Alexandru Potcoavă


copyright: Wilhelm Gombos








they sent you to isonzo a compass hanging from your neck

the cadet stars on your epaulets and a puzzled look

probably they put you in the ground like that

with the compass the stars and the perplexity of gaze

in the kuk cemetery of štanjel

your mother received the photograph of the grave

for she wasn’t allowed in the war zone

and what an imposing cemetery it was!

the hundreds of crosses topped by the inscription

filiis optimis – patria grata

all solemn and cursedly whitewashed and irrevocable


on the back of the newspaper page that you put aside

at home announcing in a black frame

the sarajevo assassination

your mother noted her expenses of march 1921

in romanian lei life began again

while štanjel was given to yugoslavia

and now it’s in slovenia

your graves have become green meadows

just the monument with the inscription

to the best sons – the grateful homeland

is still standing

before my eyes as long as i see it

and tell you:

a homeland that no longer exists

remembers you

through a foreigner






we were awakened by bursts of machine-gun fire

we didn’t know who it was anyway it didn’t matter

my mother is muslim my father serbian

orthodox if they hadn’t shot at us

the others would have done it

that’s why

my father traded the house for a car and we

fled as fast as we could

from the little bosnian town in the mountains


at first we were stopped by the muslims

my mother knew them and they let us pass

my father saved us from serbian soldiers

and then we arrived

in a less exposed town


one morning my father took my brother

and by mail plane

they made their way to belgrade

i continued travelling with my mother

by bus to serbia

at the first checkpoint they took

a muslim off the bus and shot him at the roadside

just like that

« are there others? » asked the serbs

« no, there aren’t any more » ventured the driver and when he

started the engine he said to

my mother that the next stop could

be the last one for us too

the border with serbia was a bridge

very crowded those days our only chance was

the air raid siren that had sounded and until

american missiles hit the ground

the customs officers let the convoy cross quickly without

looking too closely


in belgrade in the end our whole

family was reunited and we made the decision

to take refuge in germany

in timisoara however we missed the train and


we never left


for ten years we’ve been waiting for romanian

citizenship every year we report to the

commission i’ve learned the language meanwhile

the geography and history of the country we know

all the verses of the national anthem by heart since

that’s what we’re asked for the exam they check

the manual right in front of us so we can’t cheat

we know the monasteries of stephen the great like

the streets of our hometown in the mountains of bosnia

to better express myself in romanian: holy shit

i don’t know what they expect from us

and so you alex how did you end up here?


« romania wasn’t my choice

i happened to come into the world here »






he remained alone all his friends were dead

and they started playing football in the street

we surrounded him in the foundations of the public housing tower

from time to time he would raise

the tube and blow a

projectile from behind the concrete pillar

i knew he was going to remain paperless if we didn’t kill him on time


but then he shouted « i surrender » he came out

to be seen and he threw down the blowgun

we couldn’t kill a prisoner but

nor could we let him go back to the match with

those who were shot like big strapping men


over my knees i smashed the blowgun in pieces i tied

robert to the pillar of the foundation with a cable and dammit

i forgot him – the others were also waiting

to receive a pass


he was untied that evening by two militiamen who

were passing by there and since then

no one has shot at him anymore with paper arrows

no matter how much he cried and begged us


in one year the building was completed

in another year after the lunch was prepared

and robert sat down with his grandparents

they were at the very last dish he had barely tasted when

suddenly his head fell into the plate

with the fried ham and potatoes

in december ’89






at four years of age among the means your sister

was my girlfriend we slept in the afternoon in the

same kindergarten bed head to foot – i don’t think i told you that

i’m telling you right now one day i snuggled

under the duvet i begged your sister to take off her pajamas

and i kissed her in the place we know


the two of us stephen we shot each other later

with paper balls

torn from our school notebooks and glued

with spit

your sis remained my girl and only towards

grade 4 we separated

she found another one then another

but we two guys kept shooting at each other

in the street unconcerned


your sister got married she already has two children and

last time i saw you in the hospital

you couldn’t get out of bed you had to

recover after the appendicitis operation

i brought you oranges the next day you were dead

at the autopsy they found that at the same time as the appendix

someone had also removed a kidney

i went back to the room and took the bag of fruit

i gave them to other people and i thought

that maybe right now someone was pissing with your kidney

or with somebody else’s who is already tasting

the oranges brought for you






i had two of those stories without which

my life would never have been my life today

nor moreover the life of my father

who told them to me again and again

until the day i listened to them


in the first i saw

francis of assisi come out one

morning in the courtyard of the monastery

he sat down on the edge of the fountain

a branch in his hands and he started

with the fingertips from one point to another to tap it

eyes closed in enthralment

when towards the end suddenly widening eyes

he found himself surrounded by the friars minors and he

told them: « but why are you all as if struck

by grace or maybe you’re deaf to the singing

that god brought out with my fingers from this

sacred piece of dead wood? »

however, the brothers turned their backs on him and they

went away – « ‘oh but oh would you have wanted

instead that i change this dead branch into a snake for you? »

tried again the voice of the saint but they’d already gone off

slamming the doors of their cells


but my father never stayed on a single story

he went on to the second

with the sixty franciscans from the arad monastery

that the soviet soldiers could only get out

feet first


now it’s up to you alex to see what you

understand of all this

but after i came of age i left in italy and

i was a novice candidate and monk after

taking two vows out of the total of three

that is the vows of poverty and chastity but not

the vow of obedience – my nature

did not allow me to accept the last one

and all this to please the lord

and my friars minors until they surprised me

digging the cloister garden in a t-shirt

with che guevara printed on it

i explained to them in vain that i was just a

fan of andy warhol they didn’t want

to know about it and the penance was to send me

to syria for two whole months


and when i came back

full of bruises and covered with spit

the franciscans looked at me through their glasses

and they put me in charge of religion classes

out of the blue a young girl had asked me

if it’s not a sin to have sex

with her lover before the wedding

i smiled and replied that it’s only love

that really counts before god

and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back

the council of elders decided that i had to again

serve time working in syria


fed up with the traps and arab humiliations

i threw my monk’s robe in the nettles

i came back to timisoara and

i got a job as a bartender here at the papillon cafe

to dive deep into the world

i got a tattoo

of samoa – in the middle there are three empty circles

for the years when i was not aware of life

and all around like rings on a tree trunk

the next twenty years well filled

and this on the right shoulder because on the left

i’m going to get a tattoo with the family’s coat of arms

in baroque style i think i still owe that

to my father


between two night shifts at the bar i studied

the arts and during an internship on restorations in italy i

brought out a titian from the back of an anonymous landscape

 »bravo zoli » the owner said to me and he put me to work

flaking off all the paint from a dozen paintings in his collection

as if every sheet of old wallpaper hide

a strongbox forgotten and full


after graduation i tried to get a job

restoring art works in churches

at least one calvary somewhere at least one crown

of thorns but nowhere it looks like all

the jesuses of this country are in perfect condition

i prayed then for a little sign and then

my uncle had just died


jewish like my mother my uncle would have wanted

to see me circumcised but not me nor

my mother my father said « son

i have no other stories to tell you

do whatever you want »

this detail bothers me and

i think i want to give up the foreskin

who knows maybe the restoration orders will pour in

from the jews although they are fewer and fewer here

although the synagogues are in ruin or

have become concert halls


in the end if i do it

i do it and basta it’s not by chance that i put

a dice-shaped piercing in my chin

a sign that i take life

as it comes



  • excerpts from the book « One day we won`t recognize each other anymore »



Translation: Howard Scott

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