Iztok Vrenčur (1985) was born and grow up in Titovo Velenje, town renown for coal mining and heavy industry located in the central-north Slovenia, part of former Yugoslavia. After Gymnasium, he moved to Ljubljana, where he studied Archaeology. He continued his postgraduate research at Filozofski fakultet Zagreb and Freie Universität Berlin and defended PhD work focused on Iron Age Archaeology of Eastern Alps and Balkans in 2018. He published two novels: Odrekanje svetlobi (2013) and Urnebes (2016); several pieces of short stories, poetry and an illustrated book of archaeological fairytales for children. He’s singer and guitarist for 2nd bsx murder.
Father’s voice is muted as if he has just woken up. It can often happen that the whole family glides into a collective dream. I suspect my parent is drunk again and is calling me without even knowing the real reason. This is always happening. A lot of my mornings are ruined like this. But now I get the impression my father knows what he’s talking about, though he’s not sober. He asks:
“How quickly can you come?”
“What are you talking about?”
“About speed, my son. It’s all about the day and what we make of it, before the night falls and everything goes to hell again. So, how quickly?”
“I have to wake up first.”
“You can wake up later. Or as far as I’m concerned never if you want. A quick reaction is what I need now.”
“Oh, it is?”
“Very much so. Don’t be stiff, please, just come running, do as your father asks!”
“So I won’t brush my teeth, I’ll just wash my face, I won’t drink my coffee, just a glass of water, and I’ll be there.”
“That’s the word, son. You’re the pride of the family.”
“Am I really?”
“Definitely. Our only pride. There’s no other. So, you’re coming?”
“On my way, dad.”
“Great. You know where to find me. Try to make it before dawn.”
I know where to find him. How do I know that? How can a man know anything at all? It’s freezing cold. I see the world in a negative. The remains of the snow are black patches. It could be an evening or a morning – there’s fog everywhere and everything’s grey. There’s no real light yet. A walk down a macadam road. By the stream. Crabs are whistling quietly. Like the voices in your head, humming slowly; they’re difficult to hear. I whistle myself and answer them with their own melody. The creaking of boots on limy gravel reminds me of walking.
A black Mercedes with open windows drives down the road. Three grim mobsters are sitting in it. Two are in front, one who is totally pale, almost translucent, is seated in the back. The driver stops the car. He’s smoking. He lifts his gaze from the steering wheel and looks straight into my eyes. A stranger in these surroundings. He’s got the stern and cruel face of a bully, one who doesn’t think much when there’s a person who has to be served with pain. I know his type well. I expect he’ll ask me for directions or something even more unpleasant, but instead of doing that, he speaks in verse. He pronounces the words slowly and with an unusual accent.
“The world is a range of vanity,
a field of the passage of time and ruin,
all paths lead to nowhere, life is unbearable
vigilance, mercy spent,
a nervous habit.”
Afterwards, we look at each other for a few seconds. The man is frowning, wrinkling his forehead as if he’s worried I didn’t get the point.
“Oh, I see”, I say. “And what should I do with this?”
“Nothing”, he says. “Just remember it. You are now me. If you don’t believe me, just wait for a bit. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
He clears his throat ceremonially, spits on my trouser leg in an elegant arc and drives away. I have no idea what I should think about all this. We’re all crazy here.
I carry on walking, and I think about the weakness of my own body. It keeps diminishing, more rickety by the day. Something is twingeing in my lower back and in my upper left leg. It must be sciatica. I spend too much time sitting in cafes. It looks like my kidneys are ok today, but it’s not too late for them to get worse anytime later. The pain is here to remind me. The world is a range of vanity.
I can already see my father’s donkey. Through the veil of mist, it looks like it’s the only one left of its species. There is frost on its mane and on the hair of its back. This donkey must have been standing still for some time. A hemp rope fastens it to a wobbly wooden fence that leads through the village to a church. God’s house has fewer holes in its roof and façade than the rest of the buildings in this hamlet. Where there was a mosque some years ago, there is now a parking lot and a small stand made of orange plastic. The devil is selling chewing gum, hot dogs and cigarettes at the stand.
Father never had enough dough to buy a real horse. The donkey is a stylish alternative; you have to admit that, like it or not. The animal is standing still; it’s not young anymore; somehow we all expect it will die before the winter’s over. Or maybe it won’t. It’s still chewing and drooling abundantly. It has some teeth. You can find out what’s going on inside it by the colour and taste of its saliva, they say.
The bench is made of a spruce tree trunk, split in half. It looks good next to the roughly squared table where fragments and chips of wood can still be seen. A litre-bottle of spirit is half empty. There’s a smell of spruce resin and tobacco in this fresh air.
“Good morning, son.”
He’s as drunk as a lord. There are dark bags under his eyes. He hasn’t slept all night. He’s drunk just enough rakija to make him feel bored on his own so he wanted to have a debate with someone who is not just a voice in his head.
“Have you eaten breakfast?”
“You know very well I haven’t. There was supposed to be a hurry. What do you want from me?”
He’s poking around his coat and then around his faded bag.
“Wait. There was a half of a roll here.”
“It’s ok”, I resist. “I’m not hungry.”
“Just you wait, I’ll find it. Unless… Unless I ate it myself.” “Never mind, I’m really not hungry.”
“I’m sorry, son, I just remembered I ate it last night. All the same. When you’re hungry we’ll eat the other half. Would you like it now?”
“Thanks, I don’t feel like it. I don’t eat bread in the morning anyway. So tell me, why did I come here?”
“You came here because I told you to come, ha ha ha. But why are you so impatient, the day hasn’t begun yet, and we have plenty of time. Before the whole thing ends, everything will be crystal clear. Then you’ll understand what’s going on. I suggest we don’t hurry; that was never our family’s way; we should take it slowly. A man has to have a system.”
He pours two glasses, hospitably, drinks his in an instant and meaningfully puts mine on a gnarl in the table. He rolls a cigarette and expects me to drink bottoms up. I take my time; I want to show him I don’t drink as immorally as he does. And especially not before nine o’clock in the morning. But my father’s unspoken command and our family instinct take precedence. As in a dream, I grab the little glass and pour it into my mouth. I swallow half of it immediately, and slowly roll the rest of it around my teeth. The plaque on the dentine melts. The clapper beats hollowly against the bronze in the stone belfry. It’s a quarter to six in the morning.
The alcohol fires up my cerebellum. Damn it. Where did the old man find such excellent spirit? The cheap poison that usually puts him to sleep is alright for cleaning various dental things at most, and spells certain death for you and me. It doesn’t do any harm to the old man; it seems the spirit makes him even stronger and insightfully meaner with the years. His body is capable of transforming the alcohol into sugar in an instant. Maybe the poison has dried him up a bit, you could say that. But he’s still well enough to sit on the bench before sunrise and sip this first-class spirit. Where did he get the money? Could it be that the madman called me just to show me a half-emptied bottle and brag about the quality of his morning aperitif? I think it’s called aperitif.
My dad waves a freshly-folded piece of paper in front of my nose which makes things even more mysterious. Even though his hand is shaking, I still notice the writing is suspiciously similar to his. Thin, unevenly backward-sloping letters in cursive, with some occasional scribble caused by delirious ticks. I can see the building company Balkanasfalt watermark on the edge of the paper. I don’t know anyone working for the company, but I’ve heard about it, of course, who hasn’t? You’ll hear about it soon too if you haven’t already. But didn’t Balkanasfalt go to the dogs? Most likely. Every company in the world is on its way there. The paper has been torn out of a notebook or a calendar, the kind that’s printed every December in ten thousand copies by big companies. I know my father doesn’t use this kind of thing. There’s only one sentence written.
“I took your money and took the fuck off across the border.”
What a lie, I think to myself. This stinks to high heaven. Haven’t we already seen something like this? So he’s out of money, that’s what he’s trying to tell me this fresh morning. This is no news of course, more like a normal condition. Sometimes, when he gets a bit of a money, my father switches into his abnormal state. He’s staring at me like somebody who is planning revenge, and is totally convinced about being right and keeps on agreeing with his own ideas all the time. He’s just an old, drunken man. Nothing more. He speaks in a weepy voice:
“My son! Did you see what this bastard has done to us this time? He destroyed us! We’re done!”
He crushes the paper with an outraged movement into a ball and throws it at random over his shoulder.
“Do you know who it was?”
“Who else? Our arch-enemy. Oh, what have we done so wrong for God to punish us with such a cruel enemy?”
He looks up into the sky with an accusation; then he looks towards the church and drinks out of the bottle twice under the weight of his sorrow.
“There is no God, dad. There’s just a lot of unclear and contradictory voices that confuse us even more.”
“You’re wrong, son. There is God. There definitely is. He hates us and wants to exterminate us.”
“So we are ruined.”
“That’s right. But we’re still going to fight! An exciting life is the best life. We’ll catch the devil today. Tonight or never. Are you with me?”
I think it might be best to clear things once and for all. Enough is enough. There has to be an end to these constant thefts. There is nothing left, and the poverty has totally worn us out.
“I’m with you, dad. Let’s go hunting.”
