Marija Dragnić

Marija Dragnić

Marija Dragnić (Montenegro, 1990) studied English Language and Literature in Podgorica and Västerås (Sweden), and graduated at the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, where she also finished her master academic studies and enrolled in a PhD programme in Language, Literature and Culture. She published the poetry collection The Other Shore(Belgrade: Orion art, 2013) and the conceptual book of poetry Confabulations (Bijelo Polje: Ratković’s Poetry Evenings, 2019; Belgrade: PPM Enclave, 2019). Her poems are published in various literary periodicals across the ex-YU region, as well as in the culture supplement of Politika. Some of her poems are translated into Russian and Macedonian. Dragnić is the recipient of the second prize for poetry in the regional literary competition Ulaznica 2016 and the first prize in the regional competition of Ratković’s Poetry Evenings 2018. In 2019. Dragnić won the first prize in the literary competition PAF – POETRY  for best unpublished poems in Montenegro. She is an editor at the publishing house PPM Enclave and the online poetry magazine Enclave.

 


 

 

 

my grandmother hid sweets

from herself, so there would be more for us. and nobody couldfind them afterwards.

 

I looked trough my light fingers at my lover’s dark back

as he left the beach

and I remained in the shade of a willow’s crown

allowing the sun to overhang us.

 

through my light fingers I looked at how the dark back of someone else’s poetry twisted around a pole

in a night club

to those who had clear intentions.

I would leave generous tips and always go homealone.

 

I didn’t look through my light fingers when they crackled

as they scampered amongst the trees that grew above thekeyboard.

they ran under the same-height treetops, went deep into thewoods.

and nobody could find them afterwards.

 

 

I loved my grandfather the most because he was agood man

that rarely spoke, and a snake bit him

on the same finger three times.

 

my poetry’s light fingers

shattered my poetry’s dark fingers. the fight took place ina lake.

the dark ended up floating on the surface. the light swam away  triumphantly,

got out on the other side of the shore. I recorder everything.

 

My lover’s dark fingers and my light fingers

go down into the lake, past a warning sign.

 

shivering,

they float above the depths with uncertainty.

 

in between the dark and light fingers a snake passes.

 

the dark smile.

the light go out of the water clumsily, hiding their nudity

from random passers-by.

 

never again have they repeated the ritual. nonetheless, they keep returning

to the lake – to resist.

 

good film, poetic images.

in the big hall, at the premiere as many as three seats

were occupied.

 

 

my grandfather once killed a viper that crossed my path.

 

he wedged a match in its open jaws

and put a cigarette in its mouth.

the snake frantically turned in circles, until its head burst.

 

the truth is

that’s the only thing

I remember him by today.

 

my poetry’s dark fingers

broke my poetry’s light fingers. it all happened in a humid field from which a greenish mist rose.

the scent of burning came out of somewhere. I recorded the entire event.

 

my lover’s dark fingers land on my bottom

as I put a snake under our bed.

 

we fight between the white sheets. at one point,

my head hangs down the edge of the bed, and that increases thechances

of a final surrender.

 

my light fingers pull the dark hair from my lover’s nape of the neck, he sticks his dark thumb

in between my red lips.

one of us gets bitten by the snake.

 

the video recording looks like a porn film starring an over-aroused actress.

it became a real hit.

they guest-starred at every festival, won all local awards.

the chick was such a success.

 

 

this is the third note on my grandfatherwhom I knew the least.

 

mom is surprised how I still don’t see thecorrelation

between these two facts.

 

the dark fingers of someone else’s poetry stumble in front of the dark fingers of my poetry which unexpectedly turns into a comedy play.

a startled flock of smiles lands

on the faces of the leading actors and audience.

 

my lover’s dark fingers

watch out for my light fingers. my light fingers getdarker

due to, let’s say, tobacco smoke. the leading actress putson a mask of a lovely boy. the lights go out.

 

my poetry’s dark fingers intertwine with my poetry’s lightfingers.

if the dark fingers defeated the light, they wouldn’t stretchan inch beyond the ends of their nails. cameras flash

from the strategic points in the audience, they light up only thecostumes

and the scenery silhouettes.

 

my lover’s dark fingers grab my now darker fingers in the low start position. the lights comeon.

the leading actor is on the stage alone.

the leading actress is suddenly in the audience, and is also surprisedby that.

 

my lover’s dark fingers

and my poetry’s light fingers in a devil’s dance.

heart is the mother of repetition, they shout from thestrategic points.

 

 

when I was born

my grandmother dressed up, in black,

to greet her granddaughter as it befitted the occasion.

 

in after years she would prepare ice cream for lunch,

during every summer break.

she would take us to the fishpond where we learnt to dive

head first.

 

I once tried to

stay under the water

and turn into a mermaid. It was a little confined, there in the fishpond,

so I surfaced,

but only after the scales had formed.

 

grandmother didn’t get scared when I stayed at thebottom

of the pool for so long,

nor did she notice any changes on my skin.

 

she smiled and said

look at you, diving like a snake, granny’s darling.

 

I loved my grandmother. she was an exceptionally intelligent woman,

she knew how to steer clear of the heart of things.

 

were it not for my poetry’s light fingers

I would cut off each of my poetry’s dark fingers

and lick the fingers of another’s poetry, especially the light.

 

if I had only dark fingers,

it would be obvious they have nothing with my lover’s dark fingers.

the way it is now, believe me, they are exactly the same.

 

Translated by Krutna Petrić

 

Luiza Bouharaoua

Luiza Bouharaoua (photo: Ivan Maricic)

Luiza Bouharaoua (1985, Croatia) is a writer and a translator. She is the founder and coordinator of the Association for the Promotion of Literature and Culture Skribonauti, where she develops cultural and artistic programs for marginalised groups. She leads a reading club and a creative writing workshop at a women’s penitentiary. In 2016, she founded the Kino Sloboda interactive prison cinema program aimed at developing film literacy among marginalized groups. She produced the documentary Free Weekend, created at a documentary film workshop at a penitentiary, and the short documentary The Right to Work: The Way We Left It, winner of the Ethics and Human Rights Award, as well as the short animated film Hell Lemonade. Bouharaoua’s short stories have been published in various magazines and included in anthologies. She is the recipient of the Ticket for a Short Story Award and the Prozak Award.

