from Little Zebras: Selected Poems

Ana Ristović

Little Zebras

The more I read
the more books
resemble little zebras
their spines bend under the thumb
anticipating the riders
they won't buck off.

Books worthy of the black row
are worthy of words,
those worthy of words
are worthy of the white space,
those worthy of white space
are worthy of experience
tamed for the ages
the thin gaps between lines;
without books,
no padded lining
for a winter coat.

The more I read, the less
I know about poetry . . . 
The more inept hunter of little zebras I become
along the soft slopes of knees and table legs.

In the realm of the well-read,
the wise and adept
examine the zebra's teeth, measure the width of her thighs
and assess her stock,
I seek the sweep of her tail,
the play of her black and white stripes . . .

Grain of Salt
(ballad of adultery)

On a spring afternoon
leave your apartment
to seek out a lover.

Instead of heading to a coffee shop,
enter a department store to pick up
      olives, Camembert cheese, shampoo
and a packet of washers
for a leaky faucet.

All morning your skirt
      a cresset
heralding saints
and a whirlwind of holidays.

All afternoon and evening
      your skirt, a lid
for boiling water, distilling
a grain of salt.

So much water
      for a single grain.

So many washers
for just a few drops.


Black Radish

I grate a black radish
as God grates snow,

I rub the spicy flakes
on the bamboo cutting board
they shoot onto the table,
the chairs, the kitchen floor, my hands.

I cut my finger
the whiteness
soaks up the blood.

God and I grate
in unison: He without losing
any delightful zest,
and I minus a few drops of blood
soothing a heat
I'm oblivious to.

So we grate,
He and I,
and grate one another,
until exhausted
by the same

Outside, the blizzard
howls, with ease
and without a care,
buries our


translated from the Serbian by Steven and Maja Teref