids are

fistfuls of acorns in empty hands and hedgehogs stuck in a




Zerina Zahirović (b. 1991) holds an MA degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Sarajevo and is currently enrolled in its MA program in Comparative Literature and Librarianship. She is an active member of the Sarajevo Writers’ Workshop and has participated in the first Narrative Witness exchange, A Caracas-Sarajevo Collaboration, produced by the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (US). Zahirović’s poetry and prose were published in the multilingual Narrative Witness collection put out by IWP. Her poetry has also appeared in H.O.W. Journal.

Mirza Purić (b. 1979) is a translator and musician. A graduate of the University of Vienna, he has been an Editor-at-Large with Asymptote since 2014.