Vesna Lemaić

Vesna Lemaić

Vesna Lemaić (1981, Slovenia) has published two collections of short stories, two novels, and a radio play. One of her short stories was included in the anthology Best European Fiction. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Best Debut Award, the Fabula Award, the Zlata Ptica Award, and the Novo Mesto Award. She has led writing workshops for young adults and experimental workshops for group writing. She actively collaborates with the NGO ŠKUC in organising the literary-music festival Živa Književnost.

Radmila Petrović

Radmila Petrović

Radmila Petrović (1996, Serbia) has published three books of poetry. As the winner of the 42nd Lim River Poetry Evenings, she published the poetry collection Miris zemlje / The Smell of Earth, and as the winner of the 22nd Desanka Maksimović Poetry Competition, she published Celulozni rokenrol / Cellulose Rock’n’Roll. Her third collection of poems Moja mama zna šta se dešava u gradovima / My Mom Knows the Kind of Things that Happen in Cities was published by the PPM Enklava publishing house in 2020.

Tomislav Osmanli

Tomislav Osmanli

Tomislav Osmanli (1956, North Macedonia), a media theorist, writes plays and screenplays, poetry, essays, short stories, novels, and reviews. He is the author of twenty-eight books and has written the first books in his country dedicated to film and comics. His novellas won the Prose Masters Award, his first novel won the Best Macedonian Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Balkanica Literary Prize.

Stanka Hrastelj

Stanka Hrastelj

Stanka Hrastelj (1975, Slovenia) has published two books of poetry and two novels. For her poetry she was named Best Young Poet at the 2001 Urška Poetry Festival, was shortlisted for the Jenko Award for best poetry collection, and was given the title of Poetry Knight at a poetry tournament for best unpublished poem. In 2012 she won the Modra Ptica Award for her debut novel. Some of Hrastelj’s poems are marked by stark motifs dealing with subjects such as illness, both physical and mental, as well as suicide, issues that still remain taboo in our society and are seldom given literary treatment. Hrastelj believes fostering interest in such subjects could help bring about important positive changes in our understanding of stigmatised subjects such as abortion, suicide, dementia, and old age. Hrastelj also translates Croatian and Serbian poetry and owns a pottery studio.

 

 

Stanka Hrastelj, First Lady
(Mladinska knjiga, 2018)

an excerpt from the novel
translated from the Slovene
by Gregor Timothy Čeh

1. A girl from the provinces

She left home young, she had her reasons, she married young to some high-ranking army guy and ran away to the capital. The wedding was unconventional, local traditions bored her, so predictable – drunken wedding guests, come knocking with the groom at the bride’s door, saying, we have a beautiful flower here, but no vase to put it in, apparently you have one here that’s just right for our bloom, go on, have a look, so the bride’s guests send an old woman to the door, oooh, come on, this one is all wrinkled and stooped, too old for our young fellow, don’t you have anyone younger?, then they stand a young girl outside the door, come on, this one has only just been weaned off her mother’s milk, this won’t do, send us another, and they eventually bring to the door the bride in a lavish, mandatory white wedding dress, the men’s eyes twinkle as they drool, wine flows freely, they all go off to the registry (stopped on the way by the šranga, a roadblock set up by the villagers, demanding a fee for the beauty from their parish, money they will drink away), from the registrar they go on to the altar, from the altar under the shower of rice, tears smudge makeups, then the inn with all the guests, cutting the cake, tossing the bouquet, and a variety of perverse wedding games until the cockerels begin to crow, then some sour soup, and off home – this kind of scenario simply wasn’t what she wanted, and Uriah didn’t care anyway. 

2. Upright posture

The pavement was classically narrow, two could walk side by side without problems, three was impossible. She was walking in an east-west direction and two young men deep in conversation were coming the opposite way. At the moment they met, neither of them moved out of the way and she, the woman, had to step off the pavement. This upset her greatly. She thought about it, analysed the situation, and realised that it was indeed true that the small town where she used to live was almost a ghost town and one rarely met anyone in the street (inexperience of how to react in the event of meeting someone at a narrow spot) and that it was also partly her fault because she doesn’t know how to hold her body in such a posture that others would move out of her way. The key to a commanding body stance is the small of the back, the upright body a vertical line, allowing a flow of communication between the heavens and earth, the eyes forming the horizontal, a determined look.

She continued walking upright. Two others came in the opposite direction. Her gaze straight, as if not picking up on her surroundings, fixed somewhere far ahead, at the level of the horizon, slightly above them, and she smiled lightly to herself, as if her thoughts are with something that is going her way. It worked, they began moving out of the way. 

3. A view on neatness

Uriah watched her, naked, smooth, perfect, and asked whether the hair in her armpits was normally thick or thin, black or golden, I mean, if you didn’t shave.What a question, she smiled. There wasn’t a single period in her life when she had not shaved her armpits, not even when she had infectious mononucleosis and a temperature of thirty-nine. Well, I’m asking because… do you remember that black-and-white photo of Madonna naked, with hair in the groin and her armpits, remember? All bushy, real sexy.

Bathsheba remembered the black-and-white nudes, not at all attractive, plainly simply an unkempt woman, not at all sexy.

4. Concern for the future

A student party a few years ago when her friend from secondary school visited her. When the ash fell off her school friend’s cigarette of truth and the others at the party began showering the girl with questions about all kinds of experiences, she lied but only slightly, more exaggerating the truth to present it in a better light. Yes, she will never forget what it was like the first time, I admit, we were a little drunk, she liked him, all the other girls fancied him but he danced with her, he kissed her on the neck, he led her away by the hand and it was all surprisingly spontaneous and quite different from expectations, and although it bloody hurt, said the friend, it was divinely beautiful, she didn’t mention that he pushed her head in front of his cock in the parking lot, or how the gravel hurt her knees, how he dictated what was for her a far too rapid pace with his hand and slapped her across the face when she didn’t swallow, or that he then offered her to a friend who happened to come and take a leak, watched them and cheered him along, and that her entire body hurt afterwards, and that, ripped and bleeding she hid in the bushes and waited for Bathsheba to appear from the log cabin, Bathsheba the fortress, Bathsheba the friend who would take her home and not ask any questions and never say a word to anyone about it. 

When Bathsheba’s ash fell and it was her turn to answer questions, she lied, but only a little, meaning she barely told them anything, appearing a little embarrassed and inexperienced, what business of theirs are her intimate moments. Bathsheba had a firm grip on everything, she was thinking about tomorrow, the day after and well beyond.

5. Enthusiastic about the theatre

He said, we’re going out for a beer with the guys, come along. She said, you went for a beer on Tuesday, you went for a beer yesterday, let’s go to the theatre today. And he said, oh, come on, not the theatre. She said, why not? He said that theatre was boring. She begged to disagree. He said he had tired of theatres even at school because they were taken to see The Magic Flute every year. She said that that’s an opera. He said it’s all the same. She said that it isn’t quite the same and that she would like to go and see Crime on Goat Island. He said that all Russians, Tolstoy included, are wrist-slashingly morbid and long-winded.

6. Uriah leaves for the battlefront

Saying goodbye was brief. If we made too much of an issue of it, they were silent, it would be like saying goodbye for the last time, but going to the battlefront can be just a trip from which you return decorated and unscathed – although the Grim Reaper constantly breathes down the soldiers’ necks. Bye – God bless – take care. One way or the other, we’ll see each other in a few weeks anyway. (They hoped not the other.)

7. View on comfort

When I think what kind of bed I slept in all those years, she said, satisfied that she can turn and stretch out as much as she wishes without being in danger of falling onto the floor. Uriah, well-built and tall as he is, had had the huge bed made specially for him, long enough to lay on it stretched out, and wide enough that, if he so fancied, he could also sleep across its width, and when he told the carpenter the size he wanted, he also said know what, make me one of those with a canopy. The carpenter made what was ordered. To her this was a dream item of furniture (apart from the bedding and the curtains, she immediately bought new ones), with everything else the lack of a woman’s touch, as they used to say, was pretty obvious, it lacked an aesthete who would insist on putting things in order and harmony, something she shined at. 

Poor Uriah, she sighed after she had been waking up alone for a number of consecutive mornings, he has such a large and comfortable bed and so rarely sleeps in it. Uriah also occasionally snorted with exasperation after waking up morning after morning on the hard bed in the military camp, swollen with mosquito and other bug bites, pulling on his dusty and blood-splattered uniform, brushing his boots, shaving his stubble, straightening up and buttoning up to his neck so he looked tip-top, calling out to the reflection in the shard of mirror he was using, Potentia est imperare orbi universo, clicking his heels and stepping out of his tent into a new day, towards new victories.

8. “I could have been…”

She unrolled the awning, winding the crank handle, and looked at the pale palms of her hands (not pale in the sense of pale as death but pale in a noble sort of way: Bathsheba’s complexion was aristocratically pale), the backs of her left and right hands moving each in their own circle, one slightly higher than the other, the same axel, turning in opposite directions, the crank handle extended another metre up to the top where the hook was attached to the horizontal roller tube with the waxed canvas wound around it. She unrolled it in the morning (her tiny hands evenly turning in opposite directions), this was a south-facing balcony, now, in the late afternoon, she was winding it back up, getting rid of the shade. How fascinating, she whispered to herself, barely moving her lips, how very fascinating indeed: horizontal turns, the crank, vertical turns and vice versa, immediate effect, the canvas opens or closes, isn’t this crazy?! Were I a child now, had I been able as a child to move shadows by winding a handle, I would have surely been so excited by this that I would have wanted to become an engineer or a mechanic, or something like that, and I would have become one too, but now, well…

The sun had not quite set yet, there was still half of it left, tinting the evening with a honey-coloured light, Bathsheba’s pale face appeared soft, it was soft, and dreamy, and gentle, until the sun set completely. (Over the Hills and Far Away.) 

9. Completing her studies

The graduation ceremony coincided nicely with her husband’s leave. After the event at the university they all went for lunch together, the young couple, Bathsheba’s parents, Bathsheba’s friend from school. In the evening her friend commented, well, your guy can certainly hold his booze!

10. Problems with limescale

She did a number two, wanted to flush, but pressed the handle in vain, the water just wouldn’t flow and the turd laughed mockingly at her from the bottom of the toilet bowl. What luck that Uriah happens to be at home on leave for a few days, she ran off to find him after filling a plastic basin with water and pouring it down the toilet, cleaning the bowl with the brush and pouring another basin full of water down it, Uriah, go and check what’s wrong, perhaps you can fix it? He put down the remote, stood up from the sofa, and said, no problems. After fiddling around with the tank for a few minutes, he announced that it was all sorted. But the following evening the water once again didn’t flush away the faeces. Uriah, it’s playing up again, can you take another look? Oh, dear, limescale, shit to sort out, will look at it tomorrow, I’ve arranged to go out with my mates now, would you like to come along?

Half an hour later he was tilting his glass. Bathsheba stayed at home, donned a pair of rubber gloves, armed herself with a plastic bottle of spirit vinegar and a packet of bicarbonate of soda, took the lid off the tank and cleaned and fixed it, the same way she had always seen her mother do it, and, while she was at it, she also scrubbed the bath, the sink and the tiles, then she found a documentary about Bulgarkov on YouTube and watched it. During the closing credits she sighed, what a life, such highs and such lows, unbelievable! It affected her and she knew that she would be unable to sleep straight away, so she prepared a bath with rosemary oil, lay in the hot water and indulged in the scent and warmth. Just as she was getting out of the bath Uriah returned from the pub, desperate to use the loo, rushed into the bathroom without closing the front or any other door, sat on the toilet and bleary-eyed watched his naked and wet wife, and dismissed her with I’d love to, but sorry, I can’t. 

At that moment the gentle scent of rosemary in the bathroom was overpowered by a different odour and the flush worked flawlessly long after.

11. Doubting the correctness of her decision

A few months later she was looking at the photos from her honeymoon, wondering whether she had made the right decision or not. Pros: she no longer lived with her parents, no longer lived in the provinces that are rather tohu wa-bohu, but in the centre of town, right next to the royal palace, more independent than ever, more free than ever. Cons: Uriah is never home and when he is he leaves his sweaty socks everywhere, doesn’t wash much, and pays her little attention. To him she is simply an ordinary partner. And what have I achieved in doing so, she said, same pattern as mother: the old man non-stop at work and whenever he was home he was grumpy, his phone ringing all the time, how is my life different?

12. Bathsheba’s talent

She became terribly interested in Nikola Tesla, exceedingly so. She wanted to know everything about his life and work, wanted, though she wouldn’t admit this, to also discover within herself the source of geniality, for she had read about his childhood, how as a three-year-old he was stroking a cat one dark stormy night, its fur producing a crackling shower of sparks and an aura of light as he did so, and – pff – one of the sparks jumped, igniting the flame, giving birth to his passion, oh, Nikica, there is no turning back. In fact she hoped that there had been some kind of similarly magnificent and fateful gesture in her own childhood too. She tried to jog her memory, searched and searched but there was nothing similar she could think of. The closest was when she had once taken a bicycle totally apart and then reassembled it – everything fitted, everything functioned like before, but she was left with five screws, washers and nuts (Father gave her a spanking), surely that wasn’t it, so she resigned herself to perhaps at least catching a fragment of the genius by researching the life and work of Nikola Tesla, at least that. 

All her efforts and deep searches within were in vain, Bathsheba was no genius and no innovator, in fact she wasn’t even a particularly technical person. She did have other talents, however. 

13. A job interview

She was included on the shortlist but wasn’t the best candidate, this much she knew, two others had much better references, the other four candidates weren’t really a threat. Then she happened to get an exceptional opportunity because the director decided that the second part of the interview would be an informal chat over coffee somewhere in town. He did not ask questions about the job, he wanted to get to know them in a more personal atmosphere. He was open and jolly and the candidates were also witty and pleasant, they ordered and in an apparently relaxed manner chatted about their spare-time passions. Ms Internationalexperience wore a decent sporty-elegant dress and regularly organised top culinary sessions at her house, Mr Theyrefighingoverme could not imagine life without golf and collects expensive watches, Bathsheba said she was consistent, reliable, liked good stories and a good game. In the meantime, the modern gourmet received a phone call from her nanny that her kid was throwing up, begging her to come home because he wants his mummy, and someone hit the golfer’s car, setting off the alarm, so he had to, I apologise, leave the table, and she was left alone with the director, the floor was hers and Bathsheba knew how to take an opportunity. 

And she was satisfied that she had called and paid the people she had, very satisfied.

14. Bathsheba starts work

She liked her job. She was satisfied with the pay.

15. View on the state of her relationship

On the underground a young couple sat opposite her, the girl looked like a fairy, tiny, sweet face and almond eyes, the boy’s hair, eyebrows, and especially Greek profile reminded her of the guy from Twilight Saga. They were holding hands, in fact the girl was clinging onto him and he appeared to be sulking, didn’t say a word, while the girl kept looking towards him, as if checking to see if he is alright, or trying to catch his gaze but he persistently stared at his sneakers. There was a bitter aura about them, as if they had fought or their relationship was hanging from a thread, then they got off the train. Their place was taken up by another young couple, she was blonde, he a redhead, they chatted all the time, laughed, touched each other, their eyes twinkling as their glances shot all over the place, each other and the entire carriage, an air of brightness radiated from them. Hmm, Bathsheba thought to herself, we’re somewhere in between.

16. Bathsheba meets the king

She had read somewhere that they were putting up an opera by Debussy in Barcelona, directed by Robert Wilson, and she found a cheap flight, a fairly comfortable hotel, and went alone to the Gran Teatre del Liceu to watch Wilson’s wonder. To begin with she found it excruciating (slow and abstruse) but then she became used to it and was soon enjoying it, returning home enthusiastic with her batteries recharged. 

A while later she was chatting in a coffee shop in town with a colleague from another department who ranted and raved about the theatre director Tomaž Pandur, but Bathsheba said that she too used to find him original but that she had wondered recently whether too much of his inspiration might not be coming from another giant. The discussion was constructive and without bile or spite, a serious debate, in as much as any debate over an afternoon coffee can be serious, and eavesdropping behind them was a gallant gentleman, they could see only his back, then he got up, bowed slightly to the ladies, paid for their coffees and left. They asked the waiter who the kind stranger was and he whispered lightly, King David, incognito, gently touching his lips with his index finger that this was a secret, and they nodded.

17. A personal question

Her friend from school asked her whether her husband was a good lover and whether the passion of her honeymoon has waned at all. Oh yes, definitely, Bathsheba answered the second question pretending she was answering the first.

18. Bathsheba is enraptured

King David in person… The very idea!

19. Bathsheba handles crisis situations

She heard shrieks from the corridor and went to see what was going on. Her colleague was waving about with her arms, dancing around, hopping as if she had lost her mind because she had found a hornet on the copier and it was now buzzing around her head, wanted to crawl into her mouth and sting her, making her suffocate, the terrible, terrible hornet. 

An entire squad came to watch the scene and help yell and wave their arms. Bathsheba stayed cool as a cucumber, went to get a glass from the office kitchen and when the beast landed on the wall she covered it with the glass, put a sheet of paper under it, stepped to the window, they opened it and everyone jumped out of the way, Bathsheba freed the animal, though before doing so it did cross her mind that she could squash it in her hand, the way you walk across a bridge and for a brief moment think you might jump, nothing serious. 

20. Close friendship

Apart from her friend from secondary school, Bathsheba didn’t keep in regular touch with anyone from her previous life, the place she used to live in, not counting the occasional courtesy phone call to her mother because mother was just mother, was and would be, and the longer they were apart, the better for the both of them since living under the same roof they had simply got on each other’s nerves every day.

They were chalk and cheese, Bathsheba and her school friend, but what both excited and annoyed her was that she always and regularly brought her down to earth (roughly and in a healthy way), and now, miles apart, she lacked this, not that she missed it, it was just that she was used to it. Without you, I’d get carried away, she had once admitted, truly carried away. They mostly communicated via Skype, occasionally Bathsheba managed to persuade her to visit the city and they wandered around together.

21. Bathsheba’s clear vision

If Anne Boleyn managed it and even Theodora managed it, I shall manage it too. These words formed on Bathsheba’s ruby lips one fine day in May as she sat on the balcony, basking in the morning sun, listening to dark Mahler, feeling all dark within.

22. Bathsheba’s persistence

Crush a handful of lovage leaves with your fingers and add to the bath. Bathsheba observed the ancient, modern and shrewd advice. Lovage, a fistful in the bath, regularly and consistently, lovage, Levisticum, ljupčac, luštrek, Liebstöckel, lubczyk and so on.

She undressed at the window, just in case, lights on and blinds up, and from time to time she stepped out into the pale darkness of the balcony in her transparent T-shirt and without any panties. 

She often left home and returned soon in order to be seen in the street, holding reading material under her arm, so it would be obvious that she reads a lot, often reaching for giants of classical literature, contemporary writing and essays in the humanities, a determined woman, beautiful, well-read, a woman of vision.

Branka Selaković

Branka Selaković

Branka Selaković (1985, Serbia) writes poetry, prose, and essays. She has published four novels and a book of poetry. She received the 2016 Miroslav Dereta Award for best novel, the Nušić Award for best satirical story, the Zlatna Plaketa Award, and the Sveti Sava Best Essay Award. She has worked as a philosophy teacher, as well as a journalist for Al Jazeera Balkans.

 


 

 

 

 

Branka Selakovic

 

Coordinates

 

Dear Earnest,

I know you don’t like it when I call you by your name, your cheeks blush out of a sudden and sparks are shining from your mother of pearl colored eyes. Calling you by your name is reserved for extended family members, pub acquaintances and the postman who regularly brings you bills, flyers from local home appliance services, food delivery, magazines, and letters from enamored students of your creative course. What you expect from me is an ornate whisper of silky words in your ear. Ery, Neste, Sweetie, Darling, Sweetheart, Angel, Honey, Pear, My one and only…I gave you a promise that I will as soon as I thread on an unknown land and avoid excessive emotionality and analyze the societies I am a part of. I will tell you about the paintings I see, unusual phenomena, fashion, weather and scents. Is that all right with you? We have not defined everything, and nothing is definite with you writers. Your words are stretchy, multi-layered and may swallow. I was able to immerse myself in your long descriptions of vineyards, flowering branches, and then slip into the jaws of dramatic worlds, the continuum of search, mental elements, and explosions that blow muscles into the air. And you were able to wrap love songs in black canvases and place them in ossuaries from which I ran all my life. I’ll be fine. Once. It would be easier for us to see each other via Skype, even without a single spoken word, but you persistently refuse to keep up with the digital age in which we live.

I don’t have daylight in the room on the third floor of the dilapidated building. There is a window all right, but instead of a view of a park, a kiosk with delicious fast food, I look at a dark gray wall engraved with initials and dates. I touch the outside wall of someone’s room with my hand and imaging that person doing the same. The mattress on which I put my tired and worried thoughts memorized the large, heavy body of the previous tenant. I lie in the imprint of an unknown person and I am trying to adjust to the depression. This can be a good topic for your course participants. I have a lamp under whose warm light I write the letters. Next time I will buy a perfume of playful drops so to spray the envelope, and who knows, maybe there is fragrant paper in bookstores if anyone writes them anymore.

 

♥ S.

 

 

My dear,

Tonight I read about a little Italian town nestled among rocks. There is a beautiful sandy beach, I saw on the booklet left in the public toilet. I would like the ship of destiny to stuck us there, at least for a while. (Stuck, read well. My ports have always been forcibly chosen. Someone else decided for me. Might is right. I think of folk wisdom. How many life lessons in short sentences.) I also read about a family living in cold Siberia, self-sustaining, without contact with the outside world. The short text was accompanied by a photo. As if they came out of Tolstoy’s novels. This is the exact image the writer gave in his descriptions. Siberia is an endless expanse of freedom that increases and multiplies the deeper you go. The building I live in is full of people from the Eastern Bloc. The hallways smell of borscht. The neighbor, Aglaja from Moscow, gave me a bowl full of cooked vegetables. More or less, artists are housed in the building. Some ran for fame, promised engagements, adventure, love, poverty, bans and political parties. When a conversation about politics and war begins, I withdraw, and they engage in verbal and physical battles, everyone proving the rightness of their view. Then, with broken noses, they kiss, toast and swear politicians, sons of bitches, their semen, and curse. The Slaves have a web of curses that make you shiver. When everything calms down in the hallways, the quick paws of rats echo.

I visit galleries and bookstores. I buy damaged books at a discount. A cute Hindu gave me some encyclopedias. I showed the point on the globed where I came from. He hugged me and told me he felt my pain. I cried briefly and told him that I was over it yet. Of course, I lied.

 

The weeping S.

 

Eternity,

 

There was a program on television for some thousands-year-old tree. It doesn’t say anything about the tree but about the people who pass under it.

When I draw outlines in the air, sometimes a mouth twists in an arc that might look like a smile, greeting the character I saw in the shape of a mold, breaking shadows on the table, in the layout of the parquet floor, on the improper coating thick layer varnish. A squirrel is hiding at the closet door. There is a new dress in the closet. I bought it from a sold painting, in fact from a sold sketch. Sitting in front of Jorge’s used bicycle shop (I was telling you about him, a Mexican who has no idea where the Balcans are, and is not even sure if Europe exists or is it another communist conspiracy), I was drawing lines in a sketchbook, trying to catch the scene on the opposite side of the street. A five maybe six years old boy sitting on the sidewalk crumbling a piece of bread to birds. A young woman passing peeks into the work and offered six dollars for it. Jorge told me I had no idea about business. He’s probably right, but I had a good portion of wings for lunch and bought a flower-sprinkled dress at a thrift store that I wore for my first time visit to Central Park. It wiped out the trees. When I close my eyes, the scents remind me of my childhood.

I switched the room. The owner of the building liked I was quiet, meticulous and that I paint. The rest he despises, at least he says so, he does not tolerate their accent, music, arguing in the hallways, cooking smells, children crying, but he is not immune to dollars. I will have to make a portrait of his family. Jorge told me that I had no idea for negotiating.

 

Both yours and mine S.

 

Love,

 

I’m drinking tea and I’m thinking of you. I blow into the liquid, impatient to take a sip, and then I burn my tongue. The same thing every morning all over again, you told me a hundred times to drink a glass of water immediately after brushing my teeth, feed the cells, and only then to make tea or coffee, make the bed and iron the wardrobe. And, that wardrobe. I never took a day to iron everything I washed the previous weekend and hang it on hangers so that I don’t have to go out just before leaving the house. It would be nice to have those dressing rooms and a sofa in the middle. It doesn’t matter, I won’t talk about home decoration, lack of space and cheap subtenant rooms. I don’t know if I told you I portrayed the owner of the building family and his mother’s poodle separately, so he was generous to me when Aglaia and her husband moved out. I got their studio for the same sum I paid for the room. Jorge shook his head, but I was proud of myself. This is progress, but I am afraid to rejoice. (Don’t laugh hard, you’ll cry, my grandmother said.) I was terrified that everything could disappear in an instant. One building, the entrance of which I looked at, watching people rushing in and out every hour, was demolished. I don’t know when the big machines got on the terrain and, like in a child’s game, knocked it down easily as if it were made of Lego bricks. An excavator bucket (If that big machine is called) crushed someone’s memories, dreams, steps, tears, history and geography of life and dug a hole in which they poured a lot of concrete and claws of reinforcement protruded from it. All in one day. I often feel disoriented. I just pick an object, a shop or a corner, as a landmark and I remember well the number of steps, the color of the façade, the furrow on the asphalt, the traffic sign, and the next day it is gone. My sense of smell still serves me well and I smell the way back.

Today I was invited by an organization that helps young people in Queens. They would like me to hold a two-week painting course. I was also in a gallery. The woman to whom I handed over the material nodded at everything I said. She measured me from head to toe and boldly asked me if I was a terrorist.

Is the soul of the world or only my eyes do not see the colors? Say I it‘s up to me! It better be up to me.

Worried S.

 

 

Ern,

 

At first, had the feeling that I was tapping into a place, and then I started to hit the ground harder. I’m still sinking, even though I woke up. I’m trying to call out for you, you hear me and you’d give me a hand, but you don’t understand what I’m talking about and you’re giving me a hand, but you don’t understand what I’m talking about and you’re not fast enough. I’m struggling for breath, my throat constricts. They took me away. I have never been in a hole, and now I am a hole full of monsters. I was taken away. I did not object. They put me in a truck and…why am I in a hole now despite everything I did to prevent it from happening? Why didn’t you come with me? Why didn’t you want to marry me? I’m not good enough? I’m not smart enough? Am I not pretty enough? I’m not in the coordinate system written for you with your origin? Fuck you, Ernest! Fuck you! At the end of the day, no one cares about you. People are only good if they need you, as long as you don’t threaten them. They pull the people aside. People want to grab the colors, not to share your grayness.

“Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods and chronicle their return. With us, time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one center of pain“, this was written by Oscar Wilde in a hotel room in glittering Paris. I could never say that this is a city where people are dying. He wants, loves, deceives, drives you crazy yes, but to be a proper dining place …no. No one is allowed to die in Paris. I admire the proud and cold people who can’t move a grain of emotion in their intentions. I stand between two worlds: the imitation of cold-bloodedness and fiery death. Everything is a demonic beauty that intoxicates. My civil conscience forces me to dress decently, to comb my hair, to pay tribute, and to throw garbage in the right place for that. My civic conscience does not allow me to pull the trigger.

Ernest, maybe death is in color?

Frightened S.

 

Hi E.,

 

I will call this letter “Footages“. Let it be a stylistic exercise for a creative writing teacher.

 

Footages

 

Imagine your life being a movie. At this point, the closing ending credits with the list of characters, assistant cameraman, director of photography, screenwriter, driver, costume designer or sponsors are of no importance. The quality of the camera is of no importance nor the talent of the one who holds it. Be it a black and white film whose shots change following the narrator’s story, in this case, me, which the heroes justify with their expressive gestures and occasional scenes of characteristic activities. There is a five-second pause between the footage that tells one story until the next. Then the canvas is completely black. The spectator’s breathing and the work of someone’s intestines can be heard in the hall. One, two, three, four, five, and exactly half the time until the next issue, a new frame follows, a new character is introduced. The audience continues to nibble on chips, seeds, popcorn, churros. Sacrilege of a masterpiece, many would think, but it is a clear division between celluloid tape, long-dead filmmakers, and current life players that someone is already putting in the frame, and they do not know and do not care what will look lie on the big screen. Each film has a screenplay and a screenwriter who has written down some basic ideas. Each idea has a germ that was sown by some event or feeling. Each event or feeling involves the movement of thoughts. It all has its frame. Millions of recorded frames in a blink. With death, the footage doesn’t stop. A shot with your dead body surrounded with the family, someone is crying, screaming or there are only the gravediggers and a priest in the cemetery. They nail down the casket with nails and throw layers of soil. Someone pays attention to the shovels, someone to the face of the gravedigger who lives frames and they are certainly more important than your frame, because you are the thousand one he buried in his long career. A frame on the monument, name and surname, year of birth and death. You got out of the frame for someone, and you got into the frame for someone else. A frame on the process of decay. A worm comes out of decaying tissues in close-up. Imagine five hundred years have passed and all who know you and those who knew you have died. From the clear sky lightning strikes the tree above your tombstone, which caught the moss, the tree falls and breaks the tombstone. Here, you are again the star of the active frame. A public utility is coming (such utility will certainly exist), pathologists are also coming, digging up bones, taking them to the institute, examining them. You are a mammoth in the eyes of scientists and in the eyes of the observers of the frames they are a part of. You are on display in a museum display case. Students from Memphis, New Orleans, Vladivostok, Kyiv, Zenica, Uzice, Split, Belgrade or Ljubljana come in organized tours to observe the unusual forehead bone. There are legends about you. You are a part of the cultural heritage. The frame is always there. You’re always in focus. Am I lying? Am I a voyeur? Yes, making love, caring for intimate parts of the body, releasing gases, nose picking, and smelling your armpits are in the frame as well.

Your life is a one-shot film, but only to you and God, if you believe in it, if not you and the cosmos or to you and the energy. For others, the film is shown from a mosaic of shots because their attention is not constantly on you. You intertwine… Yes, only He sees a one-shot film. You get in and out of each other’s shots, but don’t worry, each moment is archived. It feels good to be the lead actor, no matter how long the film lasts, isn’t it? Don’t be ashamed. It’s nothing I’ve never seen before. Do you know how many fellacios will happen on Earth in just one minute? Yes, I saw you brought your hand closer to your mother’s back, wanting to push her out of the window. Then one camera was on your irregular heartbeats, another on a drop of sweat that poured lightly down your forehead, a third on agitated thoughts, a fourth on a trembling hand a fifth on your eyes, no to mention cameras aimed at your mother. Such moments are very tense. Life is an unnamed genre or better genre over genres, a meta-genre. Did I upset you? Yes, your mother saw it in the reflection on the glass beads that hung on the Dream catcher, remember?

P.S. I wrote this one evening while waiting for Aglaia. She was late. She probably was busy shopping for half an honorarium to celebrate her new engagement. I didn’t know you could have a private theater here. Her compatriot hired a troupe that occasionally gathers and performs plays by young drama writers. Elderly emigrants are very cordial in helping the work of such ensembles, but they are expecting proven pieces about the great homeland on the stage. She adapted the text. The story of a married couple of expelled, poor, misunderstood artists in a distant, cruel world is now a happy story about a princely couple on a vacation.

P.P.S. The frame is on you. The narrator goes: “Seated in the soft sofa, he loved to sit in after dinner and read the daily newspapers, novel biographies and epistolary novels, he ran onto an interesting photo. He didn’t understand what it said because the language of the country the newspaper originated was unfamiliar to him, but he looked at carefully the sculpture of an elephant carrying the globe on his back. There was the artist’s signature on the rare leg. One letter, S. He looked at the pile of letters at the table. He sied deeply and turned off the lamp.“

 

Your perspective artist and maybe college S.

 

My dear,

 

Today colors seeped through the leaves on the cheeks of the girl reaching her arms to the sky while laughing loudly at the clouds hung on the tips of the branches. I wanted to look at her much longer, so to remember every child’s movement, every crease of her dress, the vitrages of her lacy socks, by I didn’t dare. I didn’t want to cause any doubt at the mother seating on a bench a few steps away. You can easily find yourself in jail for that here.

You didn’t congratulate me when I sold my first painting. Jorge says that there will be more orders, family portraits, pets and former girlfriends, but in between, I paint for myself. I wrote an email to the consulate. No reply so far, but I believe they will answer. Put me on disposal. They are probably fucking tired of emigrants (O, how I started swearing!)

I spend much time with Aglaia, who decided to leave her husband because he wants to come back to Russia. She doesn’t want that. She is adapted well. I think she’s in an emotional relationship with the main actor of her play. They want me to paint the scenography.

Jorge’s wife gave birth. He got a third son, although he wanted a daughter. He says that it’s better to have female children than males. Female children bring to the house, mail only take away and make damage.

Everyone is talking about the economic crisis. They fear hunger, increased crime, immigration. Impatience is often felt in the streets. You came to take our jobs and women from us! A man shouted at the entrance of the subway. It wasn’t the first time for me to hear that. It just sounded different in a foreign language but hurts the same nevertheless. They have no idea what inflation and bullet whistling are.

Sometimes I write. Here is a short story I called “Bodies“. I don’t have a copy, I didn’t type it on the computer. Keep it for me. Feel the bodies of the distant world. We touch.

 

Bodies

 

Bodies fold, spread, pray, forgive, challenge. Bodies would kiss and cuddle. Bodies would lie, to trick, outplay, mistify. Bodies run away. Bodies turn into fornication. Bodies bring life into the world. Bodies fight. Bodies are desired. Bodies are naked. Wet. Bodies yearn for life. Bodies are late, repent, and would bring back time. Bodies do drugs, scribble, stigmata, sag, butcher, sell themselves, love, rape. Bodies are a coffin of divine riches and cosmic dust with which we can sow small goddesses and spread love. Bodies make love with the screens. They take parts of the body and send them in small notes to businessmen who masturbate on their organs and the organs in the letters they receive. They touch themselves while checking online sites with images of young bodies in passion. Creating illusion is imperative! Creators of laughter, extractors of wise verses of great authors. Bodies flicker, disintegrate, and take no action. The body can be human, geometric, political…The body flies, falls, floats, clamps, wimps, limps, runs, jumps, plays…It is caressed, discouraged, pimpled, incompetent, twisted, dead, broken, chopped, static, statistic, pierced, engraved, colored, naked, baked, tortured, merry, cunny, hung, beaten, run over, burned, kissed, loved, praised, cast, born, embodied, mummified, nailed, tied, deluded, torn, in love, naked, stigmatized, exploited, neglected, nurtured, passionate, goluptious… Bodies move through the city. Bodies touch, meet, kill, torment, love, desire, kiss, hug. The body is armor, a shield, an advertisement. The body is flesh and skin. The body is meat. The body is food. The body is a temple. The body is not enough.

 

 

My body is yours.

S.

 

My love,

 

I’m happy! I got in touch with my high school friends who have been living here for a long time. Thanks to Valeria (I never told anything about her, because I haven’t hung out with her so far), I will paint a mural at the entrance of a high school. Imagine?!

I’m moving. Again. Hm, you know how much I hate packing, but now there aren’t many problems, I have two suitcases. I temporarily leave the easel, brushes and pains with Jorge. He said he will sell them at the first opportunity. I don’t believe it.

The world is strange. Who would have thought that I am here, that all this is happening?

“Traveling is a useful thing, it tickles the imagination. Everything else is just disappointment and fatigue. Our journey is completely fictional. That’s where its strength comes from“, Celine wrote on the first page of his book “Journey to the End of the Night“. You must have read it years before?

P.S.We dance na, na, na, na …

 

 

 

♥ you.

Yours S.

 

Mr. E,

 

Did I offend you in some way so you haven’t answered in months? Ever since I told you that James agreed to represent me and that the interview with the two gallerists went more than well, you withdraw. I haven’t stopped thinking about you for a moment, about us. I want you by my side. I love your lips when they touch my shoulder. I love every white hair that has streaked your hair and small wrinkles between your eyes because you are constantly frowning. I only know that you laugh best with your eyes. In your eyes, the warmth of the world is gathered for me. You love me. That’s what you said when you escorted me to the airport. Was that a test? You wanted me to stay? You know, I’m tired of testing? In my wrinkles, in my eyes, behind my ear, on my heels, in the wardrobe, it says that I am not from here. Where do I belong to? Where was I born? The town is no longer called what it says on my birth certificate. My graves have been excavated, demolished, plowed. Do not exist. My dead are disturbed. Our dead would aminate all this. We came from somewhere. You remain my beacon. Whom? Couldn’t we build a life here? You blame me for not letting them bream my spine. You blame me for throwing the truth in everyone’s face before I stepped on the plane and slammed all the doors. The door to what? Which door was open to me? I have more work experience as a waitress than as a painter. I reluctantly changed so many cities, collective accommodations, schools, and then I curled up on your lap, but even that constantly eluded me. You could never stand by me. Yes…a long-established reputation, and in fact..You are a coward!

 

 

 

My Ernyce,

 

 

Sorry about the last letter. I didn’t even read it before I sent it. I’m tired of adjusting. I never had anything of my own. Everything was torn out of my misery. All this is a charity and this city, people, continent. I don’t know where to go.

 

I love you.

S.

 

 

Hi Erny,

 

It has been six months since I wrote you the letter informing you that I will have my first solo exhibition at a small gallery in Brooklyn. People from the consulate and several associations responded to my emails, promised collaboration and help. I may be naïve, but I’ll give them another chance. Maybe displaced like this, on foreign territory, we can do much more.

The gallery space was filled with well-known languages. The cacophony of the Balkans covered everything. Jorge was there with several of his relatives. His wife is pregnant again. Aglaia giggled with her new boyfriend. I drank champagne and stared at my spread canvases. I didn’t sell a single painting. James says no to despair, these are the first steps. I currently live in an apartment above the laundry room where I work. If someone looks me on the map, I’m here between 84th and 85th street. On weekends, I am a switchman in a modest cinema that plays animated films. During the day, mothers come with their children, and in the evening adults in the costumes of their favorite heroes. Sometimes I hear them masturbate.

I’d like you to contact me, at least by postcard. Don’t dedicate poems to me. I would break down to read your new book and recognize a part of myself in it. For me, it is not over yet because I belong to the kind of nomads who are persecuted by burden, in every place, every city, they make worlds, breath because they often run out of breath. I’m swallowing air. I see your face in the fold of shirts I meet in the subway, in a trace of color that inadvertently slipped on the floor, in the scrambled eggs I eat in the morning, in the reflection in the mirror. It’s been two years since I put my head on your chest and listened to your body noises. Couldn’t it be a little easier over time or the Balcans coordinates burn forever?

 

Forever Yours S.

 

Translated by Marija Sarevska-Todorovska

Sašo Ognenovski

Sašo Ognenovski

Sašo Ognenovski (1964, North Macedonia) has published three books of poetry, two books of plays for children, two plays for adults, and a novel, for which he received the Književno Pero Award. He has worked as an actor and a professor, writes literary criticism, and is the editor of the Macedonian online literary magazine Elementi.

 

 


 

 

 

Sasho Ognenovski

The Tour

excerpt from the novel

 

 

CHAPTER IV – THE STOLEN BALALAIKA

 

Natalia Nikolaevich Volkova slapped her fleshy hand on the carved mahogany table and threatened to spread her dominant alto widely.

“That balalaika will be found. This is where I’m the thinnest, and that is what my punishment will be for the one who dared to do such an act. The suffering of my family was enough. I had a veil over my eyes and allowed that balalaika that was owned by my great-grandfather to be listed as a prop of the theatre. And now on top of that someone stole it. No, this will not go unpunished. Fyodor Sevastopolovich Krajnitsky, look me in the eye.” Fyodor swallowed and looked with great fear at the People’s Actress of Russia and the current first actress of the New Komsomol Theatre in St. Petersburg, who when she took the balalaika at the rehearsal of the trilogy The Coast of Utopia by Tom Stoppard, concluded that it was a completely different balalaika bought from a store, and the one from her glorious Romanov family disappeared somewhere. “When the English can write about the famous Bakunin, then the real Russians will have to keep at least those things that are important to their history. What is all this? Everything is twisted! The lines I utter sound like I’m about to take a hot dog out of a basket at any moment. Come on, please. Immediately call Matryona Alexandrova to explain this repertoire move. I, Fyodor Sevastopolovich, had patience and did not dismiss this shitty project from the theatre’s repertoire, but the American who smells of menthol and says “wonderful” after every rehearsal, when we have not moved a finger, will not bring us world fame. Let’s us think for a moment and realize where we are going.”

