Branka Selaković

Branka Selaković (1985, Serbia) writes poetry, prose, and essays. She has published four novels and a book of poetry. She received the 2016 Miroslav Dereta Award for best novel, the Nušić Award for best satirical story, the Zlatna Plaketa Award, and the Sveti Sava Best Essay Award. She has worked as a philosophy teacher, as well as a journalist for Al Jazeera Balkans.






Branka Selakovic




Dear Earnest,

I know you don’t like it when I call you by your name, your cheeks blush out of a sudden and sparks are shining from your mother of pearl colored eyes. Calling you by your name is reserved for extended family members, pub acquaintances and the postman who regularly brings you bills, flyers from local home appliance services, food delivery, magazines, and letters from enamored students of your creative course. What you expect from me is an ornate whisper of silky words in your ear. Ery, Neste, Sweetie, Darling, Sweetheart, Angel, Honey, Pear, My one and only…I gave you a promise that I will as soon as I thread on an unknown land and avoid excessive emotionality and analyze the societies I am a part of. I will tell you about the paintings I see, unusual phenomena, fashion, weather and scents. Is that all right with you? We have not defined everything, and nothing is definite with you writers. Your words are stretchy, multi-layered and may swallow. I was able to immerse myself in your long descriptions of vineyards, flowering branches, and then slip into the jaws of dramatic worlds, the continuum of search, mental elements, and explosions that blow muscles into the air. And you were able to wrap love songs in black canvases and place them in ossuaries from which I ran all my life. I’ll be fine. Once. It would be easier for us to see each other via Skype, even without a single spoken word, but you persistently refuse to keep up with the digital age in which we live.

I don’t have daylight in the room on the third floor of the dilapidated building. There is a window all right, but instead of a view of a park, a kiosk with delicious fast food, I look at a dark gray wall engraved with initials and dates. I touch the outside wall of someone’s room with my hand and imaging that person doing the same. The mattress on which I put my tired and worried thoughts memorized the large, heavy body of the previous tenant. I lie in the imprint of an unknown person and I am trying to adjust to the depression. This can be a good topic for your course participants. I have a lamp under whose warm light I write the letters. Next time I will buy a perfume of playful drops so to spray the envelope, and who knows, maybe there is fragrant paper in bookstores if anyone writes them anymore.


♥ S.



My dear,

Tonight I read about a little Italian town nestled among rocks. There is a beautiful sandy beach, I saw on the booklet left in the public toilet. I would like the ship of destiny to stuck us there, at least for a while. (Stuck, read well. My ports have always been forcibly chosen. Someone else decided for me. Might is right. I think of folk wisdom. How many life lessons in short sentences.) I also read about a family living in cold Siberia, self-sustaining, without contact with the outside world. The short text was accompanied by a photo. As if they came out of Tolstoy’s novels. This is the exact image the writer gave in his descriptions. Siberia is an endless expanse of freedom that increases and multiplies the deeper you go. The building I live in is full of people from the Eastern Bloc. The hallways smell of borscht. The neighbor, Aglaja from Moscow, gave me a bowl full of cooked vegetables. More or less, artists are housed in the building. Some ran for fame, promised engagements, adventure, love, poverty, bans and political parties. When a conversation about politics and war begins, I withdraw, and they engage in verbal and physical battles, everyone proving the rightness of their view. Then, with broken noses, they kiss, toast and swear politicians, sons of bitches, their semen, and curse. The Slaves have a web of curses that make you shiver. When everything calms down in the hallways, the quick paws of rats echo.

I visit galleries and bookstores. I buy damaged books at a discount. A cute Hindu gave me some encyclopedias. I showed the point on the globed where I came from. He hugged me and told me he felt my pain. I cried briefly and told him that I was over it yet. Of course, I lied.


The weeping S.




There was a program on television for some thousands-year-old tree. It doesn’t say anything about the tree but about the people who pass under it.