“That’s the word; I knew you are my son. I’m sorry to wake you up, but as you can see, the situation is dangerous. Catching this devil is more important than sleep. After we cross the border and find him, the dog will be finished. We’ll break his bones and cut off his dick, nose and ears. We’ll punish him for his past sins and prevent future ones make sure he can’t commit any more.”
“Let’s go, old man. I can’t sit still any more.”
He cries with excitement. He puts out his fag and slips the bottle deep into a pocket of his dirty coat. He lifts a finger into the air:
“There’s one crucial thing to do before we set off.”
“Weapons?” I read his mind.
“Re-vol-ver”, he spells out with satisfaction. I nod, even though I don’t believe him. Flakes of fog are falling lazily from the sky and hovering over the fields. Let’s arm ourselves for whatever may come.
my father’s revolver
He steps in first. I fill my lungs with air before I follow him. The log cabin is dark and stuffy. They don’t waste money on paraffin. It’s getting harder and harder to buy it lately. Like everything else. Except for coal, milk and eggs.
I’ve known humpback since childhood. He’s very ugly and very mean. These are his main characteristics worth mentioning. You feel a little pity for him, you feel a bit of disgust, this is how it is with him. And with all that, you can’t figure out whether he’s mean because of his hump or he’s ugly because he’s mean. He doesn’t like seeing us here. He spits on the ground in disgust when father tells him in his drunken voice that he wants a revolver and he wants it on loan. He doesn’t have any money with him because the criminals have stolen it again, but he will repay and return everything as soon as he gets back everything that’s his, with the revolver of course. He needs it to send a bullet into the thief who is robbing and hurting his family over and over again. I stand quietly beside him. The humpback’s mute wife is standing in the back of the shop, wildly shaking her head. She’s sitting on a cupboard swinging her legs in the air. I can see her figure in this semi-darkness. As far as I know the whole family are midgets. Midgets and mean. Who knows, maybe they’ve figured out this is the only way they can survive among us, the wild ones.
It’s no use; the humpback doesn’t want to give the revolver for free, despite the passionate persuasion. He says he’s not stupid and that my father hasn’t paid any loan back in his whole life. I have to agree with the freak on that.
The negotiations fail. It seems as if father has given up. He comes up with material arguments. Determined, he pokes around his coat, and secretly gives the salesman something into his hand so that I don’t see what it is. The eyes of the humped freak sparkle in the halflight. A satisfied growl. Suddenly, he’s in a good mood, I think he’s even smiling a bit, but it’s hard to tell from his permanently frowning face. His midget lady purrs as if her husband had given her some especially rare satisfaction. She slips off the cupboard; we hear a hollow sound while she’s rummaging somewhere in the dark below. Then she approaches on tiptoe, and without any further hesitation we see the thing father came to get. The revolver looks huge in her tiny hairy hands, and the barrel unnaturally wide. She whispers respectfully:
“American stuff. Best quality. Careful.”
“You be careful of the fire!”,
hisses father and quickly hides the gun. “You and your home!”,
I shout, then we quickly step out of the stuffy shack.
During our negotiations in the store, the fog has frayed. The revolver is shining, glittering in the sun like some kind of fucking diamond. It’s brand new and greased. I’m impressed. Not only have I never seen my father with anything so beautiful, I’m totally serious when I say my young eyes have never before seen anything more beautiful than this. It’s a completely different kind of weapon than the rusty old double-barrelled shotgun, which is really a single-barrelled shotgun, that hangs on my back even when I sleep. It hurts me, but I never take it off, I’m such a militant.
Father sticks it proudly under his belt so that the barrel is resting nicely parallel to his cock. That’s how a real man carries a cold weapon. He walks with a swagger and I follow, absorbed in my own thoughts. I’m mesmerized. What did my father give the humpback for this revolver? Secrets. I’m racking my brains, but I can’t guess. First, quality spirit, then the weird note and now this. There’s no money, yet there is. But still, there isn’t, that’s why we’re going to get it. It’s a beautiful revolver that now belongs to my father. The secrets are multiplying faster than Kosovars under a warm blanket.
The excerpt from the novel Urnebes, translated by Dolores Malič and David Lythgoe.
At a well-attended press conference held on the 30th of June at the Goga Bookstore in Novo Mesto, we shared the news on our project Reading Balkans: Borders vs. Frontiers with Slovenian journalists.
Jasmina Topić is a Serbian authoress mainly focused on writing poetry, but she is also established as an occasional short prose and essay writer; literary reviewer; editor/editor in chief of two significant projects. She started a contemporary poetry edition called “Najbolja” (“The Best”) with another poet from her hometown Pančevo in 2012 and is in-charged in (co)editing as well as book design. She cooperates with the Youth Center in Pančevo as editor-in-chief of the publication “Rukopisi” (“Manuscripts”) since 1998 – a collection of young poets and short-prose writers from former Yugoslavia, published annually. Jasmina Topić has six sole-authored poetry books and several stories printed in journals and specialized thematic books (listed below). Furthermore, she has been continually publishing articles, columns and essays for journals (paper and online) throughout the ex-YU region. From 2000 until 2009, she worked as a freelance journalist. Her poems are translated into several languages and she is included in some major selections of the Serbian and ex-Yugoslavian poetry (the latest: Cat Painters, Dialogos, New Orleans, USA, 2017). Her poetry is often presented in a multimedia context and she managed to present it through video-works in a DVD called “The quiet renewal of the summer” (2008) and also with audio CD “Languages of Poetry”, in several languages – prepared for the final exhibition of the AIR program in Graz, Austria (2014) (available on Soundcloud).
Jasmina Topić had the opportunity to be called on a few Artist in residence programs: the “Milo Dor” stipend from KulturKontakt (Vienna, Austria, 2008), Kamov residency (Rijeka, Croatia, 2012), “Tirana in between” (Traduki program, Tirana, Albania, 2013), RONDO residency (Graz, Austria, 2014) and Create in residence (Baltic centre for writers and translators, Visby, Sweden, 2014). At the end of 2019. she was a resident in Krems, Austria, as a part of the writers exchange project between Austria and Serbia.
She won several prizes on literary contests, and two for her poetry/poetry book: “Duškovićeva zvona” (Pančevo, 2002), “Matićev šal” (Ćuprija, 2003 for the book “Pension. Metamorphoses”), respectively. Her latest poetry book “Beach Insomnia” was short-listed for all major poetry prizes in Serbia in 2017.
Topić, Jasmina. Plaža Nesanica / The Beach Insomnia. Kulturni centar Novi Sad. Novi Sad. 2016.
(the book was nominated last year as short-listed for three most significant poetry prizes in Serbia: “Vasko Popa”, “Đura Jakšić” and “Milica Stojadinović-Srpkinja” (female poets) )
Topić, Jasmina. Dok neko šapuće naša imena / While Someone is Whispering our Names. UKKPP. Pančevo. 2012.
Topić, Jasmina. Tiha obnova leta / The Quiet Renewal of the Summer. Povelja. Kraljevo. 2007.
Topić, Jasmina. Romantizam / Romantizism. Alfa – Narodna knjiga. Beograd. 2005.
Topić, Jasmina. Pansion. Metamorfoze / Pension. Methamorphoses. Centar za stvaralaštvo mladih. Beograd. 2002.
Topić, Jasmina. Suncokreti. Skica za dan / Sunflowers. Portrait for the Day. Udruženje književnika Pančevo. Pančevo. 1997.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Čiji grad – književni protest. Kontrast. Beograd. 2016.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Grenzverkehr III. A new beginning – but where is it leading?.
Kultur Kontakt & Drava Verlag, Vienna. 2012.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Kod srpskog pisca. Službeni glasnik. Beograd. 2011.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Leksikon božjih ljudi. Službeni glasnik. Beograd. 2010.
Topić, Jasmina, et. al. Projekat Kortasar. Povelja. Kraljevo. 2002.
EXAMPLES OF WORK:
first translator: Novica Petrovic (SRB)
second translator: Biljana D. Obradovic (US)
third: author and Lara Jakica (AUS)
order of poems:
Serbian > English
Bili smo tihi. Kao one kržljave ptičice
nesvesne ovog sveta.
Još uvek zlovoljni.
Moje telo pored tvog uvek blago dehidrira.
Tvoje telo je mekano i cedim
iz njega svetu vodicu svojih nedostataka.
Vodu koja mi uvek nedostaje.
Mehuri sapunice i mehuri deterdženta,
dva proizvoda sa istog odeljenja, to
smo postigli u traganju za idealom.
Letimo po ovom stanu kao perje
Očerupanih golupčića spremljenih za dobru supu.
Svako za svojim kompjuterom,
U video igrici postiže cilj. Na sledećem sam nivou.
Pregovaramo o Second life-u.
Ko izgubi iznosi parčiće slomljenog
na veliko gradsko smetlište.
Nakon svega znam da ćemo postati još tiši.
Ulegnuće u krevetu raste kao i svako predgrađe.
U taj stan se nismo uselili.
Sve je toplije i uskoro će leto.
we were ljuiet. Just like those tiny skinny birds
unaware of this world.
we are still morose.
