Ilija JovanoviÄ‡ was born in 1950 in Rumska, Serbia, the only child of a penurious Romani family. He worked as a farmhand until 1971 when he moved to Vienna and worked first in a metal factory, then as a pharmacist's assistant. He served as cultural advisor and secretary general of the Romano Centro and in 1999 won Austria's prestigious Theodor-KÃ¶rner prize for cultural contribution. He died in 2010 after a protracted illness. The Romani text reproduced here, in Gurbeti dialect, is taken from his collection BudÅ¾o (Landeck, 2000.) The crucial Romani word in this poem, them, is one that I find quite impossible to translate with a single English word. It occurs four times in the poem, and in many dialects seems to have a semantic range covering everything from "place, land" to "city, country, realm" to "nation" to "world" depending on context. (Interestingly, and possibly not coincidentally, this semantic range overlaps a great deal with that of Medieval Greek ÎºÏŒÏƒÎ¼Î¿Ï‚.) Different readers it seems would have different understandings of the poem depending on the nuances of them in their dialect. The ROMLEX lexical databasegives the following glosses for them in Gurbeti: 1) place 2) city 3) country 4) nation 5) world 6) stranger 7) one whom one meets. The word's repeated use in this poem seems to call forth different shades of meaning at different points. The opening lines use it in a way that seems to me to imply "people, community" with perhaps an overtone of "world." But with the final instance in pe sa o them, I take the more sensical reading to be "world, lands of the world." The poem's title, xasardo them is literally "lost world/people/country/nation/land." The polysemy seems to highlight the extraterritoriality of the Rom as a people, as strangers to the nations of the gadje who hate them, as having lost the world they once knew, and having no country really. The Romani text in a way is about the various shades of the word them, like a bit of eloquently executed wordplay. Naturally this could not be duplicated in an English poem exactly. At liberty from the literal, I've tried to do some other things with the translation that at least push in a similar direction. Thanks, once again, are in order for Qristina ZavaÄkovÃ¡ Cummings who tolerated my awful Romani puns, and whose illuminating comments stimulated some new translation ideas, and made me realize how dialectally slippery the word them is.
By Ilija JovanoviÄ‡
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
The tongue that sang our words is lost â€”
We are a silenced people.
The world we lived has been killed off â€”
We are dying people.
When we stay in one pleasant place,
They drive us out.
Our threads are cut to shreds.
Borders block our every rout.
We do not know anymore where we can go.
To the gadje1 we aren't really people
Of the right kind Because we are different.
They hound us over all the world.
We go and we go.
How long? How far? We do not know.
1 - a term for non-Roma, people alien to Romani ways.