 

*

 

Snow

 

– What’s your name?

– How old are you, Daniel?

– Are you related to Mrs Mara Radić?

– What’s your relationship with her nephew, Dalibor Radić?

– What’s your relationship with Goran Abazić?

– Do you have other flatmates apart from him?

– How long has Tomislava Popić lived in the flat?

– What’s your relationship with her?

– It’s important because you are under investigation.

– Have you had anything to drink for lunch?

– How much did you drink?

– Do you drink often?

– Are you usually aggressive when you drink?

***

 

It was May, and yet it was snowing. I was the one making it snow. Everywhere around me fluffy blossoms, delicate and ready to fly silently away at my slightest movement and turn white both the ground and Dado who had just peeked through the tree crown. I shook a branch and a blizzard of petals plummeted on his face. With his index finger he pushed the one that had fallen straight on his right eyelid.

– Please, talk to me. I didn’t say anything.

– Daniel, please.

– How did you know where to find me?

Dado pointed at Mara’s black cat sitting in the grass to his right.

– Leave me alone, both you and her!

The branches beneath me started to tremble. White, soft snowflakes were now falling on my face and blurring my vision. When I could see again, Dado was already sitting next to me.

– This is the only part of the orchard where the ground looks as if it’s been snowing. That’s how I knew.

I was silent.

– I used to sit here like this.

– When? – he knew I couldn’t hold out.

– The Wednesday they found out.

***

 

You think that removing all the evidence and hiding will erase what happened. That memories will chase away time and oblivion will fall over you as silently as the snow, like these petals. But they won’t. Because 16 years later Wednesday will come and mother will run away from you to the kitchen, and you will run away from her by bus. Not one, but two different buses full of strangers secretly staring at your tearful face, and you will ride and then walk and then run until you arrive at this orchard. Then you will climb a tree and weep hidden in its crown until the blossoms paint the ground white.

You will hide just like you hid the fact that eight years ago, by accident and without premeditation, you found a box for size 35 shoes from which you pulled out a picture of a boy who didn’t look like you but did look like someone else. In that face you recognised your mother’s nose, your father’s eyes, a whole life that happened before you, mysterious and unfamiliar to you as the malignant disease that suddenly cut it short. And everything you found you will keep inside as if you were a box and then you’ll be silent. On weekends, holidays, normal days. You will be silent together with your parents, but still miles away from them. And you will have chewed on your solitude patiently like a dog until that Wednesday when your mother would come into your room and look away in disgust. From you, from the two of you, from the kiss you had just been given. The kiss that you don’t feel he is guilty for, but you know that he must be because you have seen the horror flash in her pupils. And it will take time for you to accept that it is wrong for her for the same reason it is right for you – because it was Stipe who gave it. You will not hear her cry, she always does that in silence, you will only hear her mutter from the deep, as if from the cellar:

– I’ve lost my good child.

Petals will be showering from the branches covering the road like snow in the middle of summer, and you will shake them from your hair, climb down the tree and start walking through the orchard towards Mara. Mara, who will be waiting for you at the door and who has already made the bed for you. She will look you in the eye, stroke your cheek and say:

– I know why you are here.

Do you understand? At some point, you’ll be able to climb down. Until then we’ll stay put. If need be, we’ll spend the night in the treetop.

***

 

– How did you get hold of a cold weapon?

– Why was such a big knife on the table?

– What were Goran Abazić and Tomislava Popić doing at that moment?

– Where were Dalibor and Mara Radić at that moment?

– Why did you throw yourself at Goran Abazić?

– What’s the relationship between Tomislava Popić and Goran Abazić?

– Sit down or we’ll have to restrain you!

– If you’re going to be sick, my colleague will take you to the lavatory.

***

 

– But how did she know?

– Daniel, the police are looking for you.

I blew at a branch and followed the winding fall of the petals to the ground:

– Let them look. I want to know how Mara knew you were coming.

– You want a logical explanation or the local legend?

– Both.

– My parents must have called her.

– And the legend?

– Legend has it that Mara can simply predict some things. It started when she was seven, the summer her mother fell from a tree while she was picking cherries in this orchard. A branch snapped under her, and she fell to the ground like a stone. My grandmother, Mara’s sister, claimed until the day she died that mother was still climbing the tree when Mara poked her in the rib and whispered: – Run and fetch the doctor.

From that day on, she would never miss a child or death arriving to a house, always a step ahead of the doctor and the priest. That’s the legend.

– You believe that your great-grandaunt is some kind of oracle?

– The village believes what the village believes. I believe in my aunt.

– But how did she know about me? Dado looked away.

– How did she know what I was going to see?

***

 

The scent of pulled out rosemary and sage that grow freely in the driveway. The vegetable garden where before dawn Mara picked the first ripe tomatoes, fragrant green peppers and purple onions still warm from the soil’s embrace, whose sweetness we are now grabbing with gossamer white bread and are shoving into our mouths with soft meat. We have swallowed the words together with the plants and animals and are now soaking them in sharp wine. All this is splashing about in my stomach like a fish, like an ominous sign I don’t know how to interpret.

Goran and Tomislava are begging Mara to tell them their future, this morning in the village they heard that she was the best. Dado laughs, Mara adjusts the black scarf on her head, crossing herself and laughing at the kids she thought were smart and educated and yet they fell for some village nonsense. Her watery eyes are calming me down, it seems that they are the only ones sensing the ominous fish splashing about inside me. She agrees to the game and takes us behind the house one by one. I am the last one whose muddy coffee cup is turned upside down by her warm fingers, dark as the soil they work every morning. She peers into its darkness and says something short and cryptic and I shuffle it under my tongue as I sit down at the table again.