My body always dehydrates slightly next to yours.
Your body is soft and I sljueeze
from it the holy water of my shortcomings.
The water that I always lack.
Soap bubbles and detergent bubbles,
two products from the same department, that’s
what we achieved straining to attain the ideal.
we fly around this flat like the feathers
of plucked pigeons ready to be made into a good soup.
Everyone sitting at his or her computer,
achieves his or her objectives in video games. I’ve reached the next level.
we are negotiating on Second life.
The loser gets to take broken fragments
to the great city dump.
I know that when all’s said and done we’ll become even ljuieter.
The dent in the bed grows like any suburb.
we did not move into that flat.
It’s getting warmer and summer will be upon us soon.
vse moje izkušwe
grejo naravnost v literaturo
Iskustva iz figurativnog ranca
idu pravo u poeziju
I po kiši dosadnoj i uopšte rečeno groznoj
može se pisati –
Taj maleni napor trošenja hartije,
u igri šaha ili solitarea s dosadom,
a i kreativnom besparicom
naglost, adrenalin (tim redosledom ?!)
kao gledanje sportskog susreta
to je podgrejani nacionalizam paprikaš
džepni izdavač instant saznawa
pesma je sada gerilac
guram kolica naravno prazna
igram igricu koja bi se takođe i od stiha
za mladost buduću
tu je pevanje ostalo pred vratima
iskušenje s iskustvom
za stan u koji sutra nećeš moći da uđeš
jer si švorc
Onda muziku ugasiš
jednoličan ritam ambijentalnog haosa
i sitne, sitne, još sitnije kao
pirinač za sirotinju –
Kiša je jedino konstantno iskustvo
koje će upravo postati literarno.
all my experiences
go straight into literature
Experiences from the figurative sack
go straight into poetry
Even in boring rain, which is dreadful generally speaking,
one can write –
This small effort aimed at using paper,
warming up your fingers
playing chess or solitaire with boredom,
and with creative pennilessness
rashness, adrenalin (in that order?!)
watching a sporting event
heated-up nationalism stew
a poem is now a guerrilla fighter
I push the cart, empty, of course
I play a game that could also be animated
for future youth
there’s singing left in front of the door
an ordeal involving experience
on account of a flat where you won’t be able to move in
because you’re broke
Then you switch off the music
the monotonous rhythm of ambiental chaos
and tiny, tiny, even tinier, like
rice for the poor –
The rain is the only constant experience
that is to become a literary one.
NE SPAVAM CELU NOĆ
Iz čistog nezadovoljstva. Mislim kako se grad
prepun mogućnosti neprestano sužava.
Nešto malo pre toga, tog predvečerja,
bakuta šeta s štapovima u rukama, samo što ona nije skijaš,
i sneg skoro neće pasti. Nedelja je i nema graje.
Zato je noć idealna za nesanicu.
I dok odmiče… nemam ni časovnik koji će
odbrojavati nezadovoljstvo ili prebrojavati ovčice.
Nasmejem se u gluvo-doba-noći tako da to
niko ne čuje, pa na trenutak zastanem,
da udahnem i izdahnem.
Ne klopara li neko zavojitim stepeništem
i nije li sad već na mezaninu!
Čisto fizičko zadovoljstvo osetim kada jagodice prstiju
dotaknu tastaturu projektovane nesanice.
Kada me već sasvim obavije čista runska vuna postrizanih ovčica
iskrsnu fotografije, lice u kreču, glini ili prahu,
ne razaznajem baš najbolje.
Tada, nalik čudu, krv sama potekne iz kažiprsta i vene na vratu
nabreknu nalik boraniji u zelenom omotaču. Trenutak živosti.
Kažem naglas da rasteram što je preostalo: Mi smo stvarni!
Iz čistog nezadovoljstva.
I DON’T SLEEP ALL NIGHT
Out of sheer discontent. I think of how a city
Overflowing with possibilities is constantly narrowing.
A little before that, before that dusk,
A granny walks with sticks, only she’s no skier
And it won’t be snowing anytime soon. It’s Sunday and there’s no clamour.
That’s why the night’s ideal for not sleeping.
And as it unfolds… I don’t even have a clock
To tick away discontent or count sheep.
I smile in the dead of night so that
No one gets to hear it, then I pause for a moment, to inhale and exhale.
Is that someone rattling up the spiral staircase
and isn’t he in the mezzanine already!
I feel pure physical pleasure when the cushions of my fingers
Touch the keyboard of my projected insomnia.
when I am entirely enveloped in the pure new wool of fleeced sheep,
Photographs crop us, a face in lime, clay or dust,
I can’t make them out very well.
Then, like a miracle, blood flows out of the forefinger of its own accord
and the veins in the neck
swell like French beans in a green envelope. A moment of liveliness.
I say aloud to dispel what’s left: we are real!
Out of sheer discontent.
NE ŽIVESMO OSIM ČITAJUĆI
Izgubila se u prostoru jedne knjige,
pratile me reči pesme na nepoznatom jeziku,
toplog mediteranskog melosa, kao zajednička
bivanja na ostrvima gde uvek treba obnoviti radost.
I dva prostora, oivičena senkama i muzikom,
potirala su me; U istu ravan dovodila
s linijom nepovučenom,
na dnu lista, izvan fusnote.
Tamo gde je pripadnost zamirala
izbijala je strast za napisanim, jednim
od mogućih svetova što so ih ispere
kao štamparsku grešku.
A prostor knjige menjao nam je oblik
lica, dodeljivao namenu. I bila sam. –
Zaistinski priljubljena za stihove, za slike
kao za nekadašnje rame,
sanjajući o severnim morima tako živahnim,
iz pisama prelomljenih u stihove.
Osluškivala kada će zlatne bubice hlebne
mileti mojom kožom, drhtureći. Boravila
pod polarnim svetlom, nadohvat drugosti
drugog, realnog života…
Ali ne živesmo osim čitajući, odmeravajući
ono pre i posle napisanog dok su tvoje oči,
male orahove ljuske na liniji imaginarnog,
Bile i more i nesanica.
Sada tako lagano klizim pored glečera čija imena,
a i namene ne prepoznajem.
I kao u dubokom, najdubljem snu ispod santi,
poneki glas me doziva iz svetla
u kojem se ne da više boraviti.
Ovog jutra, od jutra do mraka.
WE NEVER LIVED EXCEPT WHEN READING
I got lost in the space of a book,
the words of a poem in an unknown language followed me,
warm Mediterranean ethnic music, like joint
stays on islands where joy is always to be renewed.
Two spaces edged by shadows and music
annulled me; they brought me down to the level
of a line not drawn,
at the bottom of a sheet, outside the footnote.
where belonging was dying out
the passion for writing emerged, for one
of the possible worlds washed out by salt
like a misprint.
And the space of the book changed our facial
form, gave us a purpose. And I was. –
Truly attached to verses, to pictures
the way I was to a shoulder of bygone times,
dreaming of northern seas so lively,
from those letters arranged into verses.
I listened, waiting for gold bugs
to start milling across my skin, trembling. I resided
under polar light, within arm’s reach of the otherness
of another, real life…
But we never lived except when reading, sizing up
that which preceded and followed the writing while your eyes,
tiny nutshells on the line of the imaginary,
were both the sea and insomnia.
Now I slide slowly by the glacier whose names
and purpose I do not recognise.
And as if in a deep, deepest dream under ice floes,
occasional voices call out to me from the light
in which it is no longer possible to reside.
This morning, from dawn till dusk.
Translation from Sebian into English
by Novica Petrović
Polako, leto se završavalo pljuskom kiše.
Uvek, na kraju, mora biti taj pljusak.
Zamišljena međa između lakoće i ozbiljnog –
Završili smo svoja putovanja,
željni sunca i igre – svega!
Još jedno leto iza nas, i more,
veliki sentiment, u kojem bi se mogli udaviti.
Napuštali smo naše zimske kaveze,
kao obavezu održavanja plamena u peći,
drhtavicu smetova, svet u snu.
Završili smo s pejzažima,
kroz prozor autobusa u suncu,
svetlucavoj vodi zalaska.
Dok putem isplovljavamo
ka dobrim starim sobama vidim nestvarni su…
Gradovi, kao preslikani, na vodi.
U noći, dok duša spava otvorenih očiju.
Gradove u kojima smo mogli poživeti,
daleko od svojih, vraćajući se sebi.
Isprali nakupljenu kišnicu otrova.
Na trenutak odložili maske.
Patetika roni iz vozačevog kasetofona,
U istoj sobi počeli, u istoj okončaćemo,
S ponovnom slutnjom zime.
Prisećajući se lakoće,
stvarnosti svojih udova…
U senovitom kutu sobe ta maska čeka.
Slowly, the summer ends with a rain shower.
Always, in the end, must come that rain shower. Here
on the imaginary border between the light-hearted and the serious—
we’ve ended our travels,
eager for sun and fun—for everything!
Another summer lies behind us, with its big sea,
a large feeling, in which we could have drowned.
we left our winter cages behind, as if
under an obligation to keep the furnace firing,
for shivers of snowdrifts, a world in a dream.
we’ve finished with landscapes, fading away into the distance
through the window of the bus , gleaming over water in the sunset.
