Marko Pogačar, born 1984 in Split, has published eleven books of poetry, essays and prose, for which he has received Croatian and international awards. In 2014 he edited the anthology Young Croatian Lyric. He is an editor of the literary magazine Quorum and the web-magazine for cultural and social issues Proletter.me. He was the recipient of numerous fellowships such as Civitella Ranieri, Literarische Colloquium Berlin, Récollets-Paris, Passa Porta, Milo Dor, Brandenburger Tor, Internationales Haus der Autoren Graz, Literaturhaus NÖ, and Krokodil in Belgrade. His books and texts have appeared in over thirty languages.
God Will Not Help
A Dream of the Bottom
I have a fear of right angles. The room in which I’m lying, and I’m lying because for a while now I cannot get up, is a rectangle of crudely cut logs filled with a multitude of rectangles made of the same timber matter, some a bit smaller, some so tiny you can take them into your hand.
It’s difficult to say with certainty whether I’m not getting up because I can’t or the reason lies in the complete absence of any desire for an upright position, the fear of closing the right angle with the ground. In any case, I’ve been aligned with it for days, the angle we make is a dead angle, as dead as I will be too, sooner or later. Days turn into weeks, weeks multiply into months, swarming like white mice out of my father’s collar until they flood everything in front of them, cover the horizon, and take me from this world, bit by bit, in their tiny teeth. This, I believe, is good because then I will finally and once and for all become part of the ground, inseparable portion of the bottom which, one way or another, I’ve been scraping for quite some time.
My bed is set in such a way that from it I see as little as possible: only what I want to see and what is necessary to see. The largest part of this always the same scene is, thus, made of a window whose edges are lined with clay brought from the banks of a frozen creek and still cold and wet. Through the scratched glass half covered with a curtain by night I see and by day I feel my star, my guide, which, nested on top of the highest chimney of a sugar plant, twinkling into the darkness, sends the Morse-coded message of the end; the message only I am able to read. Within reach, to my left, on an overturned washbowl stands an empty frame with a picture of my brother István, that is, what is left of the picture. The frame’s edges, just like the window’s, are lined with a thin layer of flattened clay. The list of what I wish to see ends here; my other wishes begin where the look no longer means anything, in that deep darkness I’m winning for myself with my arduous wait.
Of what I must see, there’s just a little more, but it makes me exceedingly more miserable. This mostly includes a piece of a table, a good portion of a northern wall, several dried pig heads on it, a cabinet with four drawers, and several crates placed under the hanger which contains my coat, rifle, and a pair of boots tied together with a wire. None of this have I taken into my hands for a while now, the boots I don’t put on. The only thing I ever touch, and it requires me to stretch just a little, is a string-tied bundle of matches removed from their box. I use them, when the fog is too thick to see even a flicker of my star, to light a wick inserted into a glass jar of oil, and under this light then I watch the face within that frame, dulled with wet clay.
My wishes are few and quite reasonable. They can, I believe, be brought down to just two, although each in itself, just as with any other wish, like my drawer cabinet, hides a secret compartment or two, some false bottom. I’ve already mentioned the first: the wish to reach that final bottom once and for all; to become a part of it. The method I developed for this purpose is simple yet sometimes exhausting. It consists of a persistent, resolute self-deprivation of all cravings. According to the frequency of their occurrence they are: the craving for things edible, the craving for female flesh, the craving for someone else’s fear, the craving for total humiliation of myself and others, the craving for death of small and swift animals, the craving for my own son, and so on. The persistency in recantation of the first, it is clear, will be the quickest and most reliable way to my goal. Insofar my first and my second wish are not completely commensurable: it could almost be said that, in one segment, they completely cancel each other out. In order to write a letter to my brother, to finally compose a text I have been avoiding for years and to explain in it everything that is possible to explain, I need my hands, my head, as clear as possible. The logic thus suggests that the wishes should be fulfilled in an orderly fashion. I’ve decided to put an end to its irksome implacability by executing my first wish as strictly as possible without it compromising the implementation of the second.
The fact that all this is possible, this mere vegetation, this horizontal semi-state between life and death whose only purpose is the wait, the wait for a letter to you, my brother, István, I can thank to an uncommon concatenation of circumstances. On my own I would not be able to endure this, and for a long period of time loneliness was my only and everyday condition. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, one day that was just a little less icy than others, Csaba Utz appeared at my house. I would not have even known it, by then I had already completely lost interest in the outside world, had the fellow not, hesitating, knocked on my door. That surprised me greatly. The villagers, those few that dared to venture across the frozen heath that separated us, gave my house a wide berth. I could not blame them for this: I avoided them even more thoroughly. Satisfying one of my cravings, I even spat at them, which gave me great pleasure. If someone did take heart and appear at my door, it was back when I, thanks to my rusty yet efficient traps, still had a supply of dried pork and could offer it in exchange. I however was in want of few things so I mostly sent them off empty-handed across the heath. I never knew and I still don’t know what made Csaba Utz appear at my threshold, but he did appear at the right moment. I owe all this to him; he is my scourer angel; only he stands between me and the bottom. That’s why Csaba Utz is at the same time the object of my love and of my hatred.
