Night Mail: Selected Poems by Novica Tadić

Night Mail by Novica Tadic
It ends before it ends, “neither in the title nor in the poem,” and I feel sorry for flames that started out as feathers. A sparrow darts into the cedar tree and doesn’t come out — I’m watching — and the tree twitches all over like someone with a bad case of scruples. Novica Tadić looks a Trojan horse in the mouth and finds a comb.

There are many ways to descend and this poet knows all of them. He goes down to the salt cellar and finds the unknown soldier’s unknown uniform, maybe. And he would try it on, and listen to the martial music, and pledge fidelity with the tip of someone else’s tongue. Yesterday, my mother watched a large, dark milk snake mating with two small garter snakes, and refused for a while to believe in what she had seen: out of such refusals is this kind of poetry made.

The cast of characters includes something monstrous on every other page — most often a chicken, or “the life-giving zero.” Musical accompaniment is provided by “a drum full of mice” and “a giggle made up of the screams of the dying” — that kind of thing. The poet disappears into the set.

At this point in my reading (p. 51, “Nightingale”), a log cock alights on the side of a nearby birch, crest bright as a stop light, and starts whaling away with his deconstructionist’s hammer and nail. Someone opens the night curtains and discovers that the streets are filled with marchers: all the city’s cats have gone on strike. “Our Jesus” is “a pincushion,” a hairdresser campaigns for God’s empty seat, and an anti-psalmist prays for the ridicule of his enemies. Against the white of the page I can make out the blur of a hair on the end of my nose, that almost-invisible flesh-colored companion of all my reading.

It’s Holy Saturday, which means (among other things) that we have silence from the quarry over the hill. The poet says “now” and it sounds like an imperative to me, he says to bring a chair outside and I get the feeling I’m being watched, which of course I am: everything watches everything else, as Tadić says on a page I’ve already lost track of. “From the penetentiary quarry/ the song of songs reaches us,” he writes. (Or Charles Simic does, at any rate.) It’s all there in black and white — the magpie, I mean. Page 90. You can’t miss it.

(Click on the thumbnail to go to the book’s page in Open Library.)

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