THE APPRENTICE, by Goran Simic

I have spent half of my life looking for a vocabulary of


which will exceed the strange love of stupid paper and

smart pencil.

I have acquired knowledge form shadows. I have learned

from monuments,

I have associated with ghosts.

Now, when I spend more time

at funerals than at my desk, I notice how the covers of

my books

of fairy tales burn quite appropriately while on the

frozen stove I try

to warm up the tea for my sick child. And how beauty

returns to me

through the ruddy cheeks of my boy and the linden

flower I could have never

supposed to be more beautiful than a rose.

THE ANSWER, by Bei Dao

Debasement is the password of the base.

Nobility is the epitaph of the nobel.

See how the gilded sky is covered

With the drifting twisted shadows of the dead.

The Ice Age is over now.

Why is there ice everywhere?

The Cape of Good Hope has been discovered.

Why do a thousand sails contest the Dead Sea?

I came into this world

Bringing only paper, rope, a shadow,

To proclaim before the judgement

The voice that has been judged:

Let me tell you, world,


If a thousand challengers lie beneath your feet,

Count me as number one thousand and one.

I don't believe the sky is blue:

I don't believe in thunder's echoes;

I don't believe that dreams are false;

I don't believe that death has no revenge.

If the sea is destined to breach the dikes

Let all the brackish water pour into my heart:

If the land is destined to rise

Let humanity choose a peak for existence again.

A new conjunction and glimmering stars

Adorn the unobstructed sky now:

They are the pictographs from five thousand years.

They are the watchful eyes of future generations.

Goran Simic and Bei Dao are the recipients of this year's Freedom-to-Write Awards from PEN CENTER USA WEST. Freedom-to-Write awards honor writers who have produced work in the face of extreme adversity and have defended freedom of expression and fought against censorship. Simic, a leading Bosnian poet, was born in 1952. He is married to the translator Amela Simic, who translates his poems. Simic, his wife and children fled the renewed shelling in Sarajevo in January 1995. They now live in Italy. Bei Dao has been at the forefront of the Chinese literary scene for over twenty years. He receives the award in honor of his literary achievements in poetry and fiction, and for his work as publisher of an underground journal in the People's Republic of China, as well as a new journal featuring the work of Chinese writers in exile. He was born in Beijing in 1949.

Reprinted by permission.

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