Walnut Shells

 By Tanja Bakić

I was five years old

when I planted walnut seeds

together with my granny.

I put the seeds

deep inside the ground

and watered them

with a bucket.

In that way the tree

grew in a distant glade

and sometimes I would

walk there to see it.


In the meantime

it grew taller than me,

developing a thick

crown of leaves and

bearing fruit.


The last time I saw the tree

was twenty years ago.

Its sweet fruits filled the slope

of that glade

from top to bottom.

I picked some

and carried them

with me far away.


But I did not return

to the same town,

or the same place

ever again.


And I did not crack open

the walnuts I'd picked back then

to taste the nuts inside.


I left them standing

on the top of the wardrobe

in my new home,

not to remind me of the tree

I had planted as a five-year-old girl

with my granny, but to listen

to the beat of my granny’s heart

hidden inside its shell.


My granny is now

sleeping beneath the ground.



Translated by Peter Stonelake and the author

Tanja Bakić, born in 1981 in Montenegro, is the author of four highly-praised poetry collections, her debut being published when she was only 15, and the latest, Sjeme i druge pjesme (The Seed and Other Poems), in 2013. She is also a translator, has an MA in English language and literature, and writes as a music and literary critic. Her poetry has been translated into 15 foreign languages, presented at festivals abroad, published in international magazines and anthologies.  She has been awarded fellowships several times, including Central European Initiative Fellowship for Writers Award (Vilenica Festival Slovenia), International Haus Des Autoren Graz, Slovenian Public Fund for Cultural Activities, etc. The lecture she presented at the Tate Britain in London, entitled “William Blake in the Former Yugoslavia” will be published by Bloomsbury in 2019. Her poetry translations include the works of William Blake, Yeats, Byron, Eliot… and most recently Don Paterson.