Apropos of Balkan’s Last Sworn Virgins

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June 21, 2019 by The Citron Review

by Andrea Jurjević



Socks pulled over hands, virdžina
schleps through the snow-choked trail,
the hacked peaks of Dinaric Alps girdling
the valley. She knows this slice of wild
as if there’s a small lynx inside her.
What else has she got? Her stone house,
its corkscrewing smoke, stacked logs,
a swaddle of Montenegrin tobacco,
shelves draped in old newspapers,
pans of dirty water, photos of dead kin.
Leaning in the corner, a quiet maple gusla,
its horsetail-hair bow. A sputter of fire,
leathery skin, two arthritic hands,
a flax-red beret. A lifetime as a man.



Little burrnesha, what did you feel when
chosen to replace the son your family needed?
Impenetrable, like your Accursed Mountains,
grand and commanding, untouched by time?
Melancholy, like the dreamy Beauty of Durrës,
with a yellow pebble in the pupil of her eye?
What did you dream of as you cut your braid,
vowed celibacy, secured a plis hat, a gun?
Fierce, like Queen Teuta? Free burrnesha.
When you were a child, your body still hairless,
did you already have a yen to head the family?
A penchant for arranging your sisters’ marriages?
Understand the weight of the given word?
Or did you not want to become a wife?


Andrea Jurjević is a poet and translator from Rijeka, Croatia. She is the author of Small Crimes, winner of the 2015 Philip Levine Poetry Prize, and translator of Mamasafari (Diálogos, 2018), a collection of prose poems by Croatian author Olja Savičević. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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