“Well, let us see, what do you suggest?” The play has already started, there’s nothing to do. Money was spent and…”, Fyodor swallowed, and Natalia straightened up and looked at him contemptuously.

“First let’s find the balalaika, and then we’ll talk. I have a plan, but here, I give in and it’s costing me respect and tradition. And open the window. It stinks of cheap tobacco,” she said, slamming the door, while Fyodor Sevastopolovich smelled around him to check how poisoned the area was when knocking on the door routinely Anyutka appeared, the secretary who informed him that the Macedonian Theatre was due to arrive in St. Petersburg tonight. Fyodor slapped himself on forehead and panicked immediately.

“Is everything ready? In fact, nothing’s ready. And when do they arrive?” he asked, raising his anger at his co-workers. “Weeeell… I think tonight … yes, tonight around midnight,” the secretary said uncertainly, and Fyodor just sat down on the wide director’s armchair, sweating profusely. “Can I get you some tea?”, added the not very smart, but beautiful secretary, to which Fyodor responded by throwing at her The Idiot by Dostoevsky, the writer whose name he bore, and the rather thick novel stood on his right side, ready for negotiations as the next project. Anyutka skilfully evaded Fyodor Mikhailovich’s difficult novel and disappeared through the door. Fyodor lowered his head to the desk and after a few minutes he yelled: “Seryozhaaaaaa, Nikoljkaaaaaa, Ivaaaaan!!!” In less than a minute, Seryozha Nikitin, Nikolay Namusov and Ivan Kratkiy, who was the tallest of them, appeared before him. “The Macedonian group is coming iiiin…” the calculation of the hours while staring at the wristwatch raised his anger and despair even more: “in ten hours. I want them to be well accommodated and the theatre prepared for their play tomorrow.”

“You mean the day after tomorrow,” Seryozha corrected him, smiling bitterly. “We were turned down from the Sevastopol Hotel because of the unpaid bills from last fall when the theatre group from Tanzania came, so I’ll have to go to the Viy Hotel. I know we don’t want to go there, but that’s the only option.” They didn’t want to go to the Viy Hotel because the manager of that hotel was Fyodor’s political opponent and they shared an affair he didn’t want to talk about, let alone use their services. “Okay, there is one variant left, and that is to put them in a hotel a little further away – Priamukhino, but they’ll have to use the metro, etc. “Done,” Fyodor replied shortly. “Let them take a little ride on the subway. Something else? “Ivan replied that he would inform all the media today and that the press conference would be held the day after the show, but that… “All that today, right? And what have we been doing so far?” All three looked at the ceiling, and Fyodor just waved his two hands, saying through his teeth: “I want everything to be perfect by ten o’clock tonight, otherwise don’t come back to work.” The three organizers, who pretended to have done everything they said, went out the door and immediately set to work. Fyodor covered his face with both hands and sighed desperately. Then he took out a bottle of vodka from the bottom drawer and poured himself a small, wide glass. He drank it bottoms up and snorted angrily.

It was ghostly quiet on the bus, where even the steward no longer wanted to talk. All that could be heard was the quiet squeaking of the engine and the occasional snoring of the drunken Pande. Nobody slept. The fact that in ten days two of those with assigned roles from the striking “Hamlet” were gone seemed terrifying and Borjan was already forging a strike in his mind to end this tour which he maliciously thought was useless, but given that it offered to visit countries he would never afford, he offered no resistance, although, frankly, no one paid the slightest attention to his opinion, the Bulldog the least of all. “Now,” thought Borjan Sterling, whom his opponents called Bed Bug in their secret gossip, “is the right time for a coup.” To put an end to this useless madness that might cost us our lives and finally get on the right track.” He stared around his constrained colleagues and counted those who would stand by him, terrified, wondering who might be the next to be eaten by the wolf.

It was getting dark slowly, and Lindita, who had fallen asleep with a few sleeping pills, was awakened by the vibration of the phone. It was Pampurov. She immediately answered the phone and listened, saying only: “Good. Bye” to which Bozho startled, followed by Vule doing the same. Bozho and Lindita looked at each other in silence and she gave him a hint that later they would speak, accompanied by a movement of the hand which meant that everything would be sorted out, to which he muttered under his nose: “Well, everything should’ve been fine so far, but someone’s picking out my people. Who knows what will come out of this.” Vule swallowed and turned around just to show Bozho that he was here and that he was on the alert. The steward, disinterested in the group, waited for his term to end with his last trip to Russia, after which they would continue their flight to Beijing. He sighed, meaning: “Never again with you” and continued playing games on the phone. The least interested was the driver who sang Serbian folk songs routinely doing his job “strictly professionally.”

The ghostly atmosphere on the bus was similar to that of the Adams Family – ominous but life-giving. Entering Russian territory, all the characters from Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy began to come to life, and with them their bearers: Toci and Boci would just pop their heads to see what was happening and return to their cheerful and mysterious world, Eeeej played with the fingers of both her hands somnabulically speaking incoherent sentences, which indicated that she still somehow managed to smuggle light opiates that allowed her to go into dimensions unfamiliar to others, which in turn somehow adapted to the constantly fermented state of Pande who slept as always with one eye a bit open to be constantly in tune with everything happening around. Borjan and Bojan had already swapped places due to the quiet clash between Bed Bug and Bojan over winking with the beautiful Seda Gjungor in Istanbul, while Lavinia treating the young and cute Bojan motherly and patronizingly to avoid the tense atmosphere after Dimko and Filka vanished, began to discover some of his qualities that inflamed something she didn’t even believe in, and his presence somehow pleased her very much. At first he comforted him about the lost knife, telling him that it would be found somewhere and that when they arrive they’ll look for it “together.” She wondered if the young Bojan Shtrkovski, whom she hadn’t noticed before in the theatre corridors, considering him a hopeful child, could awaken that erotic Gorgon in her that some ten years ago was burning in the public space in Macedonia, where affairs with politicians and businessmen were her addition to every morning coffee in luxury hotels and on yachts on Lake Ohrid. She took a deep breath and smiled at her feeling that she had to admit has long since fallen asleep inside and now… it was time to wake it up. With that statement, she drew her palm into Shtrkovski’s palm and squeezed it hard, to which he turned and sweated a little, awakening the erotic fantasies he had towards her as a student while watching her in the naked scenes in some theatrical performances. It looks like they were already on the same wavelength. Somehow, the actor who played Laertes was staring at him all the time. He was always absentminded, and as such he caught Pande’s eye with the slightest thought that he might be the “still water running deep.” Isn’t it so? He will explain that at the next meeting with Bozho, but alone when Vule won’t be among them. This time Gundur and Bowie got tired of playing cards, which meant that they too were gripped by tension and lay on the back seats by the table staring at the ceiling. “It’s a lot of money… for sure… I left Tokmak and Anjar to wander around the theatre, and I gave them a list of people to follow. No answer from them. Someone filled them up, since they’re fucking me like this. We gave so much and in so many places to make things be as they should be. And whose throat is not full?” Bozho thought convulsively, sweating to find the connection of the people who were disappearing and the underground currents that enthroned him in a place that was certainly a few sized bigger, but he had a lot of experience and the structures turned a blind eye on him. “There were two auctions where everything was fine, but…” He jumped up and looked at Laertes, who with half his face came out from behind the seat in front of him and was already staring ahead for hours. “He was there… I never asked him what he was doing there. He had no money for such things, and walked among the people. We managed to buy the props from the time of the Ottoman Empire, but…” She looked at him again, and the actor stepped back and leaned back in his seat, lowering it completely, waking Toci and Boci, who were fast asleep. “But what has this got to do with all this…” Bozho grunted and stretched unhappily.

Translated from Macedonian: Zorica Teofilova

 

 

SECRET

Somebody ate this morning too…

Dry utterances of tenderness

Are merging in the breath of

The new sun’s flick.

I don’t know where the sunshine had hidden.

The linden trees are whispering to each other

While the morning is crying, and the yellow

Circle

Is rising on its zenith, on his

Throne.

They are playing with the shine in

My eyes.

I will never find the sunshine.

Sasho Ognenovski, Macedonia

 

LIVID POST

It is a general feeling:

Everybody is crying, but do not know why.

Nobody is considering  about anything

All looks are livid, lachrymose…

Everyone is a livid post.

 

REMEMBERING

 

Olive tree by the lake,

house of stone on the cloud,

someone crying on the threshold,

someone eating bitter olives.

 

The sky turns red, torn by a spit of flame.

The house is burning, the cloud is gone.

Holes in our eyes,

empty space.

 

WATER

 

How was it before the fury came?

Quiet, with five letters,

limpid, cold, then warm,

fast water –

as flash of thought.

 

Now it is bitter,

overflowing its banks,

one day it will flood everything.

 

What should we do then?

Would the twilight,

which we look at every day,

give us to drink?

 

 

WHERE GRIEF BEGINS

At the place where grief is born

the heart spreads open a fan of the passions.

A fleeting glance

exchanged

and we,

messengers of our bodies, naked,

play together, tongue to tongue

and are glad.

(At least we appear to be.)

That place

is no place for tears,

where grief begins.

 

SAD POEM

Sad old woman with a black bundle

carrying something black –

net in the isinglass eye of a fish.

Love in the hide-and-seek soul,

Sad kiss, sad morning,

 

 

Marija Dejanović

Marija Dejanović

Marija Dejanović (1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina) has published poetry, essays and literary criticism in various magazines. For her books, she was awarded the Goran Poetry Prize, the Kvirin Award for young poets, and the Zdravko Pucak Award for best unpublished poetry manuscript by a young author. She has participated in interdisciplinary performances and was the deputy director of the Thessalian Poetry Festival in Greece.

 


 

 

 

On the way to the shop

Translated by Vesna Marić

 

In a country where few speak your language

everyone speaks louder than you

everyone is more visible, more protected

hidden by numerousness

on the way to the tea shop you feel much too noticeable

The movements of your knees reflect your lack of friends

 

Your gait is stiff, too strict

and although everyone is extremely kind

they don’t dig into your flesh out of the goodness of their hearts

they talk amongst themselves not to bother you

they say good day and goodbye

 

Still, you feel like a pair of metal compasses

whose sharp shiny needle point stabs the concrete

metre after metre

As you walk from the flat to the shop, from the shop to the flat

you leave behind a vanishing circle of your presence, a language

of mutual incomprehension;

 

when you’re buying tea from the friendly shopkeeper

it is you, rather than the dried leaves, that is on display

 

Returning from the shop you begin to resemble them

Aimless, you are an eye that envelops

and does not reveal

 

Out of love for yourself you don’t question how you feel

just like out of your love for animals

you eat herbs planted by another’s children

who will never be able to afford the food they grow

you buy cashew nuts in a plastic bag

whose production melts women’s identity off their fingertips

 

But those are some other women, somewhere far away

women whose sisters live in towns that topple onto their heads

legal slave women

 

You have chosen your own hard times

Bought your good times with them

 

The streets are full of small shops

Each shop has many woven baskets

each woven basket holds a small personal defeat

You walk blonde, blue-eyed

because your skin is sun tanned

it is lovely to see you in every street

 

If they speak to you in that language

you shrug under your hat

 

They could say that they love you or curse you

and you wouldn’t know the difference

 

this ignorance is your small personal victory

 

 

 

Aubergine

Translated by Vesna Marić

 

You know, this is where I’m from now

mother told me while watching the half of the garden

that was full of the aubergines she’d grown

with too much care, like children, on a small plot of land

she’d bought with hard-earned money

dug up laboriously left-to-right, upwards

as if knitting a vest

 

The other half still has soil that needs digging

and it seems that with each wielding of the spade

she increases the distance between the village of her childhood

and this yard in which we stand

as if each step forward is a new void

but that, also, each new void is a reason to move on

In each hole she plants a memory

of long buried faces

 

Over there no longer exists

Although you’d only gone to visit maybe twice in your life

and I have already been here a year longer

than I had spent in –

and she pauses before saying

that I was born in the times of ethnic cleansing

but that there had been nothing clean

 

in the hospital where I first appeared

  • miraculously alive –

while the splayed flesh of my mother was surrounded by dying

soldiers and civilians

 

  • her flesh – and that I was born in a bed

in which no woman should ever give birth

and no child ever meet the world

that such hospitalisation cannot be called a service

but a crime against humanity

 

She lightly raised her elbow

to wipe the sweat off her brow with the back of her hand

and to stop digging

 

We got into the car in silence

After several hours we saw the border police

 

She still doesn’t like them

 

Just like the last time I saw her

granny wears a worn-out gray dress

and a wide smile

 

She stands at the gate, squinting

 

She’s made potato pie for us

 

Although she has remembered nothing for years now

granny can still perfectly recall my mother’s face

 

You haven’t changed at all, daughter

She says, and reaching out her hand

strokes my cheek

 

 

Concrete

Translated by Hana Samaržija

 

My friends live in gaps between the wardrobe and the wall

that are impossible to reach

as I stretch my arms, a web of silence

enters my mouth; they are the shady silence of plaster

I tell her: choose a picture frame

and stick your scalp through its hollow body

push the supple roots of hair untouched by sun

sprinkled with flour

 

sneak out of his kitchen or jump through the window

from the tenth floor, you’ll land on the atoms of possibilities

like the ashen flowers in the district park

Your eyes: symbols for bursting, heavy breasts

sagging from your father’s eyes, from equine milk, and presents

that shed from your skin instead of your husband’s cruel lips

 

His words gather in your bellybutton

and crawl to your neck, like cypresses in the cemetery

and suddenly, instead of dust, it is you hanging from the chandelier

 

My friends are mine because they are no one’s

they only listen to themselves and touch only themselves

my friend is the table leg

whose splinter pierces your thumb while moving house

 

My friend: a small plastic ball

filled with brown fluid

 

My friend is a curly hair

in the drain of her throat

 

He tells her: together we drew boundaries

to clean furniture together

She tells him: it’s easy to fall apart, it’s hard

to pierce a pea with your fork

My friends are the first sorrows

whom I genuinely loved

They are the first to make decisions

and the only ones to carry them through

 

My friends are tall buildings

whose hands hold the foundations

 

My friends are an airplane

with concrete legs

 

 

The Amphora

Translated by Hana Samaržija

 

To bury yourself in ashes:

a blissful thought, after a century asleep

in an amphora

burdened by heavy delights

Heavy, because on hold

to burst like a chestnut with its stomach split open

and to begin dreaming

 

Dreaming about the birth of an olive

the bruised thighs of skies that crows

pluck from their nests with beaks

string by string

until there is nothing left

but dreams of skinniness and silence

ceramic backs

and doors

 

To appear in the sun’s apron

To float in a mossy carriage, to

stretch into a column emanating from the bowl

 

An ordinary wooden bowl is

the hard core of our greeting

and slack is its gait

 

To open your eyes

invite the army to invade the city

and lay your forehead in a valley

the flipside of an elbow

 

Aubade

translated by Hana Samaržija

 

Aubade is a buffalo

It unwraps its horns like a lotus

and water is dew, strewn with a faint

twist of the neck. This mist forms a thin

dense layer of fur that trails its spine

like a white deer trails traffic

when it is snowing

The white petals of a lotus

 

or

white blood cells, like pearl necklaces

which hang from roofs when it turns cold

Aubade rushes and races with its brief

darting haste

like the life of a white rabbit

and other white animals

 

Aubade: the only part of the scene that is brown

 

Everything else is white, wherever

the round rifle of the eye

beneath its thin frosty membrane

can perform the splits

Brown is only a tree with four roots

and two branches

 

I do not know why, but aubade

 

reminded me of the juggler

who waits for the traffic lights

to turn green. He then hurls

dusty tennis balls

ball by ball

like large, smooth walnuts

dum

If one were to drop on the road

it would roll beneath a car waiting for its mark

and ruin the day

This way, make no mistake

There is no mud on its hands

 

My love is

a hunter that aims

for the empty space between two horns

 

 

 

Iceland

translated by Hana Samaržija

 

I will move to Iceland

like a flock of birds

like two bales of wheat

treading under the sun

to exhaustion, their skin

yoked to vertigo

with soft ribbons

I say: it’s reliable

this doesn’t mean: safety

 

this does mean:

my body is bound

and I am floating

like an amoeba

as free as

a life belt

without a

drowning man

to rescue

 

This empty core

is Iceland:

my need

to be warm

and thrown into water

 

my desire

to see you

blown up by a bomb

from my stomach

 

my hands

hold binoculars

watching me from the shore

in an explosion

inviting me

to forget my name

*

Iceland.

The desire to become cold

To only have sterile thoughts

and mouth simple sentences

to mount a rock of wet salt

and eat plain oatmeal

 

to wear thick woolen socks

to forsake human touch

and, once a month, to visit

white foxes

 

I would like an eternal Winter

I would like my room’s yard

to become her empire

I would sprawl on her cushions

 

and have her tell me that, in her youth, she

would sit on the chest of young men

and stay with them

until they ran

out of breath

 

*

I am sending you a letter from Iceland:

here everything is white

like the clouds I captured

from the airplane window

when I came to see you

 

During the day, the sky seems

like the North pole

You cannot see the ground

During the night, the soil

looks like a web of stars

 

I omit the brown details

I lie it snows

In the end, I don’t send the letter

I don’t begin hating the world

I don’t curl into bed naked

and I don’t cry

 

 

*

Your core is tiny

flushed, soft, smooth tissue

beneath a pile of knives

 

On a white morning

 

I will draw them one by one

like nails from a tent

and stab them in the foreheads

of everyone who exposed you

Nikolay Boykov

Nikolay Boykov

Nikolay Boykov (1968, Bulgaria) studied Hungarian philology and has had a range of jobs, as a cook, truck loader, interpreter in a sewing factory, librarian, teacher of Hungarian, journalist, model at an art academy, book and newspaper deliverer, copywriter, bookseller, translator, guard, window cleaner, childcare worker, courier, franchise provider, PR and advertising assistant, helper to people with physical disabilities, editor, waiter, and bartender. He writes poetry as well as prose. At the invitation of Traduki, he participated at the 2018 Leipzig Book Fair. He also organised a festival and symposium about queer life and literature in Central and Eastern Europe at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin.

 


 

 

 

 

Briefe an Petăr (Auszüge)

 

 

25. Januar

 

Heute, auf dem Heimweg von der „Matrix“, begann ich wieder, sieh mich nicht so an, Junge zu trällern, aber statt und jeder deiner Blicke ist ein Ruf ertappte ich mich dabei, wie ich jeder meiner Blicke sang, es war gegen kurz nach neun, die Spatzen unter meinem Fenster hatten bereits ausgezwitschert, ich hatte bereits nach der Post gesehen und würde zu Hause in dem Buch Der Affe auf dem Fahrrad von Ágnes Heller lesen (während des Lesens würde mir eine Träne über die Wange kullern, zur völlig falschen Zeit, unangebracht, aus dem Kontext gerissen, offenbar ganz und gar zusammenhanglos), aus diesem Buch würde ich mir auf Ungarisch einige Sätze wie die folgenden notieren: wie sowohl Lukács als auch Solschenizyn gesagt haben sollen, dem Hund einen hündischen Tod und dass der Mörder ein Mörder bleibt, selbst wenn er einen Mörder ermordet, darüber, dass der ehrliche und anständige Mensch gewinnt, selbst wenn er verliert, darüber, wie sie im Alter von achtzehn beschlossen habe, dass sie auf dieser Welt eine Berufung hat: die Nuss zu knacken, und die Nuss ist die Wahrheit, die Wahrheit über die Dinge, über die Menschen und das Sein, darüber, was in uns steckt, wie sie aber später begriffen habe, dass es keine Wahrheit gibt, und so gebe es auch nichts zu erkennen, sie habe verstanden, dass die Unmöglichkeit, die Nuss zu knacken, Teil des Nussknackens ist, letzteres habe ich irgendwie nicht verstanden, ich hatte mir bereits vorher einen Lindenblütentee gemacht und einen halben Becher Joghurt mit einer Scheibe Brot gefrühstückt, später würde ich Krautsalat zu Mittag essen, wieder mit Joghurt, ich hatte bereits und wieder Ani Ilkov gelesen: Gestern wurde ich nachdenklich und sagte mir: Ich werde / nichts aufschreiben – die Wörter sind leer. / Dann ging ich spazieren, kaufte mir etwas zum Abendessen / und begann alles von vorn / mit einem Brief, in dem ich mich nicht beklagen würde, und ich würde in der Markthalle und auf dem Frauenmarkt einkaufen gehen, wo ich mir Pfefferminz- und Kamillentee kaufen würde und einen aus Bergkräutern, ich würde auch versuchen, mir eine Stange Salami zu kaufen, und verlangen, dass man sie für mich aufschneidet, man würde ablehnen, ich würde mich ärgern, wir würden ein wenig streiten, Bürger würden sich empören, dass ich die Schlange aufhalte, ich würde verärgert weggehen, ohne mir Salami zu kaufen, aber mir würde einfallen, einer Freundin vorzuschlagen, eine Reihe von Beiträgen für einen Fernsehsender zu machen, sagen wir mit dem Titel kein Kommentar, wo wir filmen, wie ich verlange, dass man mir die Salami aufschneidet, man das aber ablehnt, ich würde sie später auf dem Heimweg, nachdem ich Äpfel, Orangen, Mandarinen, zwei Pampelmusen, Karotten, Kartoffeln, Zwiebeln, frische Petersilie, frischen Dill und zwei Paprikaschoten gekauft habe, treffen und ihr auf die Schnelle von meiner Idee erzählen, und wir würden vereinbaren, uns morgen zu sehen und alles ausführlich zu besprechen, ich hatte bereits die neuen Postkarten mit Rätseln für Trjavna gezeichnet, und auf dem Weg zur Post würde ich einen Buntstift kaufen, um das Geschenk für Kamen fertig zu verpacken: ein Buch mit Geschichten – Lügenmärchen, ein Heft, ein ganz gewöhnlicher Kugelschreiber, all das in einer durchsichtigen Kunststoffmappe, und ein Rasierset von Gillette (ein übriggebliebenes Weihnachtsgeschenk, das ich ohnehin nicht benutzen würde: ein Rasierer mit einigen Klingen, Schaum, Aftershave (?)), ich hatte bereits eines meiner Geburtstagsgeschenke im Eissalon in der Angel-Kănčev-Straße bekommen: eine wohlriechende runde Kerze, und ich würde einen Abstecher zur Buchhandlung Bibliopolis auf der Solunska-Straße machen, um abzusprechen, wann ich meine Postkarten für die Interessenten an meinen Postkarten zeichnen sollte, falls es solche gab natürlich, ich hatte bereits meinem Freund eine Antwort auf das geschrieben, was er mir geschrieben hatte, dass sehr schön sei, was ich ihm in meinem letzten Brief beschrieben hatte: wie wir uns einen Film angeschaut hatten, ob jetzt Die Einsamen oder Die Einfältigen, wie wir nebeneinander saßen und sich unsere Schultern von Zeit zu Zeit berührten, leicht und zart, und ich fühlte, wie er einatmete, und ich fühlte, wie er fühlte, dass ich einatmete, ich fühlte, wie sein Atem schneller wurde und meiner ihn einholte oder meiner vorauseilte und seiner ihn einholte, wie sie sich einholten und überholten, sich übersprangen und wir dann an der Stelle, wo unser Einatmen und Ausatmen eins hätten sein sollen, leicht und zart voneinander abrückten, und ich hatte ihm bereits mit einem ungarischen Schlager geantwortet: Die Liebe dauert eine Woche (wenn wir dieses Lied im Unterricht durchnehmen, gibt es ein Lehrbuch auf Ungarisch: Nicht nur Lieder, immer am Anfang, noch bevor klar wird, worum es geht, frage ich, das ist die erste Aufgabe der Lektion: was dauert eurer Meinung nach eine Woche?), ich hatte bereits zu einem anderen Freund gesagt: alles ist vorbei, auch diese Liebe ist vorbei, aber ich bin verliebt und das bedeutet auch kreativ, ich hatte bereits einen Brief geschrieben, mit dem ich bereits gegen jenes von mir Ausgesprochene verstieß, nämlich dass ich Dir nicht schreiben würde, und ich würde mir eine grüne Diskette aussuchen, um auf ihr diese Briefe von mir zu speichern (Briefe an Petăr), ich hatte bereits alle möglichen Sachen gemacht und würde andere machen, ich war auf dem Boulevard Neofit-Rilski nach Hause unterwegs, und dann, während ich und jeder meiner Blicke ist ein Ruf, ti-da-da-ti-da-ti-ta-ta-ti-da vor mich hin trällerte, sagte ich mir, da beschloss ich, damit anzufangen, Dir diese Briefe zu schreiben und nicht darauf zu warten, eine Antwort von Dir zu erhalten.

 

 

30. Januar

 

Nachdem wir gestern Wolken über dem Ganges gesehen hatten, stand irgendein Freund aus Deiner Kindheit zwischen uns, dessen Namen ich mir nicht gemerkt habe, der kurz vor seinem Abschluss in Jura stand, aber immer noch nicht wusste, was aus ihm werden sollte, wenn er einmal „groß“ wäre, wir hatten uns zufällig an der Bushaltestelle bei der Uni getroffen, ich war auf dem Weg ins Ungarische Kulturinstitut und hatte es eilig, hatte Dich gerade von der Šipka-Straße aus auf dem Handy angerufen, und wir hatten verabredet, uns in zwanzig Minuten vor dem Kulturinstitut zu treffen (inzwischen weiß ich, warum die Leute auf der Straße herumirren und in ihr Telefon brüllen: Wo bist du?), Du begannst zu schreien, ich kam zurück, dann verscheuchte ich für einen Moment den Freund aus Kindertagen, um Deine Erlaubnis einzuholen, diese Briefe zu veröffentlichen, dann saßen wir getrennt da, und ich holte gleich zu Beginn das rote Klemmbrett im halben A4-Format und den grünen Kugelschreiber hervor, den ich immer dabei habe, um die Adressen auf die Postkarten zu schreiben, die ich verschicke, nur ihn konnte ich in meinem Tornister erstasten, ich saß im dunklen, aber immerhin ausreichend hellen Saal und schrieb so, wie ich früher einmal in Brief nach Amerika im Euro-Bulgarischen Zentrum geschrieben und geschluchzt hatte: Der Ort ist trist, aber ich lasse mich nicht von ihm runterziehen … Habe ich ihm gesagt, dass ich … Inmitten so vieler Menschen … Doch Du wirst aufwachen und mir verzeihen, doch ich werde aufwachen und mir verzeihen, doch Du wirst aufwachen und Dir verzeihen, ich schrieb im Salon des Ungarischen Kulturinstituts, was auf dem Bildschirm zu hören war (wie immer, wenn sie auf Ungarisch Mutterflüche ausstießen, auf Bulgarisch nur – zum Teufel): Über das Existierende sprechen und über das Nichtexistente schweigen, ich hatte mir bereits in Christentum und Kultur Nr. 4/2000 das eine Motto von Wittgenstein notiert, das ich in den Händen eines Mädchens erblickte, sie zeigte ihren Freundinnen ihre Klausurarbeit: Ich bin meine Welt, und die Nummer des anderen, das mir zu lesen nicht gelang, 5.621, während ich jetzt diese Zeilen schreibe, finde ich es: Die Welt und das Leben sind Eins (jetzt verstehe ich jenen Satz, den Bojan Mančev auf der Ivan-Asen-Straße zu mir sagte, nämlich dass ich ein ziemlicher Wittgenstein-Typ sei); heute Morgen, als ich irgendwo gegen zehn vor zwei aufwachte, konnte ich mich nicht hinsetzen, um zu schreiben oder zu übersetzen, mein Computer war kaputtgegangen, also begann ich, darin zu lesen, das Christentum und die Kultur, begann zu unterstreichen, womit ich einverstanden war und womit nicht, auf seine Fragen zu antworten, meine eigenen Fragen zu stellen: warum die religiös Gläubigen das Wort Gläubige für sich beanspruchen und alle übrigen als Ungläubige bezeichnen, bedeutet die Tatsache, dass ich nicht an ihren Gott glaube, dass ich an nichts glaube, ist es wahr, dass ich zwischen Glaube und Unglaube wähle, vertauscht die Frage glaube ich, die man mir dort stellt, nicht die Kategorien, vielleicht lautet die Frage glaube ich an Gott und vielleicht genauer glaube ich an den christlichen Gott und vielleicht noch genauer – an diesen auf den ersten Seiten ins Auge gefassten christlichen Gott: der hyperwirkliche und hypermögliche soll es sein, der wundervolle, der Gott, dessen Jenseitigkeit und apostrophierende Verborgenheit augenscheinlich sind für Kalin Janakiev (ich persönlich glaube nicht an den Christengott und glaube nicht der bzw. an die Unaussprechlichkeit dieses Unglaubens wie Aleksandăr Kjosev, ich halte mein irdisches Dasein als Mensch für ein Leben unter anderen, für ein Leben mit den anderen, und aus dieser Perspektive bin ich der Meinung, dass es nicht gut ist, an diesen Gott zu glauben, weder für mich selbst noch für die anderen, ich meine, dass dieser Gott ein Gott der Erpressung und der Machtausübung durch das Opfer ist, durch das Zuschreiben von Schuld, durch eine durch nichts gezeigte, durch nichts bewiesene Liebe, ein Gott der doppelten Standards und der Unvollständigkeit, ein Gott der Verankerung der Ungleichstellung, denken wir nur an das Folgende: jemand erschafft meine eventuellen Vorfahren nach seinem Bild, als sein Ebenbild, wobei er ihnen das Recht vorenthält, Gut von Böse zu unterscheiden, danach bestraft er sie unwiderruflich und endgültig für die von ihnen begangene Sünde und nicht nur sie persönlich, sondern auch alle anderen, wie in der Kaserne: da hat einer angeblich einen Fehler gemacht und hopp alle runter in den Entengang, am Ende habe er, weil er mich liebt, seinen einzigen Sohn geopfert, um mich zu retten, und ich sei angeblich frei, aber ich bin nur frei, das zu wählen, was er für mich ausgewählt hat, ganz zu schweigen davon, dass im Falle, dass ich nach seinem Bild und als sein Ebenbild geschaffen worden bin, die Möglichkeit zu sündigen von nirgendwo anders kommen kann als von ihm, und weil er sich nicht selbst bestrafen kann oder will, bestraft er mich für etwas, an dem ich keinerlei konkrete Schuld trage, und dann rettet er mich auch noch wegen dieser völlig unkonkreten Schuld, indem er seinen geliebten Sohn opfert, denken wir uns Folgendes: wenn eines seiner Gebote lautet du sollst nicht töten, und da gibt es keine zwei Meinungen, das ist klar und deutlich ausgesprochen worden, wozu waren dann all diese Kriege und Kreuzzüge im Namen Christi gut, warum versuchen all jene, die sich als christliche Politiker ausweisen, nicht klar und deutlich, die Massenvernichtungswaffen abzuschaffen, wieso sollte ein doch so gläubiger christlicher Anführer einer Weltmacht im Augenblick andere aussenden, um zu töten, und ganz offensichtlich werden sie töten, obwohl es dort in einfachen und klaren Worten heißt: du sollst nicht töten.), ich las und antwortete also in den Marginalien auf die Fragen, zum Beispiel: 7. Wenn Sie als Ungläubiger der Überzeugung sind, dass Sie kein Bedürfnis nach einem Subjekt haben, das über der Welt und über dem Möglichen steht, könnten Sie dann versuchen zu sagen, womit Ihnen dieses Dasein hier und jetzt ausreicht, damit Sie kein solches Bedürfnis haben?: Ich kann, wenn ich ich selbst bin, wenn ich ganz bin, wenn ich authentisch bin, wenn ich morgens die mich anzwitschernden Spatzen höre, wenn ich manchmal, Schulter an Schulter mit einem geliebten Menschen, fühle, wie unser Atem sich verfolgt und verstrickt, sich überspringt und überholt, wenn ich das Lächeln des anderen sehe und sein Lachen höre, wenn ich Lammsuppe in der „Prärie“ esse, wenn ich morgens zusehe, wie es dämmert, wie die Wolken langsam und gelassen in irgendeine Richtung davonschweben und die Sonnenstrahlen ihren Schleier durchstoßen, wenn die Kinder in Trjavna … mir fehlen die richtigen Worte … wenn der Wind mein Gesicht gerbt, wenn ich mit Attila Jász geschwiegen habe und den Raum nicht mit Worten füllen musste, wenn ich irgendwann in Jahr 2000 Ofenkartoffeln in der Talschlucht bei den Plattenbauten von Mladost 2 gegessen habe, wenn ich selbst das schreiben kann, warum sollten mir diese Dinge nicht ausreichen, und warum sollten sie mich dazu bringen, an einen verborgenen Gott zu glauben (der seine Anwesenheit verweigert), und wenn dieser Gott jenseitig und verborgen ist, nicht sichtbar und nicht anwesend, ist dann nicht auch meine Verweigerung des seine Anwesenheit Verweigernden eine Gesetzmäßigkeit; ich kritzelte also die Zeitschrift mit meinen Fragen und meinen Antworten voll (kann etwas ein Dialog sein, wenn wir wissen, wohin wir uns entwickeln werden, ist der Dialog nicht der bekannte Ort, von dem aus wir uns auf den Weg machen, ohne zu wissen, wohin wir gehen, offen für die Veränderung und das Verstehen der anderen, offen für das Risiko, ein anderer zu sein, der Ort, wo unsere eigenen Wahrheiten auf die Probe gestellt werden und wo wir neue finden), ich las also und kritzelte auf die Blätter des Christentums und der Kultur, danach schlief ich, trank Kaffee, las Der Affe auf dem Fahrrad (Auch ich pflegte zu sagen, dass die Richtung und der Ort der Rettung die Revolution des alltäglichen (unerlässlichen) Lebens sind, wir sollten uns mit dem beschäftigen, was wir können, mit der vollständigen Veränderung unseres Lebens, wir müssen für uns selbst, in unserer eigenen Handlungssphäre das menschliche Leben erschaffen, hier und jetzt leben und mit und unter diesen Menschen wirken), später kam Kamen und reparierte meinen Computer, er war irgendwie verstaubt gewesen, und jetzt schreibe ich diese Zeilen auf ihm, draußen hat es begonnen, weiß zu schneien, und gestern kam ich allein nach Hause, beschleunigte meine Schritte auf der Straße des 6. September (Dein Freund aus Kindertagen und Du, ihr hattet es eilig, irgendwohin zu kommen), und ich schluchzte so, wie Krum Filipov im Marmorsalon des Russischen Kulturinstituts geschluchzt hatte bei der von Levčev organisierten Lesung, während er dieses Gedicht über seine Großeltern vortrug.

 

 

 

Aus dem letzten Brief, 2. August 11:24 Uhr – 11. August 21:36 Uhr

 

… ich ging in Richtung Zentrum, unterwegs schrieb ich E-Mails, kam zum „Parnas“, sie hatten die CD mit den Folksongs eingelegt, Mitternacht war schon vorbei, zwei junge Männer saßen an der Bar, der eine trank einen möglicherweise alkoholischen Cocktail mit Fruchtsaft, er hatte ein rundliches Gesicht, war kurzgeschoren, seine Bewegungen waren weich und zart, dauernd hatte er dem anderen etwas zu erklären, der sich im einen Augenblick mit den Fingern durchs Haar fuhr, um sich im nächsten umzusehen und dann einen Schluck von seiner Cola zu nehmen, wir saßen also an der Bar, Galja, Megi, ich und Toma, lauschten der Kompilation, ich holte mein rotes Klemmbrett zum Schreiben hervor, schrieb die Songtexte auf, Toma redete unablässig auf mich ein, ich konnte ihn nicht verstehen, ich schrieb So viele Wahrheiten habe ich begriffen, so viel Schmerz durchlitten, und wie einen Phoenix in der Asche vergrub ich die Liebe in mir, Toma hörte nicht auf, von Tranströmer zu erzählen, der gesagt habe, dass er in seinem Schatten getragen werde wie eine Geige in ihrem Geigenkasten, und wie hammermäßig das sei, ich betrachtete den jungen Mann mit dem runden Gesicht, ab und zu durchfuhr seine Hände ein zartes und weiches Zucken, meine Hände strichen weich und zart den Tresen glatt, manchmal legte er seine Hand auf die des anderen, sie sangen von Liebe, die nur mit dir süß wie Honig ist, von den drei Worten, von Bestrafung durch Betrug, von Armen, die andere umschlingen, von Lippen, die andere küssen, von offenen Wunden, wir ließen die CD laufen, ich wünschte mir das erste Lied: so viele Wahrheiten habe ich begriffen, so viel Schmerz durchlitten (heute, am fünfundzwanzigsten, werde ich gegen später wieder auf einen Sprung ins „Parnas“ gehen, ob ich jetzt meine Mails gecheckt habe oder nicht, ich werde die Fürst-Boris-Straße entlanggehen, die Bäume, die ihre Äste über mir ineinander verflochten haben, werden in Sonne baden, ich werde gehen, werde den Blick heben, werde mitverfolgen, wie das Grün der Blätter immer heller wird, immer sonniger, immer strahlender, ich werde gehen und werde die sonnenbeschienenen, die in den Wipfeln aufleuchtenden Blätter betrachten, so wie ich sie früher schon einmal an einem anderen Morgen betrachtet hatte, ich war auch damals auf dem Weg ins „Parnas“, ich schaute auch damals bei Toma vorbei, er schlief, also machte ich einen Abstecher nach Bistrica, in die „Matrix“, auf dem Rückweg rief beim Kino „Mir“ irgendeine Musik nach mir, jemand spielte Klavier, ich blieb am Eingang des Aquariums stehen, ein Spatz flog über der Straße von einem Hausdach zum anderen, danach war der Flügelschlag einer Taube zu hören, ein gebeugter alter Mann ging vorbei, hielt eine vornübergebeugte, schwächliche Enkelin an der Hand, ein Briefträger, der in seiner riesigen Tasche wühlte, dann war ich auf einmal irgendwie drinnen, bat mich inständig selbst, ein Weilchen zuzuhören, saß mit dem Rücken zum Klavier und zum Klavierspieler, zeichnete einen Vogel für den Klavierspieler, hörte, wie er etwas probierte, wie die Töne einander verfolgten und einholten, einander überholten, in der Musik lag Trauer und Mattigkeit, auch Melancholie und Sich-Verzehren, die Töne holten einander ein, zogen aneinander vorbei, vereinten sich, dann betrachte ich, sehe Flecken, sie schimmern feucht, vor dem Schaufenster – der Besen mit dem metallisch schimmernden Stiel, am Ende des Salons zwei Eimer Wasser, ein roter und ein weißer, mit Ausgüssen, einander zugewandt, die Töne schweben, haben das Herz gerufen, ich sehe mich um, die Augen füllen sich mit Tränen, ich schlucke, die Töne verfolgen einander, holen einander ein, überholen einander, vereinen sich, Menschen gehen draußen vor dem Aquarium vorbei, manche werfen einen Blick hinein, niemand bleibt stehen, zwei Tränen lösen sich, der Junge hört auf zu spielen, ich frage ihn, wessen Musik das ist, es ist meine, sagt er, dann läuft er verlegen auf und ab und stammelt, dass auch er arbeiten muss, ich drücke ihm die Zeichnung in die Hand – ein Vogel und der blühende Ast eines Baums, ich laufe auf und ab, gehe hinaus, im „Parnas“ schläft Toma noch, ich mache mich auf den Heimweg, ich werde die Fürst-Boris-Straße nehmen, unter den Bäumen, grün und gelb eingefärbt, ich werde etwas vor mich hin trällern, dann wird es mir einfallen, es ist Lija von Kondjo und Lija, die über die Wahrheiten und die Schmerzen singt, ich werde das Lied anstimmen, es aber nicht bis zum Schluss singen können, meine Stimme wird versagen, wird zittern, wird sich schon beim Wort Wahrheiten verschlucken, und bei Schmerz wird sie beinahe flüstern, ich werde einen Abstecher machen, um es noch einmal zu hören, es wird nicht gehen, macht nichts, ein andermal, werde ich sagen) (früher, ich werde mit Plamen Antov und György im Aquarium des Ungarischen Kulturinstituts sitzen bei der Präsentation der ungarischen Theaternummer der Zeitschrift Panorama, sie werden irgendetwas erzählen, ein übertrieben fröhliches Mädchen, das vor mir sitzt, offenbar zugekifft, wird mich fragen, bist du ’ne Schwuchtel, schon vom ersten Mal an, werde ich ihr antworten, ohne überhaupt darüber nachzudenken, ja, ich bin homosexuell, wir werden also im Ungarischen Kulturinstitut sitzen, ich werde für Antov ein blühendes Bäumchen zeichnen, ich erinnere mich nicht mehr, ob die Blüten weiß waren oder blau, und hinten auf dem Stückchen Pappe werde ich in etwa Folgendes skizzieren: wir saßen im Aquarium des Ungarischen Kulturinstituts, zwei Jungen in schwarzen Pullovern kamen vorbei, die Menschen draußen konnte ich nur von der Taille aufwärts sehen, sie waren ziemlich klein, jung, hübsch, mit modernen Frisuren, offenen Gesichtern und lebendigen Augen, der eine näherte sich der Scheibe, starrte hinein, der andere winkte lässig ab und legte lässig den Arm um ihn und zog ihn lässig an sich, und lässig jung, schön und echt gingen sie weiter), wir werden also im „Parnas“ sitzen, werden uns die Folkkompilation anhören, die anderen wünschten sich ebenfalls ihr Lied, ein Wunschkonzert, sie sangen: Wo bist du in dieser Stunde, wo bist du in diesem Augenblick, hör meine Stimme, hör meinen Ruf … Sieh mir in die Augen und sag mir, dass du mich liebst …, wie geht es Tante Klara, wird Toma fragen, es geht ihr gut, heute hatten wir ein festliches Mittagessen zur Feier des Tages (sie hatten mir Buletten und panierte Paprikaschoten geschickt, Mayonnaise mit Quark, ich bot ihr an, gemeinsam zu Mittag zu essen, sie schlug vor, eine Gurken-Joghurt-Suppe zu machen, wir machten eine, deckten den Tisch, Servietten mit orange schimmernden Rosen, darüber ein Teller mit blau schimmernden Rosen, alles auf einem Tischtuch mit bunten Blumen, wir setzten uns, aßen langsam und unterhielten uns, im Fernsehen hatte der Frühlings-Grand-Prix der Popmusik begonnen, also hatte ich auf die Schnelle mein Klemmbrett zum Schreiben geholt, ich hatte die Texte der Lieder, die früher einmal gewonnen hatten und zu Schlagern geworden waren, geschrieben, sie sangen die Liebe ist Leben, Wärme, kein Betteln um Kleingeld, sie sangen von unserem ins Wanken geratenen Frühling, über die Liebe bis zur Ampel an der Ecke, vom Fenster, das nachts erleuchtet ist, vom ehrlich gesagten: bei mir ist alles gut, vom wie geht’s dir: ich mache immer ein und dasselbe, sie sangen: ein Fenster leuchtet noch in himmlischem Licht, kehrt zurück, kehrt zurück und verzeiht euch auch das Unverzeihliche, dann sangen sie das Lied aus dem Film Adaptation: Bleib stehen, geh nicht fort, ich werde traurig sein ohne deine Hände, bleib stehen, geh nicht fort, heute werde ich dir ein schreckliches Geständnis machen, später hatte der Bluesgitarrist Vasko „The Patch“ einen Gastauftritt mit seinem Lied Nachtfalter, die um die Lampe kreisen, vor der Finsternis geflohen, sie haben keinen Platz in der „Matrix“, auch wenn sie vor nichts Angst haben, danach einer – solang du weinst, werde ich dich mit dir weinen, ich werde da sein, du brauchst mich nur zu rufen, und ich begann heimlich zu weinen, und heimlich wischte ich die Träne ab, die mir über die Wange kullerte), wir saßen also im „Parnas“, lauschten den Liedern, irgendwann brachen die beiden jungen Männer auf, die Mädchen riefen sich ein Taxi, angeblich nicht interessiert fragte ich sie nach dem jungen Mann an der Bar, das Taxi kam, und sie fuhren davon, wir blieben zu zweit übrig, ich und Toma, er, gequält von so vielen Schmerzen und Wahrheiten, ließ das portugiesische Akkordeon laufen, angeblich nennen sie es Bandonell, ich schnappte mir die Fernbedienung für den Fernseher, der Ton war ausgeschaltet, ich stolperte über den Film Die Bettlektüre von Peter Greenaway, gerade war die Japanerin dabei, mit Tinte auf ihrem Körper zu schreiben, dann wusch sie sich, wir sehen, wie die Rinnsale schwarzer Tinte herunterrinnen, sie schrieb behandelt auch mich wie eine Seite aus einem Buch, Toma schrieb etwas auf seinem Laptop, ich schaltete mit der Fernbedienung vor dem Hintergrund der portugiesischen Musik hin und her, die mir so vertraut war, und wagte es nicht, ihm von meinem heimlichen Geliebten zu erzählen: an einem heimlichen sonnigen Tag ging ich in seine heimliche Wohnung in seiner geheimen Straße, wir ließen portugiesische Musik laufen, zärtlich schwebte die portugiesische Musik durch die Luft, zärtlich liebkoste er mich, dann, an einem sonnigen Tag wie dem heutigen (auch während ich jetzt schreibe, beleuchtet die Sonne meine Finger, die über die Tastatur huschen), an einem strahlenden Tag tippte ich auf die Schnelle:

