It has been five years since I started learning Bosnian, a year and a half since I started taking lessons to fill the semantic gaps left by my constant use of the infinitive, six months since I’ve started attempting a translation of the collection my cousin gave me. I know better now that my language is still poor, that my failure to conjugate appropriately has, in Bosnian, meaningful implications, and this awareness brings along another: the realisation that so much of my speaking in Bosnian is also an act of translation, one performed by family and neighbours with dedication and with love. They too are building a bridge in language, offering suggestions when I flounder, asking clarifying questions, repeating themselves with a kind of subtle pedagogic determination, allowing space for their own incomprehension, and for mine. But this is true for all language use.
The beauty of language is not, I think, in its precision but perhaps, rather, in how we are able to use it to reach around all of this impossible complexity (quantum entanglement! Love!). We do remarkable things with language every day and the point of it, and especially of poetry, is not to write saudade or mamihlapinatapai or hygge or ya’arburnee, but to evoke it. This is perhaps where and how Bosnian enters my poetry, Arabic into Elhillo’s, Bundjalung into Araluen’s and Cantonese into Chua’s essays: not as a means of speaking precisely, but as a means of encompassing more wholly, not only the self and its history, but the breaks within it too. Perhaps this is why it is easier to speak about Bosnia in poetry, because so much cannot be said, because so much must be unsaid. This essay, too, has many gaps.