As we rise above the water on the road
towards home sweet home, I can see the vistas are unreal…
Cities, appear in silhouette above the water.
At night, like ghosts we sleep with eyes open.
In cities where we might have lived
away from our loved ones, we return to ourselves.
we have washed away the poisoned rain.
we have put our masks aside for a moment.
Pathos emerges from the driver’s cassette player,
towards our homeland.
we began in the same room, we’ll end in the same room,
but now with a new foreboding of winter.
Remembering the lightheartedness,
the reality of our body parts…
In the corner of the room, in shadows, that mask awaits.
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
ZRENJE U NEPOMIČNOSTI
Odrastam (– odrasla!) među senkama leta,
u tajanstvenoj kretnji asfaltom, ka dosadi.
Kao da još uvek traje: zrenje, slatkoća zrelog,
U kolima, putevima u krug, prija povetarac,
iznenadan smeh – kao prah odnet u senku.
Skupljeni na istom mestu, zatvoreni u sobe
naših strahova, već prodati u bescenje.
Tek nekolicina, drugara, zaista budna.
Priče se isprepliću…
Ne putujemo nikuda. Odredišta su kao luke
na sedmoj strani sveta, isijavajući iz tv aparata.
Nužne obmane, da se u sebe vraćamo
jedva okusivši užitak. Slobodi da se bude svoj,
ipak u tajnosti. Tu u mraku, gradskoj mitologiji,
između svega što nam neće dati da budemo,
još jedna tura: penušavca i iskamčene sreće.
Vodi se simulirana strast.
Pamtićemo se po mirisima kože.
I vidim, poređani kao svetiljke autoputa,
i u ludilu smo, i u dosadi.
Šta je ispred, nego mrak.
GROWING UP IN STANDSTILLNESS
I am growing up (–grown!) among summer shadows,
in the mysterious movement on asphalt, towards boredom. Though
it’s still happening: growing up, with the sweetness of being ripe,
In the car, circling the roads, a breeze soothes,
with a sudden smile—as if dust taken in by the shadows.
Gathered in the same place, locked in the rooms
of our fears, already sold into pricelessness.
Only a few, friends, remain truly awake.
Our stories are intertwined…
we don’t travel anywhere. Destinations are like ports
on the seventh continent of the world, only emitted from the TV.
Necessary deceits, that we might return to ourselves
barely having trusted life’s pleasures. Free to be ourselves,
still in secret. Here in the darkness, lost in the myth of the city,
lost among all things that won’t allow us to be,
yet another round: of the foaming liljuid,
of the happiness that comes from begging.
A simulated passion takes place.
we’ll remember each other by the smell of our skins.
And I can tell, from the line of lights along the highway,
we are enveloped in madness, and in boredom.
what else is ahead of us, but darkness.
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
OSTRVO, PLAŽA, PIVO,
I palma u pozadini! Dodatak fotografiji,
pridružena razglednica nekome tamo, u domovini,
koju nikada nećemo poslati.
I tamne fleke po pitomom moru.
I tresetnica lako pada preko oblih kamenčića.
Biće razbacani posle po kutovima sobe,
kao idoli morskih noći, kao zalog tih dana.
Ritual spuštanja na plažu, ritual poniranja
u vodu, oživljavanje one boje
koja je život u punom sjaju.
Sa obaveznim kartama, bez keca u rukavu,
i zveckavim novčićima, svetlucavim sunašcima
za koja se može dobiti popodnevno pivo.
Na fotografiji videće se jasno,
i koju marku piva pijemo, mokre kose…
A u pozadini palma!
Jesmo li svi, koji ovde boravimo,
privid nas samih, ili ostvareni snovi tela
u odblesku na vodi?!
Obavezno je nekoliko SMS poruka
prijateljima i inima. To. Da smo na plaži.
Da pijemo pivo. I, uopšte, nije loše.
živimo mali poetični privid. Plavu čistinu.
I ova pesma je kao i fotografija.
Uvlaenje u triko uplaćenih deset
all inclusive tretmana.
I da, na plaži merkamo, kako da zaboravim,
bludnog, divnog sina: Kavafija. Eto
je i poezija.
ISLAND, BEACH, BEER,
and a palm! An additional note to the photograph
on a group postcard for those back home
in the homeland, a postcard we’ll never mail
And those dark spots on the calm sea.
Heat easily falls over the rounded stones.
They will be scattered afterwards all over the room’s corners
as icons of sea nights, as souvenirs from those days.
The ritual of our descent to the beach, of diving grandly
into the water, of reviving that color of life in full splendor.
with the obligatory cards games, with no ace up your sleeve,
and the clink-clank of the coins, those small, shiny suns
with which one can buy an afternoon beer.
A guaranteed mirage.
In this photograph, you can clearly see,
even the label on the beer we are drinking, wet haired…
And in the background, a palm!
Are we all, we, here on vacation, all
a mere illusion of ourselves, or a dream realized in our bones
by our reflection in the water?
Must we send a few text messages
to friends and family; tell them how we’re at the beach?
How we are drinking beer. And, how it’s not bad, overall.
we are living a small poetic illusion. Under a clear blue sky.
And this poem is like a photograph:
of me sljueezing into my leotard
after ten, all inclusive treatments.
And yes, on the beach we eyed, how could I forget
that promiscuous, marvelous son: Cavafy! Now,
vijena – beograd via budimpešta
Budimpešta promiče u noći
kao svetleći jo-jo. Cena na etiketi da padneš u nesvest;
bečki žirovi, ušteđeni, grče se na dnu kofera.
Odavno nisam videla svetleću stvar.
Zvuk njegov čujem još samo kao eho reklame koja
Tako isto ne mogu da se setim ni Budimpešte
jer je nemam u sećanju.
njene zašestarene površine i odmerene milimetre
imaginacije dok panorama klizi
pred staklom noćnog voza –
moja lampa za čitanje nasuprot svetlima
prigrađa. Kao hrčak u transportnoj laboratoriji.
Mišomor za varvarina.
Prebacujući se s desne na levu i leve na desnu
Ravnoteža je ključna reč pesme. Panorame. Pogleda.
Za bivstvovanje i prelazak preko granice
iz civilizacije u ono što je iza njenih rubova:
15 minuta kasnije voz usporava
i sećanje na jedno drugačije postojanje briše se
kao i prostor načet mirisom prepoznatljivih krajolika.
Hor u slušalicama na crno kupljenog mobilnog telefona
zapevaće nedefinisano Haleluja!
raspad. slagalice 30-godišnjeg bivstvovanja.
u pauzi između Budimpešte i nastavka
dugog puta kroz noć… zvuk zrikavaca
Prekinut ponovnim noćnim slikom
i kloparanjem šina.
Vienna—Belgrade via Budapest
Budapest passes during the night
like a flashing yo-yo. The price on the tag, for you to faint;
Viennese acorns, saved, stuffed at the bottom of the suitcase.
I haven’t seen anything for awhile now.
Its sound I only hear as an echo of that billboard that has survived
the falling apart,
In the same way, I cannot recall Budapest
since I don’t have her in my memory.
Her clearly marked center and measured space
purely left to imagination, as our panorama
slides by, in front of the night train’s tinted glass—
my reading light reflected against the lights
of the suburbs. As if a hamster in a lab on wheels.
Or a mousetrap for barbarians.
Moving from right to left and left to right
along my hip—the regulator.
Balance is the key for any poem. For the panorama. The view.
For existence and going over the border
from civilization into that which is just past it:
Fifteen minutes later the train slows
and the memory over a different existence disappears
as if a room filled with the scent of familiar places.
The choir in the earphones of my brand new black mobile phone
will soon start to sing indiscriminate Hallelujahs!
The collapse. The riddles of the last thirty years.
The war. Everything.
In the rest stop between Budapest and the continuation
of our long trip through the night…the chirp of crickets
is broken again by the long obstacles of darkness,
and the clatter of tracks.
Translated by Biljana D. Obradović
ONA NEĆE. NIJE ONA OFELIJA.
Ona otvara prozore i spušta kapke,
Dan je savršeno zimski miran i nijedan vetar
neće poremetiti pauzu između dve praznine:
One u kojoj je zatečena i druge u koju leže.
Ispod kapaka vri nemirna zenica koja
samo želi da pogleda, da vidi uvek, samo još jednom,
neki mogući put. Ono drhti nemirno kao ptičija krila,
nervozni cvrkut na čistom plavom,
na jasnom pogledu kroz otvoren prozor:
Ona je budna pod niskim nebom tavanice,
ali njeno telo ne želi pokret u svet.
Svet je igralište oivičeno rubovima kreveta,
Dok ispod kapaka, dok pod njima kapka,
splin unutrašnjih mapa, drugačije opisanog grada:
Prošla je prva izmaglica prošlo je toplo telo,
Leto je proteklo kao pesak odnekud pod zubima,
Lomljen u buduće kamenolome –
Ona pevuši tiho, ona jeste tiha, ništa joj ne može
nijedan glas razuma, niko je ne može dotaknuti
Ona spušta kapke i rukama napipava novouspostavljeni mrak
Ona dolazi, ona ostaje, ona odustaje
I neprestano kaplje u dodiru sa svežim zrakom.