I considered the day Utz entered my life one of my happiest days. Utz did not talk, he did not look me in the eye, but he, immediately and somewhat clumsily, took up the necessary job of taking care of my long-neglected house. When, during a short period of reduced self-control, I spat on him with distinct pleasure, he behaved as if nothing had happened. That’s when I thought my troubles had come to an end. Under my dictate, Utz would write a letter to you, István, my brother, and I, left alone in my loneliness, would abandon myself completely to the realization of my first and simplest wish; my soon to be encounter with the bottom. However, I was soon forced to give up on this plan. Even though Utz stopped by my house almost on a daily basis, bringing me leftovers of meals from who knows where and tending to my stench, the writing thing did not go well at all. Confronted with the stationery, he behaved waywardly, what’s more, he showed a kind of fear towards it. Taking this into consideration, in one of my longer deliriums, I even managed to get it into my head that Csaba Utz was the very son I had never had. I have abandoned this idea in the meanwhile.
Utz is also to be credited for the fact that I somehow managed to endure the stay in my own house. During the first days of his strange voluntary work, he understood the nature of my unusual yet intensive fear. He disappeared and the very same afternoon came back loaded with four sacks of wet clay, which who knows how he managed to scratch from the banks of the frozen creek whose name I don’t remember. He applied it to all the right angles and sharp edges within my sight, bringing me, at the same time, to the immediate vicinity of what I wanted: numbness, dregs, bottom. The smell of moist soil filled the room completely and stayed there for days, while the rest of the clay Utz stored in sacks under my bed and thus, whenever I wanted, I could get my hand into it and let it stick to my fingers, then bring it close to my nose, eyes, ears; chew on it, talk to it, plug my ears with it. It’s worth to mention that, even though from time to time I did address him, in all this time Utz never once sent a single word in my direction.
One day Utz appeared at my door in the evening, later than usual. I was lying in my spot in silence, observing the barely visible reflection of my only star, a pale proof of its existence dispersed in the droplets of low clouds. Only when he came closer and went down to check the contents of my chamber pot did I notice he was missing a couple of his front teeth. He never said anything about it, but I assumed that, on his way to my house, he ran into villagers who clubbed him almost to death. How had he managed to drag himself to my bed and stand in an upright position was beyond me.
But, exactly there, in that mute uprightness of his, lay the seed of my rebellion against Utz. Whatever was the source of this motivation of his, Utz, evidently, was keeping me alive. He controlled my self-deprivation of hunger, encouraged my hope in that letter, he even, occasionally, openly invited me to spit at him by turning the back of his head to me, offering me his hairy cheeks. I, however, was progressively losing hope in the letter. By no means would words leave my skull, let alone settle in the whiteness of paper, even if for just a little while. That’s why, on a day that was otherwise not special except for that after a long time one of my cravings appeared again, I decided to end up with Utz. Only he, my scourer angel, now stood between me and the bottom.
The craving I mentioned, and it had appeared earlier that day, was the craving for the female flesh; the craving that, due to my physical exhaustion, had been avoiding me lately. I had just opened my eyes and, my head sunken in my feathery pillows, made an effort to follow the movements of a wasp that was right above my forehead building a nest by spit-gluing together the discarded pieces of its own entrails.
It was still too early for Utz, however, some restlessness between my legs snapped me awake from a somewhat somnambular concentration on a wasp and a nonchalantly invented mantra directed at the wasp’s failure and fall. No matter how hard I tired to prove myself the opposite, something was undoubtedly happening down there; with its magnetic strength something was drawing what was left of my blood from my body and growing tense, unmistakably cloaking itself with too great a space. For a while I tried to resist this well-known albeit somewhat forgotten urge by keeping my eye on the wasp and repeating the mantra under my breath: fall down, crush, fall down, vanish, fall down, crush, fall padme hum… But my body, despite its strength ebbing away, was stronger than my mind.
In disbelief I watched as an indestructible right angle, completely independent from my will, emerged on me; an internal rebellion against the integrity of my being. It got too bright to see the star, out of my brother István’s picture frame only cracked glass and sodden paper observed me; everything in this world finally turned against me.
At that moment, the one responsible for this damned condition, my scourer, the instigator of my cravings, the angel of the bottom – Csaba Utz walked into the house. As always, he was completely silent, and I didn’t say anything either. I let him approach my bed and check the chamber pots. And then, pretending that I want him to put ointment on the wounds on my back, I opened the thick deposits of my blankets. Resolved to once and for all put and end to everything, violently I bit into my own tongue, grabbed Utz by his nape, and slammed him throat first onto the axis of the cruel angle above my legs. Suddenly some unusual strength woke up in me, and Utz, predictably, did nothing to flee, save or defend himself from this sly attack. For a while, he made sounds similar to those of a fish taken out to the dry land, a barely noticeable gurgle, and then he went limp and grew completely quiet. With him that angle died forever too.
I pushed the flaccid body away and, feeling completely exhausted, somehow managed to get back under my blankets. That wasp was still oozing the pieces of itself and gluing them with its spit into a home of some future death, but I barely managed to catch a glimpse of it. Completely immobile, in a state that could hardly still be called a life, my eyes wide open, I stared at the clay in the frame of the window, the clay in the frame without a picture of my brother. Only moments now, I know this, separate me from the ground; between me and that clay, between me and the bottom there is nothing. In the cataract that thickens and clouds my eyes, I discern the river of time; through its murky water now I see, in absolute clearness, the runny and still bottom; the mud that, silent, with its toothless mouth chews on the final vertical. The light falls onto the water under an odd, completely unreal angle, and I cannot tell whether it comes from the sun, the candle, or from my only star. For a moment, the surface seems to burn, the space thickens, the flare bobs on light waves. And then that light vanishes too.
Translated by Tomislav Kuzmanović