 

Mein heimlicher Geliebter

 

Mein heimlicher Geliebter

liebt mich heimlich

seine Augen verschlingen mich heimlich

seine Lippen verschlingen mich heimlich

seine Hände liebkosen mich heimlich

Mit meinem heimlichen Geliebten

gehe ich geheimnisvoll durch die Straßen

wie einander Unbekannte gehen wir durch den Park

wenn der bekannte Mond über scheint

Wir verstecken uns im Schatten der Bäume

küssen uns leidenschaftlich

streicheln uns leidenschaftlich

dann knirschen Kieselsteine unter uns

wir schreiten durch den Park, suchen Bänke und Schatten

ich ergreife seine Hand

sein Daumen liebkost mich zärtlich

hören wir ein fremdes Knirschen

tun wir wieder so, als wären wir einander unbekannt

als gingen wir in der Dunkelheit im Park

vom Mond beschienen einfach spazieren

 

Mein heimlicher Geliebter hat einen Namen

der eine Bedeutung hat

wie der Name Blagovest gute Nachricht bedeutet

wie der Name Dobromir gut für die Welt bedeutet

wie der Name Krasimir Schönheit für die Welt bedeutet

wie der Name Angel Engel bedeutet

ein Geheimnis ist der Name meines heimlichen Geliebten

ein Geheimnis ist sein Körper

ein Geheimnis ist seine Haarfarbe

ein Geheimnis ist seine Augenfarbe

ein Geheimnis sind seine besonderen Merkmale

ein Geheimnis ist seine Größe

ein Geheimnis ist sein Geruch

ein Geheimnis ist seine Wohnung in seiner geheimen Gasse

wo wir einander heimlich treffen

 

Mit meinem heimlichen Geliebten

spreche ich in einer Geheimsprache

(Sprache der Blumen nennen das die Ungarn)

 

Mein Geliebter hat alles

zwei Augen, die mich verschlingen

zwei Lippen, die mich verschlingen

zwei Hände, die mich liebkosen

zwei Hände, die meine Kleidung aufknöpfen

zwei Augen, die mir sagen küss mich

zwei Hände, die mir sagen ich will dich

zwei Lippen, die mir sagen du bist schön du hast einen herrlichen Körper

und er umschlingt mich

und presst seinen herrlichen heimlichen Körper an mich

und weich und zart umfängt er meine Lippen

und weich und zart küsst er meinen Hals

und weich und zart flattert seine Zunge in meinem Ohr

danach umkreist sie weich und zart meine Brustwarze

er beißt leicht hinein

es tut weh – sage ich

tut es weh – entgegnet er

während ich weich und zart seinen Hals küsse

meine Zunge weich und zart in seinem Ohr flattert

weich und zart seine Brustwarze umkreist

weich und zart liebkosen meine Hände ihn

leicht und zart liebkosen seine Hände mich weich und zart

weich und zart und leicht streifen sie mein Glied

weich und zart umfasst er es

ich streichle ihn ebenfalls

Hast du Lust auf die 69 – fragt er mich

und ich entgegne – Welche ist das

 

danach lieben wir uns wortlos

in der portugiesischen Musik

ich sage zu ihm – Sprich, sprich, sprich!

er legt den Finger auf die Lippen

und dreht die Kassette um

und wir lieben uns

 

Wenn ich von meinem heimlichen Geliebten aufbreche

aus seiner heimlichen Wohnung in der geheimen Straße

liebkost er mich zum letzten Mal

vor seiner geheimen Tür

und flüstert mir flatterhaft ins Ohr

sei vorsichtig

 

es hatte also geregnet, als ich mich in den Schlafwagen setzte, ich wickelte mich in die Decke der Bulgarischen Staatsbahnen ein und machte die ersten Skizzen, Dienstag 22. April: es ist schon zehn vor sieben, ich mache schnell einen Abstecher zum Herrenfrisiersalon auf der Zar-Asen-Straße gegenüber vom „Presto“, ein älterer, ergrauter Herr ist frei, ich frage: wie viel wird eine Glattrasur kosten (ich habe nur zwei Lewa) (so viel sind noch von den zehn Lewa übrig, die ich mir im letzten Moment geliehen habe, und ich habe sie für Folgendes ausgegeben: gebratene Leber mit Reis in der „Prärie“, Essen für unterwegs vom Laden: zwei Croissants, Kekse der Marke Ruen mit Vanille, Waffeln, Milch, Kaugummi, Joghurt), er sagt: ich soll mich hinsetzen, kein Problem, ich sage: ich sollte wissen, ob ich werde bezahlen können (draußen regnet es schon leicht, den ganzen Tag wird mir der Kopf unaufhörlich wehgetan haben), zuerst zeigt er mir vorsichtig, wie kurz er ihn trimmen wird, dann redet er auf mich ein, ob ich mich rasieren würde, er packt mich an der Nase, neigt meinen Kopf hierhin und dorthin, an Dichtern möge man lange Bärte, sagt er, Dichter?, wiederhole ich, Popen, Popen, die rasieren sich angeblich überhaupt nicht, er hält meinen Bart in der Hand und sagt: ich werde hier und dort ein wenig wegnehmen, die Schere schnappt rund um meine Koteletten und die Ohren auf und zu, danach rasiert er meinen Hals mit der Maschine, ich solle mir keine Sorgen machen, er werde kein Geld von mir verlangen, er werde mir etwas Gutes tun, denn das Gute komme zurück, die Natur zahle alles zurück, tu Gutes, und wie er meinen Kopf neigt, wie seine weichen Finger ihn leicht zurechtrücken, ist es so, als würde der Schmerz abfließen, ausfließen, danach bezahle ich meine zwei Lewa, der Regen hat aufgehört, der Schmerz – ist abgeflossen, ich gehe schnell nach Hause, mache mich auf den Weg zum Bahnhof, den Rucksack auf den Schultern, dann ins Abteil, eingewickelt in die Decke, schreibe ich in der weichen, mich umfangenden Wärme.

 

 

Aus dem Bulgarischen von Alexander Sitzmann

Milica Vučković

Milica Vučković

Milica Vučković (1989, Serbia) is a writer and visual artist. Her work has been featured at more than ten group and solo exhibitions, her scenography used in several theatre productions. She has published a book of short stories and two novels, shortlisted for the Vital Award and the Biljana Jovanović Award. One of her short stories was awarded at the Biber festival.

Alex Văsieș

Alex Văsieș

Alex Văsieș (1993, Romania) is a poet and a translator, as well as a PhD candidate with a thesis on the maximalist novels from the second half of the twentieth century. For his debut poetry collection, he received the Young Poet of the Year Award. Recently, he has translated several novels (written by authors such as Chuck Palahniuk, Tom Hanks, Neil Gaiman or Graeme Macrae Burnet) and poetry by Alice Notley. In addition, he coordinates an American poetry translations column in the monthly Steaua Magazine, where he introduces some of the most important American voices of the present to the Romanian readers.

 


 

 

 

Why are you sad on the 2nd of May?

 

We’ve been traveling for who knows how many hours through a yellow, impossible fog and all you say is “If you love me you have to do something.”

 

You thought I’d want to fly over the lake, forgetting how much I hate airplanes, although I told you this even when Grimes gave birth.

I hate planes to the sky and back.

 

Your friend’s uncle is afraid to take off in the fog and invites us to his place out of shame.

He shows us scale models and serves us an aged wine under the vine.

 

You wouldn’t drink because nobody’s allowed to drive your car.

You’re so cute when you don’t get what you want, especially how the yellow t-shirt changes you: an angry little boy with narrow shoulders.

 

We’re toasting to me.

This is an Archangel, and she’s a Tiger Wasp.

His wife, from Piatra Neamț, bought it, and the memory makes him bite his lips in pain.

 

Here we are still together and we love each other; then why do you suddenly have a tear on your cheek?

You look at the sky, it’s from the vine.

 

It’s crying, the pilot tells us, his mind empty and inconsolable.

He says it a few more times, as if we don’t understand.

For three years now, left alone with the planes, he repeats things until the world abandons him.

 

You stop at the farm with solar panels and start crying for real.

The desires once inside your body are now moving around us.

 

Here you are still a teenager and you don’t think too much about the future, although you think with great care about the past.

I see the moon in the rearview mirrors, over houses with lights on.

 

Some shine, even though the family went out to look at the stars.

Tonight, the fog holds them together.

 

You fall in love with the parents of the one you love, with their house, with their animals, with their set of topics, without which they would die in a conversation.

And this holds you closer to him than love.

 

At night, I sleep very little and sleep away from you.

The sound of you peeing soothes me, almost putting me back to sleep.

I feel the sadness in my cunt, but love is more subtle than the body.

 

In the morning, I see you in the garden watering three rows of strawberries; you call them Anger, Abandonment and Dedication.

I give you money, lots of money, so you don’t use this kind of words anymore.

You tell a story, but only the bees bumping your cheek can hear it.

 

You always want people to think you’re happy, like when sparkling water tickles your throat and nose.

The leaves tremble under the sprinkler, thanking you for the care.

 

Do you remember how you cried at the farm with solar panels?

Horrible.

The easiest way out of the story is to be absorbed in its tragic formula, in the universal myths of animals.

 

If water moves left and right, white light decomposes into its spectrum.

And I don’t care how you behave in this world, I care about you, about the way the climate suits you or not.

 

Only when the electricity in the air makes you tremble, you realise it got cloudy.

You smile.

Seriously, so I watered in vain.

 

But the silence you speak in, the resignation that the sun will not rise today, that it warmed you exactly as much as you needed.

You don’t even say it to me, and that’s why I find it unforgettable.

It’s the moment when I like you the most and I feel my heart melting.

 

I am saddened by loneliness as a form of criticism,

I am saddened by your cherry red windbreaker on the basalt sky,

by dreams with many people, my attention span unable to contain you.

It saddens me that I could live all of this again and that I can’t want it anymore.

 

 

 

 

Puglia

 

We’re smoking weed in front of the library, among scooters.

Roberto is friends with Marco who is friends with Mauro who is friends with me.

 

I don’t even like weed; I no longer feel any sadness from it, just space.

But they left me alone with Roberto, who was drinking beer yesterday morning at 9:00, in the reading room.

 

It smells of garlic and Moschino.

Where is Mauro? Did he go for coffee?

It’s the end of autumn, but the light of spring tricks the seasons.

 

A hundred meters further, the carabinieri smoke and jump their machine guns on their shoulders.

With olive-green eyes, with olive-oiled chins.

 

It’s that moment after lunch when all the communication breaks.

The cold, dry air makes us feel good. We want to be better

and right now I like the passage of time because I like time.

 

Andrea takes me by car and we go to the Ukrainian girl, Karolina or Karola.

Her boyfriend owns a house in Polignano and we sit in the sun like green parrots.

 

It’s an invasion. They break the bark with their strong beaks, leaving the fruit shell on the branches.

Like us, they are crazy about almonds, but can be satisfied by any kind of fruit.

 

In November, orange leaves float on the pool water.

Those who know how to swim swim among them and falter.

 

I fall asleep under long, expressionist shadows.

 

So where’s the boyfriend? I get up from the lounger and still can’t see him anywhere.

I love girls who were born with the sadness gene.

I play games with them on the PlayStation, and I go down. Down. Down. Down.

 

Daniele played water polo, but did not want to be an Olympic medalist.

Everyone is trying to be seen, but there in the water I wanted no one to see me.

 

I cried like never before.

Then I broke away and retired.

At 16, I said this was the end of my sports career.

 

Depression is very difficult… Do you want cocaine?

Imagine that you are the sun that fills the sky and everything around you melts.

I want to think a little before answering you.

 

Claudia is moving – a heat wave in December.

 

The explosion of the ultraviolet lamp terrifies me.

 

She knows what she’s doing.

She opens her mouth, speaks in a low voice, but remains motionless, close to her pronunciation.

It’s the only way she knows how to talk about it. She is aware of her lips moving and she likes it, she likes how her lips move, just like a dog left without water.

 

It hurts to look at her.

She kept a story in her chest, but the sea of ​​forgiveness in which a complicated being swims blurs her, silences her.

 

Soon there will be no more movies, no radio drama, no clever cars, no clever people.

What nonsense, who makes you talk like that?

Nobody, but I heard you crying and I couldn’t stand aside.

 

In the first scenes I had a shaved face; but here I wear a beard and I try to speak Italian.

 

And what about all those people who live in the dark and don’t even realize it?

It is no longer a novel or a story, a hermetically sealed villaggio in the center of a fire, in the wall of the house across the street.

 

It is evening in the month of our adoration.

It was only about you, from day one.

 

When I hear someone who knows how to speak, I free myself from my senses; like when I was at the drive-in and a guy suddenly appeared whispering in my ear.

And his voice sounded asleep, from afar, from a wet car.

 

A gesture without consequence, a little star on the sand.

They’re not aphrodisiacs, they’re a good night’s sleep, i.e. awesome.

 

What I forgot to draw from her or his answer: the ocean.

Nothing about the darkness. Almost nothing about the darkness. Not a word about the darkness. About darkness itself.

 

You are silent and calm, more like a constellation.

 

My mind is filled with things I can’t come to terms with.

And the cheetah still scratches the planet. Someone is singing St. Augustine in the blue bedroom.

 

Where do you eat the best focaccia barese in the world?

On this beautiful stadium, where Răducioiu once smiled and no one plays anymore.

 

Nothing is really great when you receive it at once. On the boy’s face and around his ankle.

And they all just look at the sky, at the twins’ rainbow.

 

The government will give them the bad news.

Port workers got used to them.

Soon, this place will be the same as before.

 

A painful party.

Andrea holds Clara in his arms, I would give anything to be one of them.

 

The terrace only holds their eyes.

 

From the sea, the smell of frittura mista.

I could move here, dedicate myself to the climate, to the octopuses.

 

I’m as good as the things I replace.

 

But the stars are gone, the air is cold and hard as mud.

The air is dangerous. Nobody wears warm clothes.

 

 

 

 

Our fathers

 

After working together for a few days, the men realize they are the same.

First they look around, their desires pierce the walls like drills,

then they choose two young women infiltrated by the sun and follow them full of hope,

until the street forces them to turn back, losing another chance

to regain their lives, to lie jaded and relaxed on private beaches

as the girls laugh at the bonus after boner pun, as the night latches the sea.

And waves, waves of warm oblivion, over the fingers clenched in remorse.

 

One of them remembers: his son was stuttering nervously trying to explain

that you can no longer use the viper metaphor when speaking about unknown women,

in 2020, at a crossroad, or to drool thoroughly, disgustingly after them,

and that it all comes from a deep, unshakable hatred for the woman who dumped him at 40.

Well, how do you tell me what I can and can’t do, lad, when I work my ass off

for you to drive the car you drive and not sleep like the poor under the bare sky?

Everything, every vibration from the youth of others burns his skin, and most of all their cruelty.

 

Before falling asleep, the other one imagines how his sons would fuck the girls on his account

opened in the nineties at the Bank of Sex and Silent Charisma.

First the little one, heir to the broad, hairy chest, often pierced with pain.

Then the big one, with an unbearably thin voice of pleasure, about which

years in a row he heard his neighbors whispering that his son was full of tricks and fads.

Now he says: Dad, I think you have some problems that should be solved,

but I can’t help you, because I’ve escaped the web of desires.

 

In reality, one really likes to let himself be hypnotized by the concrete mixer machine.

Five parts of sand to one of cement, water and a handful of fiberglass

floating like a fine powder in the centripetal darkness.

Then he leaves the full wheelbarrow at the door and at the end of the day, stepping into the room

he feels the fever running down his legs and his eyes fill with tears,

as if he saw the crooked walls for the first time, the ceiling lowered by 50 mm.

He read the future in stone, and how much he’ll have to endure, how many women far from him.

 

He looks away to calculate what is left for them to spend together

before being absorbed back into their families, under a sky like an empty esplanade.

One of them with an extra thousand euros and his overalls smelling of wild mint,

the other one dumped, with a summer house to return to every weekend.

And he remembers that they were eating in silence on the oilcloth with roses in bloom

and the radio was muttering discreetly about Nicoliță’s return to Steaua,

when the other man touched his neck with his hand, stretched out to a fruit fly.

 

The first impulse was to cling to his fingers, bring them close to his face and press,

because they were cold and clenched like a tendril trembling from a night of regress.

Only beyond the plasterboard, beyond the reinforced, insulated walls, from the air cushion

that didn’t let the heat escape, the men of the house were still looking at him with burning eyes,

as he had seen them years ago, manly and transparent, in a dream he had never left.

And all he did was look at the crescent moon above the pond and wait for the desire to dissolve.

In the dirty water, the vipers bite and fight – that’s all he felt night after night after night.

 

 

 

 

 

To me, their eyes lost their brightness

 

There are three bumblebees and the girls are chasing them with willows in their hands.

Evelyn and Daria run their fingers through their honey-blonde, wavy hair.

Roxana, younger and brunette, wears a white T-shirt with minions

and struggles to break nuts with a brick as big as her rickety chest.

Where did she find it and what kind of engine swirls inside her when she picks it up?

The sisters, although they quarrel a little in Hungarian, matched their pink T-shirts.

Be-Benidorm 23 and the TikTok logo reflecting the silver sunset.

They hit the willows through the air, advancing towards the end of the asphalt road,

from where you can fly over the rocks directly in the Someș,

walls of dark water to swallow all the noise.

Through the lowered car window, Roxana’s voice asks us:

Do you believe I can kill them with the power of my mind?

If you don’t believe me, girls, we won’t meet again tomorrow. I mean, I’m not coming anymore.

Next to the olive gate covered with a carpet like a dry rose,

a man smokes and calls their names one by one. Roxana, Eve, Daria.

Daria peeks into my car right before entering the yard,

thinking I don’t see her, that she’s invisible, just like moments before.

But we look into each other’s eyes and realize that something is taken away from me,

something yellow, maybe a bike leaned on the fence in contrast,

a flicker on the rusty metal. After it warmed me up without knowing it.

And maybe I don’t even want to be happy, but to rely on sadness,

when the autumn wind chaotically pushes sounds towards me.

When I was their age, bumblebees used to appear right after the May eclipse,

and maybe you don’t believe me, girls, but they only lived with us for a few days, in the evening.

 

 

 

Translated by Cătălina Stanislav

 

Adelina Tërshani

Adelina Tërshani

Adelina Tërshani (Kosovo, 1997) is a poet, an actor, a slam poetry performer and a feminist activist, fighting agains patriarchical structures, working for Kosovo’s Women’s Network. Adelina Tërshani is known for her critical and feminist spirit in her writings, cutting down constructs and social morality. Criticism about patriarchal mentality is the general theme of her writings. Additionally, Adelina Tërshani is also involved in acting. She has played major roles in several productions by the group Lipjans Youth Theater.

 


 

 

 

The old house that expels you

A house is not just a block of concrete

That house where you have counted every brick

Isn’t yours even when you reach the tenth

The house where you have counted every brick

is not yours just because you know how many steps lead to the second floor

The house where you have already counted every brick

and where you marked the date of your first periods with blood,

Does not remember that you also counted its roof tiles

The house, where you have counted every brick

Is not necessarily your house

because the master of the house

ensures you are emotionally and materially separate

The house where you have counted every brick

Does not remember that your first steps were in its foundations

The house where you have counted every brick

Does not remember an old lamp spattering

your best clothes for the first day of school

The house where you have counted every brick

Does not remember even the sound of the slaps you received inside its walls

because it has grown familiar

with every generation of women raised in that house

being subjugated

unwilling to put their name to that house

“All the women before you,” it says, “counted my bricks before they went to slowly prepare supper for the husband who had just beaten them. Not one of them wanted to make these bricks their own.”

Thus, the house “surrendered,”

although its bricks hold everyone’s stories, the great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, sister

Oh, the house where you have counted every brick

has decided to demolish itself

so as not to see itself any longer the property of men who do not know its value

The house or home

It is fighting with whatever is at hand

and you, what are you waiting for woman?

 

What to say to the little sister who is being chased by a car with tinted windows?

Oh, with what hope she addresses me

starts telling me that she is going to school, but does not want to go

Adelina, a car with tinted windows is following me from school to the station.

What should I do?

Twice I joined some strangers to walk with them to the bus station

because you know that I usually walk alone

and perhaps the person following me knows too.

What should I do, Adelina?

My heart pounds

when I see the car matching my pace.

I’m so scared, Adelina!

Now it’s getting darker earlier

And I’m even more scared of the dark

what if I end up in that car and no one can see me from outside

because of the tinted windows.

I just want to go to school, Adelina.

I’ve heard the girls at school also talk about a car with tinted windows

Maybe I’m not the only one it follows.

Should we all get together and call the police, Adelina?

What could he want?

Why should I get inside the mind of a man whose face I do not know?

Is it really a solution to call the police, Adelina?

Will they delay before coming?

And if he realizes that I’ve called them

next time who knows what he’ll do.

I just want to go to school without being scared, Adelina!

And I’m scared that next time

My sister will call me by name, since she has experienced

all scenarios possible in my head

And I’m scared that next time

my little sister

will not call.

Adelina.

 

Counter argument

One cannot say “kill me” to a creature that asks no permission to kill

they cannot speak from the grave if you have not begged for permission to be their voice

one cannot describe each bullet, iron bar, or knife that has taken the lives of women

and justify it!

One cannot say “kill me” to a creature that asks no permission to kill

Nothing will stop them, not spitting in their face

Nor curses

Or loud screams

If you do not describe the pipe that split Sabile’s skull

and again “kill me” they say

because one cannot say “kill me” to a creature that asks no permission to kill

she will not join your call

she listens, as her husband prepares her for hospital

Oh, one cannot say “kill me” to a creature that asks no permission to kill

those who have endured “just another slap” will never respond to your call

as there is no call to surrender

one cannot say “kill me” to a creature that asks no permission to kill

the woman in pain who listens, expects to hear how to survive

not to surrender

because one cannot say “kill me” to a creature that asks no permission to kill.

To be in their shoes

You never expected either to be advised to give up

it would have sounded pathetic to me

even in the midst of great pain

You’ve heard me say, “kill me”,

I should say that to my husband who wants to kill me

But one cannot say “kill me” to a creature that asks no permission to kill.

Patriarchal trauma

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– May the lord bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– God willing, your mother will bless you with a brother.

– How many children are there in the family?

– Four.

– Girls or boys?

– Girls.

– God willing your mother will give you a brother.

– God willing your mother will give you a brother.

– God willing your mother will give you a brother.

– God willing your mother will give you a brother.

– A brother.

– A brother.

– A brother.

– Brother.

– Brother.

– Brother.

– Brother.….

– All those aunts, uncles, cousins, uncles, mother’s uncles, father’s uncles, uncles of uncles of uncles, and those unknown women on the bus, and my parents,  they were not forced to want this brother.

– How can they make you feel like “nothing” just because you have no brother.

– As if your brain has been rinsed clear

Whether you are man or woman.

– How can they slice things apart with a knife?

– It brings back past traumas those balloons when they burst

“It’s a boyyyyy”

– And the father, when he sees blue,

his eyes sparkle

and the woman rejoices too

as they will no longer bother her

They rejoice too in the father’s home where they take him

and for the wretched at home who can’t do it

they’re manhandled by the imam and the doctor

they never check the man’s health

because his magic juice cannot be questioned

– I weep for that woman’s problems

because those of you in power, easily make your own luck

how to make her realize

that she is not on this earth just to procreate

how to explain

that it’s not worth worrying about, even for a second

having children

– Come on you!

why are you so sure the boy will grow up to be a man or woman?!

perhaps the boy may wish to marry a man?

one more man to join the household

For sure shots would be fired then!

But not because you are celebrating!

But because all your plans had collapsed before you

Because your inheritance,

cannot be given to a woman!

Patriarchal Logic

To avoid the chairs that might leave me dead in the middle of class

Just like Rita, I remain in silence, instead of saying that I like girls, and not boys

So that I don’t lose the opportunity to get a job at the store, I even added a photo of me on my CV.

“Applications without photos will not even be consider by our staff” – was the answer I got when I wanted to do the opposite.

So, are my looks important, or what I can do?!

“Before I give you the job, I have to see what you can do best” he says, while looking all over my body as though I were a picture to be looked at for entertainment.

Acting like he did not specify the type of work in the job announcement.

Oh yes, I know very well how to do the thing that is going through your mind,

but the thing is that you are not my type.

To make sure that he won’t waste 12 months of work from maternity leave,

he gives me a pregnancy test instead of the job contract.

He doesn’t know that now, both parents are entitled to parental leave, the difference is that men don’t have to go through the test.

Now, is the length of my pregnancy important, or how much job experience I have?I

“My wife doesn’t work, she is a housewife”- he says, forgetting that when he gets home his dinner is served,

his bed made,

his children safe,

his house clean,

his clothes washed…

unpaid work done by women

but he’s not to blame:

Patriarchal Logic!

“Women should take care of children, they are the moms”

what about you being their Dad,

are you still afraid that you’ll lose your manhood if you take care of your own child?!

It’s not his fault:

Patriarchal Logic

“She gave it to her boss”

Before you see whether my knees are red,

you must know:

you can’t read the number of the books I’ve read or the name of the best university from which I graduated, and if you still think that is the way women succeed

I’m sorry, but you’ll get your knees dirty needlessly

it’s not your fault either:

Patriarchal Logic

Weak logic!

That kept you primitive!

Otherwise you would stop seeing me as a “deity”

because “deities” are supposed to be infallible

I fail

I work

I scream

I claim my inheritance

I speak without your permission

Because I am a HUMAN BEING

————–

I hate them giggling

I hate them giggling

when they approach you

and giggle with each other after you leave

 

I hate them giggling

when they sexually harass you

and giggle with each other after you leave

 

I hate them giggling

when they tell you, you’re pretty

and giggle with each other about how that is not the truth

 

I hate them giggling

when they ask the waiter to join them

just because she is a girl

and giggle with each other after she leaves

 

I hate them giggling

because it reminds me of bullying

they have a pattern

 

they all do it the same way

I hate them giggling

 

 

Translated by Alexandra Channer

Katarina Sarić

Katarina Sarić

Katarina Sarić (Montenegro, 1976), a professor of Slavic Literature and Philosophy and a civil rights activist, writes socially engaged poetry, prose, essays, and columns for both Serbian and Macedonian newspapers and magazines. She is an awarded author of twelve books and has been included in several anthologies. Katarina Sarić has also conceived several literary performances and is the editor of the online literary magazine Vavilonska biblioteka.

Sonja Porle

Sonja Porle (photo: Žiga Koritnik)

Sonja Porle (Slovenia, 1960) is a writer and essayist. She is the author of eight books (novels and short stories, including the cult best-selling debut Black Angel Watching Over Me) and the recipient of the Zlata Ptica Award. Prior to returning to the country of her birth, she spent 21 years living and working in Oxford, England. Yet the focus of her writing, both in literature and non-fiction, has primarily revolved around Africa, a continent she first visited in 1983. She has returned many a time since, and in the late 1980s she even settled down in Ghana for two years in order to conduct field-work among the Asanti families. A passionate collector of recycled toys created by African children, she has curated seven exhibitions based on her collection, both in Slovenia and abroad. Her work has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, both in Slovenia and abroad.


 

 

 

 

Sonja Porle

BLACK ANGEL WATCHING OVER ME

(excerpt)

 

 

I stepped off the bus into a street alight with the golden glow of the setting sun. The faces of passersby andthe sunlit trunks of roadside trees were made of liquid gold, and the long, slim shadows of burnished copper.Over the tin roofs of the town arched a limpid blue sky. The pure and boundless heart of an angel. The street was lined with a row of taller and greener trees than I had expected, and hurrying past under their boughs were moresmartly dressed people than there had been a half-year before. And the notorious Ouagadougou dust seemedto have melted into the brick-colored earth. Only around the unbroken line of taxicabs, mopeds and bicycles onthe asphalt road did it swirl in a dry, grainy halo. And even that was golden in color. The evening was glorious.

I had taken barely twenty steps along the road which I presumed would take me downtown from the Westernoutskirts of Ouaga, when I felt the urge to treat myself to a complet coffee. I approached the long row ofmen and women sitting on a bench outside a roadside cafe watching the buoyant life on the street. Theysqueezed over to make room for me and shook hands with me one after another, bidding me good-evening. Iordered a café complet and joined in their silence. The street life was more than just buoyant; it throbbed in the frenzied rhythms of the approaching night, as if people were rushing pell- mell to finish in the coolness of thedying light all the things they hadn’t managed to do in the heat of the day. Their innocent actions called forimitation. The view from the restful side of the road lured one into momentary oblivion. I sank my teeth into somewhite bread and resolved to postpone my visit to the Zongos for a day or two.

I wished to be by myself, to reflect in peace on exactly what I would tell the Zongos about my life inGhana. I had learned from experience that the stories and thoughts you share with the first friend you meetupon your return

 

are the ones you then keep repeating to everyone willing to listen, and thus inadvertently forget all the things you’dfailed to first mention, until you end up no longer knowing yourself what had truly happened and what the places you’d visited had really been like. In Ghana, I had been free and at peace with the world in a way I had never known before. I’d made a vow to myself that I would not forget that serene happiness.

I inquired of the other guests at the cafe about the nearest inexpensive hotel. They conferred, and one of themtold me there indeed was a tiny hotel quite close by, but it was not fit for me, a white woman, because it wasnot clean enough and it had no electricity. Actually, it was not really a hotel at all, he added, just a doss-house,at best good enough for African wayfarers who were used to anything. I shook the dust out of my skirt andasked them to show me the way to the doss-house.

 

My hotel room turned out to be a little hole in the wall, chock full of the tired spirits of all who had stayedthere before me. It was furnished with a military bed, and illuminated by watery moonlight pouring in through a porthole just below the ceiling. I liked the little cubicle. It felt custom-made for my soul.

 

Spreading the vivid Ghana cloth over the warm bed, I sank into the sagging mattress, washed and tiredafter the long journey. I did not think about my vow; instead I listened to the buzz of the nearby streets andwondered at how curiously akin it was to the breathing of the sleeping tropical bush, which had been mylullaby for the last five months in that backwater Ghana village. And at how the piercing cries and whisperingsighs were not, after all, the nighttime shenanigans of jungle creatures, but the waking nightlife of a city. Mythoughts grew lighter and weaker, seamlessly entwining with sweet dreams. At dawn I remembered dreamingthat my journey was only just beginning.

 

Afterwards, I similarly failed to sort out my travel impressions. I quickly slipped on my high-heeled shoes and,with my spirits also high, set out from the little hotel with no name, which stood on a street with no name, for anaimless stroll

 

around the anonymous suburb. I did not go far; I knew all along I was going in circles and never lost track of the general whereabouts of my little room. I just walked on, with no thought or memory, this way and that, forward and back. Every now and then I’d buy myself a small delicacy, a banana or a fried millet dumpling, have a Coke and then go on,or else retrace my steps. I shook hands with everyone who crossed my path or met my eyes for longer than abrief second and, as luck would have it, engaged in lengthy conversation primarily with travelers: Guineans,Senegalese, Malians. Every encounter served in its way to convince me that there was nothing better than a carefree stroll around the wide world. Young Guineans enticed me with their flirtatious laughter and off-key guitars. With two fingers they twanged dewy, pretty tunes. They also sang in strangled, wounded voices, their eyes moist. Leaning against house fronts they sang: “I’ve been all around. To the south, to the north, to the east and the west. It’s nice everywhere. But Ouagadougou is the most beautiful of all. Because it is there, there that you are, my love, my angel. Ouaga’s your home, my lovely. Diarabi, ma Cherie, diarabi, diarabi, ma Cherie…” The passersby fell in step to the rhythm of the guitars, swaying their hips; young girls faltered and let their eyes drop, intimidated by the rhythm of the willing male desires; and I, I was overpowered by homesickness for places I’d never even been to. For cities that must be almost asbeautiful as Ouaga. For Lagos, Dakar, and Conakry, for Kinshasa, Luanda, and Lusaka. The Senegalese produced from their bottomless pockets wallets made of crocodile leather, bracelets and belts made of cowrie shells, strings ofglass beads, Fula earrings, Tuareg swords, and heavy Ashanti weavings, jingling them in front of my eyes until I finally bought one tiny, trifling souvenir that I did not need and could ill afford. But what could I do – it was so nice to adorn myself with nomadic jewels and imagine a life both restless and steadfast in the future. The Malians were the mostalluring of all. I had never before seen people with such graceful bodies and regular features. The older they were, the more perfect and stately their beauty. The men wrapped in shiny Moslem togas were tall and lean, with smooth, regal faces. I had to look up into the women’s faces as well: their many-layered turbans and heavy earrings pulled their patrician heads back, and they craned their necks in sharp, falcon-like twists; between their sparse words they would lower their silky black lids until their eyes were like coffee beans, and disdainfully pout their thick lips. Their demeanorexuded an air of dignity that was only fleetingly comprehensible. Quite evidently, the Malians were anything but rich.They hung about in the streets on the outskirts of the

 

world’s poorest capital city. But their surroundings had no bearing on their undisguised otherworldliness. It was as though they guarded inside themselves the memory of the time when Malians ruled the known world, and with theirgold undermined the financial markets of the unknown white world. They came from Gao, Timbuktu, Bamako, Djenne, Segou and Kayes … The very names of their hometowns rang with echoes of legendary beauty and fairy-tale power. Without restraint, and without lying either, I answered those Malians who invited me to come visit them when my travels took me to their desert kingdom that I would probably be going there the very next day. I did not have time, though – let alone money – for a new journey. But my daydreams knew no parsimony as I walked on and on and on, skipping over muddy puddles and laughing, thinking of a bright future and enjoying the moment, making new friends and taking a long time to say goodbye, as the ground under my feet turned golden, the sunlight ebbed away, and the afternoon soundlessly blossomed into evening. Until an enormous and restless full moon wandered onto the cornflower-blue expanse of Ouaga sky. I realized only then that I was no better prepared for my pending return than the nightbefore.

 

I took refuge in my little cubicle. I shook the money out of my handbag and onto the bed. I did not bother with the kerosene lamp, I made do with the torch. But the longer I counted, the less money there was. Even if I managed topostpone my flight to a later date, I could not stay in Ouaga for more than week. I dropped my clothes on the ground and lay down without washing, covering myself with the coolness of the turquoise moonlight. Without wanting to I started thinking about the objects in my suitcase. I wished to give the Zongos something, I knew they would appreciate every little thing no matter how small, even down-at-heel shoes and torn socks. I tossed about on the creaky bed, endlessly distributing my meager belongings among people who loved me rich or poor. In my mind, to the mothers I gave my toiletries, to Lizeta the non-African jewelry and my wristwatch, to Lara my worn clothes and shoes, to David the English books I’d finished reading, to Ousmane the bed-sheet, to the children the leaves in my notebooks Ihadn’t written upon. I decided to hand them the paltry gifts at the last moment before leaving for the airport, so they wouldn’t have time for profuse thanks. Only for Abdoulaye I had nothing left. I could give him my camera, or the Swiss army knife. After a brief moment of deliberation I decided to keep the camera for myself and took comfort in thethought that Abdoulaye did not

 

have money for film anyway. Undoubtedly, though, he would have been delighted with the knife, which would have been useful, too. He could whittle forked sticks for catapults with it, or open bottles of beer in his bar. But I hadinherited that pocket knife from my late father, and I could not bear to part with it. Before I had resolved whether I would nevertheless leave it with Abdoulaye or not, a ray of sunlight peeked into the room and I dropped off to sweaty daytime sleep.

 

When I peered out from the stuffy cell, my head heavy, the sun was high up in the middle of the sky. I threw my odds and ends into my suitcase and, carrying it in my hand and walking on my own shadow, hurried to the asphaltroad. The first taxi stopped, and I agreed to the driver’s first reduced fare to Dapoja. I did not feel like haggling. I began to look forward to returning to the Zongos, and immediately after that, home to Slovenia. Now, I could not have explained even to myself why I had feared going back. I could hardly wait to shake hands with the Zongos, and learn ifthey were – as always – all well and happy.