SHE DOES NOT. SHE IS NO OFELIA
She opens the windows and closes her eye-lids,
The day is in a perfect winterly peace
and no sound can disturb the pause between two emptiness:
The one she finds herself in and the one
she is about to lay down in.
Beneath the eye-lids, a restless pupil is boiling
its desire to look, always to see, just one more time,
a possible path. It trembles without peace like a bird’s wing,
a nervous twitter on the clear blue,
on the bright view through the open window:
it won’t look ahead
it won’t fall asleep
She is awake under the low sky of a ceiling,
but her body does not want to move into the outside world.
The world is a playground wired with the edge of the bed,
And behind the eye-lids, the lids are melting in drops,
a spleen of inner maps, of a differently described city:
it won’t look ahead
it won’t fall asleep
The first haze is over, the warm body has gone by,
A summer slipped like sand, out of nowhere, between her teeth,
Crushed in the future ljuarry –
She sings a ljuiet song, she is ljuiet, nothing can get to her,
not a single voice of reason, no one can touch her anymore
it won’t look ahead
it won’t fall asleep
She closes her eyes reaching for a newly discovered darkness
She comes, she stays, she is giving up
And continuously melting in drops when in contact
with the fresh air.
(from the book “Beach Insomnia”, Cultural centre Novi Sad, 2017)
Translated by the author and Lara Jakica
Jutrom se oslanjala na senke plavlje od izmaglice,
kroz prozor uvale dok otvara čistotu sveta izbrisanog
u velikom zamahu; a noću taj isti svet sužavao se na nebo
iznad terase, uvale, iznad mora.
Dole u luci, brod Marin susretao je gospa Snježnu,
plavo za dečake, crveno za devojčice, i njihova tela ukotvljena
ispred povremeno bučnog kamenoloma.
Nije moglo bolje ni u sevdalinci, jer su im se kljunovi
uvek nežno mimoilazili, i jer je ona odlazila, ali se i vraćala.
Sloboda se kupovala, na sitno, u oštrom kamenjaru
i predvečernjoj bonaci, u nijansama koje ne traži reči,
ali traže pogled i radost sagovornika.
Pila se vina, uvek izrazito žuta, normalno divlja,
jer ne idu bez sunca; dovoljna za opijanja i potrebne fatamorgane;
Na plaži, bilo je i previše sati što stoje, čak i u bučnom motoru
lokalnih barki, dok prevoze, od vode, do vode –
I telo se neprestano radovalo, jer je telo samosvoje.
Misao popodnevne senke četinara, nemarno je bežala nad njim,
a noću iznova golicala telo prahom što zvezda sipa nadole,
dok je radost tražila mlečnu pȕt, da prekrije dnevne opekotine.
Nije bilo ni meso ni mesto ovo što traje u nama, ili prolazi pored nas,
Ni nesigurni odraz što nas je terao na odjeke u drugima.
Tek slučajni miris i soli, pojedena sardela, ili poziv da se odvoji
od upravo obrisanog velikog sveta, ovde, na ostrvu –
Kao tajni kod, jer podne oslobađa senke, sunce briše razloge,
kamen upija toplotu sigurnih povrataka, a
Ostrvo je tiho disalo svoju i sve slučajne prošlosti.
In the morning, she relied on shadows bluer than the mist
through the window of the bay revealing the pureness
of the just erased world,
with a massive momentum; and by night that very same world
narrowed down to the sky
above the terrace, over the bay, above the sea.
Down at the harbor, a ship Marin met lady Swežna,
Blue for boys, red for girls, in a periodically noisy ljuarry.
It could not have been better, not even in a serenade, as their prows,
always gently miss passing, as she was always leaving,
always to return.
The freedom was bought for small coins, in sharp rocky surroundings
and the evening calm waters; in the shades that seek no words,
yet seek a glance and the joy of a companion.
The wine, here, is specifically yellow and normally wild
because it can’t be without the sun; Enough for getting drunk,
for indispensable mirage;
So little time to spend, and too many hours to stand still,
Despite the roaring engines of the local boats,
from water to water –
And the body is in endless rejoice because the body is only its own,
although this hand is just a thought of an afternoon conifer’s shadow,
carelessly running away
The body is tickled by stardust falling over and over again
and the joyfulness hopes for the milky way to cover-up
the daily sunburn.
It was neither the flesh nor place, that what endures within us, and that which passes by,
Nor was it a vulnerable reflection that was driving us to echo in others.
Just a random scent, the salt, a small anchovy, or an invitation to hive off
from the freshly evanished big world, here, on the island –
Like a secret code, because the midday rids you of any shadows,
The sun erases reasons,
the stone absorbs the warmth of the safe returns,
And the island was ljuietly breathing its own and all other coincidental pasts.
(from the book “Beach Insomnia”, Cultural centre Novi Sad, 2017)
*the island in the Adriatic sea, in Croatia; shares its name with the island Corfu in Greece, and the name was given after the nymph Kerkyra, from Homer’s Odyssey
translated by the author and Lara Jakica
ne pomeraju stvari
Danas sam uspela da sastavim
prvi sa šezdesetim minutom
U otkrivanju grada
Zabavila mišiće vežbanjem
čaj od nane
pa onda sipala pivo
I odakle sad želja
da se još nešto kaže
dodirne još jedna
koje uporno sabijam
u 4,8 posto tirana
a nije dovoljno
ni za šta.
Hoće li me sutra
da je već kasno
da je kafa skuvana
i da me čeka.
Ponoć je konačno
IT IS MIDNIGHT
finally don’t move
their belongings anymore
I have managed to pull together
the first walking minute with the sixtieth
Discovering the city
Had my fun practicing muscles
with common sense
then poured myself a beer
It is silent
to say something
from where does it comes now
to touch one more
of the inner sceneries
in which I pour in
4,8 percent of Tirana beer
but it is not enough
Will I be awaked
with the touch
of a familiar hand
that is already late
how coffee is made
and it awaits.
Midnight is finally here
translated by the author
Senka Marić writes poetry, prose and essays. She has published three collections of poetry: Odavde do nigdje, To su samo riječi and Do smrti naredne, and the novel Kintsugi tijela. She has won several literary awards, including the European Knight of Poetry Award in 2013, the Zija Dizdarević Award in 2000, and the 2019 Meša Selimović Award for the best novel published in 2018 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro. She is the editor of the internet portal for literature, culture and art strane.ba.
Body Kintsugi – Senka Marić
The summer of 2014 was shaped by three events.
On 17 June, just a few days after that afternoon you’d spent sitting on your king-size bed in which the two of you hadn’t slept together for over a year, in silence interrupted by the odd weary word, your husband packed his clothes into two large gym bags. You brought him one more from the store room and packed two sets of single bed linen, a pillow, a terry blanket, three small and two large towels. As you zipped it up, you thought about the coming winter. You returned to the store room, where you spent five minutes looking for a big plastic bag in which you stuffed a quilt. The hall was blocked with things. A few times he made to say something. Each time he changed his mind the moment he saw you arms akimbo, breathing deeply. He managed to pick up all three bags. Eyes cast down, hurrying down the stairs to the taxi that was already waiting for him in the street. After that you sat long in solitude in front of that bare wall and slowly realised that he hadn’t left behind a feeling of emptiness, only a sense of defeat.
On 15 July your left shoulder started to hurt. It hurt the most at night. You couldn’t sleep, so you sat on the bed and cried. It turned out you had calcific tendonitis – a jagged deposit of calcium which sores the surrounding tissue, causing an inflammation. The doctor said the only thing to do now was to take painkillers and wait for it to cease. And you hated waiting. And you hated medications. They were at odds with your need to control everything, with your inability to trust anyone enough to ask for help. You kept reducing your dosage. You took half the prescribed quantity. That sweltering July there was nothing in your world but pain. It was the dust settling on your time which refused to pass. You wore a shawl around your neck. To sling your left arm in. Lest it move. To make it hurt as little as possible. You could only think about how you were stronger than the pain. More tenacious. It will pass, I will remain. For a bit you thought about how unlucky you’d been, how bad things had been coming in a succession for years now. Incessantly. Maybe it was because you thought you could take it, you were stronger than all of that? If you’d screamed: Enough! would everything have stopped? Would the wheel grinding everything in its path have gone off the collision course with your life? It was night. It was hot. Kids were asleep. The moment was perfect for crying. For screaming: Enough! Enough, all right! But deep inside you didn’t believe. You knew you could take more.
It is 26 August. It hurts a bit less. You even manage to sleep. You have to be very careful whilst you lie in bed. A single wrong move could send you into agony. When you turn from your right to your left side to fix your shoulder in place, with your left hand you grab yourself firmly below the right armpit. A part of your palm lies on your right breast. As your body turns, slowly, over your back and onto your left haunch, your palm glides back. Your fingers, pressed into your flesh, move across your right breast. And then you feel it. There, to the side, on the edge of your breast, almost hard by. Like a pebble that found its way into your bathing suit top.