When I draw outlines in the air, sometimes a mouth twists in an arc that might look like a smile, greeting the character I saw in the shape of a mold, breaking shadows on the table, in the layout of the parquet floor, on the improper coating thick layer varnish. A squirrel is hiding at the closet door. There is a new dress in the closet. I bought it from a sold painting, in fact from a sold sketch. Sitting in front of Jorge’s used bicycle shop (I was telling you about him, a Mexican who has no idea where the Balcans are, and is not even sure if Europe exists or is it another communist conspiracy), I was drawing lines in a sketchbook, trying to catch the scene on the opposite side of the street. A five maybe six years old boy sitting on the sidewalk crumbling a piece of bread to birds. A young woman passing peeks into the work and offered six dollars for it. Jorge told me I had no idea about business. He’s probably right, but I had a good portion of wings for lunch and bought a flower-sprinkled dress at a thrift store that I wore for my first time visit to Central Park. It wiped out the trees. When I close my eyes, the scents remind me of my childhood.

I switched the room. The owner of the building liked I was quiet, meticulous and that I paint. The rest he despises, at least he says so, he does not tolerate their accent, music, arguing in the hallways, cooking smells, children crying, but he is not immune to dollars. I will have to make a portrait of his family. Jorge told me that I had no idea for negotiating.


Both yours and mine S.




I’m drinking tea and I’m thinking of you. I blow into the liquid, impatient to take a sip, and then I burn my tongue. The same thing every morning all over again, you told me a hundred times to drink a glass of water immediately after brushing my teeth, feed the cells, and only then to make tea or coffee, make the bed and iron the wardrobe. And, that wardrobe. I never took a day to iron everything I washed the previous weekend and hang it on hangers so that I don’t have to go out just before leaving the house. It would be nice to have those dressing rooms and a sofa in the middle. It doesn’t matter, I won’t talk about home decoration, lack of space and cheap subtenant rooms. I don’t know if I told you I portrayed the owner of the building family and his mother’s poodle separately, so he was generous to me when Aglaia and her husband moved out. I got their studio for the same sum I paid for the room. Jorge shook his head, but I was proud of myself. This is progress, but I am afraid to rejoice. (Don’t laugh hard, you’ll cry, my grandmother said.) I was terrified that everything could disappear in an instant. One building, the entrance of which I looked at, watching people rushing in and out every hour, was demolished. I don’t know when the big machines got on the terrain and, like in a child’s game, knocked it down easily as if it were made of Lego bricks. An excavator bucket (If that big machine is called) crushed someone’s memories, dreams, steps, tears, history and geography of life and dug a hole in which they poured a lot of concrete and claws of reinforcement protruded from it. All in one day. I often feel disoriented. I just pick an object, a shop or a corner, as a landmark and I remember well the number of steps, the color of the façade, the furrow on the asphalt, the traffic sign, and the next day it is gone. My sense of smell still serves me well and I smell the way back.

Today I was invited by an organization that helps young people in Queens. They would like me to hold a two-week painting course. I was also in a gallery. The woman to whom I handed over the material nodded at everything I said. She measured me from head to toe and boldly asked me if I was a terrorist.

Is the soul of the world or only my eyes do not see the colors? Say I it‘s up to me! It better be up to me.

Worried S.





At first, had the feeling that I was tapping into a place, and then I started to hit the ground harder. I’m still sinking, even though I woke up. I’m trying to call out for you, you hear me and you’d give me a hand, but you don’t understand what I’m talking about and you’re giving me a hand, but you don’t understand what I’m talking about and you’re not fast enough. I’m struggling for breath, my throat constricts. They took me away. I have never been in a hole, and now I am a hole full of monsters. I was taken away. I did not object. They put me in a truck and…why am I in a hole now despite everything I did to prevent it from happening? Why didn’t you come with me? Why didn’t you want to marry me? I’m not good enough? I’m not smart enough? Am I not pretty enough? I’m not in the coordinate system written for you with your origin? Fuck you, Ernest! Fuck you! At the end of the day, no one cares about you. People are only good if they need you, as long as you don’t threaten them. They pull the people aside. People want to grab the colors, not to share your grayness.

“Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods and chronicle their return. With us, time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one center of pain“, this was written by Oscar Wilde in a hotel room in glittering Paris. I could never say that this is a city where people are dying. He wants, loves, deceives, drives you crazy yes, but to be a proper dining place …no. No one is allowed to die in Paris. I admire the proud and cold people who can’t move a grain of emotion in their intentions. I stand between two worlds: the imitation of cold-bloodedness and fiery death. Everything is a demonic beauty that intoxicates. My civil conscience forces me to dress decently, to comb my hair, to pay tribute, and to throw garbage in the right place for that. My civic conscience does not allow me to pull the trigger.

Ernest, maybe death is in color?

Frightened S.


Hi E.,


I will call this letter “Footages“. Let it be a stylistic exercise for a creative writing teacher.




Imagine your life being a movie. At this point, the closing ending credits with the list of characters, assistant cameraman, director of photography, screenwriter, driver, costume designer or sponsors are of no importance. The quality of the camera is of no importance nor the talent of the one who holds it. Be it a black and white film whose shots change following the narrator’s story, in this case, me, which the heroes justify with their expressive gestures and occasional scenes of characteristic activities. There is a five-second pause between the footage that tells one story until the next. Then the canvas is completely black. The spectator’s breathing and the work of someone’s intestines can be heard in the hall. One, two, three, four, five, and exactly half the time until the next issue, a new frame follows, a new character is introduced. The audience continues to nibble on chips, seeds, popcorn, churros. Sacrilege of a masterpiece, many would think, but it is a clear division between celluloid tape, long-dead filmmakers, and current life players that someone is already putting in the frame, and they do not know and do not care what will look lie on the big screen. Each film has a screenplay and a screenwriter who has written down some basic ideas. Each idea has a germ that was sown by some event or feeling. Each event or feeling involves the movement of thoughts. It all has its frame. Millions of recorded frames in a blink. With death, the footage doesn’t stop. A shot with your dead body surrounded with the family, someone is crying, screaming or there are only the gravediggers and a priest in the cemetery. They nail down the casket with nails and throw layers of soil. Someone pays attention to the shovels, someone to the face of the gravedigger who lives frames and they are certainly more important than your frame, because you are the thousand one he buried in his long career. A frame on the monument, name and surname, year of birth and death. You got out of the frame for someone, and you got into the frame for someone else. A frame on the process of decay. A worm comes out of decaying tissues in close-up. Imagine five hundred years have passed and all who know you and those who knew you have died. From the clear sky lightning strikes the tree above your tombstone, which caught the moss, the tree falls and breaks the tombstone. Here, you are again the star of the active frame. A public utility is coming (such utility will certainly exist), pathologists are also coming, digging up bones, taking them to the institute, examining them. You are a mammoth in the eyes of scientists and in the eyes of the observers of the frames they are a part of. You are on display in a museum display case. Students from Memphis, New Orleans, Vladivostok, Kyiv, Zenica, Uzice, Split, Belgrade or Ljubljana come in organized tours to observe the unusual forehead bone. There are legends about you. You are a part of the cultural heritage. The frame is always there. You’re always in focus. Am I lying? Am I a voyeur? Yes, making love, caring for intimate parts of the body, releasing gases, nose picking, and smelling your armpits are in the frame as well.

Your life is a one-shot film, but only to you and God, if you believe in it, if not you and the cosmos or to you and the energy. For others, the film is shown from a mosaic of shots because their attention is not constantly on you. You intertwine… Yes, only He sees a one-shot film. You get in and out of each other’s shots, but don’t worry, each moment is archived. It feels good to be the lead actor, no matter how long the film lasts, isn’t it? Don’t be ashamed. It’s nothing I’ve never seen before. Do you know how many fellacios will happen on Earth in just one minute? Yes, I saw you brought your hand closer to your mother’s back, wanting to push her out of the window. Then one camera was on your irregular heartbeats, another on a drop of sweat that poured lightly down your forehead, a third on agitated thoughts, a fourth on a trembling hand a fifth on your eyes, no to mention cameras aimed at your mother. Such moments are very tense. Life is an unnamed genre or better genre over genres, a meta-genre. Did I upset you? Yes, your mother saw it in the reflection on the glass beads that hung on the Dream catcher, remember?