Her black cat approaches me meandering sleekly between my calves. I tear a piece of meat off the bone and offer it to her, but she backs up until she has lured me under the table. Under the table all legs are motionless like a tree trunk with a leafy crown above us, only two of them on the opposite side of the table leaning against each other, two hands sprouting out of them with fingers intertwined like branches. The cat grabs her piece of meat and chews on it greedily, but I am the one with a lump in my throat.

Above the table, Goran and Tomislava are not even looking at each other. Mara brings out a large baking tin with a cake bleeding with the first strawberries and next to it places a big silver knife that glistens in the sun like a camera flash.

– A photo of you two in front of the cinema. His hand tentatively resting on your shoulder, a barely visible smile stretched across your lips. You two frozen, scared as deer in the headlights, because you know it is obvious. You two lovers. Immediately – or just after – I scream or I think I do.

Hands, just like mine, are grabbing the knife from the tin trying to rip the photograph blocking my view, to slash with a single precise cut stop both it and the deafening rustle in the branches that prevents me from understanding what Dado is yelling, and how am I supposed to understand when I am already charging down the path to the orchard. In front of me, Goran, enveloped in the white dust rising from the gravel, behind me, Tomislava’s face, distorted with a painful grimace, and Dado, pushing her into Mara’s arms and running after me.

The mist on the ground, endless rows of blossoming cherry trees, clouds. Everything is white, while inside me crimson bitterness is boiling, pushing through to my throat, knocking me down to the ground and letting this ripe secret out into the innocence of fallen petals.

***

 

– Are you feeling better? One more question then.

– How did you come to know the nature of relationship between Goran Abazić and Tomislava Popić?

– My colleague will now take you to Mara Radić.

– No further action. Neither Abazić nor Popić were wounded. They both insisted that we don’t prosecute you further, and we are under no official obligation to do so.

– Listen to me. It’s neither time nor place for pride. Go to the Radić’s. We’ll book it as a breach of the peace.

***

 

– How did she know?

Dado threw me over his right shoulder like a wounded animal. White petals falling from my hair were sprinkling the path.

– I see a table. Under that table you will mess up your life and then put it back together.

Dado didn’t say a thing.

– She said she saw a table and then her cat lured me under the table.

– I heard you the first time.

He was striding through the orchard. I pushed myself with both palms on his back and straightened up. Mara’s cat was still following us.

– Stop fidgeting. You’re even heavier when you’re drunk like this, you fool. A sudden jolt of his knee broke my grip and in a second my entire upper body was dangling down his back.

I couldn’t hear anything but the gravel crushing under Dado’s shoes.

– H-O-W did she know?

Everything I had seen had at that moment swopped places. A second before I crashed into the ground, Dado grabbed me by my shoulders and stood me up.

Darkness was descending over the orchard and everything around us was slowly turning cerulean blue, except for the white blossoms glowing in the dusk like fresh pristine snow. The outlines of Dado’s face, his willowy movements, his shiny black hair, it was all slowly drowning in the dark blue of the sky. I could only make out Dado’s shiny cat’s eyes: two green spotlights with pupils, like knives dividing them in two.

– How did she know, Dado?

The ominous fish in my belly was calming down.

– I told her to tell you.

 

Jasna Žmak

Jasna Žmak

Dramaturg and writer based in Zagreb, Croatia working in the fields of literature, performance, dance, and film. She is assistant professor at the Department of Dramaturgy at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Zagreb where she has previously graduated. She has published one novel (My Y♀u, Profil, 2015), two performance texts (Solitaries, INK, 2011; The Other at the Same Time, Emanat & INK, 2012), one picture book (Letters from the Edge of the Forest, OAZA, 2018), one study (Lecture as Performance, Performance as Lecture, Leykam International, 2019), several short stories, reviews and essays. Her latest book “Those Things – Essays on Female Sexuality” is coming out this March.

Jean-Lorin Sterian

Jean Lorin Sterian

Jean-Lorin Sterian is a writer, playwright, director and performer. He has published books of fiction and anthropology. In 2008 he created the lorgean theatre – “a theatre of intimate spaces” in his own flat, an open place for actors and dancers, which became a trade mark for alternative culture of Bucharest.

 


 

 

 

 

 

MEAT

 

 

 

I don’t like fat.

Only skim repels me more. I never understood how someone can eat something so gross. Except for parents. As if, when they reach adulthood, people become stupid and try to convince their offsprings that they have to swallow something they themselves couldn’t stand back in the day. When I was a little girl I spent whole days in the kitchen, watching loathingly as a piece of meat was jellying on a plate. Just the two of us. My parents would go to the TV, leaving the door open so that they could watch me. I couldn’t leave the room unless one of us disappeared.

So now I know: if I ever have a boy, I’ll never boil him milk. If I’ll have a girl, I’ll keep her away from dead animals that could continue their existence in her small belly.

 

I can hear Oakenfold from a terrace and PolinaMisailidou from another.

 

I lie on my back, with my mind broken into thousands of pieces.

I only move my neck, to the left or to the right, everytime Giorgio tries to kiss me.

Once to the left, once to the right.

I’ve never thrown up during sex. But it’s getting harder to stand a tongue that helped a chunk of greasy meat be chewed to invade my mouth. When he bends over, squeezing my breasts with his left hand, I feel how big, black bats slap me in the face with their wings.

 

I shake my head spastically until he gives up touching our tongues and comes back to his initial position. His frozen grimace should express pleasure. We slam our pelvises and the only thing alive inside me is his penis.

You’re kind of strange, says Giorgio after the mounting has been consummated. I can hear the only hit of the Babybird band from the beach. I would hum the chorus, but I can’t pronounce « You’re Gorgeous ». I can’t see his face in the darkness of the room, but I know that his skin is sunburned. A Rudolf nose is twinkling on his face.

But I can smell him. A stench as if he had varnished himself at length with multiple sweat layers.

 

If I have a sense that still works at all endpoints, that’s the smell. Every morning I throw up as soon as I put toothpaste in my mouth. Throwing up is a part of my life, as well as crying in the office bathroom and fucking with zet males.