You lower your hand. You’re lying on your back. Staring at the ceiling. You don’t feel the pain in your shoulder, just your heart beating in your throat. You sit up and touch it again. It’s still there, moving slightly under your fingers. You remove your hand again and lie on your back. You can’t close your eyes. You don’t even blink. They are agape, swallowing the ceiling. The house changes shape and size. It bends. Flows into your eyes. And with it the city, the surrounding hills, the river trying to flow away from the city, the sea, mile after mile of land, the entire continent rolled up like a paper cone full of hot, sooty chestnuts, till there’s nothing left but the dead, black sky.
But I must’ve got it wrong!
You sit up and feel it again. Your breath fills the room. Bounces off the walls. Breaks the summer night into the day. The round lump withdraws under pressure (the feel of it is forever imprinted in the memory of your fingers). The panic is mud. It fills your mouth. The night swallows you.
You decide to smash the image. Like a mirror hit with a stone. It leaves behind nothing but a smouldering sense that you’re not yet even aware of what has been taken away from you.
Your breathing slows down, becomes inaudible. You say: Now you will sleep. You won’t think of anything. It’s easy. Your thoughts are too scattered anyway. You’re in a place that is above words, their meaning and sense. You distinctly feel only your skin, a membrane you share with the world. You sleep, never so deeply, never so completely, until the next morning, when you discover that the lump in your tit has supplanted the pain in your shoulder.
How does one begin to tell a story that crumbles under the tongue and refuses to solidify?
You knew you would get cancer on the day your mother was diagnosed sixteen years ago, didn’t you?
Since the day your mother was diagnosed sixteen years ago you’ve been convinced you would never get cancer, haven’t you?
Both statements are equally true. The dots falling in place to capture that moment which transpired so long ago are two sequences that form a perfect oval shape, parsing the linear logic of time. Two parallel realities, one of which becomes real only when it reaches its destination. You knew you would get it and you were convinced you never would. The present retroactively renders the past true. You are imprisoned in a reality which refuses to admit that it could have ever been otherwise.
So, you were a sad child? Seems that way now. You had everything, but you could never escape the feeling that everything was a bit off, that there was something dark and oppressive lurking in all things. Still, all that time you thought you knew you’d be happy someday. Because you were meant to be happy. In a world in which happiness doesn’t exist.
Is it possible to pin down the point which cuts into the flesh of time, setting the trajectory which leads you to this moment?
You’re little. You’re sitting under the desk in your granddad’s study. You don’t remember if you’re trying to hide. You don’t know what happened before or after. You’re wearing a red-green plaid dress and thick tights. You feel dirty. Bad. The tights are white. Traitorous grey stains can be seen on the feet. Your hair is brown. Now you’re not quite sure, but it may have been greasy and clumpy. The image melts into the image of a cat emerging from a dark cellar. You wouldn’t want to touch it. Yet, the girl under the desk (is it really you?) is longing for touch. Granddad’s room is on the ground floor. The kitchen and the sitting room are upstairs. Everyone is upstairs all the time. Why are you downstairs, alone? Especially seeing that you’re afraid of the Gypsy man who will come to steal you. He looks like Sandokan, and he’s monochromatic. He’s a strange black-and-white figure which sneaks into your house, hides behind the screen under the stairwell, waiting for you. From Granddad’s room you can hop out straight onto the stairs. Sandokan the Gypsy can’t reach you. You run upstairs. Nan is up in the kitchen. The pressure cooker hisses. Pots clatter. Heavy aroma of food. You don’t want soup. You don’t want anything. Nan moves swiftly, juggling pots and plates. She’s twirling in her blue sleeveless dress. She can’t see you. But her presence makes you feel better.
In your memory, of the whole house, only the kitchen stands untouched. Like a spire atop a magic castle. One entire wall is glazed. Light glares. You’ll never forget the silence and darkness raging down below. You’re even dirtier in the light.
You didn’t open your eyes immediately. You lay there. You waited. You thought if you kept them shut everything would just go away. You could hear birds and you thought you were happy it was summer and the window panes didn’t sequester you from the world. You got up, went to the bathroom and showered a long time. At first the hand steered clear of the spot. You thought maybe it wasn’t there, maybe it was all a mistake. You would phone your friends. You would go for a morning coffee. You would drink wine instead, or whisky, or cherry liqueur, doesn’t matter. You would toast loudly. Laugh at the stray bullet that whizzed just wide of your head.
The lump is still there. Unyieldingly present. More supple than last night. Dancing under the wet skin.
You take a violet dress from the wardrobe, one of your nicest, strapless, no shoulders. It flows over your beautiful, firm breasts all the way down to your knees. You tie your hair in a ponytail. You put on make-up. You think that you’re beautiful. You look at the kids sleeping, drunk on the August heat, calmed by the serenity of the early morning, and you go to see your GP.
When you start to speak you realise you’re speaking too fast. Or not fast enough. The day seems too thick to admit your words. You slide down your dress top. You keep silent as he feels your breasts. He purses his lips, raises eyebrows. He nods slowly, lowering his gaze. Your stomach feels heavy. You should’ve been sent back from that initial stop. You counted on that place to be the point where life would flow into a familiar riverbed. Into a telephone invitation for a coffee that isn’t quite a coffee. A celebration of a bullet dodged. A moment of crystal clear awareness of everything you’re doing wrong, a decision never to make the same mistakes again. You would love those deserving of your love. You would eat healthy. You would practise yoga. You would feel every day.
The doctor wrote a referral note and sent you to hospital.
There were two doctors there. One, who wasn’t quite sure what to make of the multitude of black and white dots making up the inside of your breasts under the ultrasound scanner stick. And another, sent for by the first one. He applied a coat of cold gel onto your breasts again and circled round with the stick. They agreed you were fine. The other doctor told you to bring the report from your regular check-up six months ago, where findings were normal, and schedule a mammography in twelve months.
You stepped out into the street. Maybe you knew already and your hands were shaking. You felt like crying but you didn’t want your mascara to smudge. You still wanted to be pretty. You told yourself to be quiet, though there were no words in your mouth. You told yourself: Don’t jinx it! Don’t stare into the darkness. Turn your back to the abyss! You got in your car and drove, although you didn’t know where to.
Then you saw him in the street, the radiologist you’d been entrusting with your tits for years now, determined to forestall, by going for regular check-ups, the illness that had ravaged your mother’s body. An hour before that you’d looked for him in the hospital corridors, but they told you he wasn’t in. Now you stopped your car in the middle of the road, in a sea of speeding cars, and you ran after him. You told him that you knew you were crazy, and that you were sorry for pestering, his colleagues having told you were fine. But you knew, you felt that stone under your skin, the cry of the tissue sick and tired of the pain you’d been swallowing like bites of a bland dinner at a stranger’s house. He smiled and told you not to worry. He would expect you at his surgery at three. You would check everything. And everything would quite certainly be fine. You knew he had no way of knowing that. But you felt reassured because he wasn’t going to send you home, tell you to come back in a year and stop thinking about you.
When you entered his surgery, on 15 September, he said: Did you really come alone? Four days prior he’d run MRI and biopsy. The results would take two weeks. When he acquainted himself with your lump via the ultrasound, on the day when you ran after him in the street, he was convinced it was nothing. It looked benign. Six months prior, there was nothing there. But, on account of your family medical history, we will do MRI and biopsy. Don’t worry. Looks fine! You would wait for the optimal moment, the period between the seventh and the twelfth day of your menstrual cycle, and perform both procedures.
When he scanned you on the MRI four days ago, he said nothing. He didn’t want to look you in the eye. He muttered that he was snowed under. That he didn’t have time. That he would let you know as soon as the biopsy results were in. You’d seen him walking into the MRI room examining your scan report. For five minutes. After that, as he was performing biopsy sticking the needle with which he extracted bits of the lump from your body (o, what a brutally dull, final sound), you talked about your daughters, who were the same age, about yoga, and the waning summer. You kept silent about everything else as you breathed deeply, lying on the narrow bed, covered with a green sheet. Over the following four days you didn’t think about anything. You were in no hurry to be scared.
On Monday at ten in the morning his nurse phones you and asks you to be at his surgery at eleven. Minutes are slowly dripping excess of eternity. You dress slowly. You put on make-up, long and carefully. You fix your hair. You put on your ring and earrings. You get in your car and drive to the hospital.
– Yes, I really came alone – you even smiled.
– We have bad news, but also good news – he said, finally looking you in the eye.
– Let’s start with the bad news – is what you said.
That wasn’t courage talking.
– Cancer it is.
– OK – you say – OK.
Something in you wants to whimper, cry. But all those things, the room on the ground floor of the city hospital, the great big desk behind his back with the giant computer screen showing about twenty images of the inside of your breasts, the big black chair on which he moved a bit to the left, then a bit to the right, you on the low sofa opposite, one hand holding the other on your knees, the strident blue sky seeping in through the interstices of the window blinds and the squeaking of somebody’s rubber soles on the linoleum floor in the corridor outside, all of that seems insufficiently true, like a glitch in reality that’s going to be corrected any moment now. And all things will return to their proper place.