 

 

 

Afterwards, I similarly failed to sort out my travel impressions. I quickly slipped on my high-heeled shoes and, withmy spirits also high, set out from the little hotel with no name, which stood on a street with no name, for an aimless stroll around the anonymous suburb. I did not go far; I knew all along I was going in circles and never lost track of the general whereabouts of my little room. I just walked on, with no thought or memory, this way and that, forward and back. Every now and then I’d buy myself a small delicacy, a banana or a fried millet dumpling, have a Coke and then goon, or else retrace my steps. I shook hands with everyone who crossed my path or met my eyes for longer than a brief second and, as luck would have it, engaged in lengthy conversation primarily with travelers: Guineans, Senegalese,Malians. Every encounter served in its way to convince me that there was nothing better than a carefree stroll aroundthe wide world. Young Guineans enticed me with their flirtatious laughter and off-key guitars. With two fingers they twanged dewy, pretty tunes. They also sang in strangled, wounded voices, their eyes moist. Leaning against housefronts they sang: “I’ve been all around. To the south, to the north, to the east and the west. It’s nice everywhere.But Ouagadougou is the most beautiful of all.

 

Because it is there, there that you are, my love, my angel. Ouaga’s your home, my lovely. Diarabi, ma Cherie, diarabi, diarabi, ma Cherie…” The passersby fell in step to the rhythm of the guitars, swaying their hips; young girls faltered and let their eyes drop, intimidated by the rhythm of the willing male desires; and I, I was overpowered by homesickness for places I’d never even been to. For cities that must be almost as beautiful as Ouaga. For Lagos, Dakar, and Conakry,for Kinshasa, Luanda, and Lusaka. The Senegalese produced from their bottomless pockets wallets made of crocodileleather, bracelets and belts made of cowrie shells, strings of glass beads, Fula earrings, Tuareg swords, and heavy Ashanti weavings, jingling them in front of my eyes until I finally bought one tiny, trifling souvenir that I did not need and could ill afford. But what could I do – it was so nice to adorn myself with nomadic jewels and imagine a life both restless and steadfast in the future. The Malians were the most alluring of all. I had never before seen people with such graceful bodies and regular features. The older they were, the more perfect and stately their beauty. The men wrapped in shiny Moslem togas were tall and lean, with smooth, regal faces. I had to look up into the women’s faces as well: their many-layered turbans and heavy earrings pulled their patrician heads back, and they craned their necks in sharp, falcon-like twists; between their sparse words they would lower their silky black lids until their eyes were like coffee beans, and disdainfully pout their thick lips. Their demeanor exuded an air of dignity that was only fleetingly comprehensible. Quite evidently, the Malians were anything but rich. They hung about in the streets on the outskirts of the world’s poorest capital city. But their surroundings had no bearing on their undisguised otherworldliness. It was as though they guarded inside themselves the memory of the time when Malians ruled the known world, and with theirgold undermined the financial markets of the unknown white world. They came from Gao, Timbuktu, Bamako, Djenne, Segou and Kayes … The very names of their hometowns rang with echoes of legendary beauty and fairy-tale power. Without restraint, and without lying either, I answered those Malians who invited me to come visit them when my travels took me to their desert kingdom that I would probably be going there the very next day. I did not have time, though – let alone money – for a new journey. But my daydreams knew no parsimony as I walked on and on and on, skipping over muddy puddles and laughing, thinking of a bright future and enjoying the moment, making new friends and taking a long time to say goodbye, as the ground under my feet turned golden, the sunlight ebbed away, and theafternoon soundlessly blossomed

 

into evening. Until an enormous and restless full moon wandered onto the cornflower- blue expanse of Ouaga sky. I realized only then that I was no better prepared for my pending return than the night before.

 

 

THE SINGING PRESIDENT

 

 

(excerpt from Black Angel Watching Over Me)

 

 

To my relief, Abdoulaye did not feel like talking about German beer, or any other beer for that metter.

»Ever since they killed Sankara I often seem to wonder what I live for at all.«

He got up and turned up the volume on the cassette-player. That was bold thing to do. The music must have been heard clear out into the street and perhaps further. Mister policeman stared at his glass and twirled the beer bottle in his hand.

»You don`t have it so bad. You own a bar and your family`s well and happy,« he said eventually.

»I never said I had it bad, but what`s the life of a barkeeper compered to the life of a revolutionary. When I was revolutionary, I had faith and I fought for what I believed in. My life was full. Now I get up in the morning and go to bed at night.«

»Yes, one gets used to military life.«

»Military life, my foot,« muttered Abdoulaye almost malevolently, »it was much nicer to smuggle refrigerators from Nigeria than beeing Sankara`s soldier.«

With a quick change of mood he indicated his refrigerator, tapped the wooden table and raised his eyebrows:

»And more profitable too! But I`m not talking about a habit. I`m saying I was proud back then. I knew that every good thing I did would amount to something, that tomorrow we`d eat together what I`m denying myself today. I was good person! But otherwise the army was no laughing matter. And the war with Mali was no joke either. I know that, comrade, and you know that mon patron.«

Abdoulaye was one ot the thousands of soldiers in the “war of the poor“. In December 1985, the armies of two landlocked African countries went to war over a piece of border land supposedly rich in phosphorus and manganese. Ever since they existed, confined in the geometrical lines of their state borders drown into the semi-desert by the colonising French, Mali and Burkina Faso have ranked among the ten poorest countries in the world, Both are almost notorious for their indigence and general want. The Malian army had a few fighter planes, and the Burkinan armyhot-blooded

 

soldiers. After five days of gunfire and bombing, the presidents of two countries signed an armistice. They kept their word, and the tribunal at The Hague pronounced the strip of contention no-man`s land.

Abdoulaye was on his favourite subject. To keep him talking I asked:

»Did you shoot anyone?«

»Yes, some fifty Malians.« He sat up straight, took his hands away from his stomach and weekly, as though losing his breath, added: »Quite a few.«

Although Abdoulaye was over thirty, he still shot with his catapult at birds which strayed into the sky abovemetropolis, but I would know that he had never killed a man even if he had not told me time and again in his less inspired moments how disgusted he was by bloodshed and that he was scared even of fist fights. Abdoulaye was an ordinary Burkinan.

In the war, seventy Malian and Burkinan soldiers had died altogether. Abdoulaye`s hands went back to supporting his stomach, and he slumped slightly. For that reason, Mister and I refrained from smiling.

»Five years or five days, every war`s too long.« said Mister policeman. »It`s almost three years since then, Yes, it was touch and go for a bit, but in the end the Malians ran.« He looked at Abdoulaye.

»And we run right after that. We wouldn`t have run, though, if the French hadn`t come to their aid. Say what they will, the French hated Sankara`s guts. They paid lip service to his honesty, but in reality it rankled them. The French don`t like Africans. The French only like French Africans, those who play dumb and suck up to them.«

»And those who forget.« Mister`s voice resounded with determination. »Not only have they forgoten what they did to us, they demand that we forget as well.« Obviously, he also was not worried about darkness having big ears. Wewere still listening to Sankara`s voice and the tremling melody of his guitar. I happened to know what the menwere referring to. At a press conference in Paris, Thomas Sankara had said: »There isn`t a single Burkinan who doesnot recall his uncle or his father dying so that France should be free. I suggest you don`t forget either.« Or perhapsMister was referring to a time eighty not so very long years ago, when the French burned down villages killedlivestock and people, and drove hundreds of thousands of young men to work as free labour on plantations in what is now the Ivory Coast.

Mister was now addressing me, although he still stared at his glass.

»When you`re in Ghana, you`ll find they could show you a thing or two. The English

 

were mean too. Oh yes, very mean. Meaner than the French, it would seem at first sight. But they humiliated Africans more openly, to their faces. Better to be spat at the face than stabbed in the back. Or you don`t even see what they killyou with.«

»Thomas wasn`t killed by French. Sankara was killed by an African. Once again an African killed an African.« said Abdoulaye in a wounded voice. »The French were relieved and now they can laugh at us.«

A trace of smile appeared in Mister`s face:

»Let them laugh! The whole world has the right to laugh at us.«

He put the bottle down on the table. He looked at the dim light and raised his voice:

»Thomas Sankara was killed by his best friend.«

My heart no longer beat in my chest but in the pit of my stomach. Their words gave me comfort. Because a fortnightbefore I had done a very foolish thing.

 

 

Sven Popović

Sven Popović (photo: Saša Zinaja)

Sven Popović (Croatia, 1989) is a writer and both a literary and  music critic. His debut, a collection of short stories, was published in 2015, followed by a novel in 2018. His writing has been included in many literary magazines and anthologies and has been translated into English, German, Polish and Romanian. Popović is a one of the founders of the He is a co-founder of the literary group Tko čita? (Who Reads?), which gives younger authors the opportunity to read and promote their work. One of his stories was included in the anthology Best European Fiction 2017.

 


 

 

 

Sven Popović

 

GRAPHITE SUBMARINE

 

Thirteen years have passed since the boy from the class stabbed your palm with a pencil. A piece of graphite broke and continued to wander the tissue. A graphite submarine was lurking beneath the surface, straining your skin. A tiny gray submarine, a reminder of clothes and fingers smeared with chalk. He didn’t walk you home that day, his steps didn’t creak harmoniously through the snow together with yours. The next day he apologized to you, the next week he wasn’t on the school desk in front of yours. He moved out a few blocks further, went to another school. When you were little girl, that sort of distance was huge, there were several concrete oceans between you. She was left alone in the womb of a rectangular whale. She was left alone, you and your little crack.

So, more than thirteen years passed and you were sitting on the floor in your friend’s apartment. There’re few people from the faculty with you. The walls of the apartment were decorated with maps of cities where the friend hadn’t yet been. Once she traveled to one of them, she would tear that map off the wall. In one hand you have a sticky glass full of thick, brown liqueur, it looks like a fig liqueur, and in the other a crumpled, wrongly rolled cigarette. You talk about last week’s lectures, everyone thinks how beautiful and smart they are, and of course, your thoughts wander on the maps. Of all those hanged cities, Porto attracts you the most, you have always been somehow attracted to the ports, not so much because they offered an escape possibility, but as much as the feeling of transit that was more vivid than what was in the sterile grayness of the airport. All the more you recently sent an application for one semester to attend there.

A friend unknown to you approaches your friend, asks her if her boyfriend can come, to which your friend answers he can. Then she asks her if her boyfriend is single, on what both of them burst in laugh.

The party went on, it started to heat up, and you were freer with each glass. You was startled and realized you’ve been waiting in front of the toilet for a few minutes. There was no bubbling or violent snuffling sound from inside. You came in and for a few moments on the rough wall you were looking for the light switch. Soon you gave up and surely stepped into the darkness. Somehow you touched the path to the toilet bowl and sat down. You tried to get your eyes used to the darkness, but it didn’t work. It was as if there was an abyss around you, a complete absence of light. The ice was all cracked, the Morse code of urine and water, a meaningless message, a cat tapping on the keyboard.

The light splashed on you, you gathered your legs and screamed it’s busy. It seemed to you for a few seconds the silhouette stood on the door before retreating and sucking all the light inside itself. Shortly afterwards, you got up, wiped yourself, turned on the water, washed your hands, and left. The silhouette, a boy in his early twenties, was still waiting his turn.

“I’m sorry,” he said, and your eyesight was still adjusting to the light, the violet geometric figures dancing in front your eyes because of the recent, sudden flash.

“It’s OK”, you stopped for some reason as if you had something to talk about. You nodded and went back to your friends. “See ya.”

“Hey, are you Martina?”

You turned around. “Yes, I am”; you narrowed your eyes, then opened them widely, your look crystallized, your reality was in HD again.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” he had already headed to the door. “Igor, we studied together in elementary school.”

“Ah, yes, God, man, I didn’t see you for such a long time, so how are you?”

“Here, I live somehow, weekend, here and there.”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Hey, let’s hear each other, let’s go for a beer someday.”

“Could be.”

 

You exchanged numbers probably with a false promise to really be heard. You knew it wouldn’t happen, in fact, school desks and pieces in your palm were probably the only connections, and you didn’t have the habit of seeing your classmates on the playground. The days of hide and seek were behind you, you’re sure that you have nothing in common, I “got off” for you.

With each passing hour you were less and less, before he and his girlfriend left, and he repeated once again how you’ll “make it”. The next day he received a message.

 

*

 

“The last time I saw you, the sky was peeling for days,” he told you and wave to the waiter.

“Excuse me?”

“It was snowing,” the waiter approached. “Gin tonic,” he said and looked at you.

“Well, extended into a big cup,” you replied.

“But come on, you couldn’t drink coffee if I ordered a gin tonic.” He shrugged. “Why not.”

“Look, the day is beautiful,” he showed theatrically around himself.

“Come on, maybe a gin tonic.”

“That’s it,” he leaned back in his chair.

 

Two hours later he told me you’d have another drink. An hour later his girlfriend called him and he said he is having a drink with his faculty friends and would come later. An hour and a half later he told you you’re incredibly insecure.

 

“Why do you say that?”

“I bet you’re one of those people who reads the instruction manual of soup in its bag, even though that shit could just be poured into boiling water and stirred several times.

“Okay, but what made you say that?”

“I am intuitive.”

“You mean: intuited?”

He waved with his hand, “It comes to you after ten gin tonics.”

 

*

 

You clumsily dressed yourself, he subsequently lied naked, the sweat almost shone on his black hairs. He breathed deeply and slowly. Consequence of the lazy marathon on the skin.

“You don’t have to leave immediately,” he told the ceiling.

“I’ll be late for faculty,” you tied your shoelaces. “And I’m not sure how much your girlfriend would appreciate this.”

“Girlfriend is a very strong word.”

“But, it is what?”

I don’t know, the English have the word “lover”, the translation of ours and isn’t something very applicable.

“And does she know she’s your mistress?” Sorry, lover.

“Come on, I’m sure we could figure out something more interesting than leaving for a lecture.”

 

You stopped tying your sneakers. He moved himself in your direction. You in his.

 

After the eleventh time you’ve seen each other, you decided you fell in love. In meanwhile, he left the girl and dropped out of the faculty. He got a job. First in a warehouse, and then in a call center where he spent days listening to hysterical British crying over this or that. She silently moved at him in a very nicely arranged garret, he didn’t even notice your gradual invasion until it was too late. There was your toothbrush. The toothbrush paint as is on the tracksuits from Eastern European Olympians. The brush, your flag that pierces the Moon’s crust.

 

He dreamed of tattooing you with a compass. You drew gorgeous, odd gyruses and arabesques on your skin, he talked it’s somehow a map of the city you’re traveling to. You were lying naked, first on your chest, then on your back, the black hair on the white sheet, the disheveled calligraphy without order and meaning. Blood began to drip from the black wounds, tiny, scarlet drops slid through the skin and wetted the sheet.

 

You woke up leaden and clumsy from the afternoon nap, the light cut the bed diagonally into two parts. There was a pungent smell of garlic fried in olive oil from the kitchen. He stood half-naked on the stove and easily shook the pan. He was holding a cigarette in his left hand and drew a little smoke from it. The ashes were falling into the pan, and he didn’t seem to mind. Even though he was weak, you could clearly see the beginnings of the muscles. Kebab-baby, he would say.

 

He cooked well. At least those six or seven recipes he knew how to prepare. Each of them in olive oil. You started to connect the olive oil with your awakening. Your private Mediterranean.

 

“Don’t forget the earrings,” he shouted, not looking at you. “The other day you left the necklace, before that, the bra. “I’m starting to collect you as stickers.”

“Animal kingdom”, you started yawning.

“No, Cro Army.”

 

She approached him from behind and hugged him around his waist. He reached out and rested his cigarette on his lips. You inhaled smoke, the ashes fell on his skin. He didn’t move away.

 

“I was thinking about something,” he stretched out and let out a faint squeak.

“I don’t know, I only heard snoring. Not any thinking. ”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Okay, well what were you thinking?”

“Do you know how your parents dress you as a child?”

“Aha,” he added finely chopped parsley to the oil.

“Here comes a day, and we don’t know it, here comes that day, our declaration of independence, so it comes, here comes that day when we start to choose our own clothes.”

“Yeah, and?”

“What do you mean by ‘yeah, and’?”

“Well, I don’t know, why would that matter?”

“I don’t know, I somehow think only after that we begin to become personalities. At the same time, as if everything after that somehow goes down. “Everything around us ceases to be a dream and we come out of the warm womb of this childhood into all this horror.”

“You’re wagging out, we’re starting to be personalities long before that. “In fact, do you seriously think that clothes speak that much about us?”

“I mean it seriously, you should be the first to realize that.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean, sir, I need half an hour to straighten my hair to look like I’ve just waken up.”

“I have no time between sleeping and dreaming, you know that?” He shook the can of tomato sauce and began to mix with the wooden spoon.

“But come on, I’m going to vomit.”

“But well, what about the fashion declaration of independence?” “Come on, tell me.”

“Well nothing, it seems to me that all those events exist in our lives, extremely important events that are not important to us, and on the other hand the complete stupiditiesare important for us.”

“What type?”

“Birthdays. “Oh, congratulations, someone squeezed you out of the womb.”

“Okay, what else matters?”

“Ugh, let’s say the first time we don’t look the homeless man in his face. We’re born shameless and when that shame is directed at us, easily, but somewhere, along the way, that thing happens and they become unpredictable to us, as if there is an entire city inside ours we consciously refuse to see.”

“Wouldn’t you say it’s a defense mechanism?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know, my heart breaks every time I notice them, when I let them become part of “our city”, as you’d say. If I notice every homeless person, I would break down.”

“There is no empathy without suffering, that’s true, but somehow I think, as we grow, we somehow lose, we’re forgetting the important parts of ourselves, do you understand what I mean?”

“I see, yes, come on, try if this is salty enough.”

You tried the tomato sauce. “Exactly, maybe you can add another crumb of pepper.”

“I promise you I’ll not ignore anything anymore.”

“I could imagine”; you answered and took wine from the fridge. You leaned on the couch and took a sip from the bottle.

“Wow, sexy,” she told you.

“Come on, don’t fuck and fetch me a glass.”

“I don’t want to wash glasses, can I use a cup?”

You shrugged. “Why not. “Did you launder the bed sheets?”

“Yeah, why?” She poured wine into a cup.

“I can’t sleep in this dirty bedding any longer.”

“It’s not dirty.”

“We’ve been sleeping in it for a week, it’s far from fresh.”

 

You heard him pull on the new bedding and already feel the chemical freshness embracing you. Your cell phone vibrates. Received an e-mail. Congratulations, you got that Erasmus.

 

“It seems to me there’d be a storm,” he shouted at you from there. “I see some clouds there. “Low clouds are pressing on the city, squeezing all the air out of its dilapidated lungs.”

“Yeah,” you absently replied him.

“The storm. What do you think, does she kill mosquitoes or drives them to apartments?”

“Yeah,” you said.

He approached you from behind, and you continued to stare at the received email. “I fuck your sister,” he whispered you.

“Yeah,” you responded. He started pulling your ears. “What are you doing?”

“Hearing you ignoring me.”

“Yeah,” you murmured again.

“Well, what are you reading?” He asked.

“The e-mail,” you replied.

“What email?”

You give him the cell phone. “Here you see.”

He was silent for a few seconds. “Wow. Bravo. You’ll go?”

You shrugged. “I don’t know, what do you think?”

He sat opposite you and took a sip of wine from the bottle. “I think we should celebrate.”

“What exactly should we celebrate?”

“The opportunity. All occasions.”

“And the missed ones?”

“Until they are missed for love,” he replied and left the room. He placed the laptop between you and plug the little one into the room. He played “The Space guy” “from his balcony”.

“Oh God, you’ll probably not annoy us with those boring ones. “They sound like Oliver Mandich with excess chromosomes.”

“Well, then you choose, after all, it’s your celebration. „

“Rowland S. Howard.”

Roll your eyes. “Great. Along the way, I go for a dope.”

The night bathed on the balcony, sticky and thick, you had dinner and drank wine, wine, as sticky as the night that gradually covered you. No one mentioned Porto, and Rowland S. Howard didn’t sing fado. Anyway, as if he wasn’t there, on the balcony, with you in the summer heat, his answers were somehow slow and distorted. You knew what was tormenting him, you didn’t want to offend his intelligence with the question bothering him.

“It’s only six months,” she touch his knee.

“Yeah,” he bit his finger foots.

“So what, you’ll visit me two or three times.”

“Aha,” he crossed on his thumb nail, plucked it up and pulled itout, you saw a dark red liquid overflowing from the corner of his finger.

“It’s not that expensive.”

“Oh, no, it’s not, the bosses will allow me go to Portugal. Not twice, no, even better, three times. Fuck, we ‘re not all students to read and argue all day long.

 

You felt a crack in your chest, it spread through the lungs to the stomach, it spread capillary throughout the body. Your mouth formed a perfect “O”, a perfectly black “O” from the magician’s hat. At that moment he took you by the arm that was dragging out from his knee.

 

“Hey, hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t think that way, fuck, it’s not my fault I’m such an idiot and a scoundrel. I mean, I am, but … ”

 

You laughed, you didn’t want that, but anyway, it happened, a dove from the magician’shat blackness. “You aren’t an idiot, nor a scoundrel, you’re a horse thief and a robber.”

 

You were finishing the second bottle when his friend called him, you agreed to hang out with friends.

 

The evening was like many others, the conversations were flowing, in fact, no, they weren’t flowing, it was about a cross, inaccurate and intermittent shooting, and the alcohol was somehow predictably flowing through your almost dislocated jaw. He, sometimes after the third or fourth round, when you were both heavily drunk, decided to say you are going to Portugal.

 

“I’m not going, I think, I don’t know, I’m not going, I’m not sure yet, I really don’t know …”, you murmured.

 

You were splashed by semi-meaningful greetings to which you responded with a murmur and a contorted smile. You turned your gaze to him, his lips pursed like those of Franjo Tudjman, a sharp “Nike” symbol who was condemning you and telling you that you only think you were better than him, but that not all diplomas in the world could change the fact he simply Knew the things he knew them with a big “K” while you’re diving into books and manuals. You wanted to kick him, but you were sitting on a high chair and you were afraid of losing the atmosphere and strategically not crashing down. You didn’t realize how he managed, how he managed to humiliate you with something you should be proud of? You jumped abruptly to your feet, and he received you under the mucus of beer and ashes, but you managed to stand on your feet with the grace of a retired ballerina (it’s possible you stretched your tendon a little, maybe it isn’t the tendon, maybe you just scratched your ankle ) ran to the door, shooter who became one with the arrow, pure fucking zen.

 

The dim lights flickered around you, the streets passed, and you, always with a few steps in front of yourself. You staggered and leaned against the cold wall. You leaned on him and tried to push away, continuing your injured Odyssey at the end of the night. You managed to take off to the asphalt and to fall apart into a renaissance position. You tried to straighten your head, to sharpen your gaze, but your head was going left and right, up and down as if you were a puppet dog standing on the front windshield of the car. You heard steps, someone’s shadow splashed on you. You somehow looked up, you couldn’t recognize whose silhouette it was exactly, all you could see was the halo in the street light.

 

You aren’t an angel,” you said.

“No, I’m an idiot.” I ordered for us at Uber, come on, get up,” the silhouette extended a hand to you. You stumbled together through the warm womb of the night.

 

*

 

The leg’s toes stuck in the sand, fleshy ridges scratch, leaving irregular ditches on the beach.

“You are preparing for war,” she told him.

“Excuse me?” He replied, scraping the Hawaiian suit salt stains. He pointed his finger at the dimples in the sand. “The trenches.”

“Yes, nothing can be done against you except a trenching,” he watched his feet and continued to dig trenches.

“In fact completely the opposite.”

“Yes? Why do you say that?” you looked up.

“You’re the one who quickly loses interest, you want to drag into the trench battles. “Those are slow, well-thought-out moves, a chess game without long romantic diagonals and the horse’s bravura.”

“You’re right, yes, and how against you?”

“At least it’s obvious: a blitzkrieg, crazy, often irrational moves that would make me think too much, to tangle up so that I couldn’t move,” he drew with his fingers in the air the convolutions without ends.

“How to defeat yourself?”

“Yes, somehow.”

 

He turned his head towards the sea, it looked like dark, liquid steel in that bloody orange-like sun. Sun umbrellas were fading on the beach, people were shaking the sand from the sunbeds and the towels.

 

“Come on, start that battle,” he said.

“Which one?”

“The decisive one.” Dig your trenches, I will arrange my cavalry.”

You laughed. “You have time to overcome me until it gets dark,” he got up. “It’s ok.”

 

You ran to the sea and grabbed the sand, returned to your position and set out to form amorphous towers with a sinister shape. You were digging zigzag trenches with your nails in the sand, they were writing a clear message: no army will pass through here. You stuck twigs in front of them, an additional warning for anyone who decides to rush.

 

He dug his trenches, found a shovel, a turquoise, plastic shovel that seemed to have been lost by a child. He pushes a hill of sand against your formations, puts the shovel on it, it’ll be a catapult, his Fat Berta with which he’ll try to destroy your fortifications for the cavalry to do its job. You saw him running to the mole, picking at its rough surface and through the shallows. He put shells next to the catapult, it was quite a cute pile. He placed the live shrimp on the sides, they supposed to be a scout.

Look, he’s going in the wrong direction, he’s retreating before the first shot,” you laughed.

“It’s a sabotage, don’t you worry at all,” he put the shell in the shovel, moved it, looking for the ideal angle. He hit with his fist on the opposite end and the shell flit besides your ear.

“Hey, watch out.”

“Sorry, further calibration is needed.”

 

He fired shell after shell, managed to score only a few times, he knocked down only one tower. His shrimp fled, the pile reduced to just three shells, the capitulation was inevitable. The sea changed from the color of liquid steel to black obsidian, it became colder in your feet and nose. You laughed and fired the last shell, it flew far above your head. He let out a dramatic scream and stretched out on the sand, clapping his hands and feet along the way.

“Are you surrendering?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not if you plan to survive the night.”

“The Hawaiian shirt is my white flag,” he took off his shirt and waved it still in lying position.

 

You got up, crossed your trenches, stepped into no man’s land, stood with your feet apart above him and sat on his stomach. – „And? What does the winner wins?

He drew you to himself and kissed you, that salty kiss sung a hundred times. “Let’s go to take a shower, let me go first, and then get to the pedal boats.”

“With the pedal boats?”

“Trust me.”

“Aha, good.”

 

You packed your things and headed back to the apartment. Let him go first in the shower. You were sitting at the table on the terrace and smoking.

 

“Ok, see you then,” he shouted.

 

You went to the shower and turned on the water, lukewarm water, the scumbag left you almost nothing of the warm. The spurt was weak and you rubbed your skin to remove salt stains. You put on something warmer and went out. A little later you saw them, the stranded baby whales with flashy colors, not far from them you saw a baby whale that didn’t strand and was swimming on the shiny black surface. The turquoise, half-peeled pedal boat was covered with sheets, music and dim light was coming from inside.

“I thought you didn’t want grandiose gestures,” you shouted.

His head was peeking from the canvases. “But no, I love pedal boats.”

“Wait, wait,” you opened your eyes widely. “Are those our sheets?”

“Technically speaking, they aren’t ours, they belong to Uncle Jure.”

“Oh God, tell me they aren’t candles.”

He looked inside, you felt as if he had shrugged his shoulders. “Fuck, yes, they’re candles.”

“Great, we’ll be the first people who burnt on a pedal boat.”

“Imagine a newspaper headline.”

“And we’re not even Czechs.”

“Come on, I’m coming to pick you up.”

 

And so we floated to the buoys, we were finishing the second bottle of wine, the light was turning into a growing stain on the baby whale’s skin. The night was getting thicker, the light was running out of oxygen, the wine was striking our heads, and you were starting to fall asleep. You asked if this was safe, he replied that the worst thing that could happen to you is for a drunken tycoon to crush you with his yacht.

 

“And the best?” you asked him. He lay down, and you laid your head on his chest.

“Mexico,” he said and closed his eyes.

 

You dreamed of the snow creaking, when you woke up the first thing you saw were his eyes, two grains of pepper dipped in honey. He was smiling.

 

“What is it?” She asked.

“You know, when you’re too young and you’re in love and you imagine so that you have to experience so much before you settle down.”

“Yeah,” he murmured, striving to direct the morning unpleasant odor into his lungs.

“Well, that wouldn’t happen to me.”

 

What a shit, you thought, but for some reason you still decided to trust him. You kissed him in the unpleasant smell because of spite and approached the edge of the pedal boat. The shore was a blur line, he was redirecting the pedal boat. While washing, you noticed the submarine in the palm of your hand sank.

 

Translated fromby Sasho Ognenovski

Ekaterina Petrova

Ekaterina Petrova

Ekaterina Petrova (Bulgaria) is a nonfiction writer, literary translator, and editor, working in English and Bulgarian. She holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa, where she was awarded the Iowa Arts Fellowship and helped edit the Exchanges Journal of Literary Translation, as well as an MSc in European Politics and Governance from the London School of Economics, and a BA in International Studies and German Studies from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Originally from Sofia, where she is currently based, Ekaterina has also spent time living, studying, and/or working in Kuwait, New York, Berlin, Cuba, Northern Ireland, and the south of France. Petrova is the author of the Turnupstuffer column in the Capital Light weekly magazine (2012–2016), the travel writing and photography blog The Ground Beneath My Feet (2009–2016), and the documentary project If We Only Knew in 2002 (2012). Her essays have been included in the anthologies My Brother’s Suitcase (2015) and Our Fathers Are Never Gone (2017), among others.

 


 

 

 

Where the Heart Is

by Ekaterina Petrova

 

I am homeless, because there are 

so many homelands that make their home in me.

—Vilém Flusser

 

A few months ago I stumbled upon my first international passport, issued by the Interior Ministry of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria in 1985. At first the passport seemed merely like a useless document that had expired long ago whose current value was purely sentimental. Upon closer inspection, however, I realized that the passport also documents and provides a way to tangibly measure how things have changed. The past three and a half decades have obviously seen many transformations, both global and personal. And yet—two political regimes, the substitution of one union in favor of another, a dozen or so international passports, and hundreds of trips to dozens and dozens of countries later—I am surprised to discover that some things have actually remained unchanged.

 

The tags in my old passport (for such things as first, last, and middle names, date and place of birth, etc.) are in Bulgarian, Russian, and French. In my current passport, these same tags now appear in Bulgarian and English. These superficial changes reflect significant political and historical processes that are, of course, much bigger and more important than myself. But in a strange way, the change also reflects my personal story with languages. My first passport was issued so that I could join my mother, then a PhD student, in Paris. As soon as I got there, she wasted no time before enrolling me in a French kindergarten, either unfazed by the fact that I didn’t understand a word of French or simply unable to do anything about it. The experience left me so revolted by French that I spent the next 25 years resisting the constant familial pressure to learn it properly, let alone speak it. My resistance suddenly weakened when, at the age of 31, I met a guy from New Caledonia and moved to France in order to be with him. I spent the better part of three years there, and had no choice but to brush up on my high-school French. Russian, by contrast, left my life permanently in 1991, when the fall of the Iron Curtain meant it was no longer mandatory for everyone to study it in school. English, by contrast, became the most important language in my life. I don’t just feel, think, and express myself with greatest ease in English, but my occupation as a translator also depends on it entirely. Just like in the passports, Bulgarian—as my native tongue—has remained a constant.

 

When I got my first passport at the age of five, nobody could imagine the dizzying amount of travel that lay in store for me. Considering the political, social, and economic realities of the time, it must have been unthinkable—not just to me, but to the adults around me—that in the next 35 years I would set foot in over 60 countries on five continents, that I would spend significant amounts of time living in six of them, and that I would be both blessed and cursed by a constant and insatiable sense of wanderlust (or, for that matter, that I would even know what the word wanderlust means).

 

But in hindsight, that first passport turns out to have documented my earliest steps as a constant traveler. The dozen or so passports that came after it were filled with visas and stamps from undreamed-of-in-1985 places, such as the US, Cuba, Mexico, Ireland, the UK, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Lithuania, Slovenia, Cyprus, Israel, Kuwait, Dubai, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal, and many others. It’s tempting to take all these travels for granted; to think I was somehow meant to embark upon them and visit all these places, that this was my kismet, which my first passport unleashed. In reality, of course, this extensive traveling has been far from predestined—all these journeys were actually made possible by a combination of fortuitous circumstances, both global and personal, such as the fall of the Iron Curtain, Bulgaria’s European Union membership, and the opportunities initially provided by my parents and later by my own personal and professional endeavors.

 

But this is a topic for another piece. Here, it seems interesting to compare my two selves: the five-year old from back then and the current adult, 35 years and countless journeys later. At first glance, the difference is enormous. It’s as big as the difference between the raggedy, typewritten, Communist-era passport (on whose front cover, above the old coat of arms with the red star, the words “People’s Republic of Bulgaria” are written in Bulgarian only, with no translation) and my new, considerably more polished biometric passport, which has a bilingual cover that says “European Union” and “Republic of Bulgaria” and features a new coat of arms with three lions and a crown (though it actually dates to the period before communism). If I compare the miserable-looking child in the crookedly glued, black-and-white analogue photograph in the first passport to the smirking adult woman in the digital, hologram-covered color picture in my newest passport, I see a whole world of difference. Quite literally, too: the woman has already travelled through much of that world, while the child is on the verge of stepping out into it for the first time.

 

Yet, beneath the surface, there are some surprising similarities. My mom often says, half-jokingly, that in the black-and-white photo I look like a homeless orphan. That’s probably not too far off from how I must’ve felt, having been left in the care of my father and grandmothers while she was away in France. In the color photo of my newest passport, by contrast, I look confident, well traveled, at ease, and like I belong.

 

What’s not visible in the recent picture, though, is that in spite, or maybe because of all these travels and times spent living in different places, I am (still? once again?) homeless, albeit in a very different, much more manageable, significantly less painful, and sometimes quite pleasant way.

 

By 2004, when I finished my first Master’s degree and came back to Bulgaria, I had spent more than half of my life living abroad: I graduated from high school in Kuwait, then went to college in Minnesota (my undergraduate studies also included exchange programs in Berlin, Cuba, and Northern Ireland), then spent a year working in New York, and then went to London for graduate school. I came back to Bulgaria, expecting to find the one place where I belonged completely and I could finally settle down. In the decade that followed, I was based in Sofia but continued traveling on a regular basis, and I gradually realized that my expectations were unattainable: there was no place in the world that could belong to me completely or that I could completely belong to.

 

My Bulgarian passport is still the only passport I hold, but the nationality to which it attests does not overlap, or at least not neatly, with the multitudinous facets that comprise my emotional sense of home. In my case, the ingredients that make up my idea of home—people I love and who love me, old souvenirs and new memories, cozy languages, favorite views, sentimental objects, familiar scents, tastes, and sounds—are scattered in so many different places around the globe that I am in fact, to use Vilém Flusser’s expression, homeless.

 

The view I have over Sofia as I write this essay is home, but not entirely—missing from it is the small pivoting window of the attic apartment, through which I used to look over the roofs in the old part of Montpellier until a few years ago, when I was living and writing there. The pleasure of riding the tram along the same route I used to take to my English lessons in the late 1980s is not complete because it automatically excludes the possibility of getting on the subway in Harlem and running into my roommates from Brooklyn from fifteen years ago. Regardless of how much I love it and how many important meetings and conversations it may have witnessed, Hambara, my favorite bar in Sofia, can never be my favorite bar of all time, because that position has also been taken by the George IV pub in London, the Turf Club in St. Paul, and the Fox Head in Iowa City. On any given day of the week, I catch myself craving Berlin brunches, Belgian fries, American marshmallows, oysters from Brittany, or madeleines from Lorraine, and no matter where in the word I happen to be on the last Thursday of every November, like Pavlov’s dog, I invariably have hallucinations of turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. These culinary longings were at least partly compensated for by my grandma’s stuffed grape leaves while she was still alive.

 

The things I miss can sometimes be terribly and annoyingly pedestrian: a favorite coffee mug, a soft plaid blanket, a special spoon for eating grapefruit, or a painting by a friend—some of the countless things that didn’t fit into my luggage and had to be left behind during my numerous moves and relocations. When it comes to people, leaving them behind is even harder. Nor does it get any easier with time.

 

I do realize, of course, that these symptoms of “homelessness” are also signs of enormous privilege. It’s an incredible luxury to feel content and like I belong, more or less, in so many different places; to have a cozy place of my own, filled with the coffee mugs, soft blankets, and paintings that did make it through different moves (still no grapefruit spoon, though!); to be able to leave whenever I want, so that I can cross continents and oceans and go to places where, even without an actual home, I can feel at home; to make my way around the world by only staying with friends and sleeping on their couches, and to then come back to an apartment located within a few blocks’ radius of my family and my friends from the first grade.

 

I have given up trying to find the place that completely belongs to me and that I belong to completely. I now realize that this place does, in fact, exist, but not as a geographical location—it exists inside of me. As the years go by, it has become almost tangible. I bring it along with me, always, as I return to familiar locations or discover new ones, as these places become mine and I become theirs, sometimes for a while, other times only briefly. Like a passport, it allows me to venture out, to cross borders, and to explore new territories, secure in the knowledge that I belong, that I won’t get lost.

 

Nikola Madžirov

Nikola Madžirov (photo: Civitella Ranieri)

Nikola Madžirov (North Macedonia, 1973) is a poet, translator, and essayist, the author of three collections of poetry. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Madžirov is the recipient of several awards, including the Hubert Burda Award, the Hu Zhimo Silver Leaf Poetry Award, the Brothers Miladinov Award, the Studentski Zbor Award, the Aco Karamanov Award, and the Fifteen Martyrs of Tiveriopol Award. Madžirov has also received several international scholarships, been selected for several residencies, and been invited to several international literary festivals. He is an editor for Lyrikline.

 


 

 

HOME

I lived at the edge of the town

like a streetlamp whose light bulb

no one ever replaces.

Cobwebs held the walls together,

and sweat our clasped hands.

I hid my teddy bear

in holes in crudely built stone walls

saving him from dreams.

 

Day and night I made the threshold come alive

returning like a bee that

always returns to the previous flower.

It was a time of peace when I left home:

 

the bitten apple was not bruised,

on the letter a stamp with an old abandoned house.

 

From birth I’ve migrated to quiet places

and voids have clung beneath me

like snow that doesn’t know if it belongs

to the earth or to the air.

 

 

 

 

USUAL SUMMER NIGHTFALL

 

1.

This is what summer nightfall is like:

the adulteress comes onto the balcony

in a silk nightgown that lets through

the trembling of the stars,

a twig drops from the beak of a bird

that falls asleep before it has built its home,

a soldier lowers the flag of the state

with a letter from his mother in his pocket

and atomic tests in the womb of the earth

secretly revive the dead. At that moment someone

quietly interprets Byzantine neumes,

someone else falsifies the exoduses

of the Balkan and the civil wars

in the name of universal truths.

In the factory yards

the statues of participants

in annulled revolutions sleep,

on the symmetrical graves

plastic flowers lose their colour

and ordinary ones their shape,

but this peace of the dead

we have parted from

is not ours.

 

2.

In the village with three lit windows

a fortune-teller foresees only

recoveries, and not illnesses.

The waves throw up bottles enough

to hold the whole sea,

the arrow on the one-way road sign

points to God,

a fisherman rips off a bit of the sky

as he casts his baited line into the river,

some poor child searches for the Little Bear

and the planet he’d like to come from,

in front of  the doorstep of the killer with an alibi

a feather attempts to fly.

This is what usual summer nightfall is like.

The town combusts in the redness of the moon

and the fire brigade ladders seem

to lead to heaven, even then when

everyone

is climbing

down

them.

 

 

 

 

I DON’T KNOW

 

 

Distant are all the houses I am dreaming of,

distant is the voice of my mother

calling me for dinner, but I run toward the fields of wheat.

 

We are distant like a ball that misses the goal

and goes toward the sky, we are alive

like a thermometer that is precise only when

we look at it.

 

The distant reality every day questions me

like an unknown traveler who wakes me up in the middle of the journey

saying Is this the right bus?,

and I answer Yes, but I mean I don’t know,

I don’t know the cities of your grandparents

who want to leave behind all discovered diseases

and cures made of patience.

 

I dream of a house on the hill of our longings,

to watch how the waves of the sea draw

the cardiogram of our falls and loves,

how people believe so as not to sink

and step so as not to be forgotten.

 

Distant are all the huts where we hid from the storm

and from the pain of the does dying in front of the eyes of the hunters

who were more lonely than hungry.

 

The distant moment every day asks me

Is this the window? Is this the life? and I say

Yes, but I mean I don’t know, I don’t know if

birds will begin to speak, without uttering A war.