 

I don’t like the way he smells, I don’t like his parched nose, I don’t like how he scanned my body as soon as we ran into each other. Staring is the first way to make love. I didn’t like his leather jacket, that he wore on his bare chest, the cheap pickup lines, the clichepunchlines said with a strained nonchalance. But that didn’t stop me from ending up in the room where all the trapped fruit flies end up in. He probably keeps his name list in the drawer, under the condom boxes and gets a lot of pleasure out of updating it. More than from the act itself.

 

But what I hate the most is that we have something in common.

 

Despair.

 

He’s an eternal acting student, whose corny performances only get applause from the girls that can barely stand up. He patiently lurks his prays, until the small hours of the night, when self respect takes a break and bathes in alcohol. He meets new people every night. He drinks beer and smokes joints with them and gives them tips on traditional restaurants, the clubs with the hottest DJs and the hotel where Jean-Paul Gaultier stays at. He gets drunk on their money, dances, throws up, fucks. They exchange phone numbers, but no one ever calls him again. If, by accident, they meet again the next summer, no one signals that they recognize him. And he starts all over again.

 

He spins invisibly among tourists, with a crushed smile and damp palms, waiting for a tourist with a little hat to ask him « How are you ?».

He needs to pronounce his name and for someone else to pronounce his name so that he can carry out his repertoire.

Night after night he haunts the clubs in Psaouru, fucking whoever is around.

With drunk women who, on their seventh glass of Sex On The Beach, think they’ve met Adonis.

With fat and unattractive campers that will finally tell their work colleagues that they have a sex life.

With saggy old bags at their last or second to last fuck.

With junkies that can’t remember the second day if they played pool all night long, slept or fucked someone.

With me, drifting in an anxiety pool even when I fuck.

 

You’re weird, says Giorgio after he dismounted my body.

I AM.

 

I look like roadkill. If I could extract from the depths of me that little box where my sense of humour is hiding, shaking in a fetal position, I could laugh looking at the scene.

A corpse in which a guy with big pecs just came. I should be proud that, despite the smell in the tent, despite the greasy jaw and the loneliness that connects us more than the act that just finished, I managed to carry out this fuck.

The first in more than a year, since any attempt to make love to Elias has a lame ending.

            in tears and humiliation and sadness and pain and silence

 

            Once during a dinner I was asked why I don’t eat my schnitzel. I answered that I don’t trust something that’s hiding behind a flour and egg shell.

 

From the club terraces you can hear a musical salad in which there have been thrown A Girl Like You – Edwin Collins, Roger Sanchez and, somewhere in the distance, Hotel California in the hideous version of the Gipsy Kings. I pull up my briefs and, without going to the bathroom, I mutter something unintelligibly and I slip outside. Giorgio stays inert in bed, too used to not matter in order to have a reaction. He folds between the clothes, resigned, waiting for that great day when he’ll become material.

It’s starting to get cold in Psarou. I have an empty tent, left by a friend whose girlfriend came and for a while they are indulging in a five star hotel. He told me that he’ll let me know when the deal won’t apply anymore. But he hasn’t called me until now, meaning I still have a place to sleep tonight.

Waves crushrhythmically at the shore and tens of bodies follow suit.

Like me and Giorgio.

The camping area is more than two kilometers from the beach, midway to Chora. Until there I have to walk through a dark and empty area, but there’s no reason to be afraid.

I was already fucked tonight.

The moon went to sleep before I did.

I trip over curbs, trash cans and chained bodies. Some swear, others just shriek.

I crumble in front of the tent. Only now do the leftovers from diner pour from my stomach.

Somewhere in the distance there’s laughter and a long holler.

I stick my hand inside the tent, randomly take a cloth and wipe my face of tears and snot and food traces.

 

Around this time we would have been in bed. He would have worn that seedy Metallica t-shirt that he boasts he’s had for 16 years and that’s part of his identity. We would have touched our lips, then we would have both turned our backs against each other. It would have taken me a long time to decide to touch his hot skin and I would have been almost grateful had I felt he was asleep.

 

The music is so far away that I don’t know if what I hear is Rammstein or ABBA. I zip up the tent wishing that during the night it will rain with big rocks and that I never have to zip it up back again.

 

 

 

 

Anna Kove

Anna Kove

Anna Kove is a well-known poet and translator from Albania. She graduated at 2001 at Goethe Institute, Germany, with the diploma “German as a foreign language in theory and  practice”. She continued her  master studies at the European University of  Viadrina in Germany (2002–2004) in “Media and Intercultural Communication”. She also  graduated in “Albanian Language and Literature” at the University of Tirana (1986-1990).  

Anna Kove is author of many books, such as “Shën Valentin ku ishe”, “Djegë Ujërash”“Nimfa e pemës së humbur”, “Kambanat e së dielës” and has been awarded with many prizes,  in different competitions in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. She is one of the most  distinguished contemporary authors in Albania, having the attention of the critics, researchers  and journalists, who have been continuously writing about her works.  

She has participated in different seminars and translation workshops like LCB “Berlin” “In  Käte tanzen” (September 2006); “Artistic Translation of Children Literature: Kein  Kinderspiel” (2013), organized by Robert Bosch Stiftung– Hamburg,the International  translators meeting LCB march 2019.  

She is winner of the translation stock of “Schritte Stipendien”, from S. Fischer Stiftung in  Literarisches Colloquium Berlin. (June- July 2015); (January-February 2020) and Residency  grants for literary translators at Europäisches Übersetzer-Kollegium Straelen (July-August  2019). 

Her contribute in translations is even wider, we underline the translation of “Mohn und  Gedächtnis” by P. Celan (Toena Editions, supported by Traduki) and the Anthology “German  short stories” (Ombra GVG Editions). Many of her translations, such as “Herztier” (Albas  Editions supported by Traduki), “Hast du ein Taschentuch?”,“Dorfschronik” and stories from  “Niederungen” by H. Mueller, “Die Nacht, die Lichter” by Clemens Meyer (Albas Editions),  ‘Tyll” by Daniel Kehlmann (Toena Editions), “Die groessere Hoffnung” by Ilse Aichinger  (Albas Editions) “Ich spiele noch” by Rose Ausländer (Poeteka Editions) and different poetry  works by S. Kirsch, M. L. Kaschnitz, B. Brecht, I. Bachman, N. Sachs have been published in  different Albanian literary magazines. 