– But, we’ve caught it on time – that was the good news.
– Good – you say – good.
For a moment, the room wraps itself tight round your neck. You think you’re going to burst into tears. The next instant you realise how pointless that gesture would’ve been, how unnecessary. Redundant. You lean forward. You listen to him attentively. He says a surgery is to be scheduled. He should see with the surgeon if the entire breast is to be removed, or just the section with the tumour. And a number of lymph nodes. The surgeon will decide how many. He says nothing about what happens if there is tumour in the lymph nodes, too. He talks about how good the prognosis is when cancer is caught so early on.
– This is certainly very early, certainly in good time.
The words are an anchor stopping reality from dissolving.
Translated from Bosnian by Mirza Purić
Photo: Radmila Vankoska
Faruk Šehić was born in 1970 in Bihac. Until the outbreak of war in 1992, Šehić studied Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb. However, the then 22-year-old voluntarily joined the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in which he led a unit of 130 men as a lieutenant. After the war he studied literature and since 1998 has published his own literary works. The literary critics regard him as the voice of the so-called mangled generation.
His debut novel ‘Knjiga o Uni’ (2011; tr: Quiet Flows the Una) was awarded Meša Selimović prize for the best novel published in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia in 2011, and European Union Prize for Literature 2013. For his book of selected poems in Italian and Bosnian language ‘Ritorno alla natura / Povratak prirodi’ he received XXXI Premio Letterario Camaiore – Francesco Belluomini 2019 (Premio Internazionale).
His books have been translated into English, Turkish, Slovenian, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, German, Bulgarian, French, Spanih, Dutch, Arab, Romanian and Macedonian.
He work in respected political magazine BH Dani as a columnist and journalist. Faruk Šehić lives in Sarajevo.
Nađa is a kid. Greta is an elderly woman. Nađa goes to secondary school, she’s not quite a kid but that’s how I refer to her. From time to time, her friends visit our refugee home. One of them has a fair complexion, blue eyes. I sometimes think she eyes me furtively, but I pretend not to notice because I am a soldier, a grown man, although I am only about twenty. Then again, it’s not proper for kids to fall in love with young adults. I’ve no time for love; I’ve devoted myself to other things. Amongst them war, but I’ve mentioned that more times than one. Comradeship with other soldiers, friends, acquaintances, rakia and weed, but I’ve mentioned that, too. One might say it’s a case of fraternal love between young men, but that’s quite beside the point now.
I soon forget about Nađa’s friend, for one must press on, one must be mature as long as there’s a war on; I’ve no time for by-the-ways like love. Love, at the moment, is a bit stand-offish towards abstractions such as homeland or nation. There is, however, such thing as true love for things quite concrete and tangible, like home, street or town. Here I mean the lost home, the lost street, the lost town. The town has lost us and we are alone in the universe. It’s not the town’s fault, and it isn’t ours, either.
I don’t know what Nađa is thinking about and I don’t take her seriously. Nađa spends time with Greta. The two of them live in a world of their own. Greta raised Nađa, she is like a second mother to her. Greta is an elderly woman, very wise and knowledgeable. Nađa and Greta play patience and listen to Radio Rijeka on a set connected to a car battery. Greta is a passionate smoker, she loves crosswords but there aren’t any in wartime. Inside the radiobox Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing Time to Say Goodbye.
It’s as though Greta and Nađa were two dispossessed noblewomen. Greta, of course, is a countess, Nađa her right hand. They have now been expelled from their county. Nobody knows them; the faces in the street are strange. None treat them with due respect. In turn, the two of them don’t much care what people in their new town think about them. Greta and Nađa listen to the news, remembering the number of shells that have fallen on such and such town on a given day. They remember the number of dead and wounded, because we all do. It’s an informal sport of sorts, it may become an Olympic discipline someday, and it consists of a radio speaker informing us in a distraught voice that such and such number of howitzer, mortar and cannon shells were fired on town XY during an enemy attack on the very heart of the town. Greta and Nađa are able to tell howitzer and cannon shells from one another, because the former fly a lot longer than the latter and you have time to find cover. They learnt this from our father. At times, radio reports made mention of surface-to-air missiles, which are used – ironically enough – not to shoot down aeroplanes but to destroy our cities and towns. For nothing is the way it may at first seem in war. The missiles have poetic names: Dvina, Neva, Volna. The surface-to-surface missile Luna has the prettiest name. One missile landed near our house, the blast lifted a few tiles off the roof. Dry snow seeped through the hole in the roof onto the concrete steps carpeted with varicoloured rag-rug. The cold falls into our home vertically.
Greta & Nađa remember all that. Nađa goes to school. Greta stays at home with our mother. Father and I are on the frontline all the time. The radio-sport of remembering the body count and the destruction of towns and cities spreads to every house without exception, be it inhabited by locals, or by refugees. It goes without saying that we, being refugees, couldn’t have possibly brought our own houses along on our backs like snails can and do, so the houses we’ve moved into have become the way we are – homeless, with few possessions and many human desires.
Suada, our mother, is the barycentre around which all things and living beings in our home orbit. Apart from Greta & Nađa, there is also a little tomcat, as well as a dog that has survived distemper and twitches a bit as he walks. His name is Humpy Horsey, after a character from a Russian fairy tale. Father and I are optional subjects in our refugee family portraits, as we are seldom home.
Suada looks after our civilian lives. Every year she takes a horse cart to a remote village where she plants spuds. The yields range from 500 kg to 700 kg. This guarantees that we won’t starve, in case we also don’t die in some other way, and the ways to die are many, and they form part of life.
Once I was detailed to spade up a patch of the green behind our house. I was at it until Mother saw me toiling and moiling, my face flushed, pushing the blade into the hard soil with the sole of my boot. She snatched the spade from my hands and did the job herself. I was dismissed, and I could go out, where my mates were, were the alcohol was.
Suada procured not only victuals but also articles of clothing to meet our modest needs. Thus I was issued a terry robe with an aitch emblazoned on the chest, and I called it Helmut. A kind-hearted Helmut donated his robe and helped me feel a bit like a human being. It’s not advisable to feel like too much of a human being though, lest your being assume an air of haughtiness, and you become toffee-nosed, as they say in the vernacular. A being could get all kinds of ideas into its head. It might lust after this or that, and there is neither this nor that to be got in the new town. Unless you have a lot of money. Still, even with money, many pleasures remain out of reach, and all they do is feed our fancy and lend us faith in a future better than counting shells and remembering body counts.
That is the main sport in our County. It’s just about to go Olympic.
Nađa grows and goes to school. Greta is always the same. Patience, news and Radio Rijeka playlists shape their time. They have a room of their own – they may have been expelled from their lands, but they’ve retained some trappings of nobility. Greta sends Nađa out to survey the prices of foodstuffs on the black market, things such as oranges, juice, chocolate. Nađa returns and briefs Greta, who decides what will be purchased. Sometimes Nađa fetches ingredients and Greta bakes a cake. This happens when Greta receives money from her relatives in Slovenia. The two of them have a special nook in the wardrobe where they stash their goodies. Inside the radio, the blind Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing Time to Say Goodbye.
Suada looks after the house and all the living beings in and around it. The little tom is becoming less and less little. At some point I can no longer remember what happens to him, he vanishes into a mysterious feline land, far from the radio reports, far from the laundry soap with which we wash our hair, far from the bath tub mounted on four bricks, far from the cold tiles of the toilet in which I often see my face, distorted with weed and alcohol because it cannot be otherwise. It is the same bathtub in which Mum washed the shot-through blood-encrusted camo vest I strutted about in during nocturnal piss-ups, flaunting my spoils. I’d stripped a dead Autonomist, as if I was about to wash him and wrap him in a white shroud for funeral. But he remained lying on the melting crust of snow on a slope overgrown with stunted conifer. Almost naked, in his pants and boots with socks showing. He lay there for a few days before somebody thought we should bury him, then dig him up again to swap him for victuals. For we were made by nature, and to nature we shall return, naked like the day we were born.
Nađa goes to school, and school, like war, drags on forever. Greta plays patience, feeds Humpy Horsie, feeds the tom who pops down from the mysterious feline land every now and then because he misses us (at least I like to think so), and the birds, for Greta loves all living beings.
Suada picks pigweed in the dales and meadows. She is a pigweed gatherer, in pigweed dwelleth iron, and iron we need to keep the blood red. Greta and Nađa may well be blue-blooded, what with that room of their own, whilst Mum, Dad and I sleep in the sitting room. The tom slept there, too, before he broke away to live a life of roaming and roving. When he was little he would stalk me, and when I blinked in my sleep he’d give me a brush with his paw. Humpy Horsie is growing up and twitches less and less. Prognoses are good for Humpy, even the end of war may be in sight, but we cannot afford to have such high hopes, we are not accustomed to such luxury. Therefore we cannot allow ourselves to entertain fancies and reveries about a better world that is to come. We are wholly accustomed to this one, like a lunatic is used to his straitjacket. Although all fighters are wont to declare that they would get killed on the frontline eventually, deep inside I believe I will survive, but I don’t say it because I don’t want to jinx myself.