 

 

 

 

 

BEFORE WE WERE BORN

 

 

The streets were asphalted

before we were born and all

the constellations were already formed.

The leaves were rotting

on the edge of the pavement,

the silver was tarnishing

on the workers’ skin,

someone’s bones were growing through

the length of the sleep.

 

Europe was uniting

before we were born and

a woman’s hair was spreading

calmly over the surface

of the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHADOWS PASS US BY

 

 

We’ll meet one day,

like a paper boat and

a watermelon that’s been cooling in the river.

The anxiety of the world will

be with us. Our palms

will eclipse the sun and we’ll

approach each other holding lanterns.

 

One day, the wind won’t

change direction.

The birch will send away leaves

into our shoes on the doorstep.

The wolves will come after

our innocence.

The butterflies will leave

their dust on our cheeks.

 

An old woman will tell stories

about us in the waiting room every morning.

Even what I’m saying has

been said already: we’re waiting for the wind

like two flags on a border.

 

One day every shadow

will pass us by.

 

 

 

 

WHEN SOMEONE GOES AWAY

EVERYTHING THAT’S BEEN DONE COMES BACK

 

For Marjan K.

 

In the embrace on the corner you will recognize

someone’s going away somewhere. It’s always so.

I live between two truths

like a neon light trembling in

an empty hall. My heart collects

more and more people, since they’re not here anymore.

It’s always so. One fourth of our waking hours

are spent in blinking. We forget

things even before we lose them –

the calligraphy notebook, for instance.

Nothing’s ever new. The bus

seat is always warm.

Last words are carried over

like oblique buckets to an ordinary summer fire.

The same will happen all over again tomorrow—

the face, before it vanishes from the photo,

will lose the wrinkles. When someone goes away

everything that’s been done comes back.

 

 

 

 

SEPARATED

 

 

I separated myself from each truth about the beginnings

of rivers, trees, and cities.

I have a name that will be a street of goodbyes

and a heart that appears on X-ray films.

I separated myself even from you, mother of all skies

and carefree houses.

Now my blood is a refugee that belongs

to several souls and open wounds.

My god lives in the phosphorous of a match,

in the ashes holding the shape of the firewood.

I don’t need a map of the world when I fall asleep.

Now the shadow of a stalk of wheat covers my hope,

and my word is as valuable

as an old family watch that doesn’t keep time.

I separated from myself, to arrive at your skin

smelling of honey and wind, at your name

signifying restlessness that calms me down,

opening the doors to the cities in which I sleep,

but don’t live.

I separated myself from the air, the water, the fire.

The earth I was made from

is built into my home.

 

 

 

AFTER US

 

 

One day someone will fold our blankets

and send them to the cleaners

to scrub the last grain of salt from them,

will open our letters and sort them out by date

instead of by how often they’ve been read.

 

One day someone will rearrange the room’s furniture

like chessmen at the start of a new game,

will open the old shoebox

where we hoard pyjama-buttons,

not-quite-dead batteries and hunger.

 

One day the ache will return to our backs

from the weight of hotel room keys

and the receptionist’s suspicion

as he hands over the TV remote control.

 

Others’ pity will set out after us

like the moon after some wandering child.

 

 

 

WHAT WE HAVE SAID HAUNTS US

 

 

We’ve given names

to the wild plants

behind unfinished buildings,

given names to all the monuments

of our invaders.

We’ve christened our children

with affectionate nicknames

taken from letters

read only once.

 

Afterwards in secret we’ve interpreted

signatures at the foot of prescriptions

for incurable diseases,

with binoculars we’ve zoomed in

on hands waving farewell

at windows.

 

We’ve left words

under stones with buried shadows,

on the hill that guards the echo

of the ancestors whose names are not

in the family tree.

 

What we have said without witnesses

will long haunt us.

 

The winters have piled up in us

without ever being mentioned.

 

 

 

IT WAS SPRING

 

 

It was spring when the invader

burned the deeds to the land where we hunted birds,

colourful insects, butterflies

existing only in old biology text-books.

 

Many things have changed the world

since then, the world has changed many things in us.

 

 

PERFECTION IS BORN

 

 

I want someone to tell me

about the messages in the water in our bodies,

about yesterday’s air

in telephone booths,

about flights postponed because of

poor visibility, despite

all the invisible angels on the calendars.

The fan that weeps for tropical winds,

the incense that smells best

as it vanishes – I want someone to tell me about these things.

 

I believe that when perfection is born

all forms and truths

crack like eggshells.

 

Only the sigh of gentle partings

can tear a cobweb apart

and the perfection of imagined lands

can postpone the secret

migration of souls.

 

And what can I do with my imperfect body:

I go and I return, go and return

like a plastic sandal on the waves

by the shore.

 

 

 

 

THE ONE WHO WRITES

 

 

You keep quiet. Like the sunken nets

of poachers. Like an angel

who knows what the night may bring.

 

And you travel. You forget,

so that you can come back.

 

You write and you don’t want to remember

the stone, the sea, the believers

sleeping with their hands apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAST IS THE CENTURY

 

 

Fast is the century. If I were wind

I would have peeled the bark off the trees

and the facades off the buildings in the outskirts.

 

If I were gold, I would have been hidden in cellars,

into crumbly earth and among broken toys,

I would have been forgotten by the fathers,

and their sons would remember me forever.

 

If I were a dog, I wouldn’t have been afraid of

refugees, if I were a moon

I wouldn’t have been scared of executions.

 

If I wеre a wall clock

I would have covered the cracks on the wall.

 

Fast is the century. We survive the weak earthquakes

watching towards the sky, yet not towards the ground.

We open the windows to let in the air

of the places we have never been.

Wars don’t exist,

since someone wounds our heart every day.

Fast is the century.

Faster than the word.

If I were dead, everyone would have believed me

when I kept silent.

 

 

 

 

 

TOWNS THAT DON’T BELONG TO US

 

 

In strange towns

our thoughts wander calmly

like graves of forgotten circus artists,

dogs bark at dustbins and snowflakes

falling in them.

 

In strange towns we are unnoticed

like a crystal angel locked in an airless glass case,

like a second earthquake that merely

rearranges what is already ruined.

 

 

 

 

THE HANDS OF THE CLOCK

 

 

Inherit your childhood

from the photo album.

Transfer the silence

that expands and contracts

like a flock of birds in flight.

Hold in your hands

the irregular snowball

and the drops that run

down the line of life.

Say the prayer

through sealed lips –

the words are seeds falling into a flowerpot.

 

Silence is learned in the womb.

 

Try to be born

like the big hand after midnight

and the seconds will overtake you at once.

 

 

 

 

MANY THINGS HAPPENED

 

 

Many things happened

while the Earth was spinning on

God’s finger.

 

Wires released themselves

from pylons and now

they connect one love to another.

Ocean drops

deposited themselves eagerly

onto caves’ walls.

Flowers separated

from minerals and set off

following the scent.

 

From the back pocket pieces of paper

started flying all over our airy room:

irrelevant things which we’d

never do unless

they were written down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I SAW DREAMS

 

 

I saw dreams that no one remembers

and people wailing at the wrong graves.

I saw embraces in a falling airplane

and streets with open arteries.

I saw volcanoes asleep longer than

the roots of the family tree

and a child who’s not afraid of the rain.

Only it was me no one saw,

only it was me no one saw.

 

 

Translated by Peggy and Graham W. Reid, Magdalena Horvat and Adam Reed

Mojca Kumerdej

Mojca Kumerdej

Mojca Kumerdej (Slovenia, 1964) is a writer, philosopher, critic, and dramaturg. She has published two novels and three collections of short stories. Her work has been translated into several languages and included in several anthologies. She is a regular contributor to the daily Delo. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Kresnik Award and longlisted for the Dublin International Literary Award. She is the recipient of the Prešeren Fund Award, the Critics’ Sieve Award, the Kočić’s Pen Award, the Vilenica Crystal Award, as well as the Borštnik Award for dramaturgy.

 


 

 

 

 

Mihael is sometimes silent

 

 

 

The house I live in is big. But we haven’t always lived in this house. When I was very little, we lived in a flat, but I don’t remember that. Then dad, who is a lawyer, earned a lot of money and we bought this house with a big garden and a cabin, and in the summer dad inflates a big round pool for us to swim in. Of us all, I’m the one who likes swimming in the pool best, my elder sister is shy and doesn’t want to wear a bathing suit, but I don’t care and often wear nothing, and at the end of the day, I don’t understand why I should wear a bathing suit when it’s scratchy, and then when you’re wet, you have to change clothes, as mummy always points out. Sister and I don’t get along very well, probably because she is much older than me. She is already in the final year of primary school, and I am only in the third. She treats me as if I were some dumb kid who didn’t understand anything. But I’m not like our brother, who is the youngest of us three and a proper wally. And he is wicked too. Once, when I was making tartlets in the sand for my two dolls, little toy tiger and teddy bear, I heard him laughing under a tree and calling my name. I went to have a look and found him holding a big brown frog by its hind legs, turning it over in his hand, laughing, saying he would cut off its hind legs to see if the frog would be able to walk only on its front legs. You fool, I pushed him away, frogs jump, they need all four legs, otherwise, they can’t push themselves off! He was holding a pocketknife in his hand, waving it, the knife mummy didn’t let him use and he still took it from her drawer or stole it from somewhere. Yes, among other things, he steals, too. He once nicked from my room my magic wand that flickered red when you pressed a button. I knew it was him, so I went and searched his room and found it hidden under the wardrobe. I was fuming! When my brother heard me, he ran into the room and tried to wrestle the wand away from my hands, and he succeeded because during the fight I fell on my back, and then out of sheer malice, he started hitting the table with the stick and broke it. I thought I’d kill him! But mummy didn’t tell him off as I’d expected and instead yelled at me to leave my brother alone and go to my room. Oooh, how angry I was with her, too! Mum and dad are constantly telling us what we mustn’t do: we mustn’t lie or steal, we must behave, we mustn’t pester each other… But if I do something wrong, I always get punished more severely than my brother or sister, and I also sometimes get punished just for the sake of it, for no reason at all, unjustly. But mummy says that this is not true, that she and dad are equally strict and fair to all of us and that out of the three of us I am the one who’s the most pro-ble-ma-tic.

My brother was brandishing the knife, turning the frog over in his hand while it was twisting, trying to get away. I yelled that he should let it go because he was hurting it but he grimaced, revealing his chipped teeth, so I charged at him, knocked him down and hit him with my plastic shovel, snatched the knife from his hand, and truth be told, I slapped him a few times too. But no, I was the one who was punished again! Our mummy only told him not to torture animals, and then she yelled at me for beating up my brother and I was not allowed to go out in the garden for three days. And I cried because he’d tortured the frog. My brother should have been punished more than I was, but instead mummy pulled my pigtail roughly, which she does every time she wants to hit me but I know she won’t because she doesn’t believe that’s the right way to raise children.

Those days, after coming back from school, I would squat on the windowsill, reeeeeeaaaaaaally bored. I would draw a little and look out of the window to see if Mihael would happen by. I couldn’t call him because they took away my phone, I still didn’t have a computer and I could only play games on mummy’s but only when she let me. Sometimes, when I was punished, dad would just take the card from my phone, so I bought spare ones, but when they discovered my stash of phone cards, they punished me by taking my entire phone from me, and now I’m saving up to buy myself a secret one.

Mihael is a friend of mine. He used to live on the same road, three houses down from ours. His parents didn’t have as much money as we did so they didn’t own the whole house, but only a flat on the first floor, where you can crawl out through the window, down the cherry tree and into the garden. I know this because Mihael and I would crawl out like this a few times just for fun, not because he was punished or because he wanted to sneak out of his room because he never got punished the way I did. Mihael was from a class next to mine. He too thought that what my brother did, torturing frogs, hunting butterflies, was awful. My brother catches butterflies with a net and then pins them in a box with a glass lid to show them off. Mum and dad see nothing wrong with it and are even proud of him because he loves nature so much and studies it, they explain to their friends. But I don’t get it. Butterflies are living creatures, and by catching them and pinning their heads, he is killing them. And it probably hurts. Death hurts… it hurts a lot, and I know this although I’m not grown up yet. Dad says that butterflies are not intelligent beings and that they don’t have senses like we people do, and that beauty exists so that we can admire it. What nonsense! My dad is very smart, but in this case, I don’t agree with him at all. To me, dead things are not pretty. I cannot stand death. Death scares me, although Mihael says that he is fine where he is now… But not always, because sometimes Mihael is silent too, and sometimes if I ask him something, he doesn’t answer but disappears and is gone for days on end.

Mihael is my best friend. Apart from him, I have a few girlfriends, but he is the only one I get along really well with. Even now I sometimes talk to him, as if he were there beside me. When I’m cooking spinach in the garden, not real spinach, of course, I take a few soft leaves, chop them up and then I make sand noodles, I bake a delicious roulade or tartlet and put tiny rocks on top to make them look like cherries or strawberries, I serve lunch to Tuscan, the dolls, Bruno the teddybear with a missing ear, and Mitza the fox whose tail I accidentally tore off once, and I always serve a plate for Mihael too. Then we sit at the little table in the garden and chit-chat. About various things, like school, what’s new, and I always ask Mihael how he is. He usually says that he has friends where he is now and he’ll bring them over one day and introduce us, but that I’ll always be his best friend. Mum says that Mihael is in heaven, with the little Jesus that Mary is holding in her arms, not with the baby lying in the crib or the grown-up one on the cross. Mum says that Mihael is now playing with angels because he was always a diligent boy, not just at school but at home too. I’m diligent at school too but at home, not so much… okay, even at school I occasionally do something mischievous, as my mum puts it, but I never get into a fight just for the sake of it, for no reason. Dad also agrees that Mihael is in heaven, and my catechism teacher told me the same. Mum says that good children go to heaven, and the devil takes the naughty ones away. And since I am, as mummy puts it, often impertinent, I used to fear that if I died, the devil would come and drag me to hell, where evil people were, and he tortured them in all sorts of ways down there. But when I go to my aunt’s I’m never afraid of the devil. Because I know what the devil looks like: he has horns, legs, a head and a tail like Volodya and Sara, who are boyfriend and girlfriend and they once had three children who are all big now. Whenever I go to my aunt’s, Volodya and Sara immediately run to me because they know I have stale bread and biscuits for them; Volodya really likes them. Aunt has had goats, chickens and three cats and a dog just for a few years. She used to work in an office before, and she travelled a lot. She would always send me a postcard from her travels or bring me something, like my little toy tiger Tuscan, wooden dolls from Russia and a whirligig with a red and yellow chicken that pecks when you spin it, then a doll from South America that protects children from evil spirits, and sometimes even a dress. But once when aunt was sailing, a sail fell on her head and since then she hasn’t been able to read or write well, so she doesn’t work in the office anymore and she’s moved from the city to the country, where she now grows and sells vegetables. A friend of hers lives with her and helps her out but mum doesn’t like her, and some people work there but they don’t live there.

Mum and aunt believe in god. But aunt’s god is different from my mummy’s god, and I like him more because he is better. Aunt says that god lives in her carrots and in the lettuce and that he is in Volodya and Sara, and that the devil does not take bad children with him to hell because there is no hell just like there is no heaven. When aunt talks like that, mum gets angry, and then they often have a row. Aunt says that when the mast fell on her head, she saw an angel in the sky who told her not to worry because he was looking after her, and he also told her that her life would get better from then on. Mum, who is quite fat, would then start swinging in her chair, waving her hands about, and then she would get up and yell at aunt that she, aunt, did not believe in the real god and that what she was saying was nothing but hogwash. Aunt would just smile and start talking about things I don’t really understand, and then I’d start getting bored and I’d rather go out and play, usually with aunt’s puppy Dividend, whom we all call Divi, or I’d start teasing Volodya, grab him by the horns and try to ride him. Volodya doesn’t like that and would start screaming and attacking me like some dangerous bull, and I’d dodge him and run in front of him, which is a lot of fun. I know that when Volodya points his horns at me, he doesn’t really mean it, he is also playing, and then we run and jump in the garden until mum drags me back into the house so that I don’t get dirty and graze my knees. It is true, from May until the end of the summer, whether I wear knee-highs or not, my knees almost always sting because I often slip and fall and scrape my skin until it bleeds. I don’t really worry about it, but mum gets angry because I behave like a boy, badly, even worse than my brother and friends at school, especially Mihael who was almost always well-behaved.

My sister, and this is absolutely true, is completely different from me. She is very beautiful, has long curly hair and is the spitting image of Jesus’s mum, Mary. My sister is never gabby and always looks a little sad. Other people tell her she is beautiful too, dad, mum, our relatives, and people who come to visit. But my sister doesn’t just look sad, she really is sad. Why, I don’t know. I sometimes think perhaps it’s because she dances ballet and plays the piano. When people do these things, they do look serious and sad. When we were having important guests, mummy would tell me to prepare a tune to play for them. Luckily, no need for that anymore. They used to push me to play the flute or violin, they even signed me up for violin lessons, but my neck was hurting all the time and the sounds the violin made got on my nerves, and I hated screeching on that violin every day so once when the teacher reprimanded me for something or other, I got very mad and hurled the school violin out of an open window, and mum then had to pay for it, and I was put in strict detention. But I didn’t have to take violin lessons any longer. That week, when I wasn’t allowed out because of the violin, when I got home from school I went to my room and I drew a lot, mostly my little toy tiger Tuscan, my favourite toy, mainly because mum and dad don’t let me have a real tomcat. Mummy says that cats carry fleas and diseases and that they shed hair that gets all over the furniture. But at Mihael’s they had two tomcats, and neither had fleas or was sick, okay, except Mihael who didn’t get sick because of the cats but because some cells in his body became vicious and started attacking the good ones. Apart from Tuscan, I drew Transformers a lot, who turned from robots to horrible animals and monsters. When mummy discovered my drawings, she got really mad at me. Why did I draw those darned devils, she was yelling, and she also said that I was like one of those devils. I thought it was funny. Then the devil doesn’t have to come and take me, I said to her, I can go to hell by myself, whenever I want to. Mum’s face puffed up and turned red like a pumpkin when we lit up a candle in it for Halloween so that it glows from the balcony. She was so mad that I thought she would explode, and then, for the first time in my life, she slapped me on the face. It was a bolt from the blue for me, even more so for her, I could see that she immediately regretted it because it’s my mummy’s principle that hitting children is wrong. When, through the tears, I explained that they were not devils at all, but transformer robots that turned into Sara and Volodya, she didn’t know what to say and just slammed the door behind her. Frankly, the slap did hurt a bit, but not as much as falling on concrete riding rollerblades. I was deeply offended because I hadn’t done anything wrong. She scolded me for no reason at all and she even hit me. But I was also pleased a little because when I made her slap me, as she explained to dad later, I had punished her as well. I wasn’t just mad at mum, I was also mad at dad because he later told me off for being rude to mum. But no one is going to tell me what I can or can’t draw! If they punish me by not letting me go out, then I can draw whatever I like, goats, devils, tigers, cats or god. Yes, I sometimes draw god himself, aunt’s god, who is good and kind, who laughs, and I draw sunrays around his head, while mummy’s one always has a long, black cape and a black, metal helmet on his face, and looks like Darth Vader from Star Wars, which I saw with dad on DVD, and who seems really horrible because of his scary, deep voice.

Samira Kentrić

Samira Kentrić

Samira Kentrić (Slovenia, 1976) expresses herself with images and words. Her work merges the political language with the personal, often erotic part of everyday life, thus striving to articulate what in contemporary society remains unreflected and therefore unpleasant and hidden. In 1999, she began her career in the performance art duo Eclipse, using her own body as a means for expressing socially relevant topics, such as the demythologisation of the image of refugees. As a visual artist, she designs book covers and visual commentaries for several newspapers and magazines. Since 2016, she’s been leading art workshops for underprivileged groups. Kentrić published three graphic novels and received awards both for her performance art as well as her books, including the Golden Bird Award, the international Special Book Award by the Motovun Group Association MGA, and an award at the Slovene Biennial of Book Illustration.

 


 

Samira Kentrić

Husein Dedić – Hule: The Pilot from the Pit

translated from the Slovene by Gregor Timothy Čeh

 

Hule had not always been a security guard at the Velenje coal mine. Before that he was a miner. In the mid-1980s a part of the roof collapsed in the mine and knocked out his front teeth. He knew how tough it is for miners to earn their crust. But the pay was decent and with it he could help his family back in Bosnia. The wish that he might also afford and create his own home in Velenje was greater than any fear. He persisted and was doing well.

Before the war his mother had fallen seriously ill and he regularly made the trip to Bosnia to provide her with morphine. Up until 20 March 1992 when he drove down to her funeral in his red Zastava. He didn’t go alone, there was room in his car for three colleagues from neighbouring villages. They were taking their pay packets to their families, among them his sister’s husband Adem. He dropped them off at the bus stop in Zvornik and they arranged that he would pick them up at the same place ten days later, at two in the afternoon on 30 March, so they would return together to their work in the mine.

Hule waited for them at the arranged spot in vain. He had to report for work the following morning at six. He waited an hour. Two. Until half past four. There had been roadblocks along the way even when they arrived, and everything had gone much slower than usual. He drove back from Zvornik alone. There were even more army blockades along the way and he kept having to show his papers. The barricades merely strengthened his dark premonition about his colleagues not turning up. He parked his car outside the block of flats in Velenje at 5 a.m., drank a coffee and went to work.

Once back in Velenje, it soon became clear that his colleagues had not simply chosen some other means of returning. Routes were closed and people were trapped wherever they happened to be. His colleagues and relatives were stranded in the municipality of Srebrenica. All conventional communication channels were cut off. Hule bought a radio transmitter and learned how to operate it. He named his frequency The Pilot. By September he was up on the Gorjanci Hills above Novo Mesto, trying to make contact with the missing. With great effort and a little luck, he managed to contact a ham operator from Titovo Užice in Serbia called Marko who generously enabled him to get through to Samir, a ham from Srebrenica. Samir found his sister Mina and his brother-in-law Adem. During the next calls he managed to speak to several acquaintances and he found out that his sister had just given birth to their youngest daughter. He was once again an uncle. They did not talk about politics; the rules of amateur radio did not allow such discussions during war. He heard about all the shortages, how they risk their lives going on horseback through the forest to get flour, how they otherwise felt safe. There was also a United Nations contingent in town. It was supposed to maintain peace, protect human lives.

Just over a year later, Hule lost all contact. Someone else had taken over the transmitter in Užice, the communication at the end of the line was laden with swearing and threats.

At home in Velenje Hule’s family converted their single bedroom flat into a temporary home for a further seventeen refugees. The miners all contributed to hiring a bus that went to meet the refugees at the border. Hule worked shifts and slept whenever a bed or a patch of floor was empty. He found out about the atrocities in his village, about his father who to no avail tried to hide in a bear den. He was sniffed out by dogs. The Chetniks interrogated, beat and killed him.

His youngest brother from Tuzla called Hule at the mine and explained where he had buried their father’s body. He went on to fight and did not survive the war. Neither did Hule’s colleagues, or Samir, the ham from Srebrenica.

A number of years after the war Hule managed, with a little smooth talking and a couple of boxes of chocolates, to get information from admin at the mine about the employment records and years of service of his three murdered colleagues. With this information and a court ruling, their widows won the right to part of the pension that the miners had worked so hard for. This meant their underage children could at least hope for an education. He did not manage to get proof of employment for all the other men killed. Data protection, they told him.

In 2012 he and his friends managed to organise the first Cycling Marathon for Peace from Velenje to Srebrenica. With five colleagues, wearing his honorary miner’s uniform, he paid tribute to his dead workmates and all the victims of Srebrenica. This was important to him. Remembering is important to him. Now that he has time, he helps with renovations. He does not like revenge. “There are courts for that.”

All along, Hule did what he could. He does not talk about politics and the responsibilities of others. What does hurt him, though, is that the Mining Company does not want to search through their records and confirm the names of all its workers who had been killed in the war. It is as if they never existed, he says.

Zvonko Karanović

Zvonko Karanović

Zvonko Karanović (Serbia, 1959) writes poetry and prose. He published three novels and more than ten collections of poetry, several of which have also been translated. His poems have been translated into twenty languages and featured in several regional and international anthologies, most notably in New European Poets (Graywolf Press, USA, Minnesota, 2008). He is the recipient of several Serbian poetry awards, as well as several international literary scholarships. Zvonko Karanović’s work refers strongly to the heritage of the beat generation, as well as popular culture. In his recent collections of poetry, he’s experimented with surrealism, film-like editing, and prose poems.

 


 

 

 

Four walls and a city

 

In the morning in front of the agency, we sit in the car with a guy called Moses. He is Israeli and he is taking two broads with him, the car is an orange Passata real wreck. The moment we leave Amsterdam and take the motorway, the three of them start fighting. We realize that Moses is a pimp and the girls are whores. They’ve got work to do in Munich. The redhead is sitting next to Moses, the two of us are in the back with the dark-haired one. The three of them are having a fierce argument, they are screaming at each other, we are keeping our mouths shut and watching them, and on the motorway, every now and then we see roadworks. The road now narrows down to one traffic lane in each direction, and we keep seeing those yellow things, cat’s eyes, that always make the car shake like crazy. Moses is driving in the yellow lane at a speed of 160 km/hour, at the same time he’s rolling a cigarette with one hand and screaming at the two chicks. The dark-haired from the back seat starts hitting him in the neck and shoulders. In a sort of a half-turn he tries to slap her, she leans against the door, he can’t smack her properly because he needs to watch the road. The redhead grabs him by the arm, he drops the cigarette, bends down to get it, while at the same time driving the car, the wreck is wobbling, but it’s going like mad, and I start to shake out of fear. If those cat’s eyes puncture our tires while we’re going 160 km/hour, there won’t be anything left of us. Mikha and I have gone deathly pale. There’s no way out now. Moses is acting as if we’re not there. I am looking at Mikha, he’s older, I expect him to do something. He should tell Moses to slow down, or at least mind the road, but Mikha is silent. He pretends he doesn’t notice how they are exchanging blows just next to him. For fuck’s sake, we won’t come out of this alive. And then Mikha decides to turn on his famous zen mode that we practiced in Belgrade. Right in the middle of all the fuss, he falls asleep. Since he cannot do anything, the man falls asleep like a baby. I try to do the same thing, but it’s not working. I close my eyes and pray to God the car breaks down, that’s our only chance to stay alive. Not only will the car not break down, but it’s going at breakneck speed.

We reach Munich around noon. The fear makes me feel more dead than alive, I can’t feel my legs, arms, shoulders. My uncured gastritis is slowly coming back. I can feel it waking up and stretching across my stomach. We pay Moses our share for the fuel, say good-bye to all three of them and go to the bus station. We buy two tickets to Belgrade, for 6 o’clock. We’ve got 5 hours before the bus. We stop by a local place at the bus station and ask the waiter if we could leave our things there. The waiter is kind, he stuffs the cardboard suitcase and the canvas bag in the broom closet. We need to go on a food hunt. The last time we ate, a sandwich each, was this time the previous day. Not a pfennig in our pockets, we’ve literally spent everything, to the last nickle. We’ll have to steal some food. Neither Mikha nor I know how to steal, but we go for it. I’m growing weaker and weaker. My gastritis is raging, I can’t feel pain in my stomach anymore, just fire. We need to quickly find something to eat, I’m going to collapse, I say to Mikha. We have a 15-hour bus ride ahead of us, if I don’t eat, I’m definitely going to faint. Then you’ll be on your own. Don’t worry, we’ll snatch something, says he. And then, just our luck, the moment we enter any of the stores, everyone starts staring at us. No way we can take anything. There’s something fishy about us. We look pathetic, worn out, like a pair of junkies in need of a fix. One bakery, another bakery, one supermarket, another supermarket, we stop by all such shops in the pedestrian zone, nothing. Wherever we show up, instantly all eyes are on us.

Meanwhile, people are promoting utility knives on Marienstrasse. They are chopping carrots, cucumbers and cabbage in their wooden booths, pushing various kitchen knives and grating tools. We stand in front of a booth and watch. The man takes some cabbage, ham, cheese and cuts them right in front of us. He carefully puts the pieces on a plate and shows the audience how neatly cut they are. When he’s done displaying them, he just throws the big pile of food into a trash bin. The man casually throws away first-class food! Like hypnotized, we head towards the bin to take what he threw out, but no. There are security guys preventing the curious crowd from approaching too close to the booths. We’re embarrassed to ask for what they have thrown away, we mingle for about twenty minutes, we even start to look suspicious. Then we give up. We walk on, come across a few booths of the same sort, and it’s the same story. Something conspired against us. I’ve felt burning in my stomach for quite some time now. I think about giving up when we run into a church. This is our last chance, I say to Mikha. Let’s go inside, there must be some money on the altar. God will forgive us if we swipe a few pennies. We rush into the yard, but the church doors are locked. One church wing has been turned into a restaurant. Annoyed because we’ve lost our last chance to get some money and as upset as we were, we start swearing at all the infidels who dared transform a church into a bistro. We leave the yard disappointed and at the exit see a relief sculpture on the wall: two angels standing and holding two bags of golden coins each. And a thought comes to me: God, send us some cash! If there is an angel of finances, can we at least get some spare change, so we can get something to eat! I’m already half-dead and because I have got no strength, I force Mikhail to go back to the station. I have to sit down, Im going to faint.

We go back to the place where we left our things and I sit at the table in the corner. We’ve got one hour before our bus is due. Mikha doesn’t want to give up and decides to continue the food quest. The waiter approaches me and I order a glass of water. He gets it for me, and as I try to take it, a German guy at the next table springs up: Nein! Nein!, he shouts. Even though I don’t know German, I get what he wants to tell me: You can’t drink water in a bistro! I ignore him, look out the window, when the waiter comes and puts a pint in front of me. The guy ordered me a beer. Danke, I thank him for the drink and nod. I’ve drunk less than half of it, Mikha arrives and asks where I got the beer. I tell him what’s happened. Oh, great, says Mikha and reaches for the beer. The German guy jumps on his feet again. Give the other gentleman one pint, he shouts to the waiter. We won’t have two men drinking one beer! The waiter brings one more pint and Mikha can’t thank the English-speaking German bloke enough! We laugh  beer is not only a drink, but also food! Our stomachs are not completely empty.

We’ve got half an hour before our bus and we should go. We take the suitcase and the bag from the broom closet and I suggest we give one of our drawings to the German guy. The man’s saved my life. We open the suitcase and from the works we’ve got left, we choose a nice etching. We give it to the man and say: We are artists, this is a little gift for you. He gets confused: Well, I can’t accept this! It’s too much! Somehow we manage to give him the drawing. Our gesture touched him, and he starts taking everything he’s got from his pockets: cigarettes, a lighter, some lose change, and hands it all to us. That had something to do with those angels. He’s going to Norway to work on oil rigs and hasn’t got much cash on him. All his money is on his credit card. It turns out he’s got twenty Deutsche Marks and he even apologizes for not having more. We thank him, he apologizes to us, you can’t tell who’s more polite. The bus is about to leave, the last passengers are getting on. And I say to Mikha: You go and ask the driver to wait for just a second, and I’ll go and get some food. I’m all over the place, I pop into a bakery, but there’s nothing there except a few huge doughnuts and stale bread. I buy two doughnuts and half a loaf of bread and quickly get on the bus. I sit down and literally swallow my doughnut and fall asleep instantly. I think Mikha didn’t even unpack his and I was already asleep.

We’re sitting in Belgrade and waiting for the entrance exam results. We act as if we have already passed. There is coerced optimism in the air brought on by autosuggestion. After seven days of nervousness and waiting, a letter from Holland arrives saying we’ve both been admitted, Mikha on the sculpturing department, and I on graphic design. Hurrah! Great! We travel to Niš to tell the news to our parents. I get home and sit my folks down at the table. I tell them how Mikha and I took the entrance exam at the Art Academy in Amsterdam. We’ve both passed and we are starting our studies in October. They are completely stunned. Ma is crying, she won’t hear it: To hell with Amsterdam and your god damn studies abroad. I won’t have it! Pa is quiet, thinking. Ma suddenly lifts her head and sets off for a counterattack: Why don’t you enroll in Belgrade? You barely finished high school and you’re talking about college studies! You are going there to use drugs, I know. Pa is still quiet, shaking his head. I tell them how this is an opportunity I have to use. If I’ve been admitted to such a prestigious school, my art must be good, they’ve recognized my talent. Not everyone can enroll at the Gerrit Rietveld, the most famous art academy in Holland. I ask them for two thousand DMs for the scholarship, and I’ll earn the rest on my own. I’m going, whether they like it or not. Ma leaves our gathering theatrically and goes to the bathroom crying. Pa goes after her to try and calm her down.

In the morning, Pa is waiting for me and wants to talk. Coffee and a glass of vinjak1 in front of him. In his hand a lit up cigarette, even though he quit smoking ages ago. He’s gone darker, smaller, he runs his hand through his gray hair. I sit at the table and he says: Son, I see you’ve made up your mind, but we don’t have money for your education. Pa being on my side doesn’t help the slightest after all. Without money to enroll, all my effort goes down the drain. I bow my head and leave the house without a word. I go to the Nišava River, sit on the quay and look at the river all afternoon. I cannot come to terms with what’s happening. My life chance should just go to waste? When I get home in the evening, Pa wants to talk to me again. He hands me an envelope with two thousand and five hundred DMs in it, and his album with postage stamps he’s been collecting all his life. If you get in trouble, sell this in an antique store. There are valuable and rare stamps in it, he says. Ma is still not showing her face. She’s sitting in the room and crying, she’s now angry at him too. Mikha had it a lot easier. After a little bit of grumbling and resistance, he gets three thousand DMs. If he fails in Amsterdam, he can always go back to Belgrade and continue his studies. At least he’s got some assurance.

 

 

 

Translated by Kruna Petric

 

Nedžad Ibrahimović

Nedžad Ibrahimović

Nedžad Ibrahimović (Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1958) received his PhD at the Faculty of Philosophy in Tuzla in the field of literature of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He completed his television studies at the Media Academy in Hilversum (Netherlands). Ibrahimović is the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal for art theory and criticism Razlika/Difference. Ibrahimović is the recipient of two awards for best poetry collection and an award for best screenplay. In 2006, he was a Fulbright professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. Between 2014 and 2017 he was the president of PEN Bosnia and Herzegovina. He teaches literary theory at the Faculty of Philosophy in Tuzla, and teaches film theory at the University of Donja Gorica in Montenegro.

 


 

 

 

From the book FAMILY AND OTHER TERRIBLE SONGS

 

IN ORAŠJE IN ŠIROKO

 

 

The hot afternoon pours its rays.

 

 

Groundskeepers are trimming linden branches above the pavement . Traces ofsummers which are

gone and never will be again.

 

I miss the people in my city who did not love me.

 

With whom to disagree now about literature?

 

WITNESS

News shots from Pakistan: demolished houses in Model Colony. From 98 Airbus A-­‐320 passengers more than 80 have died. The others are gone. Still gone…

 

A young man -­‐ in a television frame in front of a ruin (black beard

and a messy tuft) testifies that he first saw smoke in the sky –

 

-­‐ is signed as Allah. (22-­‐05-­‐2020)

 

 

The scents of linden reach the room and flower wreaths will soon

fall to the ground.

 

In the hospital by the river, mother tells of her roommate in the third person. This shrewd patient

smiles gently and peeks from the margins.

 

Neither of them seems to mind.

 

 

A good death is one where your earthly

remains are being dealt with by some unknown people… (JM Coetzee)

 

There are people who suddenly stop loving, and don’t tell the other, andthen

they love each other disproportionately and asymmetrically.

 

And then, after a while, he

gives to her a stroke, she to him a heart attack,

and then again they watch over and safeguard each other, just like at the beginning.

 

But there are also those selfish ones, who within their heart do not mix anyone else. Deathespecially appreciates that.

It likes to surprise everyone else.

 

 

I met my ex-­‐wife at the station restaurant.

Just came from a trip, she says, while

she wipes the black jam from her lips with a napkin. Bićanić wrote beautifully about her acting. The show won numerous rewards and, then -­‐ so, how’s life, and such?

Between plays and television, the child is led, she says, from school to home, from home to school. Weaned from me, she looks back as if towards someone invisible

to whom she makes an unspecified complaint. A void thrives around us.

 

When she’s acting, she’s a lot prettier, and she seems to know this too. Say hello to the kid,I say, and leave quickly.

 

Until she hasn’t.

 

STORIES ABOUT GAPS

Nobody buys books anymore. Petar and I sip brandy from

a slivovitz flask in front of a bookstore. Although the good-­‐looking waitress crosses the squarewearing a mini skirt in the cold,

we don’t order from her anymore. The jerk owner somehow figured out that his business is going up andhe raised the prices. In a parrot yellow coat and with eyes devoid of hope a black-­‐faced migrant enters

the perimeter and bypasses us. A stray dog was sniffing in front of the cafe door -­‐ itknows nothing about inflating price. With the cold wind from the Sava river, a memoryof the son appears.

 

My Bela is pregnant, says Petar, while sipping and stomping his feet in place. That’s about a hundred marks per puppy. We quarreled and I, very much like a father, smacked him -­‐ and thatwas

that -­‐ six years ago. Seven!

 

The stray dog now pisses down a church wall and the vine twists towards the grain pea. An acquaintance, a hydrological engineer, told me that because

whirling coastal waters this part of the town hovers over the void. It will be warmer tomorrow, Isay, I look into the void and leave.

 

 

After unknown worries and strange fears, after preparations and sketches, everynightthinking, stealing

of characters and personalities you met, you finally decide, and

like a diligent and organized crook, you get up at half past five in the morning, you make tea and eat polenta.There, you are finally in front of your

void and you write, you make note and you delete what is written. Beneath the windows the employedprecariat is in a hurry, the police exhibitionists

 

sirens are howling, the ambulance alarms are screaming and

schoolchildren in love are typing messages in the rain. You cross words and signs, shortening sentence strings andforming paragraphs with spaces.

And so on every God-­‐given day, for years incessantly – all until it’s all over. After all, you arefinishing and throwing out that

burden from your soul. Afterwards, everything is same as before. Nothing makes sense and nothing madeit in the first place.

 

And then under the ceiling, in a corner above the desk, you see a spider’s web, largeand spacious. You saw

it on time, because it almost came down to you. At night spiders search

for water and creep into the nose and mouth, mostly in childhood when you sleep the hardest, and you realize that youhave been formed by hundreds of grams of

raw spider and that there is nothing else you could do but by that inner compulsion to knit from your own body.

 

All you needed for that was emptiness. And now you’re waiting. Only hunger makes sense.

 

 

Ask and you shall receive! Seek, and ye shall find! (Mt 7: 7-­8)

 

It’ warmer. The short streets between the crammed shacks smells of fish, river mud andwet willows. Petar sold

two puppies, and I sent my son another letter. The first one maybe he didn’t see, maybe he didn’tunderstand it, or maybe it hurt him?

Maybe I asked too much of him, it’s possible he

thought I was being condescending. He doesn’t trust me anymore.

I therefore crammed this one with beautiful stylistic figures, imported it with mild verbs, and asked for nothing. Now every day

I’m checking my other profile. (He blocked me on the first one.)

 

But, if he also had an other profile, he would have a new name, the two of us could then, like two nakedsnails, extend our horns one

to the other and start our history from scratch. Only mutual lie could save us.

 

Someone said ask and you shall receive! Seek and ye shall find !, laughs Petar. By the church the waitress inthe mini skirt carries two shots with brandy.

 

 

By delving into the boundaries of language the reason gets bumps.

(L. Wittgenstein)

 

I wish I didn’t read.

 

I wish I walked through the city like through a spring forest. Not reading the inscriptions on the shops, the glittering commercials and illiterate advertisements, communal notices, textson stores, names and

surnames on lawyers’ offices and notaries’ entrance doors, billboards, discounts, names of

bakeries and meat boutiques, I wish didn’t even read obituaries anymore.

 

I wish I was a dog that doesn’t get off the leash and that in this chaos I only rest my tongue.

 

 

“Welcome children! Eat,

and after that you can come in and I will give you cake! ” The Brothers Grimm

 

A teenager who starts smoking. I was writing in the hope of getting laid, and then I broke into this house suddenly And here I am now. Locked. The language is now

my shirt and my tail, my shoes and my gloves.

I don’t know when there will be enough of it, and when too much, for all that I would like to say. Mine… Mine? These words are my

legcuffs and handcuffs lurking after my head to eat it with delight.

the language is now both my father and my mother, and my mother’s mother and my mother’s father, and, worst of all, my language is also Her language. Thus, my father and mother and Her father and mother.