 

Biljana Crvenkovska

Biljana Crvenkovska

Biljana Crvenkovska, born May 23, 1973 in Skopje, RN Macedonia. Writer, screenwriter, editor and translator. BPhil and MPhil in philosophy with sub-subjects in semiotics and philosophy of language. As writer, Crvenkovska started by writing mainly books for children and youth (as well as poetry, essays and theoretical works), but in the last couple of years her writing is oriented towards fiction (novels and short fiction). She also writes screenplays for Macedonian TV and animated shows, for children and adults. Her novels and picture books for children are translated or are currently being translated in several languages: Serbian, English, French, Albanian, German, Slovenian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Ukrainian…

Bibliography. Novels: Девет приказни за госпоѓица Сит (Nine stories about Miss Sith, 2019), Куќа над брановите (House above the waves, 2020); Children’s novels: Што сонуваше Дедо Мраз (Santa in Dreamland, 2014), Супервештерката, мачката и шесте волшебни колачиња (The Superwitch, the cat and six magical cookies, 2017), Sвезда Мрак и суштествата од Страшковград (Stella Dark and the creatures from Scarytown, 2019); Picture books: Светот на Биби (Bibi’s world) – series of picture books; Книгата што никогаш не беше иста (The book that was never the same, 2017), Кучето што мјаукаше и мачето што џавкаше (The Dog that meowed and the Cat that barked, 2020), and many others; Graphic novels: Девојчето кое танцуваше со пролетта (The Girl that Danced with the Spring, 2018), Black Pig Secret Club – a series of six children’s graphic novels. Theoretical works: Митски лавиринт: патување низ митските слики (Mythical Labyrinth: a travel throught mythical pictures, 2004).

Awards: A Claw in the Dark – Black Pig Secret Club series, awarded Best book for children and youth between two book fairs in 2018 (first prize), and the prize Strusko izgrejsonce for best book for children and youth; Nine stories about Miss Sith – shortlisted for the prize Novel of the year 2019, awarded by the Foundation Slavko Janevski; Stella Dark and The Creatures from Scarytown, awarded two prizes between two book fairs, and shortlisted for third prize awarded by The Association of Macedonian Writers.

 


 

“Devet prikazni za gospogjica Sit”

(Nine stories about Miss Sith, Čudna šuma, 2019)

– excerpts –

 

 

AT “THE BLACK CAT”

 

She took a sip of coffee, then gazed again at the laptop screen.  The black cat with a white spot on her chest, dozing in her lap, moved her whiskers, then poked her muzzle deeper still between her paws. Without taking her eyes off the screen, she put her hand down and touched the beautiful, soft fur. Though she knew she was supposed to keep working, she couldn’t stop caressing the cat. Shutting the laptop, she stared outside the wide glass windows… and heaved a deep sigh.

 

….

 

The sigh was long, layered, quivering. Inside it were many different thoughts, each lending the sigh a distinct tone… as if a series of quick sighs joined in a single symphony.

 

This symphony, above all, talked about the minutes and seconds, the day that was moving fast, pressing, not letting you forget its inevitable transience for one moment. It spoke of the feeling you have when you have many things to do, but at the same time, lack the desire to do any of it, and just sink instead into your thoughts, into the unbearable beauty of idleness… and of the unrest created by these delayed obligations, plans and ambitions, while you sit and dream with your eyes wide open.

 

Then, it contained the entire melancholy brought by the cloudy, rainy days such as this one. The low, heavy clouds that pour scarce, tortured raindrops down on the sizzling city. Mountain clouds – now that is a whole other feeling, a different sight altogether. In the mountains, these same clouds are large, powerful, threatening, coming fast with the wind, carrying a heavy storm, only to shatter underneath the spring sun. In the city, however, they are weighed down by the vapors, the many misfortunes, becoming sluggish, motionless. They struggle, just like those people in the busy metropolis below. The sigh told this story, too.

 

And here, deeply intertwined in the symphony of sighs, was love. Not some specific sort of love, as it happens in most cases, but love for things past. Things that disappeared, fell apart, or changed so much that they became distorted and unrecognizable. Love remained, without any real object to be directed to. Desolate, sad and hungry, like some neighborhood bitch that just whelped and her puppies were taken away.

 

Finally, there was the stomach ache, getting stronger and more unbearable by the minute. Reaching it, the symphony was at its loudest, being the only real, physical pain. Or was it? Where did it come from? What was the reason it appeared so suddenly, searing, hurting, gnawing and biting ceaselessly?

 

The cell rang. Loudly, piercingly, disturbingly. The stomach ache became even stronger, tearing and ravaging. It was horrible. She reached and grabbed her phone, put it in silent mode and sighed deeply once again. This time even longer and heavier than before.

 

 

The cat in her lap raised her head and looked at her with those yellow eyes as though she wanted to tell her something. Something really urgent and important. She purred. The kind of soft, soothing purr that calms you down, clears your mind and radiates a strangely infectious energy. Yes, the cat seemed to be passing this energy onto her, giving her strength, eventually clearing all her thoughts. At that moment, everything was crystal-clear. Clearer than ever before. She knew exactly what she had to do, right away, and not let anything discourage her… She opened her laptop feverishly and started typing urgently, almost frantically:

 

Dear Editor,

 

I’m writing to inform you that today I will not be coming to work. Nor tomorrow. Nor the day after tomorrow. In fact, don’t count on me anymore. I decided to get my life back, the one I lost long, long ago…

 

The cat purred more lively, more cheerfully, in sync with the typing on the keyboard. Meanwhile, the stomach ache was slowly wearing off…

 

 

FIRST QUARTER

 

 

Day twenty three. Tyrol. Village of Jochberg, on the slopes of the Tyrolean Alps. She arrived yesterday afternoon, from Salzburg. One place, two days. So far, she had visited a dozen places, and many more awaited her. Fatigue had already set in, but she could not afford to stop. She had to finish this pilgrimage of hers. Get through that purgatory and survive, or go to the next world and be by his side.

