Babahak


Dark gypsies have convened on the square
their carts and horses. Babahak, the dread
midsummer day, barbarous day
when the fathers sell their daughters here.

Demir and Alidjo wring and wring
their hands, reckoning, running
up each other's bids, and lithe Anifa
stands nearby, intent on not weeping.

And Meto, her beloved Meto, glowers
over there, his eyes shaded by rage
and pain. He's got a curved dagger
in his pocket and he'll wait for hours

if he must. Anifa's father
is urging a higher price: "Just look
at her, a very queen, a blessing
to the lucky man who'll have her.

She's worth five thousand at the least."
And the bids fly up like grackles.
"To buy this girl is to own a mill:
she'll turn and grind for you, and feed

you as long as you live." And Meto
fondles his curved dagger. He'll wait
for hours if he must, simmering
in the shadows. Meto has no

money and soon they will be shaking hands
and his great love is on the block.
Soon, very soon, any minute now,
Meto's curved dagger will flash

like furious lightning, and blood
will claim top bid for now.
But it's Babahak that should be riven,
if only the dagger could

cleave the tree and leave the stump to rot:
the venal fathers, the placid horses
lashing their tails at flies, the somnolent
squares, the smarmy handclasps. Babahak.


      Bulgarian, trans. William Matthews


Ussin Kerim, Bulgarian, trans. William Matthews, Selected Poems and Translations: 1969-1991, Mariner Books, 1992.