 

I am repulsed by this sticky tongue saliva that we share. Everything I say is also said byHer. Everything I write,

She has already written, everything I want to say, there she is, and through the barred window she threatensfrom outside with her skinny finger

and grins cynically. I have a premonition, and only premonitions are mine, that – just like a hanged man is killed by his own body,

and the cherry-­‐plum in front of the house by its own fruit – one word will kill me, the one that I will not know to be the last one, the strong one, Miljkovićev’s one. It will be the key to the sugary door that She will get herhands on,

but that word will ultimatley be mine alone. And that is what

I am modestly looking forward to. I am a wolf who, for my freedom, gnaws its front paw.

 

The years of captivity are getting harder and faster, and when I get tired and give up, I don’t get off the leash anymore.

Through the spring forest then the two of us pass as

through a city where I no longer read inscriptions on the shops, the glittering commercials and illiterate advertisements, communal notices, texts on stores, names and titles on

lawyers’ offices and notaries’ entrance doors, billboards, discounts, names of bakeries and meat boutiques, nor obituaries do I read anymore. None but mine own.

 

The old ones, before I fell into Her house.

Filip Grujić

Filip Grujić

Filip Grujić (Serbia, 1995) is a dramaturg, a playwright and a novelist. He published the novels Podstanar (LOM, 2020) and Bludni dani kuratog Džonija (Samizdat, 2017). He is the recipient of the Sterija Award and the Slobodan Selenić Award for his play ne pre 4:30 niti posle 5:00. He plays in the band CIMERKE and as a solo artist.

 


 

 

 

A FRESH START

(saying goodbye to my landlord, moving to a new flat, my father-in-law, my job again, and some realisations)

 

 

Saying goodbye to my landlord

 

It turns out that you do best what you feel most familiar and comfortable with. I came to this realisation while I was lying on my mattress, which I already described many times before, and waiting for Sonya to have a shower. Since I was living closer to the city, and her work, Sonya often stayed at my place. The flat, meanwhile, has changed. More often than not, stuff would be scattered over the floor. Sonya was messy. I wondered why, and I couldn’t figure it out. She had the same amount of stuff at that time as I ever had. I wouldn’t say Sonya was a big spender, on the contrary, over that couple of months we’d been together I rarely saw her buy something for herself. You could say this was because of her budget, which was not big enough to cover everything she wanted to buy. But despite the messiness that had befallen my rented flat, I didn’t feel bad. I liked the liveliness that my floors, walls and bed had acquired. I liked, of course, sharing my life with someone. If I were completely honest, I also liked that I was capable of sharing my life with someone. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but the logic of the story requires it now – Sonya had a flat on the other side of the river, an average, quite acceptable flat, which she shared with her younger sister, about whom I will talk more, oh much more, later. The flat was hers, and that being so, she didn’t have a landlord. She was, so to speak, her own landlord. Anyway, Sonya was having a shower, and I was lying on the bed when it dawned on me that you do best what you feel most familiar with. The day I was supposed to move out was coming soon. That’s what Sonya and I agreed, and I didn’t protest much. She reckoned that it made perfect sense for us to live together and I was pretty much of the same opinion. Considering our financial situation, and taking into account that I had just lost my job, which had caused a few small tiffs between us, I probably wouldn’t be wrong if I said that those were the first ones since we’ve been together, primarily because I had lost my job practically because I’d had a fight with her ex-boyfriend, my ex-friend, which in fact she was the cause of, anyway, we came to the conclusion that we couldn’t pay for both flats, and we were spending the nights together much more often than apart, so we sensibly and practically decided that I should move in with her to the other side of the river and be done with what until then had been my bachelor pad. That’s what she called it – a bachelor pad. It sounded good to me because it meant I was the guy I was expected to be. While I was lying like that thinking about the sentence I’d mentioned earlier, I was overcome with irrevocable sadness for leaving the flat. I got up and looked around me.

Everything I had ever made was there. The mattress I was lying on, so neat and comfortable, was mine. All the things in the flat, apart from the walls, and a few kitchen cupboards, the bathtub, and the parquet floor, were mine. There weren’t too many things, but the truth is that I made it cosy for myself between all those walls. I looked, and in the kitchen I could clearly see forks and knives, in the rooms a couple of chairs and a clothes horse, and suddenly, I remembered how I went to a chain furniture store and had a good time there.

Where did it all go?

Looking at all those things, even back then, I felt as if I was witnessing a memory. I couldn’t comprehend it.

I had applied myself to furnishing the flat with so much passion, and now I had to leave it all behind. Every single thing I had bought, acquired or dragged here in one way or another, I had handpicked as if I would never part from it. I had been choosing them with a joy I could only feel at that moment, a moment I thought was worth remembering. I couldn’t understand what I was going to do with all those emotions I felt for every piece of furniture. I was supposed to leave the flat in three days. Until then, I had to clean it up, polish the floors, perhaps put a lick of paint on the walls, return the keys and never, definitely never again return to that flat. Luckily, Sonya interrupted my musings. She stepped out of the bathroom, wet, naked, erect nipples. It took me only about six seconds to feel good again. I forgot why I was sad and indulged in happiness.

At that moment, it seemed to me that there was not a thing that could make me sad as long as I was near those breasts, I felt like a man that had neither past nor future, nothing but a desire to touch.

But those moments can’t last forever. The next three days, while I was bidding farewell to my stuff and my furniture, Sonya would go and have a shower a few times, at least three, she would nip down to the shops, go to work, and I was alone, feeling the sharp pangs of melancholy and questioning. For instance, I would remember how I started smoking. What was that all about? I couldn’t comprehend. The moment I started smoking, and you could say that I was now a seasoned smoker, seemed like a moment that happened to somebody else. I could clearly see myself standing outside and smoking, as if observing myself from the window, but I couldn’t understand how.

Whose life was I living and whose life could I see? Where were the time and space, my brain couldn’t discern, all I knew was that I couldn’t comprehend, couldn’t accept that if I forgot the moment when I started smoking, it would be as if I’d never started smoking in the first place. But, as I said , those were the moments when I allowed myself to indulge in those thoughts. At the same time I was packing my stuff into boxes.I didn’t have much, quite enough for a man like me one could say. Suddenly, all I had could fit into three boxes. Even I, if I were to twist and bend my body properly, could fit my entire self in a box. The thought amused me and made me think about myself as a living being. Everything that had happened to me was inside me, somewhere, who knows where, but inside me. I, as I said, my entire self, with all the people I’d ever met, with all the joys I’d created for myself, with all the sorrows I’d accepted, would fit in a box if, again, I were to twist and bend my body properly.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. On one hand I found the thought intriguing, but at the same time it made me feel restless. And then, of course, I’d forget I’d ever had such a thought and start snogging Sonya as if it were the only thing I knew how to do and wanted to do.

Strange, strange all that. I’d already packed my stuff, I was leaving my flat. I’d given a lick of paint to what needed painting, Sonya helped as much as she could, we tidied up together, cleaned and scrubbed, leaving the flat to somebody else who will enter an empty space as if nothing ever existed there before. I looked out of the window, and I could clearly see myself smoking on the other side of the street. While I was living here, a burger joint had opened and had already shut down. The corner shop, the bakery, they are still there. At that very place, where the two streets joined, I was looking, pensively, at my window, wondering which was Tamara’s floor.

Whatever happened to Tamara? I didn’t know where she was. She must have been somewhere far away, I’d stopped bumping into her in the building. She may have moved away. I heard that she’d got a more lucrative job offer. That’s how, as far as I knew, you determine how successful someone was. You work at one place, and after a while you get a better offer somewhere else. Then you work at that other place and, if you’re lucky, you get an even better offer from another place. And so on, until your market value starts going further and further down, and then you do your best to stay where you are, you hold onto the job as hard as you can, your job, claiming you deserve it because of your age and years of experience, sentimentally remembering the day when you first came to the company. Anyway, I was wondering where Tamara was. I didn’t know if she was happy, or if I would ever think of her again. At that moment, while I was saying goodbye to the flat, I thought of Tamara only because I remembered myself smoking in the street wondering where Tamara was. It was really time for me to get a move on. Two other big things happened that day:

1) I met Sonya’s dad. His name is Gordan. He borrowed a van that transports donkey chemicals, if I got it right, some concoctions that help donkeys grow faster and better, anyway, he borrowed a van from a friend of his, whom, of course, I didn’t know at the time because, as it turned out, until that day I hadn’t met Sonya’s dad either, whose name was Gordan. Until that day, I hadn’t thought about him much. I knew he would come to help us move, we were, after all, moving into his former flat. But, shaken and overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions, I ignored the fact. So I just extended my hand and introduced myself.

Hi, son. I’m Gordan.

Nice to meet you.

I stared at the floor, surprised that he’d called me son.

So, what are we taking?

Here it is. . .

This is all you’ve got?

I felt he was judging me. I panicked.

It is all I need.

C’mon, son, let’s hurry up.

He took a box as I stubbornly paced the flat.

I’d left all four indicators on.

Gordan, of course, will be the subject of some of my later contemplations and dilemmas. But at that moment, the only thing I worried about was that I didn’t drop a box and, inexplicably, I wanted to show Gordan that I was strong, at least as a bullock, so I carried more than I could. As a result, I got inflammation in my lower back, and I was stuck in bed for three to five days. We put everything in the van and realised that Gordan hadn’t needed to borrow it. It could all fit in a car. We climbed back to the flat to check if we had left anything behind. Sonya was walking around in the flat.

The mattress?

She asked me incredulously.

It’s not exactly comfortable for us, is it?

Mine is definitely bigger.

Yes…

Maybe you can sell it?

Maybe I could.

There was nothing else left. We and Gordan were going to take the stuff to Sonya’s flat. And that’s what we did. Nothing else of importance happened because I had to go back to my rented flat. Meeting the landlord, handing in the keys and the inspection of his property were scheduled for one o clock in the afternoon. So, the other big thing, besides meeting Sonya’s dad, happened after that.

2) I cried. That’s what happened. I didn’t cry much, just a bit. I didn’t know how to explain this to myself. Everything was perfect. There was the girl that, I can safely say, I loved. Consequently, there was this planned happiness. So, I, one of the few, will be living with the girl I loved. While I was waiting for one in the afternoon, sitting on my mattress, the only thing left behind in the empty flat, I wept. I lay on the mattress and stared at the ceiling. How many nights I had spent there staring at the ceiling. Sometimes, when it was light outside, when it was full moon, I could see the ceiling better. Some nights I would pull the blinds down. Some nights I would leave the light on in the hallway, on purpose, to keep me company. But, this mattress was mine. I was definitely lying on that mattress for the last time in my life, and even more definitely, I was crying on that mattress for the last time. This was supposed to be a happy day. The beginning of something new. My landlord arrived. I wiped off the tears before opening the door. He had his hat on and his pipe. We greeted each other, he asked me how I was. I said I was fine.

Do you mind?

He pointed at his pipe.

No…

Anyway, even if you did…

He laughed, realising than in no more than fifteen minutes I would have no say in this flat.

 

He rummaged in the corners, this landlord of mine. He inspected the white surfaces, whether they were white enough. He looked at the door, whether it was dented. The doors often get damaged, he said, especially where there is turbulent love life. People get carried away and then when they don’t know what to do, they always hit the door…

He said that, pleased with himself, as if he too, while he had the strength, used to hit the door.

 

 

 

Marija Dragnić

Marija Dragnić

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

 


 

 

 

my grandmother hid sweets

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

 

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

as he left the beach

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

allowing the sun to overhang us.

 

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

in a night club

to those who had clear intentions.

I would leave generous tips and always go homealone.

 

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

as they scampered amongst the trees that grew above thekeyboard.

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

and nobody could find them afterwards.

 

 

I loved my grandfather the most because he was agood man

that rarely spoke, and a snake bit him

on the same finger three times.

 

my poetry’s light fingers

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

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

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

 

My lover’s dark fingers and my light fingers

go down into the lake, past a warning sign.

 

shivering,

they float above the depths with uncertainty.

 

in between the dark and light fingers a snake passes.

 

the dark smile.

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

from random passers-by.

 

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

to the lake – to resist.

 

good film, poetic images.

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

were occupied.

 

 

my grandfather once killed a viper that crossed my path.

 

he wedged a match in its open jaws

and put a cigarette in its mouth.

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

 

the truth is

that’s the only thing

I remember him by today.

 

my poetry’s dark fingers

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

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

 

my lover’s dark fingers land on my bottom

as I put a snake under our bed.

 

we fight between the white sheets. at one point,

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

of a final surrender.

 

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

in between my red lips.

one of us gets bitten by the snake.

 

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

it became a real hit.

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

the chick was such a success.

 

 

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

 

mom is surprised how I still don’t see thecorrelation

between these two facts.

 

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

a startled flock of smiles lands

on the faces of the leading actors and audience.

 

my lover’s dark fingers

watch out for my light fingers. my light fingers getdarker

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

 

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

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

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

and the scenery silhouettes.

 

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

the leading actor is on the stage alone.

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

 

my lover’s dark fingers

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

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

 

 

when I was born

my grandmother dressed up, in black,

to greet her granddaughter as it befitted the occasion.

 

in after years she would prepare ice cream for lunch,

during every summer break.

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

head first.

 

I once tried to

stay under the water

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

so I surfaced,

but only after the scales had formed.

 

grandmother didn’t get scared when I stayed at thebottom

of the pool for so long,

nor did she notice any changes on my skin.

 

she smiled and said

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

 

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

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

 

were it not for my poetry’s light fingers

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

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

 

if I had only dark fingers,

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

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

 

Translated by Krutna Petrić

 

Luiza Bouharaoua

Luiza Bouharaoua (photo: Ivan Maricic)

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

 

*

 

Snow

 

– What’s your name?

– How old are you, Daniel?

– Are you related to Mrs Mara Radić?

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

– What’s your relationship with Goran Abazić?

– Do you have other flatmates apart from him?

– How long has Tomislava Popić lived in the flat?

– What’s your relationship with her?

– It’s important because you are under investigation.

– Have you had anything to drink for lunch?

– How much did you drink?

– Do you drink often?

– Are you usually aggressive when you drink?

***

 

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

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

– Daniel, please.

– How did you know where to find me?

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

– Leave me alone, both you and her!

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

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

I was silent.

– I used to sit here like this.

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

– The Wednesday they found out.

***

 

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

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

– I’ve lost my good child.

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

– I know why you are here.

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

***

 

– How did you get hold of a cold weapon?

– Why was such a big knife on the table?

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

– Where were Dalibor and Mara Radić at that moment?

– Why did you throw yourself at Goran Abazić?

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

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

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

***

 

– But how did she know?

– Daniel, the police are looking for you.

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

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

– You want a logical explanation or the local legend?

– Both.

– My parents must have called her.

– And the legend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

 

– Are you feeling better? One more question then.

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

– My colleague will now take you to Mara Radić.

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

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

***

 

– How did she know?

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

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

Dado didn’t say a thing.

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

– I heard you the first time.

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

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

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

– H-O-W did she know?

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

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

– How did she know, Dado?

The ominous fish in my belly was calming down.

– I told her to tell you.

 

Jasna Žmak

Jasna Žmak

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

Jean-Lorin Sterian

Jean Lorin Sterian

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

 


 

 

 

 

 

MEAT

 

 

 

I don’t like fat.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Once to the left, once to the right.

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Despair.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

I AM.

 

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

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

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

            in tears and humiliation and sadness and pain and silence

 

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

 

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

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

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

Like me and Giorgio.

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

I was already fucked tonight.

The moon went to sleep before I did.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Anna Kove

Anna Kove

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

 

 

Unfinished prayer

 

The car stopped in front of my feet.

I climbed in impatiently and brushedhis upper lip slightly, more smelling him than kissing him.

I had thought that I should alter my appearance somehow, to give him a surprise. No! I could never have done as much as he did, he seemed to have lost at least 10 years.

He no longer looked like a middle-aged man waiting patiently and calmly for old age, but instead, he had the appearance of a young man who refuses to be separated from his boyhood shadow.Clean, freshly shaven and smelling ofaftershave.

The air of the car was full of love. In that moment, I felt as if Iwere in a magical world. An invisible mystical thread had slowlybrought us together in a journey. So he drives, while I gaze absentmindedly at the trees, which look to me like silhouettes of people. In my fantasy he often resembles a tree to me.

Can a tree be like a man. Why not? A tree with a broad trunk and cracked bark that strongly guards the tree’s heart, with deep roots in the ground and a large crown of branches and green leaves that allow the warm sun to penetrate right down to the point at which it becomes one withthe ground.

I wanted to be a tree nymph, its dryad,as if in amyth. To be free in body, beautiful like all nymphs, dependent on the elixir produced by the symbiosis of a life in love with a tree. To live there and to breathe in its oxygen, but also to be able to go away, alone, but only so far that the tree would not suffer without my presence.

Then to be reunited again, intertwined as in the legends: the nymph and her tree. See, these areare experiences of a single moment, when a woman detaches herself from reality simply to exalt in nature, or who knows what idea in ​​her unconscious. “Where are we going?” – I asked, when my mind returned inside the car. He looked away from the road for a moment and his eyes lit up brightly.

The feeling of being desired cannothappen without the excitement that startsinside andis expressed on the face and flows from the eyes, out of the lips. With his left hand he held the steering wheel, while with his right hand he ruffled my hair.I approached him a little, taking care not to distract him, and took his right hand in mine.

I felt the skin there communicating the pleasure of being touched to other sensory parts.I might have been braver, if I had not been constantly worried about distracting him from steering. Anyway, as if to stop me from making an error of judgement, he found a layby and he parked the car.

He held my face between his palms, brought me closer, and a soft lips engulfed mine.He held my hand and squeezed it tightly, clasping my fingers. He asked, calling me by my name, “What is your greatest wish right now?” Beside him, weightless, my greatest desire was to look into his eyes, afire with flickering desire, to kiss his liquid lips, to seize the power of his masculinity.

In fact, I had an even greater desire, which transcended being a woman. A desire that came from happiness, but also the fear that one day this overriding passion would end and these airy experiences would become earthlyonce more. Then they would be covered by the soil of oblivion. With pain. The way in which we cover every being who has been a precious part of our lives. I wanted to everything I felt to remain airy.

He understood my inability to speakperhaps as reluctance. Reality was nourishing within me an almost impossible love. “So?”he prompted me again. What should I say? The greatest desires are also the greatest impossibilities! “To know where we are going,” I answered, in a trembling voice, not knowing how to respond to his question. “Towards the impossible, perhaps,” he replied, quite briefly and without hesitation.Now that only we shared the air between us, he was silent,not talking.

But in such conditions, with him so close to me, his silence felt like beautiful words. I was quiettoo and I did not speak for almost the whole journey. At heart, I was basically a curious person and I was never scared when I felt something unknown was waiting for me.

And in this case, through the unknown, perhaps I would be able to get to know him better myself. After we got out of the car, I said, “Love me so much that you cannot live without me!This is my greatest wish.”

But I immediately regretted that sentence, which revealedthat I was basically a naive teenager. He said, “Hmmm. But you will live without me,” and then he coveredmy mouth with his lips, so that I could not respond. Then putting his right arm around me, he usheredme toward a small park nearby, where some elderly pensioners were playing dominoes, and then he moved away from me again.

What did he mean? That I would live without him. So he thinks I do not love him enough, that I’ll be able to replace him? Is that what he meant when he said those words to me? Why would I live without him, when we love each other? I was torturing myself with these internal questions, as he was asking the pensioners about a statue destroyed by the Communists in 1947.

“A monument demolished by the Communists? But didn’t the Communists build the statues and monuments themselves after the war?”

What if he thought that because he is not very sexual, I might have needs beyond that which he can provide and… Ah, of course not, no man would ever think that, even if he does not love you very much.

“Where could the statue have been located?”

He asked the pensioners, and then the pensioners askedeach other. And me, I just wonderedwhy the hell I couldn’t stop asking myselfsuch idiotic questions, and instead,concentrate properlyon why we weretalking to all these pensioners here in the middle of the park? A bust? A monument? Statue? Tomb? Here. This is what we are talking about I think.

“The statue was in front of the Officers’Mess.”

“No,” says another. “That one was damaged later. After we split with the Chinese. It wasn’t thestatue of our priest. The bust of the Albanian priest, cast in bronze, which was destroyed by Albanians in 1947.”

The pensioners around us could not have been old enough in 1947 to remember much. And their answers were all quitecontradictory. So they called an older man, from another group, who was playing a game of chess nearby. One of those types who knows and rememberseverything. He talked and talked incessantly. I had a hard time concentrating, even though I was now all eyes and ears.

“Yes Yes. I know. How can you not know. The priest’s monument was near the old church.”

Someone suggested, “So, the Communists destroyed it when they destroyed all the churches?”

Someone nearby said, “No, I don’t think so, my friend. The churches were demolished in 1967. But our priest’s memorial was destroyed in 1947. How is it possible that it happened so early, before the church was destroyed?”

“It was destroyed by our Communists, at the instruction of the Serbian Communists. The Serbian Communists did not tell our guys to destroy the church; they never even destroyed their own churches. But in 1947, our guys were like brothers to the Serbian Communists. And the Serbian Communists, in order to kill for their God, wanted our God to speak their language too. They killed the priest in 1928 because he spoke Albanian, and nottheSlav or Greeklanguage. They event sent saboteurs at night to damage church texts in Albanian and gave our saints Slavic names. But the priest kept writing in Albanian every day. Until the day they killed him. They say they wanted to cut off his head as well. People loved him very much and they paid their respects to him both in church and in the mosque.”

Here the old man paused and looked at us all, as if to check whether we were listening to his story or not. When he saw that I, too, was attentatively following everything he was saying, he continued:

“They were looking for him even when dead. Do you know what the people did? They buried him in a Moslem grave, so they could not find his body because the saboteurs kept coming at night to try to find his head and cut it off his dead body.”

“Really? A priest buried in a Muslim grave?” I asked doubtfully, and in surprise.

“Yes, yes,”he said. “The people here loved him very much when he was living. So they raised amonument to him when he was dead.”Then the old man took us to the place where the priest’s monument had been, a place the pensioners called “the monument”, which the communists had destroyed in 1947.

“Ah,”he said painfully, “What would it cost these leaders, who promise heaven on earth for a few votes, to raise that monument once more.”

The priest was not only a martyr of the church, but he was a martyr of the Albanian language and the homeland. He taught Albanian to children everywhere, to all of them, without distinction. They say he was a student of Negovani himself. Negovani was burned alive by the Greeks, and our priest was killed by the Slavs, right inside his small church in Najazma, next to the lake.

“That’s why we musn’t forget things, my friend,”he continued, “and we should put up that monument again, just as it was erected by the people of these parts, Christians and Muslims together. We must do things together for Albanian society.”

“Alright, the communists, they forgot and they destroyed things, but the new lot, who come and go from power are not doing any good at all.”Here his voice faltered as he realized that now the conversation could become more risky if hecarried on, so he preferred to take a break from the story-telling, asking:

“But, you, why are you so interested, son?”Hmm, I thought to myself. Why was he so interested?

Instead of enjoying our shared moments alone, here we were, sitting and listening to stories of priests and communists. He said, “The priest of Najazma was my grandfather. I’m afraid my father did not remember him at all. And he died worrying that he had never found his grave. If you’d asked at that time about a priest’s monument, they’d have put you in a living grave. Or they’d have left you as they did my father. To live neither above nor in the grave. Neither dead nor alive.”

After he said this, I looked him in the eye. He was crying. He instinctively took my hand. The strong man suddenly became a sensitive child, who needed to hold onto something. In addition to the tragic loss of his grandfather, he also had the grief of his father’s unlived life. He trembled. My hand inside his palm also trembled.

What did he say? He was his grandfather? Those who did not like and killed both my grandfather and father, now don’t like me either, and they will kill me too. Really! Is that what he said? No. No. He did not say that. I don’t know how I feel. Why don’t I ask him how he feels?

But before I ask, he speaks first, aftersaying goodbye to all the pensioners there in the park, where the monument to his grandfather, the Priest of Najazma, had once stood, and which had been destroyed by the communists, according to the pensioners. And,as he said himself, the father of a man with a lot of political power and criminal connections today, he said to me in a voice full of anxiety and fear:

“You don’t have to come with me.”

“I’m afraid that I don’t fully understand.”

“I know. There are things no one understands, even if I tell them.”

“Well, you should try, maybe you’ll feel better.”

“But don’timagine that you will feel better if I speak.”

“That doesn’t matter, you mustexplain.”

“I am under surveillance. My life may even beat risk.”

“Under surveillance?” I asked, as if I did not understand. But actually I understood well. And now I understood all those times when he was constantly anxious. Even the incompleteness of his approach to me. I instantly felt great fear. For him? Maybe, but instead of saying anything that might help him, or encourage him to continue his story, I asked entirely selfishly:

“Is my life in danger if I come with you?”

“I don’t know. It could be.”

“It could be?”

The earth shifted under my feet. My legs trembled and I was no longer in command of myself. I could neither go with him orturn away.

“The journey towards identity is very difficult,” he told me at the beginning. But why was I so afraid? He continued, “The journey alone is not sufficient. And notwhen you are afraid,” he added, recognising my hesitation.

“Let’s get out of here. We can get protection and live safely somewhere else, far away from this danger,” I said.

“No. I will not run. That’s what they want, for us to leave. To abandon the country. To let them do what they want with our past, our sacred places, our names, our present and our future. They stole our identity once with denial, then with bullets and destruction, and now they want to drive us out.

I begged himdesperatelyto flee. I had a bad premonition.

I said, “If we go, we could write and tell stories about ourhistory without fear and in freedom. So that nothing is forgotten.”

“You write about it,”he said to me. “Everything. Write down the names we call out in ecstasy to God when we pray in Albanian. That way, at least they will not destroy our love. Or our prayers …

I felt that he was still hiding something from me, but I did not speak anymore and I went with him quietly.

 

 

Translated by Alexandra Channer

 

Biljana Crvenkovska

Biljana Crvenkovska

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

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

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

 


 

“Devet prikazni za gospogjica Sit”

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

– excerpts –

 

 

AT “THE BLACK CAT”

 

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

 

….

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Dear Editor,

 

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

 

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

 

 

FIRST QUARTER

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cat meowed a puzzling reply.

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

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

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

And so they trudged through the snow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the miracle, the true, true miracle.

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

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

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

 

 

ECLIPSE

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one to answer them for him, either.

 

***

 

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

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

***

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The black cat wagged her tail. Once, twice.

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

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

The total eclipse lasted exactly 99 minutes.

translated by Vladimir Stojanovski

Barbara Delać

Barbara Delać

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

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

Nikolina Andova Shopova

Nikolina Andova Shopova

Nikolina Andova Shopova was born on 3 February 1978 in Skopje. She graduated from the Faculty of Philology (Macedonian and South Slavic literature) at the St Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. She has published two books of poetry „The entrance is on the other side“(2013) and „Connect the dots“ (2014). Her first book „The entrance is on the other side“ was awarded with the prestigious award „Bridges of Struga“ in 2013, award of UNESCO and the Struga Poetry Evenings for best debut book, and is published in English language. In 2014 she published the second poetry collection “Connect the dots”, which is also published in Serbian language. In 2016, a selection of her poetry in English, Macedonian and French is published by Éditions Bruno Doucey. Her poems take part in many anthologies of Macedonian poetry. They are translated into many world languages ​​and she is a participant in many poetry festivals across Europe.

In 2019 she received the “Novel of the Year” award, for her first novel “Someone Was Here“, awarded by the Foundation for promotion of cultural values ​​”Slavko Janevski”. She also writes short stories and picture books for children.

„Connect the dots“ (2014). Her first book „The entrance is on the other side“ was awarded with the prestigious award „Bridges of Struga“ in 2013, award of UNESCO and the Struga Poetry Evenings for best debut book, and is published in English language. In 2014 she published the second poetry collection “Connect the dots”, which is also published in Serbian language. In 2016, a selection of her poetry in English, Macedonian and French is published by Éditions Bruno Doucey. Her poems take part in many anthologies of Macedonian poetry. They are translated into many world languages ​​and she is a participant in many poetry festivals across Europe.

In 2019 she received the “Novel of the Year” award, for her first novel “Someone Was Here“, awarded by the Foundation for promotion of cultural values ​​”Slavko Janevski”. She also writes short stories and picture books for children.

Someone Was Here

excerpt

As I opened the peapods to roll the little balls into a plastic dish, I hoped that when I pulled  the pod apart I would find something else, something that would surprise and excite me. Something that according to all the laws of nature shouldn’t be there, and precisely that thing had decided to reveal itself precisely to me. From that entire mountain of green pods waiting to be opened, I would discover just the one that held within it something unusual, something wondrous that had not yet appeared before my eyes, so I raced to open them, digging my fingers into the seams and tearing open the pods. My fingernails were green, and they hurt from the dried bits that wedged underneath them, but I was determined to reach the one I was looking for. My mother was shelling peas opposite me and she watched me bustling, thinking I was interested in counting and rolling the little balls which were strung through the pods like ball earrings. The unopened pods in the bowl were decreasing, as the volume of green balls was growing along with my impatience, and when I rolled out the last pea, I looked in defeat at the floor, hoping I would catch sight of an unopened one. But everything was opened and shelled, and the world became once more dreary, empty, revealed, with no hidden meaning or significance. The riddles and secrets that I sought everywhere around me, even in these small rituals, seemed ever further from me, in some other place, outside my view and grasp and I tried to create them for myself, weaving a mysterious veil around things that were seemingly ordinary and every day. With my fork I created a castle out of the mashed potatoes on my plate because I was obsessed with the scene in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which ran for a week in the evenings while my father was in the hospital, the one in which Roy makes a mountain out of his mashed potatoes and other strange things after he saw something unusual in the sky. I pretended that I, too, had experienced something similar that I could not explain to myself, but which tormented me, and I inverted a cardboard egg carton and used the inverted holes like а keyboard which I covered with non-existent letters and then used to communicate with my imaginary creatures from another planet. Empty egg cartons had been put out in the shed and the stack of them, which was about as tall as I was, kept growing smaller as I took new ones, because I quickly tore and made holes in the old ones by writing and typing on them. When the pile had been reduced to the height of a small chair, my father died. I was sitting on them the day his body was laid out in its coffin in the living room like some sort of museum exhibit which everyone came to see; some even to touch and stroke it, while my father, for the first time in his life and certainly for the first time in his death, kept silent for so long and had no comment for anyone about anything.   My mother sat in the dining room with her head leaning on my aunt’s hip, they tightly held each other’s hands and they dried their eyes with damp and half-torn paper napkins as they silently peered into space. Whenever my mother glanced at me, she would cry harder and pull me to her lap, but I finally ran off to mingle with the people coming in and to sneak out the door and run to the garden shed. It was twilight but I was used to the dark and the darkness was perhaps the only thing I wasn’t afraid of. I was more afraid of staying at home, of seeing my father lying in his coffin with gauze tied around his head, dressed in the suit he saved for special occasions, and of hearing the sobs that would swell like a powerful wave when new people came in the open door. I was suffocated by the smell of burned coffee and candles mixed with the stale scent of old women and old men, who would pat my head and press themselves to my face whispering something which I didn’t want to hear or understand. I didn’t want to hear the muted but cruel whispering of Auntie Žana, who was sitting not far from my mother, waving and tapping her finger on the dining room table arguing about something with the woman sitting opposite her and spraying spittle on the cookies that had been laid out for his soul.  I had to disappear as quickly as possible, and although the egg carton keyboards poked my behind, I felt an inexplicable combination of sadness, comfort, and freedom then rocked by these emotions, I fell asleep leaning against the peeling wooden rack which held the things that were spoiled and unusable, but which we’ve kept for years just in case they were needed.

            I woke with the thought that my mother was crying and in despair because she couldn’t find me, and I dashed to the front door which was still open. I burst into the living room and my aunt ran up to me asking whether I had rested up, likely thinking that I had been asleep in the bunk bed in the children’s room. I didn’t respond, I just ran towards the bedroom just as our neighbour, a nurse, came out and signalled me with her hand to be quiet because my mother was sleeping. The coffin was in its old place, this time closed like a pod, and I felt the prick under my fingernails. Some of the people had dispersed, it smelled of smoke and staleness, and that moment I knew that home would never again be home.

“Has this child eaten anything?” asked one of the old women and my aunt sat me at the small table in the kitchen, moved the ashtrays and cleared the table of the discarded wrappers of chocolate coffee-candies, and brought me some of the cheese pastries and some foil-wrapped wedges of  processed Zdenka cheese that she was getting ready to bring to the cemetery.

“We lose; our whole life we lose something,” said the man standing by the window smoking. There were only the three of us in the kitchen and I imagined he was addressing my aunt, since he either didn’t notice me or he was pretending I wasn’t there. I didn’t know him, and I thought he was one of my father’s colleagues, because he wasn’t sitting in the living room with the other relatives.

“Folks, friends, you’ll lose your wife, you’ll lose your husband, work, house, property, children…training is what it is, training… So you get accustomed to it, you get accustomed to losing, for when the time comes that you lose your life as well, so you can let it go and not cling to it like a blind man to a stick,” he said curtly and blew the smoke through the window. My aunt opened and closed the oven, checking the cheese rolls so they didn’t burn, and I sensed she wasn’t listening to him, but out of kindness shrugged her shoulders and nodded her head with pursed lips.

“Because, if you don’t let go of life, and your time has come, you’re already dead, and even then…even then…” he considered how to finish the sentence, “even then you’ll have a problem,’ he said quietly, while stubbing out the butt in the ashtray. He said this more for himself, as if he wanted to make the point to himself and to spare us further explanations. With a look I asked my aunt, “who is this?” as he stood with his back turned and looked through the window, my aunt answered me back, also by a look and a gesture.

                                                                   ***

It’s not as if I hadn’t thought of this before, but I was determined not to accept the invitation which I knew would inevitably arrive one day. Vania proposed that the three of us meet: her, me, and the owner of the apartment; we should go out somewhere for a drink because she’s heard about me constantly and said that she wanted to meet me at last. We had already been in her personal space, anyway, and this was an entirely expected and logical course of events.

I got out of it by saying it would be very unpleasant and at the moment I wasn’t ready for such a meeting, because, until recently we had been seeing each other in her apartment. But I added that in the future, after some time had passed, I’d have no problem meeting her, or sitting together somewhere, the three of us, to chat and laugh, and at the end we would pay her bill since she had been so nice to us and had unselfishly let us use her place temporarily. Vania looked at me with approval and smiled contentedly as if she had expected this answer or as if she should have assumed it, knowing my sensitivity and attention to such things. The truth is that I had never intended to become acquainted with her in the context she wanted and anticipated, and maybe I never wanted to meet her at all. I wanted to touch the things she touched every day, to melt in the bodiless embrace of her shirts and coats on the hanger, to drown in the depth of the armchair, where I supposed she most often relaxed, to touch my lips to the dried traces of lipstick on the not-quite clean glass and to place my head on her pillow, which smelled of faint smoke and of hair. I did not really want to touch her hand, I hadn’t wanted to embrace her if she were standing in front of me, kiss her, or catch her scent. I wanted to caress her reflections, just as I enjoyed doing in Natalie’s room, the room Irina did the least to keep clean and tidy, so as not to wipe away her smell, and through this, her presence, which, most likely, only she and I sensed in our nostrils. Natalie’s room was the only one that didn’t smell of cleaning products, and I would go in to stroke the toys she had played with, her small many-coloured dresses, and her other clothes which we hadn’t wanted to give away, the little notebook with a red band in which there were drawings of Irina and me holding hands, with arrows that had  written above them in green coloured pencil – mama, papa. I would curl up like a fetus on her little bed on the blue sheets jammed full of little gold stars and I would lie there for hours, calm and assured that I would not have to say goodbye to it, too. The objects and the material on which I lay would likely outlive me too, and no one would be able to take these things from me. With them I was secure. And for me, that was enough.

***

My mother was convinced that cigarettes had killed my father, although the doctors said that the cancer in his lungs was an illness that could arise from other factors as well. “If I ever see you with a cigarette… .it’ll be too bad for you!” she would warn me, but this sounded both tragic and funny to me because, unlike my father, she couldn’t frighten me with any specific punishment, she was too gentle and tender to think up something, let alone pronounce it or execute. “It’ll be bad for you,” was the most terrible threat she could direct at me, even when I had done something for which I really did need to be punished. I wasn’t accustomed to the freedom I had after my father died, and everything I had longed to do, and which had been forbidden, had not brought me the anticipated happiness and pleasure, and it bored me quickly. I splashed my cheeks and my neck with his aftershave from the small green glass bottle, without afterwards washing and scrubbing my face with soap and water afraid that he would smell me and turn my face red from pain. I opened the brown cardboard files he had carried to work but which I couldn’t touch, I sat until late at night and watched television in his armchair with the remote in my left hand just like he used to do, and I would curse like him if one of the buttons in the remote got stuck or didn’t work.   “Oh mother – where’s it gotten stuck. Ah, there it is!”, he would pull out the grey button with the nail of his pinky finger, which I thought he grew out just for that purpose. Every so often I would peel off the thick brown layer of tape that held together the bottom of the remote, and I would put on new tape, with pride as if I were accomplishing who-knows-what sort of craftsmanship. Before I fell asleep, scenes from the films I had watched until late at night would return to me, not that I fully understood them, but because that’s what he watched. The images of Papillon in solitary confinement when, out of starvation, he caught a cockroach, or the village idiot Michael who dragged his leg across the sand in “Ryan’s daughter” circled my conscience jumbled together with images from the burial and flies on the wall. I tried lying down on the lower bunk of the bunkbed and fell asleep with the light still on, but that didn’t suit me very long, and after only a few evenings I returned to the upper bunk and put out the light early. I stripped the stem of the ferns with only one stroke of my hand, and I knew that my mother would pretend she hadn’t noticed the thin, naked stems sticking out from the greenery. With a felt-tip pen I scrawled things on the thick leaves of the rubber plant , or I’d write my name amid the veins of the large Elephant Ear plant, just because no one stopped me. I splashed through the yard in his rubber flip-flops as tiny stones poked through, and I sprayed the hose high into the trees. Through force of habit I did my lessons and I studied in the kitchen or in the dining room as I had before so I would be noticed, even though there was no one to notice me. My mother was at work all day; she returned tired and was only interested in whether or not I had eaten. She routinely checked whether I had eaten the sandwich she made for me every day to take to school wrapped in the blue-white plastic bags with “milk” written on them, which she kept rolled in an elastic band to have for packing meat for the freezer. She prepared lentils with lots of garlic and little hot sausages and leeks, since that was my father’s favourite. A whole pot would be left over because neither my mother nor I ate garlic, but she stubbornly kept making the same dinner every Sunday, as she had when my father was alive. His coat hung on the hanger behind the door. I asked why she kept washing the coat since no one was wearing it, and she said to me as she was wringing out the sleeves over the washbasin: “Something might have crawled in… a spider, a centipede, everything in the house is damp.” When she dusted, she moved aside the carton still containing a few cigarettes, and then she would put it back beside the vase on the small table.

I waited to find a suitable moment to mention to her what Emil had told me about his aunt, and to convince her that we should buy human masks somewhere so that my father’s spirit wouldn’t inhabit us, or we should buy at least one “bad” one since my father was bad, too. One evening, as she pressed down the orange-coloured toaster with her elbow, I said this to her; she was visibly upset and said she didn’t want to hear about doing these “devil things”. Аnd she scolded me for what I had said about my father, adding that he wasn’t at all a bad person.

“You should know how much good your father did, how many people he helped,” she said with hidden pride. “All right, he did have a temper, both good and bad, like everyone else. Take Žana, everyone considers her a force of evil, she poisons animals in the neighbourhood, not that she isn’t a snake at times, but she gives her soul for people. She made woolen knee socks for the children who live beside her, those poor things who were left without a mother. She brought them dinner, gave them money, as much as she could… But your aunt, you know what she’s like, gentle, kind, but something once got into her head and she said something she shouldn’t have, she did something she shouldn’t have, and now, everyone thinks she’s a wicked person.

Then she added that my father was in heaven and I shouldn’t worry that some sort of spirits were going to inhabit me, and then I recalled how at the burial one of his cousin’s had come up to me and grabbed my chin, looked me right in the face with her red eyes and said to me tearfully: “You are just like your father. The spitting image!” That was the first time anyone had told me I looked like my father and I was afraid that maybe it was too late and that he had already gotten inside me; At such moments I missed Emil most of all; he would surely have understood me and would have known what I should do. And if he didn’t know, he wouldn’t be ashamed to ask someone and then run back with the answer, like he always did. Now I had to sort it out myself, and I was afraid to call the spirits the way Emil and I had done, so I went out to the shed where the old rusty shower nozzles with their tangled hoses were kept along with broken telephones, or just their receivers. I decided to use them to attempt to contact my father to see whether he really was in the sky or inside me, and although I knew this wasn’t the way one called to a spirit, it’s like I wanted to act out pretend courage for myself, like I was doing something that only fearless people would dare to do. As I pulled the box from the top shelf, countless small screws and a crumpled, dried up tube of glue rattled to the floor. I knew that it was my carelessness that had knocked over the small glass jar they spilled from, but still my hand shook as I held the boxy red telephone receiver that had turned dark from storage and dust.

