Nikola Madžirov

Nikola Madžirov (North Macedonia, 1973) is a poet, translator, and essayist, the author of three collections of poetry. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Madžirov is the recipient of several awards, including the Hubert Burda Award, the Hu Zhimo Silver Leaf Poetry Award, the Brothers Miladinov Award, the Studentski Zbor Award, the Aco Karamanov Award, and the Fifteen Martyrs of Tiveriopol Award. Madžirov has also received several international scholarships, been selected for several residencies, and been invited to several international literary festivals. He is an editor for Lyrikline.





I lived at the edge of the town

like a streetlamp whose light bulb

no one ever replaces.

Cobwebs held the walls together,

and sweat our clasped hands.

I hid my teddy bear

in holes in crudely built stone walls

saving him from dreams.


Day and night I made the threshold come alive

returning like a bee that

always returns to the previous flower.

It was a time of peace when I left home:


the bitten apple was not bruised,

on the letter a stamp with an old abandoned house.


From birth I’ve migrated to quiet places

and voids have clung beneath me

like snow that doesn’t know if it belongs

to the earth or to the air.








This is what summer nightfall is like:

the adulteress comes onto the balcony

in a silk nightgown that lets through

the trembling of the stars,

a twig drops from the beak of a bird

that falls asleep before it has built its home,

a soldier lowers the flag of the state

with a letter from his mother in his pocket

and atomic tests in the womb of the earth

secretly revive the dead. At that moment someone

quietly interprets Byzantine neumes,

someone else falsifies the exoduses

of the Balkan and the civil wars

in the name of universal truths.

In the factory yards

the statues of participants

in annulled revolutions sleep,

on the symmetrical graves

plastic flowers lose their colour

and ordinary ones their shape,

but this peace of the dead

we have parted from

is not ours.



In the village with three lit windows

a fortune-teller foresees only

recoveries, and not illnesses.

The waves throw up bottles enough

to hold the whole sea,

the arrow on the one-way road sign

points to God,

a fisherman rips off a bit of the sky

as he casts his baited line into the river,

some poor child searches for the Little Bear

and the planet he’d like to come from,

in front of  the doorstep of the killer with an alibi

a feather attempts to fly.

This is what usual summer nightfall is like.

The town combusts in the redness of the moon

and the fire brigade ladders seem

to lead to heaven, even then when


is climbing










Distant are all the houses I am dreaming of,

distant is the voice of my mother

calling me for dinner, but I run toward the fields of wheat.


We are distant like a ball that misses the goal

and goes toward the sky, we are alive

like a thermometer that is precise only when

we look at it.


The distant reality every day questions me

like an unknown traveler who wakes me up in the middle of the journey

saying Is this the right bus?,

and I answer Yes, but I mean I don’t know,

I don’t know the cities of your grandparents

who want to leave behind all discovered diseases

and cures made of patience.


I dream of a house on the hill of our longings,

to watch how the waves of the sea draw

the cardiogram of our falls and loves,

how people believe so as not to sink

and step so as not to be forgotten.


Distant are all the huts where we hid from the storm

and from the pain of the does dying in front of the eyes of the hunters

who were more lonely than hungry.


The distant moment every day asks me

Is this the window? Is this the life? and I say

Yes, but I mean I don’t know, I don’t know if

birds will begin to speak, without uttering A war.









The streets were asphalted

before we were born and all

the constellations were already formed.

The leaves were rotting

on the edge of the pavement,

the silver was tarnishing

on the workers’ skin,

someone’s bones were growing through

the length of the sleep.


Europe was uniting

before we were born and

a woman’s hair was spreading

calmly over the surface

of the sea.











We’ll meet one day,

like a paper boat and

a watermelon that’s been cooling in the river.

The anxiety of the world will

be with us. Our palms

will eclipse the sun and we’ll

approach each other holding lanterns.


One day, the wind won’t

change direction.

The birch will send away leaves

into our shoes on the doorstep.

The wolves will come after

our innocence.

The butterflies will leave

their dust on our cheeks.


An old woman will tell stories

about us in the waiting room every morning.

Even what I’m saying has

been said already: we’re waiting for the wind

like two flags on a border.


One day every shadow

will pass us by.








For Marjan K.


In the embrace on the corner you will recognize

someone’s going away somewhere. It’s always so.

I live between two truths

like a neon light trembling in

an empty hall. My heart collects

more and more people, since they’re not here anymore.

It’s always so. One fourth of our waking hours

are spent in blinking. We forget

things even before we lose them –

the calligraphy notebook, for instance.

Nothing’s ever new. The bus

seat is always warm.

Last words are carried over

like oblique buckets to an ordinary summer fire.

The same will happen all over again tomorrow—

the face, before it vanishes from the photo,

will lose the wrinkles. When someone goes away

everything that’s been done comes back.








I separated myself from each truth about the beginnings

of rivers, trees, and cities.