Now and then, she wanted to pause and take a breath. Stay longer and find herself again, especially in those places that meant more to her than others. Places that evoked deeper memories.

She couldn’t, though. She had to keep going. One place – two days, 48 hours. That was the plan, and she was sticking to it!

Steadily, she descended the mountain. Very slowly, being knee-deep in snow, even deeper in certain spots. As she was going down, the snow decreased, though the total absence of marcations along the way worried her.

The path she was on, very well-trodden, disappeared mysteriously. Actually, it didn’t disappear: she swerved from it. It was her fault, her mind wandered and she missed a marcation. In the mountain, in the winter, it meant everything. More often than not, it was a life-or-death situation.

She swerved because she thought about Jovan. Last time they were here, together, they went skiing. Half a century had passed since then, perhaps a bit less. Now, she couldn’t ski anymore. She was afraid. Every fall was a potential fracture, and a fracture at her age… did not end well. Nevertheless, her legs were still fit for climbing.

She never stopped climbing, not even in the days of mostly staying at home, with Jovan. He had a nurse who took care of him at certain periods of the day, so she could go out run the errands: shopping, bills, drugstore… and on Sundays, go to the mountains. Climbing was her biggest passion, and the smallest, too. Nothing else gave her pleasure anymore, nor peace. Only the mountains, woods, and now, this pilgrimage.

Though, you couldn’t say this pilgrimage eased her mind, quite the opposite. She thought that, if she visits all these places of “theirs”, the pain would subside. Wear off. Disappear. Unfortunately, she was more often upset rather than calm. Memories flooded back, bringing tears with them. Didn’t she know it was going to be like this? Perhaps she did. Perhaps she wanted to torment herself. He left, she stayed. And once, a hundred lives ago, they promised to each other they would leave together. And they wouldn’t leave bed-ridden, aged and powerless. The drivel of youth…

And so, lost in her thoughts, she swerved from the path, finding herself amidst high, untrodden snow.  She looked for the marcations, but couldn’t see any. She tried tracing her footsteps back to the path somehow, but only went mysteriously around in a circle.

She wasn’t alarmed at first, trusting herself and her climber’s instinct. But, as time went on, she began to feel that sense of dread. Only then did she turn on her phone’s map. Not particularly tech-savvy, like every other mountain-climber, she used GPS.

She turned the navigation on and waited for the location to be found. Something was wrong: the GPS didn’t work. It had happened before, though not for long. She would have to go in a different direction and try again.

She kept going down the mountain, choosing a path between the trees with the least amount of snow. Occasionally she would try and locate herself on the map, but to no avail. Still, she was determined to continue. All the while, her mind strayed back to Jovan. They had had a nice life together. Many trips, many mountains, many forests. And towns, and villages, seas and oceans. They were alone, childless. They decided not to adopt, who knows why. She slightly regretted this decision now, but on the other hand, the trips fulfilled them. They had cats and dogs. Sat in the garden. It was nice. But, the worst came and it exhausted both of them. They struggled for years, he, the poor wretch, and she along with him. Damned illness. Damned old age.

She wiped the tears off her eyes with her glove. Seeing more clearly now, she noticed the magnificent view ahead. Coming out of the pines, she had emerged on a misty clearing, through which a gurgling stream ran, and snow-capped rocks towered on the far end with a waterfall in between. It murmured quietly, like the softest music, happy and sad at the same time. This place was unfamiliar to her, but she couldn’t get her eyes off the scenery. There was something magical about it, some otherworldly energy.

She felt the urge, after a very long time, to take a picture. The memory was worth preserving, this rare beauty needed to be captured.

She grabbed her phone, took a few shots, and was halfway through putting it back inside the pocket when it slipped out of her hand. She made a move to reach and grab it, but stepped badly and felt a sharp pain in her ankle.

An hour later, she was sitting on the rock, scrunched up and truly frightened. Her lug hurt, the screen was shattered to pieces, making the phone useless. She had no idea where she was, what to do, and the worst part was, she couldn’t stay here. She had to move! The evening was near. Come nightfall, she wouldn’t survive, not with the equipment she had. The temperature went well below zero in these mountain areas, and she wasn’t ready for a night in the woods.

She tried to get up and walk. It hurt. She sank to the rock again and looked around. It didn’t seem that magical anymore, but rather cold and alien. As she was sitting, the cold got more and more biting, surrounding the clearing threateningly, swallowing piece by piece with each passing moment. Everything around her seemed bafflingly unreal, like an ominous dream foreshadowing something horrible.

Even weirder than that, her fear seemed to subside. Maybe this was meant to be, she told herself. Go like this. Like a lone wolf. I don’t want to live without him anyway. Don’t want to live… without him… don’t want to… without him… live…

She almost closed her eyes. Almost accepted her fate. Almost. But the, she heard rustling in the treetops above, and breeze sneaked over the clearing, chasing the fog like a hound that wandered into a herd of sheep.

She blinked, looked around, took a deep breath, regaining her strength and… got up! It hurt, but not enough to prevent her from walking. Easy, one step at a time, she could return… if only she knew which way to go!

While trying to figure out the correct path, a rustling sound came from the bushes. It scared her! There were wolves in these woods; bears, too. She turned around apprehensively, and saw – a cat! A beautiful, black cat with a white spot on her chest. In her warm, yellow eyes flickered the flame of some nearby, welcoming fireplace.

“Where did you come from?” she breathed in wonder, knowing that the cat could understand a word or two. Her cats at home were exceptionally intelligent.

The cat meowed a puzzling reply.

“Where do you live, kitty?” she asked. “Where is your home? Home? Zu Haus?”