P.S. I wrote this one evening while waiting for Aglaia. She was late. She probably was busy shopping for half an honorarium to celebrate her new engagement. I didn’t know you could have a private theater here. Her compatriot hired a troupe that occasionally gathers and performs plays by young drama writers. Elderly emigrants are very cordial in helping the work of such ensembles, but they are expecting proven pieces about the great homeland on the stage. She adapted the text. The story of a married couple of expelled, poor, misunderstood artists in a distant, cruel world is now a happy story about a princely couple on a vacation.

P.P.S. The frame is on you. The narrator goes: “Seated in the soft sofa, he loved to sit in after dinner and read the daily newspapers, novel biographies and epistolary novels, he ran onto an interesting photo. He didn’t understand what it said because the language of the country the newspaper originated was unfamiliar to him, but he looked at carefully the sculpture of an elephant carrying the globe on his back. There was the artist’s signature on the rare leg. One letter, S. He looked at the pile of letters at the table. He sied deeply and turned off the lamp.“


Your perspective artist and maybe college S.


My dear,


Today colors seeped through the leaves on the cheeks of the girl reaching her arms to the sky while laughing loudly at the clouds hung on the tips of the branches. I wanted to look at her much longer, so to remember every child’s movement, every crease of her dress, the vitrages of her lacy socks, by I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to cause any doubt at the mother seating on a bench a few steps away. You can easily find yourself in jail for that here.

You didn’t congratulate me when I sold my first painting. Jorge says that there will be more orders, family portraits, pets and former girlfriends, but in between, I paint for myself. I wrote an email to the consulate. No reply so far, but I believe they will answer. Put me on disposal. They are probably fucking tired of emigrants (O, how I started swearing!)

I spend much time with Aglaia, who decided to leave her husband because he wants to come back to Russia. She doesn’t want that. She is adapted well. I think she’s in an emotional relationship with the main actor of her play. They want me to paint the scenography.

Jorge’s wife gave birth. He got a third son, although he wanted a daughter. He says that it’s better to have female children than males. Female children bring to the house, mail only take away and make damage.

Everyone is talking about the economic crisis. They fear hunger, increased crime, immigration. Impatience is often felt in the streets. You came to take our jobs and women from us! A man shouted at the entrance of the subway. It wasn’t the first time for me to hear that. It just sounded different in a foreign language but hurts the same nevertheless. They have no idea what inflation and bullet whistling are.

Sometimes I write. Here is a short story I called “Bodies“. I don’t have a copy, I didn’t type it on the computer. Keep it for me. Feel the bodies of the distant world. We touch.




Bodies fold, spread, pray, forgive, challenge. Bodies would kiss and cuddle. Bodies would lie, to trick, outplay, mistify. Bodies run away. Bodies turn into fornication. Bodies bring life into the world. Bodies fight. Bodies are desired. Bodies are naked. Wet. Bodies yearn for life. Bodies are late, repent, and would bring back time. Bodies do drugs, scribble, stigmata, sag, butcher, sell themselves, love, rape. Bodies are a coffin of divine riches and cosmic dust with which we can sow small goddesses and spread love. Bodies make love with the screens. They take parts of the body and send them in small notes to businessmen who masturbate on their organs and the organs in the letters they receive. They touch themselves while checking online sites with images of young bodies in passion. Creating illusion is imperative! Creators of laughter, extractors of wise verses of great authors. Bodies flicker, disintegrate, and take no action. The body can be human, geometric, political…The body flies, falls, floats, clamps, wimps, limps, runs, jumps, plays…It is caressed, discouraged, pimpled, incompetent, twisted, dead, broken, chopped, static, statistic, pierced, engraved, colored, naked, baked, tortured, merry, cunny, hung, beaten, run over, burned, kissed, loved, praised, cast, born, embodied, mummified, nailed, tied, deluded, torn, in love, naked, stigmatized, exploited, neglected, nurtured, passionate, goluptious… Bodies move through the city. Bodies touch, meet, kill, torment, love, desire, kiss, hug. The body is armor, a shield, an advertisement. The body is flesh and skin. The body is meat. The body is food. The body is a temple. The body is not enough.