“Vasil…Vasil…” I whispered into it, calling my father by his name for the first time.

“Vase, are you listening to me?” I said, using the nickname my mother called him. I took out the old handheld shower nozzle which looked like a telephone receiver and I repeated the same thing, but all there was on the other side was silence.

After a short time, my mother stopped making lentils with sausages every Monday, the coat behind the door and the box of cigarettes which stood on the small table seemed to have disappeared and only then did I feel that father had truly died.

Translated by Christina E. Kramer

Dinko Kreho

Dinko Kreho

Dinko Kreho writes short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and literary criticism. He was born in Sarajevo in 1986. After attending primary and secondary education in Bihać, Zagreb, Pariz and Rennes, he graduated in comparative literature and South Slavic literatures at the University of Sarajevo. He lives in Zagreb.

Kreho was a regular contributor to the project AKT (Alternate Literary Interpretations), a member of the editorial board of the bi-monthly for culture and current affairs Zarez, as well as the host of the program Od riječi do riječi (Verbatim) in Booksa Literary Club in Zagreb. He nowadays contributes to the weekly Novosti, as well as to the web magazines booksa.hr and proletter.me; he also translates (mainly from French into Croatian) and practices theatre as a member of the Zagreb-based theatre collective Center for the Theatre of the Oppressed (POKAZ).

He has published the poetry collections Ravno sa pokretne trake (Straight off the Conveyor Belt,2006), Zapažanja o anđelima (Observations on Angels, 2009)and Simptomi (Symptoms, 2019), the feature-length audio drama Bezdrov: A Whistle in the Night (co-authored with Dario Bevanda, 2013), and the non-fiction collection Bio sam mladi pisac (I Was an Emerging Writer, 2019).

Kreho’s poems, short stories and essays have been translated into several languages. For his work he has been awarded a number of literary prizes and awards, in Croatia as well as in the other ex-Yugoslav countries.

            A TREATMENT FOR SCHMIDT

“That’s him, no doubt about it”, said Sonja as soon as she had made her way to Deacon and me. Although it was only late spring, judging by the atmosphere on Slovenska Beach you would have thought it was peak season. We were inhaling the aroma of oils, creams and lotions, and even in the shade, where we were waiting for Sonja, my T-shirt was sticking all the way down my back.

“Ta-da-dam!” Deacon handed us his mobile. When hanging out with people he spends more time googling what is being discussed than participating in the discussion, and every once in a while, when this annoying habit of his turns out to be really useful, he can’t help but gloat. Sonja and I hunched over the screen:

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE

THE FLIPSIDE OF BIOPOWER IN THE ERA OF NEW POLARISATIONS

BUDVA, 22-24/5/20xx

The accompanying text mentioned migration, combating terrorism, the new mechanisms of control, Internet mastodons, and ‘the gorgeous view to the historic heart of the city’ from the premises of the refurbished Sutjeska cinema.

“Academic tourism?” I asked.

“And not just any academic tourism”,  replied Deacon. “Check out the organisers, each one better than the next. And he’s their biggest star! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was staying in one of these turbo hotels with a jacuzzi, a waterbed and a bonus Ukrainian girl every night.”

“This is begging for sabotage”, I said. “If anything, we should piss in his sandals.”

“Or read out loud excerpts from that text during his speech… What do you reckon, Red Sonja?”

            We looked at Sonja and fell into silence. As her eyes were travelling from Deacon to me and back, they were speaking louder than words: we knew what was on her mind.

“Guys”, she said softly but resolutely “I think the opportunity has finally presented itself.”

            II

            Sonja put it well: the opportunity did present itself. If, having spent twenty-odd days on an estate near Berane ambitiously dubbed The Anarchy Ranch by its managers, we finally had not decided to drive down to the sea in Deacon’s rickety van, or if we had done it a day later or a day earlier, we would not have run into Schmidt. And if two years before we had not got involved in a project that at first seemed like a bad joke, and if, under the burden of proof, we gradually had not started believing in it, we would not have enjoyed the tactical advantage we had now. The whole thing was too bizarre to occur to Deacon or to me just like that; no wonder it was Sonja, a.k.a. Sonjdokan[1] a.k.a. Red Sonja, who thought of it first.           

The guy we called Schmidt among ourselves was a philosopher of European calibre. By way of various university gigs, engagements, appearances and combinations, he had been popping up at universities from Ankara to Vienna to Moscow for decades – charming, eloquent and provocative, forever debating with the times. Except in the nineties. Even then he was charming and eloquent, but quite in the spirit of the times: as a young and promising thinker, he was developing a theory of war as a socially desirable event, through which the ‘dispossessed’ national culture would once again be its own master. He was close enough to the ideologists of the time, and even to the masters of war themselves, to live a comfortable life – and yet he remained distant enough to safely get the hell out of there when he estimated that the time had come. As a fellow countryman who has built himself a nice CV at universities all over the planet, in the past few years he had been a welcome guest in this part of the world, where he had also enjoyed the favours of some left-wing circles. His former work and friendships were simply not discussed.

            Schmidt was not the worst of his kind – far from it. However, it just so happened that my friends and I – with my eleven years of studying philosophy at university, which I am not proud of – always liked messing with him. He was popping up in all the places that were supposed to be safe from people like him; many of those whose opinions I valued respected, sought out and promoted him. Some of us would occasionally campaign, both on social media and in public debates, and Svebor was once involved in a physical incident at a forum in Ljubljana, and then ‒ nothing. Schmidt enjoyed an immunity that could not be justified even by his undoubtedly extraordinary charisma.

            Yet, it was here that the opportunity presented itself, and Sonja was the first to recognise it and name it. Now that Schmidt had yet again emerged in our lives for no reason whatsoever, we had mastered a potential response for his kind. Now we had The Treatment.

            III

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!” called Sonja in a cracked voice. I rose just enough to be able to see the numbers on Deacon’s phone in the pitch-black darkness of the van: 03:59.        

“He’s here”, said Sonja. “Schmidt. Down there, at the seafront.”

“How…”

“I was on my way back from the loo, and there he was! He’s gone down the path, the sand one. He’s alone. I even think he looked at me, the creep… let’s go!”

“Here’s our chance!” I perked up. “We just need to wake him up.”

Deacon, who was always grumpy when he woke up, just snorted.

The circumstances were indeed working in our favour. In fact, our original plan was to stay at my great-aunt’s in Petrovac, but I kept putting off calling her for weeks, and then it turned out that she had gone to Belgrade and rented the flat out to some tourists. So we eventually decided to sleep in the van. This meant that we had the freedom to build our action plan without witnesses. In the afternoon and evening, while two of us were preparing The Treatment, the third was spying on Schmidt: while he was delighting his motley crew of friends on Slovenska Beach, while he was being treated to the octopus in a Dutch oven at Jurić’s, while he was tasting homemade wine on the terrace of the Majestic (Deacon was right, they were not being stingy with Schmidt). Without a consensus on how to grab hold of him, we finally bought some wine and sandwiches, drove to the edge of a grove four or five kilometres outside town and decided to spend the night there (of course, after we had put false number plates on the van). However, it turned out that Schmidt did not sleep after all the action – and that he had chosen our location as a destination for his nocturnal outing.

It was a strange scene: if my head had not been pulsating after Sonja suddenly woke me up, I would have thought I was still asleep. Slowly, almost sleepily, Schmidt was swaying in one place, staring at the open sea stretching into the distance, the moonlight flickering on his silvery beard. We approached slowly: Sonja was holding needles close to her leg, I was holding wireless cathodes, and Deacon was waiting with the central unit in the van. Suddenly, Schmidt turned towards us.

“Well, well!”, he laughed, and we shivered. “Comrades, suspend the hostilities, I surrender!”  He put his hands up. He kept laughing even after we lunged at him.

IV

Comrades from the Austrian underground who taught us the basics of the procedure called it the denazification of the mind. From the very start we thought it was too pompous, obscurantist even, so we spontaneously dubbed it – The Treatment. Whatever evil tongues might say, this is not brainwashing and certainly not torture: The Treatment just enables and by no means forces new ways to experience reality and the self. However, after the subject of The Treatment gets a chance to experience with their own body and mind the repercussions of their own words and actions on other living beings, they simply do not want, of their own free will, to go back to their old ways. This is about sharpening one’s reflection and widening empathy, a one-of-a-kind guided extrospection: The Treatment does not kill emotions and thoughts but opens a pathway to the thousands of other hearts and minds.Although partly based on, let’s say esoteric knowledge, the theoretical basis of the process is materialistic, far from any kind of black magic. Sonja and Tanja simply call it expanded psychology.

After two years of group sessions, brainstorming and testing – none of which, of course, was supposed to leave a digital trace – it was at the Anarchy Ranch that we came up with the final structure and key features of the Treatment, adapted to our climate. But the most difficult part still remained: to determine what it would look like and how it would work when it was tried on a suitable subject. In retrospect, the way Schmidt served himself on a plate obviously stank, but the opportunity was just too good for us to dare think about that.

V

We were prepared for all kinds of outcomes and plot twists, but we did not expect that after such a frenetic and almost sleepless night in the van all four of us would be so full of energy. It is possible that Deacon, Sonja and I were simply high on serotonin having expeditiously planned and successfully carried out The Treatment; as for Schmidt, it could have been a side-effect or a result of The Treatment. In any case, that sunny May morning on the terrace of the Garden, he was glowing like a man reborn. When it was time to pay the bill, Schmidt mimed to us to stay clear.

“It’s the least I can do for you”, he said, handing out quite a substantial tip too.

“Schmidt!” Deacon giggled. “We’ll have to think of a tamer nickname. You’ve been Schmidt to us for such a long time that I sometimes forget your real name!”

“O tempora, o mores!” Schmidt exclaimed, puffing out his chest theatrically.

Hola, profesor!”,  someone shouted over the hubbub. We all turned: a beautiful dark-skinned woman in a navy-blue dress, our age or even younger, was navigating between the sun umbrellas and tables.

I thought I was the only one late, but look, so is our keynote speaker!”she laughed.

Schmidt was about to reply, but before he could do it, we heard another voice behind us:

Perhaps I was waiting for you!”

We nearly fell off our chairs. The voice was definitely Schmidt’s. A fraction of a second later, Schmidt actually appeared in our line of vision: unlike the one sitting with us, his hair was neatly combed and his shirt was ironed. He and the woman met next to our table, hugged and kissed each other cordially.

I just hope they heat up the coffee properly this time”, he said, to which she burst out laughing.

Bewildered, we started miming to ‘our’ Schmidt. He opened his mouth a few times like a fish on dry land.

“Oh no…”, he finally uttered weakly. “They’ve activated the backup…”

He did not seem any less gobsmacked than we were. The second (or was it the first?) Schmidt and his colleague headed towards the exit.

As they were leaving, he threw a quick glance back. But it was long enough for us to make no mistake: he was laughing at us.

*

i always think i’ll meet you

at your funeral. there is no hope there, just

a habit on a stupid loop, the kind of habit

i expect will push you among us.

i forget that solidarity among the dead

is unfaltering, that their communism works.

there is no hope there. but nothing can stop me

from thinking mid-rite that at any given moment

you’ll pop up among us like the moon

and nonchalantly look at your reflection in my ever bigger

calf-like eyes.

AVATARS

to let you slide down the street, a tarmac one, a virtual one,

any one. as a branch of an algorithm that spills out into infinity,

a branch that leads nowhere. to release one’s avatars

to hover with rain, to dissolve in autumn. To imagine that

you’re mapping out the anxiety, mapping out a poem, mapping out a city.

to actually just mess about, to devotedly wear out the soles

until you wear yourself out. until you’re left with as much

as you can bring forth to your friends

when you dawn in their lives, to ferment a little

in their day.

NORTH MACEDONIA

night – flawlessly restored – you cannot prove

it’s not the original – i sabotage

myself – wherever i want to squat – somebody else’s

marks – prearranged landmarks – in the night

of the language – in the language

of the night – done deal – as fixed as

the north as

north macedonia


[1] Sonjdokan – reference to Sandokan, the “Tiger of Malaysia”,  a fictional late 19th-century pirate created by an Italian author Emilio Salgari and portrayed by an Indian film actor, Kabir Bedi, in a TV series based on Salgari’s books which were immensly popular throughout the 1970s in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia.

Maja Solar

Maja Solar

Maja Solar was born on February 6, 1980 in Zagreb. She holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy from the Faculty of Philosophy of Novi Sad. Her research work revolves around the political theory. Maja is translating from French and English, as well as writing both poetry and prose. She is a member of the „Gerusia“ collective, left-oriented organization, and one of the editors of the journal for theoretical practices „Stvar“. Since 2015, she has been working as a translator for the Serbian edition of „Le Monde Diplomatique“.

Her first poetry collection, Makulalalalatura, was published in 2008, as it was awarded by Cultural Center of the City of Kragujevac in their contest for first time publishers. This manuscript also won Branko’s Award, the first prize in the category of poets under 30, award of the „Đuro Papharhaji“ poetry festival, and it was a runner-up for the Vital’s award. Maja’s second poetry book, written in Hungarian – Jellemzõ, hogy nem természetes (Of course it’s not natural) – was published by Forum in 2015. The third poetry book – Bez začina (Without Spices) – was published in the edition of the Cultural Center of Novi Sad (2017). Her poetry was publlished in anthologies and poetry collections: Nešto je u igri: Zbornik nove Novosadske poezije (Centar za novu književnost Neolit i Kulturni centar Novog Sada, 2008), Iz muzeja šumova, antologija novije srpske poezije (1988-2008) (V.B.Z., Zagreb, 2009), Ulaznica Srbija: Panorama pesništva 21. veka (Drava, Klagenfurt, 2011), VAN, TU: FREE, Izbor iz nove srpske poezije (Cetinje, 2012), RESTART, panorama nove poezije u Srbiji (Dom kulture Studentski grad, Beograd 2014), Antologija nove srpske lirike „Serce i krew“ (Lublin, Poljska, 2015) and Cat Painters: An Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry (Diálogos, New Orleans, 2016).

From 2007 to 2014, she was one of the editors of „Polja“, a literary magazine. She was also a member of the Centre for modern literature „Neolit“, a member of poetic-political theater „Poetske rupe“, an author and participant in the women’s poetic performance group „LILITiranje“, and a participant in a few performance and poetry videoworks. Since 2019, together with Žak Lučić, she has been hosting the poetry podcast „Full Mouth of Poetry“. She currently lives in Novi Sad.

real-socialist photograph

my first photograph

was one of mum and dad

on the moon

mum looking at dad lovingly, dad eyeing me warily

(ever fretful about whether something or other would succeed)

in the background a giant new year tree

shielding them from asteroid shards

flying in a moonish dimension

dad was wearing a plaid shirt the kind I guess

every yugoslav man must’ve had

back then. it could be seen on the DIY pages

for men in the burda magazine

mum was wearing a tracksuit made out of material

which absorbed the strains of endless giving. mum… cut from the cloth

of house-work and emotional labour, in slippers which weren’t à pompons

dad paranoid, mum head over heels

dad afraid that all beauty would perish

mum unafraid, unstoppable, laying tracks to beauty

I was seven and I still hadn’t

developed the ritual of imagining sinking in an earthquake.

it’s a rather useful ritual

whereby one imagines a sudden earthquake so

vividly one can feel the room move

see the shelves, books, walls fall, ceilings crash,

the shell of the tower block cave in. the ritual develops subconsciously.

either you’ve got it or you don’t.

it’s a useful ritual, an earthquake can’t catch you by surprise

at seven I still hadn’t discovered that talent, but now

I know the excitement I felt in the brief

time-space of a click

was tantamount to an amorous socialist earthquake

in which I sunk, elated,

into a moon crater

(Translated by Mirza Purić)

wednesday children

death grew from inside a mulberry tree

broke through the bark

onto the bicycle path

then entered my breakfast

and headaches which you, small elephant,  

cope with using your trunk really well

you spiced up your arms around my waist

you made wednesday giggle

but i now saw her, death

because i was running

death came even earlier

when the oregano stopped breathing

and you continued to whisper that I am your little bird

that i am all the birds in all the world the taxonomies

especially the swallows

as you kissed me

as though I were candied fruit

through the kiosks of laughter

death swayed into a hair color dyeing brush

parceling out hair so the greys could be covered

you—the part behind me, which I cannot see,

me the part reflected in the window

but not even there did i see death

because i was running

so it sprouted from your

radiant face

when you had the scent of a small child

when we were we

maybe that is why our two bodies have become too much

death boiled over

in a dream in which you were eaten by a crocodile

she hugged you with all her might

reminding us of a popular series from our childhood

when you wash dishes death made winter mornings glow

and heat up fingers with soap suds

you sit by the tv screen

knock on the wall

as an i love you reminder

aromatic death

in your always half-open mouth

with your high gums

while we dance our happy dance in half-darkness

you, who will not be upset by any natural disasters

you, because of whom i always dive into a fainting love spell

and desires

death has leaked out from dark knots

long jumped

but i did not see

because i ran persistently

because i looked at you continually

where she is not

where the sea is

and continued to run

as if it were wednesday each day

towards love

Translated by Biljana D. Obradović

THE ECONOMY OF CLASS SUFFERING. OR HOW IT PISSES ME OFF WHEN A CAPITALIST IS SAID TO SUFFER, TOO.

v.šš. doesn’t buy any more fruit

meat is a luxury found on the table every three,

or even four days,

the meat of the poorest quality.

she and her eight translucent sisters wither doing the dishes.

making the inventive new meals out of leftovers of cheap aliments and

reaped traumas of the day

e.klj. ran out of costly shampoo

that mildly dyes her hair and makes it lush

she suffers because she got used to this special shampoo

and her special luxury anti-wrinkle creams

with indispensable spf factor 66 of course

e.klj. has a lean sister and pyramidal

brother, thank god they are all rich

đ.đđ. shares his room with another four and a half. he doesn’t have peace quiet a chair a table or a book, just stacked bunk beds and piles of butts in the glasses. their father sometimes sleeps in the room, drunken, emitting vapors of garlic and brandy, thrown out of bed by mom.

when his eldest brother feels hot he opens the window. no matter whether others are cold. every day the residents of this residential unit play emotional ping-pong until petrified by weariness, usually during the sixth stanza of the comic operetta

đ.đđ. might not get enough money for his studies because, you see, ideology claims he is not exceptional

j.kpr. wakes up when he wants, studies when and how much he wants.

it is tough because he is thirty-two and lives at his parents’ place.

it is simply not the time yet for him to leave. it is hard to live on one’s own work on one’s own study on one’s own manage one’s own food. otherwise, mom does the cooking. the most colourful meals in the whole world.

he has no siblings, he stares at the gigantic dough of music and smokes weed to roll out of his misery

r.str. has never ever been to the seaside. she can’t swim, apart from stroking her arms in a plastic basin that her homeless parents once bought at the marketplace. r.str. has porcelain skin so she might be better off without going to the seaside and exposing herself to the sun, she hasn’t got the money for a high spf factor cream anyway. r.str. suffers for she has never had a boyfriend nor sex nor a real kiss with a tongue, if you don’t count the smooch in year five of primary school at a birthday party

in a round of ‘Spin the bottle’

kss.s. suffers for she has to repay a student loan.

that is hard and she will have to renounce her stormy shopping sessions in zara. will have to reduce shopping to once per week, and if she rationalises well, that could come up to twice per week. luckily enough her family rents two flats in a two-hundred-and-plus-square-metre home so she will manage somehow.

kss.s. has congruent tits and drinks kukicha and bancha tea.

kč.žlj. has just lost a mortgaged flat in which a washing machine used to rumble a couple of times a day. in which heavy curtains were washed together with heavy memories. for kč.žlj. is his underage siblings’ guardian, they are eleven together with six dogs. where will the brothers and sisters go now, where will kč.žlj. go, how will he do the laundry and simmer nettle with eggs… kč.žlj. drinks ‘jelen’ beer from a 2l plastic bottle.

s.sjj. calls herself a leftist activist.

she listens to electronica and dresses accordingly. she writes project proposals and owns a flat on the sixty-seventh floor,

with a view of the synagogue. she always complains to have no money.

but she has huge problems. mental ones.

she is cheating on her boyfriend and he is cheating on her, for polygamy is an essential ingredient in the soup of hiding everything from everyone where everybody thinks they are emotionally liberated

because they live in couples and keep secret of whom they fuck aside.

s.sjj. visits an army of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychodrama sessions, workshops, and whatnot,

attending to complicated pathologies of those

who can afford the services.

hlj.čnj. knows that psychology is not the cause of suffering, the society is. he got a job in the syndicate, even though the syndicates are the cumbersome tentacles of the state apparatus, but hlj.čnj. doesn’t want to give in. he frequents all the meetings and demonstrations. he blows his whistle going at it hammer and tongs. he is an actor and acting cannot make him a living so he acts he is living.

pl.tl. is going noodles because he doesn’t know how he will manage to pay for the gas heating in his three-hundred-and-twenty-eight-square-metre villa. the heating is really costly because the gas has its geopolitical capitalist flows that are mysterious to the people and scrumptious for the companies.

pl.tl. is very concerned about the huge number on the bill, which made a wrinkle on his forehead.

krr.crr. works overtime, unpaid, sometimes during weekends as well, in a small shop in liman. her hair has grown thinner at the age of twenty-seven, she never complains about unpaid hours, because she is happy to have a job at all.

she is mostly angry and rude, even though her employer is convinced that the turnover would be much bigger if she were to invest in herself more, if she were to smile more, communicate more. and if she were to take care of that… that… that hair, for who has ever seen a woman going bald!

drm.šs. is an attorney and she works like a yoked mare all day long, there is always more work in the office, sometimes she takes a workload with her, she goes home to have dinner and an evening tv session, an evening sex with her husband. her work is always there with her and she is proud to be so industrious. she hasn’t got children yet, she will once they have made more money and have sold the forty-six-square-metre flat, when they have bought a house as twice as big, where they will dine their workloads again. one should make some space for work. dmr.šs. welcomes new labour law reform and the extension of the retirement age, she spits on all the slackers in the world. she and her husband spend the summer holidays in corsica, sometimes sardinia, the winter holidays in hysteria. drm.šs. is mostly content, if she is not she meditates and tells herself the affirmations of louise hay. she sometimes plans a date with her husband because the handbooks advise refreshing your relationships,

relationships need to be spiced up

gf.mnd. lives in a roma settlement and has never finished primary school. because he had to work in the morning and in the afternoon he would either fall asleep in class or at home. he did the military service while it was still compulsory and he mostly holds some nice memories. apart from those couple of days then the army police found his and cile’s heroin and syringes for which they kicked them for a few long temporal paces and transferred them into the mountain. he did not mind, he got used to cold cramped spaces without wc. he does not know what spices are.

ht.wwv. suffers because she could not afford the blueberries this morning, one should eat blueberries every day because they are rich with antioxidants. luckily enough, she still has some wild oregano essential oil and a collagen anti-age lux facial mask so she can peacefully watch dr. oz’s advice on a low-calorie tv screen transmitting her torment

Translated by Ivana Anđelković

soterology

this morning from five thirty

I wouldn’t have woken up were I not redeemed

by green tea

once I tried to save a swine

from the butcher

I went up to the man and woman

and explained to them  I am a vegan

explained what that means

how much bad karma

they will accumulate because of the exchange of energy

I explained to them the process of entropy and negentropy

I wrote down Schrödinger’s equation for them

prayed for them

looked at their birth charts

saw moon knots in the eighth house

and again begged them not to do it

cried

screamed

the swine screeched

I sent a text to the police on my cell

but they didn’t come to save it

I plunged into despair

blood was splattered all over

I boiled

I fermented

I was bewildered

I peed in my pants from fear

I sweated in my red sweater

I spat out my molars which had fallen out

I was full of rage

full of fire

so took a knife

and pierced the SWINE

screamed

opened my mouth wide

gulped down the recently deadened meat 

!!!!!! saved saved saved saved saved !!!!!!

(without the help of Great God/ Almighty) 

 Translated by Biljana D. Obradović with the author

Petar Andonovski

Petar Andonovski

Petar Andonovski was born in 1987, in Kumanovo, North Macedonia. He studies general and comparative literature at the Faculty of Philology, at the University of Cyril and Methodius in Skopje. He has published the following books: Mental Space (poetry, 2008), Eyes the Color of Shoes (novel, 2013), The Body One Must Live In (novel 2015), Fear of Barbarians (novel, 2018).

In 2015 his novel The Body One Must Live In won the national award for Novel of the Year. Fear of Barbarians received the 2020 European Union Prize for Literature.

Infidelity

(an excerpt from a novel)

                                                                1.                                                                  

At the beginning of the summer, I was supposed to spend two weeks in the hospital. The last day of the first week, Vlado came and said I was going out earlier. When we got into his car, he took out from the glove compartment before me a white envelope. My name and his were written on it. I was still unable to move my right arm because of the injury. He opened it. He took out two plane tickets from the envelope and put them on my knees.

Had I not fallen off the terrace, what happened later would most probably never have happened. The night the accident happened, Vlado was throwing a party on the occasion of twenty years of his acting career. I was against that party from the very beginning. Vlado did not have a single important role in his career. He always got supporting, meaningless roles. Once he was offered a role in a film. Out of the two hours that the film lasted, he appeared in whole ten seconds. He gathered then all of his friends to celebrate. Vlado loves parties. He uses every occasion to be among people. He enjoys their attention. That’s why he is an actor, most likely. I spent my whole life in the library. First in the reading room, then as a librarian. Reading and writing pieces of criticism was all that gave me pleasure. I was like a shadow to Vlado. I accompanied him everywhere, but no one noticed me. That’s what it was like that night as well. Apart from all of his colleagues and friends, he also invited at the party everyone from the music scene as well as political figures. Vlado loved to hang out with politicians. He is one of those people who are close to every governing structure. People from the opposition can frequently be seen at his parties. He considered that he should always be in good relations with them because when they come to power, you can become their minion more easily. Although I considered this hypocritical, I never told him that. I didn’t have much of an attitude about anything. Not even about the books that I was writing criticism on. I know Vlado considered this to be hypocritical, but never told me that.

That night, at the party, Ivan was present as well. Vlado and I hadn’t mentioned him for more than twenty years. When we saw him on TV, we’d immediately change the channel. Or when one of our friends mentioned him, Vlado would immediately change the subject.

I avoided him all night, as I have all these years. I greeted him and left, just as he left twenty years ago. Without explanation. I felt bitterness at his presence and anger that Vlado didn’t tell me that he was also invited.

I found a shelter in a dark corner of the terrace. The whole city was below me. I stood leaning on a willow whose branches fell over the lights of the city. Apart from a waiter who was passing by with a tray of drinks, no one else approached me. Not even Vlado. That night I was drinking alcohol for the first time after a long while. I wanted it to be over soon. I took from the tray whatever came to my hand. I drank fast until I felt nausea in my stomach. I turned to the fence and started throwing up. And then the darkness just swallowed me. I had a feeling that I was falling on the city. I felt a strong hit on my head. My right arm was tingling. I tried to move my body, but I couldn’t move. At one moment, I no longer felt anything.

I regained my consciousness in the hospital. Fortunately for me, there was another, larger terrace under the one I was standing on, which was from the lower hall. Vlado was standing next to me and looked at me with concern. Ivan was standing behind him. When I saw him, I closed my eyes. I had a feeling that I still wanted to throw up. I didn’t want him to see me in such a state. I wanted to say something, but I was afraid to open my mouth lest I throw up. And then I sank into darkness again.

Vlado wanted us to give ourselves another chance and go together on a trip. That trip was supposed to bring us closer, and therefore decided not to invite any friends with us, as he used to do every summer.

Then, in the beginning of the summer, a few days after I got out of the hospital, we set off on a trip. Him and I. Alone. On the island of C.

                                                                2.

Vlado wanted us to spend time alone as much as possible. We didn’t go to the small beach that belonged to the hotel in which we stayed. He considered it would be best to spend the time on a wild beach at the end of the city, far away from any human presence. Vlado rented a car so we wouldn’t have to walk every day. I had the feeling that he prepared this trip for months. He had planned each step we took. He knew what restaurants we should eat in, which beach we should go to, where we should rent a car from. That was unusual for him. All his summers so far were planned by his friends who went with us. He’d always have a pretext that he was very busy, that I’m not good at organizing, and that it would be best for others to plan our trip.

At the wild beach where we went, there were no people, so we didn’t have to use bathing suits. While our naked bodies were laying one next to the other, the only thing we felt was shame. We have been sleeping in separate beds for ten years now. Vlado always comes back too late. Often drunk. He loves to tell how many people came to take a picture of him, how many women and men hit on him. I pretended I was sleeping, but that didn’t stop him from talking. When he comes in, he turns the lights on throughout the whole apartment. When he enters the bedroom he always shouts loudly “goooood eeeeevening”, and then throws his shoes through the room. Often after he undresses, he lays on the bed naked and immediately falls asleep. And I get up to turn off the lights, and then can’t fall asleep for a long time. When I tell him the next morning that I don’t like that behaviour, he starts laughing and asks “did I do that”, “what did I say then”.

Until one evening I started sleeping in the guest room which I only used when Vlado’s parents were visiting us. I listened to him speaking all night, thinking that I was next to him. The following morning during breakfast he asked why I got up so early. He hadn’t even noticed that I was not sleeping by him. I continued sleeping in the guest room the following evenings. And he continued speaking as though I was next to him. He never asked why we no longer slept in the same bed.

When I lay down naked by him on the beach, I felt deep disturbance. How long our bodies have not been next to each other. I felt shame such as when you undress in front of someone for the first time, and you are supposed to spend the evening with him. I didn’t even think about passion, it simply did not belong to us any more. Unlike me, he was tranquil. He undressed calmly and lay down first. When he saw I was still standing, he looked at me in surprise and said “what are you waiting for, undress yourself and lay down”. After I lay down, I couldn’t endure it for long. With an excuse that I was uncomfortable in the sand, I wandered along the sea coast. I collected pebbles or went into the water and swam to a rock, then sat on it and didn’t go back for hours. When I returned, he looked at me confused as if he didn’t even notice I was gone.

I spent the first few days hoping that he’d get bored and he’d wish us to go to the beach by the hotel. We spent the days in the same way. In the morning, after we finished breakfast we went to the beach. He mostly solved crossword puzzles or took a nap. We spent the evenings in one of the taverns. First we had dinner, then we walked along the port until we wanted to go to sleep.

                                                                 3.

For the first ten days since arrived on C., our relationship not only failed to change, but even that little communication that used to have was lost in the past days. He, as I, most probably thought that this trip was a mistake.

The eleventh day after breakfast Vlado said that on that day we’d go on the beach near the hotel. He didn’t surprise me at all. He went alone in order to find place on the deck chairs, and I returned to the room to get the necessary things. I shortly hesitated before the pile of books that I brought with us, and which were not even touched, just as our relationship. Among them was Ivan’s new novel. I knew I wouldn’t read it in Vlado’s presence. I read his books at work. I usually did that during the break, when everyone went out, I locked myself and read. I never read them at home, not even when Vlado was on a business trip. The last drawers of the table I work at is where I keep his books. I never write pieces of criticism about them. You can’t be objective about a person who means a lot to you in life. I reluctantly took a book which was on top of the file and put it in the bag.

Vlado was standing by a bar, hugging two children, and a woman was taking a photo of them. He was smiling. He smiles only when you praise him. His hair was messy, his white shirt unbuttoned on his chest, and he had a pipe although he doesn’t smoke. When he tells of something important, or at least he thinks it’s important, as he mostly does, he puts the pipe in his mouth, half closes one eye and looks somewhere far away with the other. In this way, even when he says something meaningless, he leaves the impression on others that he is saying something profound. And when he wants to express a certain point, he opens the eye, and looks at everyone separately with eyes wide open, and after observing everyone, he comes to the point. Then everyone is nodding, and he contently says “and now, let’s have another glass of wine”.

When he saw me standing on the side, he let the children go and called me to join them. These are Nita India and Mila India, he pointed at the two girls who were twins. Nita India stretched her hand in order to greet me, and then quickly withdraw it, looking at her sister. Mila India was looking at me as though she didn’t notice me, and a few seconds later she also gave me her hand. She held me tight and wouldn’t let go. Although they were the same, there was something that made them different. I was looking at her curiously while everyone was looking at me. The mother pulled her toward herself, and then she let go of my hand. Vlado decided to put an end to the awkward situation and waving in the air the hand in which he was holding the pipe, he said “and this… and this…” and he took the mother’s hand and said “this is their beautiful mother Ilinka Indira”. Ilinka Indira smiled with false shyness and looked at him seductively. “She and her husband are from Macedonia, they have lived on the island for several years now.” – Vlado said. I was silent. I didn’t want any new acquaintances. Least of all did I want Macedonians on the island who would recognize Vlado and run after him all the time. “Look, look, doesn’t Ilinka Indira look like the widow of Zorba the Greek. Look how much she looks like Irene Papas.” Whenever he gave complements to women, that’s what he said. Indira Ilinka joined her hands and bowed to him.

She really did look like Irene Papas. She had natural dark tan, but there was something infinitely false in the salvar she was wearing, in the green eyes that I was certain were lenses, all the way to the chain bangle on the ankle of her right leg, which jangled every time she moved.

Indira Ilinka looked at the Sun and, surprised, shouted “Oooo… ten o’clock already. It’s time for me to go. But we’ll meet tonight as agreed in At three blue boats. Then she turned to me and with her hands joined together she bowed. Then she turned to Vlado and, while she was bowing, winked at him. Nita India waved at us, and Mila India was looking at us baffled, as if she sees us for the first time.

I was angry at Vlado all day long. I wanted to tell him so many things, but I didn’t have the courage to do so. I wanted to tell him that the greatest mistake was that, on the day he invited me to move to his place, when Ivan left our lives forever, I accepted and decided to stay there forever. As well as the day in the car when I should have told him I didn’t want to go with him on any trip.

The crowd and the music on the beach created additional anxiety in me. He lay all day on the deck chair. Occasionally he’d lift himself a bit and look around to see if anyone was watching him. He didn’t mention Indira Ilinka or the children at all.

                                                                    4.

Vlado got a job in the theatre several months after I moved to his place. At that time, I was working for a year at the University Library. In the beginning, I was providing for him. He was greatly troubled that he had to depend on me financially. He was always very proud, and therefore often reiterated that it was natural for the artists to be without money. After he started working, he never mentioned that. Even once when a journalist asked him how long we had lived together, he said that in the beginning of our relationship I hadn’t had a job and I had lived in a rented flat, so he had proposed that I moved in his place. “Nothing romantic,” he added in order to avoid additional questions. He knew I’d never tell it wasn’t like that.

He was never a favourite among the colleagues and directors. Ever since the first year he started working in the theatre, Vlado rarely gets parts, and when he does, it is usually a supporting role. He was always saying that they didn’t give him any significant roles because of vanity and jealousy. That’s how he passed the first ten years of his career. And then, one night there was a great change. In a TV show, a well-known journalist called the theatre where Vlado works to ask for his phone number. The journalist wanted to invite in the show another actor who is also a famous comedian, and who also happens to be called Vlado. When Vlado appeared in the show that evening, it was too late to correct the mistake. The journalist saw him for the first time in his life. In order to avoid the fact that he wasn’t prepared for the interview, he told him to imitate someone. Vlado felt this was an excellent opportunity to do something in his career. That night he imitated a politician who was considered to be untouchable. The show became very popular. The journalist suggested that he imitates a politician in every show. Then they started inviting him to the theatres in other towns. Even the politician himself mentioned in an interview that he was imitated so well that he couldn’t get angry. And then came the film in which he briefly appears, and Vlado used his popularity to attract the attention with those ten seconds. His popularity reached such a level that people were laughing even when he didn’t say anything funny.

Translated by: Kalina Maleska

Flogerta Krypi

Flogerta Krypi

Flogerta Krypi is born in a small village of Tirana, in 14 July 1993. She is the first born of a family with five kids. Her father is a police officer and her mother a dressmaker. When she was seven years old her family moved in Tirana, where she got educated. Her connection with literature started since she was a kid. She wrote her first poem eleven years old and never stopped writing, even though she has finished her studies in Finance Accounting.

She is the Executive Director of the NGO “I choose to change the world”, which has organized many literature projects. She found two book clubs, “New Pen”, who supports new writers in Albania and “The Republic of Books”, where she gives reviews for books she reads. She can speak fluently English, German, Spanish, Italian and some Turkish.

She started with publishing in a small publishing house a collection of poems “Waiting for you” which she wrote during nine years and after a year she published her first novel “The tracks of the nameless shadow”. The novel got positive reviews from the critics and was well accepted among readers. In a few months she published her second novel “A promise in the last kiss”, a romance. In 2015 she published the sequel of her first novel “A promise carved into the sky”.

After facing a lot of problems because of denouncing corruption she decided to move in Germany, when she currently living. For three years she never stopped writing and in the Book Fair 2018 after an agreement with Argeta Publishing House she published her new book with two short novels called “Everything around nothing”. Her work got awarded from the Association of Publishers in Albania, when she took the Encouragement Price for New Writers with the motivation “For her originality in the description of humanity”. Now she is working with her next book “Arthropods”, a book with three short novels; the spider, The Hospital 256, a post office for death.

In January 2020 she was chosen “Person of the year” for 2019 in Albania from Radio Travel for her project of donating books to primary and high schools. She has reconstructed eleven school libraries since 2015 with her personal funds. 

The Spider – PREFACE

When I decided to rent this house, the landlord explained to me that the contract included the room where I would live, the toilet, the balcony, my bedroom, and a spider. I listened in silence and made no comment. I am a financial officer. I know that when I am negotiating economic matters, as a client I should speak as little as possible and ask only about the risks that the agreement may involve. Each comment gives the other party an opportunity to have more arguments for selling their product. So, the fact that he specified the existence of the spider left me wondering whether I should ask for more. I had never heard of such an element, and just as I was about to question his importance in the contract we were to sign, he hastily added:

-You don’t have to worry about the spider. He comes tomorrow.  He stays only three months, from June to late August, because of the heat and then he leaves. He usually stays in the shower cabin or in the bathtub, so move him with style when you have to use any of the two.

I was about to if he was poisonous, but while I was considering his argument, I did not find the question necessary. All in all, he specified the duration, the reason, the cause, and the place of stay. He might be poisonous, but this does not mean that he would bite me. Every deal has its downsides, and if they come to happen – my bad luck.

-He is silent. With that, he ended the discussion on the spider and went straight to the question whether I would take the house because there were other people asking for it. I didn’t make it long. I said I liked the apartment; it was close to my work and the price was reasonable for the space and the conditions it provided. The agreement was concluded with a signature from both sides, a security payment in case of any incurred damage, and the handing out of the keys. I moved in the next day, the same day as the spider. It was the first of June and since that day my life changed radically. Such days are forewarned by the signs that existence itself gives you, but I have never been given to these things. They seemed excessive and sometimes as excuses that people used to feel good about their failed lives. 

The only thing that struck me was how I would spend my days with the spider. Generally, I am e loner. I have tried several types of cohabitation and none have worked so far. Perhaps due to the fact that I’m a woman full of dichotomies when it comes to sharing my world with others. I feel misunderstood, unread and above all unappreciated for what I represent. I don’t know if this is because I was born ugly, but to be honest I have always felt comfortable. What I mean is that women like me are naturally ugly, others are artificially beautiful, so at this point, inferiority to them doesn’t exist. I feel bad if I’m less intelligent than those around me, but the last thing that impresses me is my appearance. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t so curious about my new cohabitant, but I resented him without even meeting him. He will not be paying anything for sharing the apartment with me, although to be honest, living in a shower cabin is not that interesting.

The first day I didn’t even meet him. I just sorted out my stuff and went to bed. I love water, but I take a shower only once in forty-eight hours. I go to the bathroom once in the morning and once in the evening for my needs. Our first official meeting took place on the third day of my moving in. I saw him standing on the shower head by the bathtub. That day I did not intend to take a bath, so I did not speak to him at all and went straight to the shower. After I took a shower, I noticed that the spider was in the same place. I didn’t bother to say good night. I just turned off the bathroom light and laid down. I usually fell asleep with wet hair and woke up with a bunch of curls. This was one of few things I complained about. If I had a normal hair, I would probably be less ugly.