The cat turned her back slowly, raised her tail and moved along what seemed like an untrodden path, left and down from the waterfall. She hesitated, but the cat turned her head and looked at her expectantly.

I’ll follow her, she thought. She seems to know what she’s doing.

And so they trudged through the snow.

Step by step. The cat and the old mountain-climber.

When she would feel pain in her leg and stopped to rest, the cat stopped too, waiting patiently. And then another step… and another…

Steadily, downwards, to the first houses of Jochberg, right when darkness fell around them, and the moon showed its fresh, joyful face.

On entering the village, the cat leaped without a warning and disappeared into the junipers. She didn’t even get the chance to thank her, but she felt the cat knew very well how much she owed her. Not only her life, but something much, much greater…

Drenched from the snow, she arrived at the boarding-house she was staying at, and the stout, heavyset mistress welcomed her in tears, embracing her tightly, telling her she was scared out of her wits. She said she was ready to call the mountain service. Then she grabbed her, took off her shoes, helped her take off the drenched jacket and dragged her over to the fireplace, then gave her tea and a blanket, telling her all the while that she should change immediately, otherwise she could catch a cold.

She was moved by how concerned this woman was. It made her think. After finally changing her clothes, sitting by the fire with a cup of tea in her hand, the swollen leg rubbed with ointments, carefully bandaged and raised on a stool, she started thinking about what just happened.

About the miracle, the true, true miracle.

Some things in life cannot be explained, my Jovan, she thought. Sometimes we need an experience like this in order to realize just how unpredictable things are, and how little influence we have.

She sank into the comfortable armchair. She would have dinner, then go to bed. The next day she would sleep in, no rush. Nowhere. She would never rush again. She decided to stay a bit longer, here in Jochberg. Perhaps a couple days more, perhaps even longer.

Life doesn’t want plans, love, she heard Jovan’s voice somewhere within her, from the swirl of memories. Surrender to it: only then will you know what it means to live fully.

 

 

ECLIPSE

 

 

She was sitting in the bus, looking out the window. In fact, she was looking more at her own reflection in the window than outside it. They passed by the same old buildings, streets and sidewalks as always when she came home, although, she had to admit, they were quite spellbinding in the evenings.

Still, she preferred to look at herself, study her features, how they matched her hair, makeup, jewelry, even her clothes. She still found this game amusing.

They were at a bus stop. People were getting on and off, and the bus emptied a little. People rarely looked at her. Fortunately, here, in this city, almost no one looked at anyone else. Of course, they didn’t even notice her, just like they didn’t notice anyone or anything. They were too absorbed in their own isolated, selfish worlds. It suited her. She liked that cold selfishness and practiced it.

Back home, it was quite a different matter. Back there, had she gone out spruced up like this, everyone would notice, gaze at her, check her out, comment on her provocative outfit and heavy makeup. Almost everyone she’d meet would badmouth her, some of them could be rude, others downright aggressive. That is why she refused to dress like this in her hometown, trying not to attract too much attention. But, that was at home. The place where she had no intention of ever coming back. The bus moved on. Its swaying made her sleepy. She knew she wouldn’t doze off, but inadvertently let her thoughts go someplace they were not allowed: her deeply suppressed childhood memories, where there also was a bus.

 

***

 

They were going on a school trip. The other children were screaming, laughing, shouting to each other, teasing one another… the others, but not him. He always sat crumpled in some corner, inconspicuous.

Inside the bus, he sat near the driver and the teachers, glued to the window, hoping nobody would notice his existence, or start to mock him, insult him, push or kick him around. They called him a wimp, a sissy, a coward… jeered at him for not being good at soccer and hanging out with girls.

Wussy, they shouted at him, girl! Ha, ha, ha, girl, girl!

He couldn’t understand why they were laughing at him. What was so bad about being a girl? He couldn’t even grasp why he couldn’t be a girl. In fact, his grandma, perhaps the only person that got him, told him when he was very little:

“Look at my handsome boy, pretty as a doll! Ah, you should’ve been born a girl. You really should’ve, my sweet little angel.”

When she caressed him like this, he hugged and kissed her. Also, she was the only one who would let him play with dolls in secret. But, his grandma passed away last year, so now there was nobody who could actually understand him.

He was confused, alone, unable to answer any of the questions that whirled in his mind.

No one to answer them for him, either.

 

***

 

The bus halted at the next stop. She looked out the window. There were three more stops on the way home. A long time. Scary long. She feared the memories that brought back the bitterness, weakness and pain she thought she had done away with. Even so, they haunted her less and less, and she felt free and secure more and more each day.

Again she gazed at her reflection in the window, only this time, another face gazed back. A face she thought she had almost forgotten.

 

***

 

He was standing in front of the mirror. He had been playing this game since he was little: donning his mother’s clothes, applying makeup, putting on all kinds of jewelry, and then looking at himself into the mirror for a long, long time, studying every bit of his face and body.

He felt tremendously excited while doing it. Nothing else in his life thrilled him as much.

Still, he was very cautious. He did it only when he was alone, knowing he was safe. These solitary, furtive moments were perhaps the only time when he felt secure, but there was something more to it.

He felt happy then.  He was his own. He knew who and what he was, what he had always been. While obsessing over his own reflection, he didn’t notice the bedroom door open. He realized what was happening only when his mother and father stood next to him, shocked, dismayed, furious.

“What’s wrong with you? Why are you dressed as a woman? What is that on your face? What are you, a faggot? I don’t want to see you like this ever again, got that? Ever! Go to the bathroom, quick, straighten up and get normal.

Normal. This was normal to him. Those other things, they didn’t feel normal. How could he ever explain to them?

From this day on, he wasn’t sure who he feared more, his peers at school or his parents. The former abused him, and the latter ignored him.

He felt perturbed, hurt, disappointed, lost… Shallow as a cocoon that lets out a gorgeous butterfly, and the butterfly leaves it to dry out and disappear. Why couldn’t he be the butterfly?