My body is yours.



My love,


I’m happy! I got in touch with my high school friends who have been living here for a long time. Thanks to Valeria (I never told anything about her, because I haven’t hung out with her so far), I will paint a mural at the entrance of a high school. Imagine?!

I’m moving. Again. Hm, you know how much I hate packing, but now there aren’t many problems, I have two suitcases. I temporarily leave the easel, brushes and pains with Jorge. He said he will sell them at the first opportunity. I don’t believe it.

The world is strange. Who would have thought that I am here, that all this is happening?

“Traveling is a useful thing, it tickles the imagination. Everything else is just disappointment and fatigue. Our journey is completely fictional. That’s where its strength comes from“, Celine wrote on the first page of his book “Journey to the End of the Night“. You must have read it years before?

P.S.We dance na, na, na, na …




♥ you.

Yours S.


Mr. E,


Did I offend you in some way so you haven’t answered in months? Ever since I told you that James agreed to represent me and that the interview with the two gallerists went more than well, you withdraw. I haven’t stopped thinking about you for a moment, about us. I want you by my side. I love your lips when they touch my shoulder. I love every white hair that has streaked your hair and small wrinkles between your eyes because you are constantly frowning. I only know that you laugh best with your eyes. In your eyes, the warmth of the world is gathered for me. You love me. That’s what you said when you escorted me to the airport. Was that a test? You wanted me to stay? You know, I’m tired of testing? In my wrinkles, in my eyes, behind my ear, on my heels, in the wardrobe, it says that I am not from here. Where do I belong to? Where was I born? The town is no longer called what it says on my birth certificate. My graves have been excavated, demolished, plowed. Do not exist. My dead are disturbed. Our dead would aminate all this. We came from somewhere. You remain my beacon. Whom? Couldn’t we build a life here? You blame me for not letting them bream my spine. You blame me for throwing the truth in everyone’s face before I stepped on the plane and slammed all the doors. The door to what? Which door was open to me? I have more work experience as a waitress than as a painter. I reluctantly changed so many cities, collective accommodations, schools, and then I curled up on your lap, but even that constantly eluded me. You could never stand by me. Yes…a long-established reputation, and in fact..You are a coward!




My Ernyce,



Sorry about the last letter. I didn’t even read it before I sent it. I’m tired of adjusting. I never had anything of my own. Everything was torn out of my misery. All this is a charity and this city, people, continent. I don’t know where to go.


I love you.




Hi Erny,


It has been six months since I wrote you the letter informing you that I will have my first solo exhibition at a small gallery in Brooklyn. People from the consulate and several associations responded to my emails, promised collaboration and help. I may be naïve, but I’ll give them another chance. Maybe displaced like this, on foreign territory, we can do much more.

The gallery space was filled with well-known languages. The cacophony of the Balkans covered everything. Jorge was there with several of his relatives. His wife is pregnant again. Aglaia giggled with her new boyfriend. I drank champagne and stared at my spread canvases. I didn’t sell a single painting. James says no to despair, these are the first steps. I currently live in an apartment above the laundry room where I work. If someone looks me on the map, I’m here between 84th and 85th street. On weekends, I am a switchman in a modest cinema that plays animated films. During the day, mothers come with their children, and in the evening adults in the costumes of their favorite heroes. Sometimes I hear them masturbate.

I’d like you to contact me, at least by postcard. Don’t dedicate poems to me. I would break down to read your new book and recognize a part of myself in it. For me, it is not over yet because I belong to the kind of nomads who are persecuted by burden, in every place, every city, they make worlds, breath because they often run out of breath. I’m swallowing air. I see your face in the fold of shirts I meet in the subway, in a trace of color that inadvertently slipped on the floor, in the scrambled eggs I eat in the morning, in the reflection in the mirror. It’s been two years since I put my head on your chest and listened to your body noises. Couldn’t it be a little easier over time or the Balcans coordinates burn forever?


Forever Yours S.


Translated by Marija Sarevska-Todorovska