I have a name that will be a street of goodbyes

and a heart that appears on X-ray films.

I separated myself even from you, mother of all skies

and carefree houses.

Now my blood is a refugee that belongs

to several souls and open wounds.

My god lives in the phosphorous of a match,

in the ashes holding the shape of the firewood.

I don’t need a map of the world when I fall asleep.

Now the shadow of a stalk of wheat covers my hope,

and my word is as valuable

as an old family watch that doesn’t keep time.

I separated from myself, to arrive at your skin

smelling of honey and wind, at your name

signifying restlessness that calms me down,

opening the doors to the cities in which I sleep,

but don’t live.

I separated myself from the air, the water, the fire.

The earth I was made from

is built into my home.







One day someone will fold our blankets

and send them to the cleaners

to scrub the last grain of salt from them,

will open our letters and sort them out by date

instead of by how often they’ve been read.


One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture

like chessmen at the start of a new game,

will open the old shoebox

where we hoard pyjama-buttons,

not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.


One day the ache will return to our backs

from the weight of hotel room keys

and the receptionist’s suspicion

as he hands over the TV remote control.


Others’ pity will set out after us

like the moon after some wandering child.







We’ve given names

to the wild plants

behind unfinished buildings,

given names to all the monuments

of our invaders.

We’ve christened our children

with affectionate nicknames

taken from letters

read only once.


Afterwards in secret we’ve interpreted

signatures at the foot of prescriptions

for incurable diseases,

with binoculars we’ve zoomed in

on hands waving farewell

at windows.


We’ve left words

under stones with buried shadows,

on the hill that guards the echo

of the ancestors whose names are not

in the family tree.


What we have said without witnesses

will long haunt us.


The winters have piled up in us

without ever being mentioned.







It was spring when the invader

burned the deeds to the land where we hunted birds,

colourful insects, butterflies

existing only in old biology text-books.


Many things have changed the world

since then, the world has changed many things in us.






I want someone to tell me

about the messages in the water in our bodies,

about yesterday’s air

in telephone booths,

about flights postponed because of

poor visibility, despite

all the invisible angels on the calendars.

The fan that weeps for tropical winds,

the incense that smells best

as it vanishes – I want someone to tell me about these things.


I believe that when perfection is born

all forms and truths

crack like eggshells.


Only the sigh of gentle partings

can tear a cobweb apart

and the perfection of imagined lands

can postpone the secret

migration of souls.


And what can I do with my imperfect body:

I go and I return, go and return

like a plastic sandal on the waves

by the shore.








You keep quiet. Like the sunken nets

of poachers. Like an angel

who knows what the night may bring.


And you travel. You forget,

so that you can come back.


You write and you don’t want to remember

the stone, the sea, the believers

sleeping with their hands apart.












Fast is the century. If I were wind

I would have peeled the bark off the trees

and the facades off the buildings in the outskirts.


If I were gold, I would have been hidden in cellars,

into crumbly earth and among broken toys,

I would have been forgotten by the fathers,

and their sons would remember me forever.


If I were a dog, I wouldn’t have been afraid of

refugees, if I were a moon

I wouldn’t have been scared of executions.


If I wеre a wall clock

I would have covered the cracks on the wall.


Fast is the century. We survive the weak earthquakes

watching towards the sky, yet not towards the ground.

We open the windows to let in the air

of the places we have never been.

Wars don’t exist,

since someone wounds our heart every day.

Fast is the century.

Faster than the word.

If I were dead, everyone would have believed me

when I kept silent.









In strange towns

our thoughts wander calmly

like graves of forgotten circus artists,

dogs bark at dustbins and snowflakes

falling in them.


In strange towns we are unnoticed

like a crystal angel locked in an airless glass case,

like a second earthquake that merely

rearranges what is already ruined.








Inherit your childhood

from the photo album.

Transfer the silence

that expands and contracts

like a flock of birds in flight.

Hold in your hands

the irregular snowball

and the drops that run

down the line of life.

Say the prayer

through sealed lips –

the words are seeds falling into a flowerpot.


Silence is learned in the womb.


Try to be born

like the big hand after midnight

and the seconds will overtake you at once.








Many things happened

while the Earth was spinning on

God’s finger.


Wires released themselves

from pylons and now

they connect one love to another.

Ocean drops

deposited themselves eagerly

onto caves’ walls.

Flowers separated

from minerals and set off

following the scent.


From the back pocket pieces of paper

started flying all over our airy room:

irrelevant things which we’d

never do unless

they were written down.











I saw dreams that no one remembers

and people wailing at the wrong graves.

I saw embraces in a falling airplane

and streets with open arteries.

I saw volcanoes asleep longer than

the roots of the family tree

and a child who’s not afraid of the rain.

Only it was me no one saw,

only it was me no one saw.



Translated by Peggy and Graham W. Reid, Magdalena Horvat and Adam Reed