Smirna is a pal of mine. She works as a waitress, rumour has it she moonlights as prostitute, which is of no consequence to me as I’m not interested in rumours, even if they’re true. I’m interested in human beings as such, and Smirna is one, and so am I. Majority opinions don’t interest me, I don’t cave under peer pressure, I rely on what my heart tells me. The only difference between the two of us is that she isn’t a refugee. Smirna likes to read, I’ve lent her a copy of Mishima’s novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. She’ll likely never return it, there’s a war on, who would remember to return a borrowed book in times like these? I remember the closing sentence: Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.
Zuhra, known as Zu, is a friend of mine. We’ve known each other since before the war. When you say since before the war, it’s as though you remembered that you once used to live in a lost kingdom, the same one in which Greta & Nađa had been noblewomen. In the days of the Kingdom of Before-the-War, Zuhra worked at a video rental, I rented tapes at her shop. We listened to the same music, we patronised the same regal café. She once sent me a beer with a dedication note to the frontline. Zuhra is young and combative, she doesn’t lack optimism. We listen to grunge music, we drink beer and rakia. It makes us happy. Although we are young, we know full well that there’s something missing. Someone has taken something from us and refuses to give it back. We don’t know what that something is called, or what it looks like, but we do know it’s something very important for our young lives. Older adults feel the same way, they, too, have had something taken away from them, they, too, don’t know what it’s called or what it looks like. When someone takes something like that away from you, it’s too late for common sense. The only thing you know is that there’s a hole that’s getting larger and larger and there’s nothing you can fill it with.
Zuhra is strong enough not to think about these things. That’s what we’re both like, that’s why we’re friends. We’ve known each other since the days of the Kingdom of Before-the-War. We like to spend time together because it makes us feel that the hole in and around us is shrinking, if only by a smidgen.
Azra, too, is strong and upright. She is tall and beautiful in a special way. I was on a perilous line once, beech and hornbeam trees outside were crackling with cold, Azra phoned me via the brigade phone exchange. One flick of the switch on the switchboard, and we were transported to a realm of magic where nothing was impossible. She was at home, her civilian receiver in hand. I was in a dugout, holding the olive-green receiver of a military field phone. I keep it away from my ear; the phone is prone to tiny electrical surges that zap the ear-lobe. During my stint at that line on Padež Hill I wore Azra’s turquoise scarf. It held the smell of her skin and the swoosh of unknown seas, a memory of all the kingdoms we lost, and all the ones we might someday regain.
I envy her for the fact that her family home is intact. All things inside are in the same place all the time: the photographs on the wall, the telly, the sofa, the armchairs, the tables, the doors, the shelves above the basin in the bathroom. Immobility is a virtue. When you get uprooted from your pot and forcefully transplanted into another one, all you want to do is strike root and stay put. Books gather dust as if the war never happened. Azra’s house keeps the memory of a bygone peace. It is peace. When I come over and talk to her parents I feel like a phantom. As if I’m making things up when I say that we, too, had a house and a flat before the war, a family history of our own, that is now undocumented, since we no longer have any photos.
Azra works at a café, I’m constantly on the frontline. Sometimes, on leave, I drink at her work and I don’t pay. With her wages she’s bought a pair of Adibax trainers, and we admire them, although the brand name betrays a counterfeit. Matters not, the trainers are new, fashionably designed, worthy of admiration. Sometimes she buys a Milka chocolate and a can of proper coke for each of us, and we give our mates a slip. We hide behind the wooden huts where smuggled consumer goods are sold, and we greedily eat the chocolate and drink the coke. That is also how we make love, furtively, in places secret and dark. Azra keeps me alive by loving me. I have a higher purpose now, something loftier than bare life and the struggle for survival.
Dina is a strong, brave young woman. She has a child with the same name as me. I used to see her around in the Kindom of Before-the-War. I was younger than her and we were never formally introduced, the great generational gaps that existed in that realm were difficult to close. Black-and-white was the kingdom, it was the eighties, films with happy endings, New Wave.
Dina works in catering, like Azra and Smirna, due to the circumstances. We’re sitting in the garden of her refugee house. We’re drinking instant powder juice from jars: glasses are superfluous in war. All glasses are broken, all hands bloody. As Azra and I kiss feverishly, our bodies intertwined like in the sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, Dina’s son darts towards the road wanting to hug a car, but Dina catches him in the nick of time and my little namesake is safe. Azra and I were charged with keeping an eye on him, but our kisses took us far from reality. We drink Step Light instant juice from pickles jars, because we’ve been expelled from our empires, and now we can be barbarians if we jolly well please. We’re entitled to all kinds of behaviour, and getting a-rude and a-reckless is just our style. We all fight in our own way. Women’s war is invisible and silent, but it is of vast importance, though we men on the frontline selfishly think we matter the most. There are women medics and women fighters on the frontlines. I can never forget a young female fighter I once saw, and her firm, confident gait. From one of her shins, through a tear in her uniform trousers, jutted out the nickel-plated bars of a fixation device.
Greta & Nađa play patience. Suada manages the planets of our household solar system. Azra, Dina and Smirna work at their cafés. Zuhra waits for her brother to return from the front. She also waits for us, her friends, to return so we can hang about. Somehow, all things grow and eventually collapse, like a great big wave when it finally reaches the shore. Someone in us plays patience, goes to school, does chores, washes up in a smoky boozer, goes to the front, digs spuds, someone in us laughs at us and our lives. We have an ancient life force inside, and it refuses to leave us. The blind Andrea Bocelli and Sara Brightman sing Time to Say Goodybe.
Tranlslated by Mirza Purić, Istros Books, London (2019)
Photo: Yusuf El-Saadi.
At a well-attended press conference held on the 30th of June at the Goga Bookstore in Novo Mesto, we shared the news on our project Reading Balkans: Borders vs. Frontiers with Slovenian journalists.
The project is already known and recognizable in Novo Mesto, Slovenia, and Southeast Europe since it is a continuation of the project Reading Balkans: South and East Reach West that was supported by Creative Europe in 2017. The new two-year edition of the Reading Balkans project started in autumn last year. This time our focus is on borders and multilingualism in literature as well as cooperation with refugee writers. Against nationalism, exclusion, and fear, and for connecting, empathy, and solidarity through literature, creativity, mobility, and dialog – these are the main visions of the project that are realised through the promotion of writers (website, mobile application, and international book fairs) and the literary residency program. We planned 42 one-month writers’ residencies in seven different countries and the promotion of writers at eight festivals with the two main themes: Borders vs. Frontiers and Exile in Language.
The literary residency program is a cooperation of the Publishing House Goga (SI), Goten Publishing (MK), Udruženje Krokodil (SRB), Udruga Kurs (CRO), Poeteka (AL), Qendra Multimedia (Kosovo), PEN Centre (BIH), Traduki and other partners.
In the last couple of months, the borders as a central theme of the project got the central position in our personal and professional lives, too. Since Reading Balkans is based on travel, mobility, and crossing borders, we are doing our best to continue the project within the new challenges of pandemic travel restrictions. Although most of the international promotion has moved online, we are hopeful to be able to visit the Frankfurt Book Fair this October. Our spring residencies were postponed due to the lockdowns, but summer brought some more travelling.
Senka Marić, a writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina was at Krokodil residency in Belgrade in June. Local readers had a chance to get to know her better during the literary event. She wrote a diary about her stay in Belgrade for one of the most prominent Serbian dallies, Danas.
Jasmina Topić, a writer from Serbia, is now in residence at P.E.N. Sarajevo while a writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina Faruk Šehić is at Goga in Novo Mesto. The literary event with Jasmina Topić will be held in Sarajevo on 24th July at Museum of Theatre and Theatre Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Literary event with Faruk Šehić will be held on the 7th July at Goga in Novo Mesto and on the 8th July at Vodnikova domačija in Ljubljana.
Dinko Kreho, a writer from Croatia, will spend July at Krokodil residency and Jean Lorrin Sterian, an author from Romania is going to Qendra in Priština for the August residency.
Everything is prepared for Petar Andonovski, a Macedonian writer and winner of this year’s European Prize for Literature to come to Novo Mesto and for a Macedonian writer Nikolina Andonova Šopova to start her residency at Kurs in Split, but at this moment we have to wait for a better epidemic situation in the Balkans.
Special thanks go to Slovenian Ministry of Culture and The Municipality of Novo Mesto who understood the importance of the project and helped us overcome bureaucratic challenges and brought Faruk Šehić to Slovenia.
The Reading Balkans project is co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.
We will be holding a press conference for Slovenian media in the Bookstoore Goga in Novo Mesto on 30 June at 10 a.m.
Since the main activities of the project are connected to literary residencies programme, travel and mobility we have to deal with many challanges due to the coronavirus pandemic but we continue to connect writers from the Southeast Europe (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia) and to fight nationalism and intolerance through dialogue and literature.
Join us in Novo Mesto press conference for all the information about the future plans, events and residence programmes within the Reading Balkans project!