 

 

***

 

She realized she was no longer looking at her reflection, but the buildings and people passing by. She didn’t want to remember these things. They were bad memories. From the time before she realized she was a butterfly. The time when she was still forced to think of herself as a boy, even though she felt differently. Deep inside, she always knew she was a girl, a beautiful, tender butterfly.

It was good to have left these memories far behind, back home. And now, this was home. Here, she finally found herself.

When she first came to the city, she still wore male clothes. Then she started leading a double life. During the day, she was a quiet, unassuming boy; in the evening, she turned into a gorgeous nocturnal butterfly, queen of the night, a beauty. Then, she lived exactly how she wanted, allowing herself all these happy moments.

At first, she dreaded a possible incident, like the one at home… the one she refused to remember, the most hideous memory of all, disgusting, humiliating, painful…

 

***

 

the heels clattering on the cobblestones… the insecurity… the gloom… the looks from other people… threathening… she speeds up, almost running… the heels clatter on the cobblestones… breathes heavily…

 

***

 

Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it!

 

***

 

they are following him… running after him… they are faster, gaining on him… grab him… hands, grabbing him…

 

***

 

No, I don’t want to remember, I don’t want to, I don’t want to…

 

***

 

fists… punches… blood… lots of blood… feet… kicked with feet… in his stomach… everywhere… blood… lots of blood… in his mouth… eyes… all over…

 

***

 

The bus halted abruptly, screeching and shaking. The passengers started yelling. This brought her back to reality.

“What happened?” shouted an agitated old woman in the back.

“Nothing serious, it’s all good”, said someone in the front seats.

“Did someone run in front of the bus?” the old woman kept asking. “A child, maybe?”

“No, it was a cat. A black cat. She got away, she’ll be fine.”

Oh God, I hope it ‘s not… no , no way. Enough with these thoughts already. I have to clear my head, right now!

She decided to get off right then and there. She wanted to breathe the air, walk around, not let herself go back ever again. Never go back to her memories, never go back home.

She got to her feet and hurried out the door, a split second before it closed. She kept walking down the street, headed for the apartment. She was truly happy that no one took notice of her, a fact that proved itself day after day, even now, while strolling along the sidewalk. She felt better, and even smiled.

Things were slowly coming into place, once she got outside in the fresh air.

Entering her apartment, she became a different woman altogether. Cheerful and satisfied with her life. She loved this city, loved these people, but most of all, loved Her. She owed everything to Her. From the moment they met, through all stages of transformation, until, with all the daily support and encouragement , she became what she was now. Yes, she owed her everything she was, everything she became after coming here, everything she did and everything she had.

She felt the urge to tell her this, now, tonight. Not that she didn’t already know it, not that she hadn’t told her a million times before, it’s just – she wanted to tell her again.

She wasn’t in the living room, so she went quietly to the bedroom. She peeped through the door and spotted her sleeping, curled up on the bed.

“I knew you’d be here, sleepyhead”, she whispered, then lied gently next to her and started patting her. The black cat raised her head drowsily and looked at her with those bright yellow, otherworldly eyes.

“Oooh, you got up, miss Sith”, she kept cooing while scratching her head. “I wanted to tell you something, but seeing you look at me like this, I know it won’t be necessary, am I right?”

The black cat wagged her tail. Once, twice.

“I knew it”, she said, beaming, then took the cat in her arms and hugged her tightly. “What would I do without you!”

Outside, in the sky above, the Moon fully entered the shadow of the Earth.

The total eclipse lasted exactly 99 minutes.

translated by Vladimir Stojanovski

Barbara Delać

Barbara Delać

Barbara Delać was born in 1994 in Kotor. She graduated with a degree in Modern and Contemporary Art Theory. An award she won at the 32nd Festival of Young Poets in Zaječar enabled the printing of her first book of poetry, Tomorrowland, for which she received The Branko Award in Novi Sad in 2018. Her second collection of poetry Where are we, tell me was published in the 2020 edition of OKF. At the Berlin-Stipendium residency, awarded by the Academy of Arts in Berlin, the poem of the same name Where are we, tell me had its premiere in Berlin, a performative staging, in collaboration with a singer-songwriter, Sara Renar. She also won The Reading Balkans scholarship for 2021.

She has been a member of the literary group Young Writers Forum, which has been gathering at the Podgorica Cultural Center Budo Tomović since 2015. She has published poetry and short stories in numerous anthologies, literary magazines, and portals. She was shortlisted for a German translation in the Time (without) Utopia competition. Young Writers Network, a project supported by the DAAD. Her poetry has been translated into English, German, and translations into Slovenian, French, and Greek have also been announced.

Reading Balkans 2021: Open Call Results

The Reading Balkans residency selection commitee has carefully reviewed 101 valid applications and selected 19 applicants.

The selected authors will be hosted by Publishing House Goga (Novo mesto, Slovenia), Krokodil (Beograd, Serbia), Goten Publishing (Skopje, North Macedonia), Udruga Kurs (Split, Croatia), Poeteka (Tirana, Albania), Qendra Multimedia  (Prishtina, Kosovo), PEN BIH (Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hercegovina).

The members of the selection committee would like to express their sincere gratitude to all applicants for their interest and show their appreciation of the time and effort the applicants invested in preparing their applications.

The results of the open call are listed in the table below.

 

Name Country Residence
Marija Dejanović HR Beograd
Barbara Delać ME Priština
Filip Grujić RS Sarajevo
Neđad Ibrahimović BA Tirana
Samira Kentrić SI Priština
Mojca Kumerdej SI Beograd
Biljana Crvenkovska MK Novo mesto
Vesna Lemaić SI Skopje
Nikola Madžirov MK Sarajevo
Manjola Nasi AL Novo mesto
Tomislav Osmanli MK Split
Ekaterina Petrova BG Beograd
Radmila Petrović RS Skopje
Sven Popović HR Skopje
Sonja Porle SI Tirana
Katarina Sarić ME Priština
Adelina Tërshani XK Sarajevo
Alex Văsieș RO Beograd
Milica Vučković RS Split