There were those who lit candles
a fine method, if the room you’re illuminating
has something inside worth seeing.
The families in line pictured great dinners
where all the seats were filled.
Their wilting prayers were sprouted from peat,
a calculated set of asbestos expressions,
as if the candles could take them back
to a time much brighter.
There were those who studied for so long
their faces grew bleak like the pages beneath them.
Under the willow trees, they nodded to themselves---
Non curarum! One day, we will see the fruits of our labors!
Like coal they are products of pressure,
they sat sturdily while the willows swayed above.
Later at night came platters of pita and olive oil
so they ate and revelled in spite of uncertainty,
because of the many futures they envisioned,
a few were bound to be merry.
Some others liked walking to the chapel,
camouflaging themselves in black blazers
to navigate the cobblestone streets of Belgrade.
When they arrived at Saint Sava
they would sit on the benches outside,
alone, or in pairs,
to think of the green copper domes and gold crosses,
and return home, their eyes bright with understanding,
eyes that carefully avoided brick buildings in rubble.
Certain grandmothers and aunts
passed the temple daily
while weaving through the crowded bazaar,
carrying home heavy heaves of rice.
These were the ones who sang in the kitchen,
the ones who drank night-black coffee on the balcony,
the ones who always reminded uncles to stop smoking,
pretending that this would be the time they listen.
There were well-dressed men and high-heeled women
who passed the temple daily,
on their way down dirty stairwells
rushing to board a departing bus.
These were the ones who ate quickly,
and knew to never ask too many questions.
These were the ones bringing home shiny plastic toy cars,
forgetting how easily children are impressed.
There were the men who had been observing so long
their gazes now looked just like an owl’s.
Under plaster facades, they rolled their eyes---
What fools! We have problems on earth!
We have so much to learn but no one to teach to!
But the cold stones sat stagnant,
slowly eroded by running water.
At night the men left strip malls,
white takeaway boxes piled high
with matching forks and napkins.
They did not know if they were happy,
as this was never something they considered.
Some moved faster than gazelles,
in and out of glass rooms.
They swam through deep lakes of plans,
only to never reach a shore.
Their faces would glow in the morning,
but only a few shining stars were left by night time.
They hiked sundried valleys of anticipation,
as the present could wait for another day.
And then there was one
who could not be written about,
simply because no one understood him,
Dmitri who wandered, who loved rivers and bridges,
who could still run and shoot 3s,
and claimed that he treated life just as he treated his dog.
But which one of these ways is really right?
With the sky so large and the mountains so tall,
is there really such thing as right?
Now the sun is rising over the Danube,
but it is also setting over the Willamette.
On a gray staircase I sit and think
of all these different ways to play.