My life had taken a normal course. Probably because I was far from anyone I knew, and I knew no one would turn their head to see me. No one was going to talk to me, and I really liked that. That’s how I’ve always been. I even didn’t talk a lot to the two men I had lived with. Daily life comments about work and perhaps some planned trips for the weekend would usually suffice.

It’s not that I don’t like to talk, but I often think that my words are gone with the wind.  I have never met anyone who really wants to hear my thoughts from beginning to end. Perhaps because all my conversations revolve around books, death and loneliness. I am hopeless when it comes to other topics. I don’t even dare to talk to myself often because I don’t want others to think I’m crazy. No one would hire such a person.

When I took a second shower at my new home, I was forced to ask the spider to move because he was already in the cabin. I told him he could stay in the bathtub, I rarely used it really, so he wouldn’t bother me there. He remained silent. I don’t think he even took my warning seriously. The moment I stepped into the cabin and turned on the tap, he got scared and climbed through the glass to get out. He went to the bathtub, the same place as the first time. As the water poured on me, I saw that he was moving something with his feet. He was playing with a thin chain which was hung to the stopper used to drain the bathtub. I laughed to myself.

-Move, I said. Don’t worry about me. You don’t bother me.

He raised his antennas and moved his head once again. Then he started to play with the stopper again. I didn’t understand why.

When I went to sleep, I had a strange dream. It was as if the spider was sleeping next to me. He had wrapped his pillow in white powder and had fallen asleep. It didn’t look like a dream. It looked like some memory, from a life that didn’t belong to me, but I was in it.

When I woke up, I looked around, everything was in place, like the night before. I went to the bathroom and the spider was standing there. He had wrapped the black stopper around him and was sitting on it, as if he were sleeping. I brushed my teeth and let him rest. He laughed. Who knows what he was dreaming about! I could tell by the way he stood on the stopper. I noticed his ankle joints, antennae and his eyes. Unlike me I think he felt accepted, calm and appreciated in his dream. The serenity of peace gave such an impression. I left him alone. In our day and age, sleeping peacefully is a luxury that few people have.

-Everything fine?   – I asked him while I was getting ready to leave for work.

-I’m thinking, the spider replied coldly.

-About what?

-I was thinking about ugly women.

-Have you met any lately? – I said turning to him.

-Ugly women are everywhere and I’m not just talking about their appearance. No. They are ugly in every way, in the way they look, the way they dress. They are beings without a portrait. Their souls are filled with jealousy, wickedness, and ignorance. They are empty. You can see in their eyes the absence of a heart, or blood flowing in their veins. Women who produce hatred. You can feel it in the air around them. Everything is vague, scary. You don’t feel like touching them. It is as if you’re getting in touch with cancer itself. They don’t know how to do anything. They don’t know how to work. They have no sense of humor, they laugh for no reason, going after other people just to not feel alone.

The spider stopped talking and looked at her cohabitant. F.K. turned to him as if wanting to continue the interrupted dialogue.

-You are right. They have no personality, or joy in their souls. They would sleep with any man, no matter if he was fat, ugly, criminal, because they are aware that a man with reason would not dare to touch them. They would do anything to feel desired. Women who have no self-respect. No. They would ruin families, because for them this word does not make sense. If any of them has children, you could see how much they hate them. They blame them for the cruelty of their lives. Is it because they were born that everything went to hell? But there are moments when they repent. These are rare moments and that is because they fear they will be alone forever.

The spider listened silently and added.

-You are right. They are everywhere. Sometimes they are in front of you. If you ever meet such a woman, get out of there. There is nothing more horrible than being with a woman that no one wants.

F.K smiled. She finished dressing up and left without saying goodbye to the spider. His words remained in her mind throughout the day. She worked very little that day because she was looking around to see if she would find such a woman or a man. Of course, the other side is not be excluded. But the ugly men were even worse. Because a woman would put a little make up and look decent, an ugly man would be just that. Insecurity, lack of self-confidence appeared in every inch of their being and this made their reality even more disgusting. So, there are ugly people in this world. They are everywhere, sometimes you can be one of them.

A mailbox for death – PREFACE

Ever since F.K. came to life and became aware of her existence, her father informed her that she should not rejoice too much in the idea of breathing. There was nothing beautiful or interesting in this whole process, for one simple reason. She would die. No one knew when or how, but it was certain that death would come to take her to its bosom. There was no need to be sad, because it was a tax imposed the moment one is conceived in this world. Such a fate was billed to every living thing in this world, including F.K.

Such words would frighten any child or at least cause them anxiety about the future, but it did not bring any change in her life. She behaved as if death would never come to her or to the people around her. To some extent she considered it a lie told loudly by adults, to scare children before they go to sleep. Of course, this was not a normal behavior for a parent. What kind of father is he whose first conversation with his daughter is about death?

F.K would surely answer “one of the types of fathers to be found in the universe”. Taking her word for granted, so as not to create any prejudice about the man who brought her to life, we can say that F.K’s father was a man who lived every day as if it were his last and did not worry about anything. He led a completely illogical life, accompanied by a pronounced dose of irony about people who were very concerned about work, paying taxes, or the importance of raising a child.

Their whole life together went awful, but apart from the neighbors’ calling the police every time he broke anything, no one else bothered. They wouldn’t actually bother were it not for the sake of the little girl. They came to Utai when F.K was only four years old. The running away of his wife did not impress anyone. And who wouldn’t want to run away from such a man?

The father and daughter life went on at the same pace until one day the least expected happened. Death came to her father and took him away, while F.K was left alone, in a half-ruined house, where every drop of rain got in as if there was no roof. That day something changed inside her. Death took a form, a portrait, a dark reflection, for which she could not find an explanation. She was fourteen years old. Her mother abandoned her at birth. Nobody liked her. No child her age in the neighborhood approached her. At school she had very poor results and as a result, she led her whole life with a man who thought that every day was his last day, but it is not that he would go out to seek death. He stayed at home waiting for it. He did some small work here and there, enough to have something to drink and nothing else. No one cooked in their house. They did not know what it meant to have an organized life, and worst of all they did not bathe because they had been cut off from water supply for a long time.

F.K grew up alone, at the mercy of the people around her, who spared a slice of bread and a plate of food for her. At times, she would express her gratitude by helping them with something they needed, but it’s not that this thing brought them any positive feelings. It was just some kind of tax one had to pay. She hated school, not because she had any specific assignments or readings. She just couldn’t stand her teachers. Most seemed unprepared and she always ridiculed them. For this, she would get poor results, but while her father didn’t care, why should she? She was a child brought to life with no specific purpose. She breathed until the day death came to take her. This was enough for her and she never asked for more. What happened between the breathing and its end was an insignificant process that sooner or later would be given a name by everyone. Some called it life, others called it opportunities to discover yourself and as for F.K it was just a big spider web which would be torn at some point.

Ward 256 – PREFACE

The universe is a web of energy scattered in infinite directions without any purpose of existence in itself. From every spot thousands of threads surge looking for power to fill the void. Their infinity creates tangles, and the tangle gave birth to the only species that can survive in this quagmire, the arthropods. Species divided into two simple categories, predator and prey. At least that’s how it’s always been. But what if the prey decides not to be part of the web anymore? Will the system be able to keep only predators in it? What if the predator is also a prey? What if the pray is also a predator?

This is a simple story of arthropods looking to discover their identity. To understand this occurrence, you only need the following information. Don’t feel bad about anything you read. The curse is mutual, so it is not right for me and others like me to be the only ones to know this information. I apologize in advance for the dissolution of this web. It is not in my mental capacity to control this information. Perhaps it won’t be in your capacity either. So long!

General information

Planet: Arthropods

Location: Country of Truth

Year: 2026

Population: 250.006 inhabitants

Composition of the parliament: Twenty-seven Geniusships

Parliamentary elections: Every four years

Head of State: His Godship

Participation in the last elections: 250.005 inhabitants

Age at birth: Four years old

Right to vote: From birth

The most serious crime: Suicide

State Hospital: Insignificant remnants after The Great War

Border line: Iron curtain

Neighborhood: The insignificant

Division of population strata:

1. His Godship                                 

2. Geniusship                                                         7. Murderers of Faith

3. Bankship                                                             6. Dependence of Thought

4. The Janitor                                               5. The Uncountable

5. The Head Nurse                                              4. The Unnamed      

6. The Director                                             3. The Sensed

7. The Guard                                                 2. The Historians    

8. The Blessed People                                        1. Ward 256  

HOSPITAL DIRECTOR

It was the first day of autumn when an unusual notice came to my office, which terrified us all. It was shorter than all the other notices, but I believe it was due to its compromising nature. For the first time since the opening of the “Hospital of the Insignificant”, in “Ward 256” there had been no patients. I was shocked when I read it. I don’t know what terrified me more. The fact that in our country there were still crazy people of this category or that we would have to deal with such a dangerous man.

What scared me the most in the letter sent was the lack of information about the patient. It read briefly:

The citizen named “Patient 256” to be sent to “Ward 256″‘. It is important that the transfer of this individual is made only by the most trusted people of the hospital director. She will be fed three times a day, will drink water five times a day and can only go to toilet twice. She is not to be brought out in the afternoon to mix with others. She is more different than the different”.

I reread the letter, but my fears grew even more. All the while I was thinking that the patient, we were waiting for was a man. All those belonging to this category were men. When I read the notice, I was frightened even more by the idea that for the first time this ward would open for a woman.  Not that other wards were not previously opened for women, but usually they ended up in other wards associated with their role in society.

I stopped thinking. I wasn’t paid to think. I was paid to carry out the orders from above. I called the head nurse, the guard and the janitor of Ward 256, who is the hospital’s first employee. I briefly informed them that for the first time after The Great War, a patient would come to our hospital in the forbidden ward. For a moment none of them made any specific reaction although I felt some kind of liquid desire to know more. After I gave them proper instructions, I was asked to keep this between us because our country had entrusted us with a madman of this nature, unlike everyone else, and we had to study this as a good opportunity to find answers. They left without asking questions, waiting for the day of her arrival.

****

From the day the notice came I knew it would be a nuisance for us. I just didn’t understand at the time what they meant by “she is different from the different”. Different patients had different diagnoses, but I could not imagine why our country had sent her to this ward. I gave up the questions. I did not deal with this issue at all and waited for her to come and find out what was wrong with her.

THE HEAD NURSE

When the director of the hospital gave us the news that the first patient was coming to my favorite ward that day since after The Great War, I felt good. We all know this is a special sector in our hospital, but no one knows why. It is assumed that “different” patients will be hospitalized here, but I do not know what could be different from what I had seen. The hospital is divided into seven main wards according to their importance.

The first ward is the “Murderers of Faith. These are all patients who have lost faith in our country. Losing faith in its power and claiming that there is something greater than us on this earth is the most pathetic thing one can ever think, let alone say it out loud. This is the “Country of Truth” which lifted the iron curtain. It protects us from the war and the horrible life that others have outside our borders. It protects us from all evil. It follows that those who have lost faith in our country do not believe in themselves. People who do not believe that their power is directly related to that of their country are weak people. The link that needs to be eliminated from society in order not to infect others with their empty and meaningless thoughts. This is the most populated ward, to be honest. Despite the perfect genes of our nation, after the war some of the women and men of other countries had stayed here leaving us their genetically flawed cells. Unfortunately, these genes ended up in the fertilization plant and these are the results.

The second ward is called “Dependence of Thought“. This ward is about as populated as the previous one, but here are all those patients who are genetically flawed. They depend on their thoughts and believe that thanks to these thoughts we can build a more perfect world. They even consider themselves more intelligent than the rest of the country and often claim that if anyone had listened to them, this hospital would no longer exist.

The third ward where I started my career hosts “The Unnamed“. They don’t have a specific character. Although the number of patients in this ward is relatively small, it is very difficult to cope with them. They have a problem that I still don’t know how to solve. They see things that the rest of us can’t see. So they say, because of course we know there is no such thing. They believe that there is a series of sounds that intertwine with one another and create divine music. And these are very close to us. This is their madness. Of course, I know that the only music that exists is what we hear every day when we sing the anthem of our country.

The fourth ward hosts the “The Uncountable”.The patients in this ward are even crazier. They believe that in this world numbers have a function and there are more numbers than the number one thousand. We all know that this is the last number on earth, but they fight like crazy to prove they’re right. They claim that we do not know how to count, that is why we do not understand them. The words they repeat the most are:

There are 999 units in our country with 250 inhabitants each, and the last unit with 256 inhabitants. This means that there are numbers greater than one thousand, and of course the last unit is the most special because it has six more inhabitants. These are us. Don’t you understand?” They even say with conviction that there is a science in the world called “mathematics” and that it is the most perfect thing in the world, even more perfect than us. Meaningless logic. I deal very little with these. They are very aggressive and we don’t take them out.

In the fifth ward there are only five patients.  Very soon only four will remain because one of them is very old. They are called the “The Sensed.” The unit of measurement of their existence is feeling. They have different feelings from us. We can feel mostly cold, fear, anxiety, irritability and nervousness, but other feelings are also part of our program. According to them, there are other feelings in the world. Things like love, friendship, respect and gratitude. We used to laugh because these feelings do not exist and do not make sense according to the logic of any of us. They get food on iron plates. One day they will say that even iron has feelings. They are mad. They also have another uncontrollable genetic problem. They can dream. They said that when they talk, they often see visions with open eyes. They see dreams. They even predict the future.

The sixth ward hosts the “Historians“. These are the funniest of all. They believe that our country has had a different political approach in the past. They believed that we have another version of history that no one has told us and even we are part of this history. They say that world is still out there, but we are not allowed to look at it. According to them, our ancestors were people many times smarter than us, but most of them died during “The Great War”. This is how they call it. In our history it is just a war. In our perfect educational system, we have the history book of our nation, the most powerful nation in the world. It was written by our country and no one is smart enough to discuss “state affairs.”

The last ward, the seventh one, which is being populated for the first time since the War, is the most undeciphered of all. Unlike all the wards that have names, this one has a number – “Ward 256“. It is separated from all the other wards and no one enters except the janitor and the guard, who are not able to give many details about the ward. It’s just a room with a toilet. There is no yard, trees, belongings or bed. It is all painted black, even the window glass of the ceiling. It is a perfect seven-meter cuboid room with only a small toilet compartment. Unlike all other wards, which have one thing in common. They are not allowed to see their feces. For this reason, this process takes place only during the time set by the country and in our presence.

I have never seen the seventh ward. These are the details that the doctor who designed the room explained to me. He was the Minister of Health in our country and happens to be my father as well. This is the specific reason why I was chosen as the caretaker of “Ward 256“. Only perfect families like us can save our almighty country from being different. They are genetic mutations which unfortunately remained here after the war. And yet we managed to isolate them the day we opened the “Insignificant” hospital, the thousandth unit of our state.

Translated by Qerim Ondozi

Vladimir Arsenić

Vladimir Arsenić

Vladimir Arsenić (1972) was awarded M. A. in Comparative Literature by the University of Tel Aviv and M.A. in Literary Theory by the University of Belgrade. He is a staff  writer of the Serbian web portal xxzmagazin.com and the Croatian web portal booksa.hr. He has published articles in portals, journals and magazines such as Beton, Quorum, pescanik.net, proletter.me and versopolis.com. He has acted as a mentor within the project Criticize this! In collaboration with Srđan Srdić he conducts Hila creative writing workshop, and co-owns publishing house Partizanska knjiga. He is a regular contributor to the literary festival Cum grano salis in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina and is a member of the Bosnian PEN Center. His texts have been translated into English, Albanian and Slovenian. He translates from English and Hebrew. He is a member of the editorial board of the literary magazine Ulaznica issued in Zrenjanin, Serbia. In 2019. his first book of collected essay on Montenegrian literature The Ethics of Narration has been published. He is a Tottenham Hotspur FC fan. 

Dasa Drndic and the post-truth politics

It is self obvious fact that we are living in post-truth world. The very notion designates that the truth is in a way unobtainable, that it is somehow beyond our reach, and not only because it is hidden, or mysterious, but by a simple fact that there are instances which are very much concerned with putting the factual truth out of our sight. Factual truth, the one that can be crosschecked through evidence, and put under scrutiny of proofs is nowadays very often changed with the post-truth, the emotional one with which the power and the community are blackmailing its subordinates and/or memebers. For instance, if you are a Serbian citizen it would be expected of you not to talk about the genocide, but about mass murder and organized crimes of large proportions that had happened in the region of Srebrenica in July of 1995., in spite of the International Court of Justice ruling from 2007. This appeal is emotional in several reasons. Firstly, because one wouldn’t like to connect ones homeland with most disgusting crimes. Secondly, by doing so one would endanger Serbian prosperity because the state would have to pay compensation. Finally, the role of the government would be investigated, and that would not be nice for everyone was involved one way or the other, actively or passively. So unless you are very interested in facing the past and finding out what really happened and one can do that rather easy, you will accept the official interpretation of the truth, the one served through the official media in Serbia, the emotional one, the post-truth that stands instead the factual truth.

Serbia is not unique example. Quite the contrary, the whole world is drowned in post-truth poltics and that is yesterdays news. But what is the role of the literature in these circumstances since the truthfulness of art according to Aristotle’s Poetics is universal, and not particular. To quote: „But they differ in this, that the one speaks of things which have happened, and the other of such as might have happened. Hence, poetry is more philosophic, and more deserving of attention, than history. For poetry speaks more of universals, but history of particulars.“ Let me argue that it could be exactly the field in which we might look for reinvention of the role of literature in todays society, in which the media are corrupted and particularized and vulgarized, and the social networks are taking over the space of public debate which is, in turn, becoming exactly like them, according to old McLuhan’s teaching – medium is the message. It is very personal, very non argumented, and very emotionally intense – one could not expect anything else from Twitter or Facebook. The factual truth, on the other hand, should not be like that – it should be objective,  proved, measured, and calm.

The field of literature is changing. Or to be precise it has changed forever right after the invention of internet. The times are fast and furious, they can not stand anything that takes time. And literature does take. A lot. But that is why there is a chance to be calm and objective, and measured, and proved. One can put into literature things that once should have been in media. Of course not in the same way, not by turning fiction or poetry into newspapers, or opinion pieces, but exactly by being truthful. I know it sounds silly, but let me give you an example.

One of the most acclaimed Croatian authors abroad is Daša Drndić. Her novels have been translated into more than 20 languages and received very positive critical response all over Europe and in the States. But she have not won any important literary award in her homeland. She had been shortlisted several times but that os all. One may ask why, and the only truth is that she is writing about things that are not very pleasent for the ears of those in power. She is writing without any restraint about the rise of clericalism, nationalism, very harsh and rude capitalism, in other words about the things that are occuring in Croatia and elsewhere in the Balkans and Europe. She is not dealing with any emotional truth as one would expect from the point of view of literature, and not with, or not only with the things that might have happened, but with very specific and precise truths about some of the crimes that had happened during the nazi or ustaša regime. That simply means that her novels are well documented and subjected to research that led to the construction of the plot. For her books are novels in the strict sense of the word, they are fictious, the protagonists are not historical characters, but the scenery and historical circumstances are thoroughly researched. Daša Drndić has readership and no one can deny her success, but the establishment is silent because they are concened with the post-truth poltics. She and the likes are not welcomed in todays Croatia in which, as in Serbia, the role of partisan movement in the Second world war is questioned, murderers and war criminals are restored, and factual truth about our past and present is very often blurred and changed with the emotional one.

Daša Drndić’s work is just an example for what I am proposing here – a slight change of roles. Because they usurped the media, we should turn back to literature, to art as conveyors, among other things, of factual truth. It is not as fast as the internet, radio, TV channels or even newspapers, but there is another advantage, it lasts forever.

Translated by the author, edited by Ana Schnabl.

Natasha Sardzoska

Natasha Sardzoska

Natasha Sardzoska (Skopje, 1979), poet, writer, essayist, literary translator, interpreter (FR, IT, ES, EN, PT, CA), anthropologist, has lived in many European cities, among which Milan, Lisbon, Paris, Brussels, Stuttgart. She holds a PhD in anthropology from the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris and University of Bergamo. She is Affiliated researcher at the Center for Advanced Studies South East Europe in Rijeka in Croatia and Assistant professor at the Institute for Anthropology and Ethnology in Skopje.

She has published the poetry books Blue Room, Skin, He pulled me with invisible string, Living Water, Coccyx, essays, short novels and stories. She has published poetry books in the USA, Italy, Kosovo and her poems are translated in more than 15 languages in various international anthologies and literary reviews. She has translated more than 50 authors from Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan and Spanish languages, among which: Pasolini, Saramago, Carnerio, Montale, Boyunga, Margarit, Sanguineti, and others. She has won the prize from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Italy for best translation of the book Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. She attended the literary and translation residency in the Institute Ramon Llull in Barcelona.

Her poetry readings are with performative and interactive character, combining vocal experiments, music and dance. She has performed at many international poetry festivals and literary venues: Ars Poetica Festival in the National Gallery of Bratislava: International Poetry Festival in Genova in the Palazzo Ducale; in the Museum Revoltella in Trieste; at the Macedonian Cultural Center in Sofia; at the Academy of Arts in Berlin within the Poetry Festival of Berlin; at the Sha’ar International Poetry Festival in Tel Aviv performing with sax, contrabass and contemporary dance in Yaffa Arab-Hebrew theatre; as well as many literary readings across many cities in the Balkans (Belgrade, Plav, Tirana, Rijeka, Struga etc.)

In Skopje with the French Institute she organized the poetic soirée Les rivages de l’exil for the francophone poetry on exile; with the Italian Embassy in Skopje the Italian poetic-musical evening Il vino è la poesia della terra where she has performed poems in Italian language; and the poetry reading For a World Without Walls in collaboration with the International Poetry Festival of Medellin. Her poem Doll on Strings has been published in English and Spanish in the International Poetry Anthology against child abuse. She is part of the European poetry platform Versopolis.

Her poetry intertwines sensuality, reminiscence of the flesh, exposes inner pain, exile, homelessness and reveals spiritual freshness. Her poetic memory has performative character capturing the dramaturgy of the chamber space of the human existence.

Useful links:

https://www.versopolis-poetry.com/poet/145/natasha-sardzoska

https://natashasardzoska.wordpress.com/author/natashasardzoska/

https://liberoamerica.com/2019/12/28natasha-sarzoska-quise-salvar-lo-que-se-podia-salvar-del-naugrafio-y-ver-lo-que-podia-vivir-de-los-restos-que-sobrevivieron/

TREE OF WINTER

Cold fire in the forest

Rough rinds on the edge of this window

I see, I burst shivering without thinking

in a burning interzone

That restores me and glows and wriggles my bones my womb

And yelps without my name without your recognition

A fish from a northern sea

You give me

Grasp of wheat and you spit a bit of wine in my mouth

You are my race, my unease

turgid seeds

uprooted dry layers

LACE AROUND YOUR EYES

Four men in you I saw

And when you came in I felt you were searching for me

And everybody shut up and the world around fall apart

And all movement turned slow and blind

The clock was beating with the sound of a home

Green leafs and red female tongues were burning

Hungry for your thirst you pulled up my head

With a silk string you pulled me proud to you

All those women that made you lonely reached me

Grasping my feet

But my hamstrings and cartilage were bursting into pieces

And my ankles were calling you voiceless

I do not understand why this night washes me away as wine

From where you are yowling elegantly and softly

You eject a wolf cry weaved with opal

You hit me with your tongue through your open leg

I am not afraid that I will not have you

Nor do I go away from your exit gate

I have thrown on your eyes a veil weaved with my hair

So you can see me better in the middle of a burning forest

A nomad lost in the void of his own sea

I pronounce mutely your name

I call inclement your skin

I caress you slowly in my mouth

Beauty deeper than all sensual thoughts art you

Dark knight bewildering white horses

Soft node leather rein translated into rhythm

You are coming from distant cities powerful

You are swelling down the boulevards deaf for any other luxurious inquietude

You are expelling sparkles underneath your leather shoes

While you are boiling steaming in the coffee cups of my silver mornings a

A balcony red wine raw meat and livid sunset you sip in me

birds beak

liquid breath

broken lace

satin hours

whirlwind pine trees

irritated tigers

glowing

in my womb

DOLL ON STRINGS 

Walking down the blacktop

While wild rabbits are screaming in boiling water

Slaughtered

Conspiracies

Words

Unrevealed

And at each step I take I inhale blood

fragile leaves in a Japanese garden are caressing my lips

while I am laying down in the gush of blood and thousands of bewildered flowers

flowing in my hair

You and I

Tokyo and Home

Incalculable steps of the flesh

And again those animals are screaming as if they were the forgotten pot of boiling

water

And I wash your feet so you can lie down underneath my skin

To become a city like any other city that we walked

And we did not know

And we did not know each other

And we did not know

When all those energies were fermenting in us as in bewildered rabbits

slaughtered but alive in the vertiginous water

The tongues of the dead kites to tell us to tell you

I am here

I follow you from each airport pathway and I know when I hear your name

It is music with unknown rhythm

And nobody knows that music

But I tremble from your gaze and I lost my voice when you came to me

And my skin was becoming darker after each bewildered step that you were taking

towards my chests

Growing nipples burning lips in winter

I knew we were one same city one same shadow one same rain and same skin

And the night before I met you I was crying like a child because all crazy plans crashed

down

And before you came in the Japanese garden

In me I could hear screaming all the slaughtered animals

And I was growing shamelessly mute

With open legs underneath you

As a layer of fertile wheat in your overwhelming whispering

humble and perverted

you arise above the eradicated overcoats of the purple passion

ONE SAME CITY 

Something begin to grow and beat

Unclear and innocent

While we were drinking wine with strange girls

I could hear you smiling in the rhythm of an African candombe

When they serve you with a glass of wine

I weave myself around one moment imprisoned in confused kernels

I spit seeds

I stay awake at every dawn to feel your beats

Heartbeats

How can one fear to grasp the night and then to throw it away?

The violet flowers with morning dew and the mad recalcitrance were not enough?

Leave I cannot

I come to you without knowing if this path has an end

But I know wild berries are flowing in my blood

And I weave a spider’s nest with black spit

A layer of tiny boats

is your promise to me

when you are not here

you are present as never

and your silence is hurting

louder than a cup of black tea breaking through the white wall

you are in my kernels a fish bone valves interstices in between my teeth

black sperm on someone else high heels

night porter that knows all my secrets

strange angel that does not talk but says it all

that on this soil someone else’s blood is boiling

RAW MEAT 

I close the venetian blinds

And the closet full with socks so sad miserable and weak

Reflections of this and each and every city

Where we are not but we could

We could, but in this world there should be a balance

Blood and vein that explode

And all those violins should promise peace

Indeed?

And you will take a bow

And your head will bend down

As if you were sucking blood from a finger

As if you were soaking up

As if you were pulling out a nail from alive meat

IN THE RHYTHM OF HIS HEART 

I got air stuck in my throat at each alarm signal

because you strangled me.

You came into my dream secretly

You twisted my spatial dimensions

You pulled me as a servant to your decision

You thread me in your leg

You stamp a burn-mark against evil thoughts

You discovered me in the middle of the screaming mouths and evil eyes

You slip me up as a woolen sock in the middle of war times

I was shambling around your neck like a goat on a hill

Very lonely chewing wild grass cracking my teeth

And I am holding on my vision and my breath in one fixed point every time I see you

sweating

You are splashing around vertiginous cognitions

And so I stopped counting down the illusions

And as an act of rebellion I decided to miss all my flights

To wait, to grow my hair pale, to darken my skin

To impel myself as a hyena on your sex

Finally alone

Translated by the author, edited by Sinead McMorrow

Iztok Vrenčur

Iztok Vrenčur

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.

III

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.”

“Greetings, father.”

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.

Jasmina Topić

Jasmina Topić

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.

Major publications

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

STANARI

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.

LODGERS

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.

KONSTANTNO ISKUSTVO

vse moje izkušwe

grejo naravnost v literaturo

Primož Čučnik

Iskustva iz figurativnog ranca

idu pravo u poeziju

I po kiši dosadnoj i uopšte rečeno groznoj

može se pisati – 

Taj maleni napor trošenja hartije,

zagrevanja prstiju

u igri šaha ili solitarea s dosadom,

a i kreativnom besparicom

trenutne odluke

podrazumevaju promišljanje,

naglost, adrenalin (tim redosledom ?!)

kao gledanje sportskog susreta

prebacivanje loptice

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

mogla animirati

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.

CONSTANT EXPERIENCE

all my experiences

go straight into literature

Primož Čučnik

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

instantaneous decisions

presuppose reflection,

rashness, adrenalin (in that order?!)

watching a sporting event

heated-up nationalism stew

pocket-sized publisher

a poem is now a guerrilla fighter

I push the cart, empty, of course

I play a game that could also be animated

by verse

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

II

SLUTNJA ZIME

Polako, leto se završavalo pljuskom kiše.

J.Hristić

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,

ka zavičaju.

U istoj sobi počeli, u istoj okončaćemo,

S ponovnom slutnjom zime.

Prisećajući se lakoće,

stvarnosti svojih udova…

U senovitom kutu sobe ta maska čeka.

WINTER FOREBODINGS

Slowly, the summer ends with a rain shower.

J. Hristić

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,

prezrelog. Bljutavog.

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,

overripe. Sour.

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.

Zagarantovana fatamorgana.

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,

that’s poetry.

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

je preživela

raspad.

rat.

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

stranu kuka-regulatora.

Ravnoteža je ključna reč pesme. Panorame. Pogleda.

Za bivstvovanje i prelazak preko granice

iz civilizacije u ono što je iza njenih rubova:

moja domovina.

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.

rat. svega.

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,

the war.

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:

my homeland.

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

III

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:

neće pogledati

neće usniti

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:

neće pogledati

neće usniti

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

neće pogledati

neće usniti

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

KORČULA

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.

KORČULA ISLAND*

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

PONOĆ JE

Komšije

konačno više

ne pomeraju stvari

Danas sam uspela da sastavim

prvi sa šezdesetim minutom

U otkrivanju grada

Zabavila mišiće vežbanjem

zdravog razuma

Popila

čaj od nane

pa onda sipala pivo

Tišina je

I odakle sad želja

da se još nešto kaže

dodirne još jedna

oštrica

unutrašnjih

pejzaža

odsutnosti

koje uporno sabijam

u 4,8 posto tirana

a nije dovoljno

ni za šta.

Hoće li me sutra

probuditi dodir

poznate ruke

saopštavajući

da je već kasno

da je kafa skuvana

i da me čeka.

Neće.

Ponoć je konačno

komšije.

Tirana, 2013.

IT IS MIDNIGHT

Neighbors

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

Drank

my tea

then poured myself a beer

It is silent

this desire

to say something

from where does it comes now

to touch one more

blade

of the inner sceneries

The absence

in which I pour in

constantly

4,8 percent of Tirana beer

but it is not enough

for anything.

Will I be awaked

tomorrow

with the touch

of a familiar hand

Announcing

that is already late

how coffee is made

and it awaits.

I won’t.

Midnight is finally here

neighbors.

translated by the author

Senka Marić

Senka Marić

Senka Marić writes poetry, prose and essays. She has published three collections of poetry: Odavde do nigdjeTo 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 mustve 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 wont 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?

            Or:

            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

Faruk Šehić

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.

Womens’ War

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.

Andriy Lyubka

Andriy Lyubka

Andriy Lyubka, born 1987 in Riga, is a Ukrainian poet, writer and essayist. He graduated from the Mukachevo Military School and went on to study Ukrainian Philology at Uzhhorod National University and Balkan Studies at the University of Warsaw. His books of poetry include Eight Months of Schizophrenia (2007), Terrorism (2009) and 40 Dollars Plus the Tips (2012). He has also published a collection of short stories, The Killer (2012), a German translation of one of his poetry collections, Notaufname (2012), a book of essays Sleeping with Women (2014), and a novel Karbid (2015), which was short-listed in the final selection of the Book of the Year by BBC Ukraine. Its Polish translation was short-listed for the Angelus Central-European Literary Award in 2017. His recent works include a collection of short stories The Room for Sadness (2016), a book of essays Saudade (2017) and the novel Your Gaze, Cio-Cio-san (2018).

He is the winner of the Debut Award (2007), Kyiv Laurels (2011), recently he received literary award of Kovalev Foundation literary prize in the USA and the Shevelov Prize for the best book of essays of 2017 in Ukraine. Lyubka also translates from Polish, Croatian, Serbian, English and is the curator of two international poetry festivals.

Ilija Đurović

Ilija Đurović

Ilija Đurović, born 1990 in Podgorica, writes short stories, poetry, plays and film scripts. His first collection of short stories, Oni to tako divno rade u velikim ljubavnim romanima, was published in 2014. His short story The Five Widows, translated by Will Firth, was published by Dalkey Archive Press in its anthology Best European Fiction 2016. His second collection of short stories Crne ribe (2016) was one of the 2017 finalists for the Istrian literary award ‘Edo Budiša Prize’ for best collection of short stories published in the region of the former Yugoslavia.The manuscript of his first poetry collection brought him the top prize at a Serbian competition for best unpublished manuscripts from the region. As a result of the competition his first poetry collection Brid was published in 2018. He is currently preparing for the publication of his first novel. He lives in Berlin.

 


 

 

 

Parts of Town

 
“Put the leash on me so I can take you out for a bit,” Hans told me. Hans is a perfectly groomed German shepherd. He and I have lived together for five years now. My friend doesn’t really speak, of course, but I recognize his every glance, twitch, and movement of his ears as precise orders. Sometimes I myself give orders in German. If he starts bounding toward the traffic lights and I fear he won’t patiently wait for green, I yell “Halt!” and he turns around perplexed, quivering, his tail slapping against his flanks. Hans still remembers his language from when his owner, a German, perished somewhere high up in the Durmitor mountain range.
Milena and I didn’t like dogs. The fierce, powerful creatures in our suburb, Zabjelo, always scared us. We believed they could bite a person to death. But Milena’s death was different. It went roughly like this: we got out of the car after a trip around the city. Stefan, our neighbors’ son, was standing at the front entrance of the block with a baseball bat over his shoulder. Visibly drugged-up. When we came closer, I gave a laugh. He wanted to know why I’d laughed. I asked him to move aside and let us through, but he just stood in the doorway and was persistent: “What are you smirking about?” he said. “C’mon, what’s the joke, you fudge packer?” Sensitive and eager to learn everything she heard, Milena repeated “fudge packer.” That echoed several times in Stefan’s head and was enough to put him into a skull-splitting frenzy . . .
When Milena and I first moved to Zabjelo, it was different. We didn’t notice the children become violent until one of the boys stood in front of her and spoke in a slow staccato: “You’re gonna suck my cock”. The girls jeered “deaf Milena” at her. She read their lips and smiled. But then the boy broke her skull and ended up in a home for delinquents. His father started to call me “fudge packer.” The woman at the tobacconist’s near the front entrance refused to sell me cigarettes. I went to the store at the other end of the block, but the tale about the “fudge packer” was soon heard there too. The other tenants gossiped that I’d sent a child to jail. Two months later I had to move away. I sold our apartment and chose a smaller one for the same price in the Block Five housing project at the other end of the city.
I soon got used to the noise of the children playing down below the building. I watched them and thought of Milena. It was in those days that I saw Hans in the newspaper. His owner had died while mountaineering and the German shepherd ended up here in Podgorica, in a cage with local mutts and mongrels. Still thinskinned after Milena’s death, I went straight to the animal shelter and came back with the dog. 7
And so I became Hans’s owner in Block Five. Everyone knew his name. Whenever we went into a local bar, the waiters would say “Achtung, Achtung!” and laugh as Hans went and lay under the tables. They didn’t know that some people actually have good reason to be afraid of my friend. He loved every peaceful passerby and every child, and he never once punctured a ball on the grass in the park. But Hans had been strictly trained and was loyal. Doctor Kaluđerović, who lies tied up in our basement, is a witness to that. 
Dr. Kaluđerović is an otolaryngologist—or rather he was, now he’s just a tangle of bone and fiber on a filthy bed—who operated on Milena and made her hear again several months before her death. He compared her deafness to having a balloon in one’s head. He perforated that balloon with a team of surgeons and let in the sound to Milena’s brain. When she woke up after the operation, I asked her “How do you feel?” and she started to cry. Later that day she said I had the voice of a little girl. I called the doctor. He laughed and explained that everything was fine: Milena’s brain was just getting used to the new frequencies like an eye adjusts to the light after being in the dark. Soon everything she heard would sound natural to her ears.
After leaving hospital, Milena went to see Dr. Kaluđerović every day. The main part of the recovery was familiarization with the words she heard for the first time. During one of the exercises, as he was reading her the days of the week, she started to cry at Wednesday. He said that almost all patients reacted to the new words with tears. He went on from Thursday, but Milena was already sobbing again at Saturday. This worried me greatly. The doctor emphasized that her reactions were as expected and asked me to go and wait out the front. Through the door of the surgery, I heard him reading out the days of the week and the months of the year again. Half an hour later Milena came out in tears. She was silent as we drove home. When we got back to the apartment, she said she needed to have a sleep. It struck me that she was speaking more distinctly than before.
  Her recovery progressed well. After the days and the months it was time for everyday items. She listened to the words spoon, knife, table, and stove, learned slowly, and cried at the surgery. Then the cities began, and that was the hardest for Milena. When Dr. Kaluđerović spoke the names of cities to the north of Podgorica, she burst into tears after the first few. She never lasted longer than Kolašin, Mojkovac, and Bijelo Polje. The weather forecast on television at home was particularly torturous. Here the host would sometimes mention a month, a day, and a series of cities in the south, north, and central part of the country all in one sentence. Milena sat in the armchair and cried, unable to unglue her gaze from the three-dimensional map. I tried to persuade her to turn off the television before the forecast began, but she wanted to practice and be tenacious, as Dr. Kaluđerović instructed.
She learned to follow the voice on television. She still whimpered from time to time, but the possibility of mastering a word diverted her attention from the pain the sounds caused her. I watched her sitting in front of the screen and repeating. For the doctor, this was a perfect recovery. 
She didn’t have to go to daily exercises anymore. She could do some of them at home with me. My task was to contrive games for her. One of my favorites was “parts of town.” I spoke the names of different districts and suburbs, and Milena said them after me. Then one day she wanted to go with me and visit all the places whose names she’d heard. She believed that would help her cope with the sound even better. It was a Sunday morning. We got in the car and set off.
I told her we were going up to leafy Gorica, where she could hear the birds. “Birds,” she repeated. We parked the car in front of the church, scaled the hill, and sat down on the meadow by the path. Tall residential blocks rose up from among the low buildings. Yellow, pink, and blue houses on the hill opposite glistened like huge plastic flowers. She was happy. I spoke: Brain Building, the Five Widows, Block Five, Tološi, the Old Town, Baston, Konik, Momišići, Zagorič, Pejton—everything I could remember. And she repeated my words. After the game we drove down to the city center. Children were having their photos taken with their parents in front of the fountains without water. Milena’s face went like that of a dull child. I told her it was time to head home. We bought the meat for our Sunday roast in the supermarket on the square, drove back to Zabjelo, and at the entrance to the building ran into Stefan, doped up and with a baseball bat in hand.
  All of Dr. Kaluđerović’s exercises caught up with us the moment we were confronted by our neighbors’ son. The boy said “fudge packer,” and that word was like another new lesson for Milena. I grabbed her by the arm and begged her to stop, but her head had already been cracked. Her arm suddenly went heavy and slipped through my hand.
I don’t remember how many years passed before Hans said, “Let’s go and find the scum who operated on deaf Milena and torture him in the basement.” Hans considered that Dr. Kaluđerović was to blame and that Milena would still be alive if he hadn’t taught her to repeat words. I couldn’t imagine her living in an apartment with a dog. I reminded him that he and I would never have met if Milena were still alive. He would have stayed at the animal shelter, and I at the other end of the city. “But that doesn’t mean the doctor should get off scot-free,” he said. He was relentless. I asked how he planned for us to carry out the abduction. He pointed his muzzle to the newspaper on the table. In the corner of the page was an ad for Dr. Kaluđerović’s private surgery.
The next day, half an hour before closing time, we were out the front. We waited in the parking lot. The doctor came out, throwing a good-bye to the nurse. Before he could unlock his car, I bludgeoned him over the head with a stick. Hans gave a cheerful squeal and helped me get him into the trunk. An hour later, Dr. Kaluđerović woke up in our basement, tied to a bed. Hans had never been happier. He ate his dinner, had a good drink of water, and stretched his forelegs. “Now you’re going to get what’s coming to you, Arschloch. Repeat after me—,” he snarled. I turned the doctor onto his stomach and let Hans do the rest. It was rather painful, and he did it every, yes every, night.
I didn’t know how long Hans planned to keep torturing the doctor. It didn’t bother me that it had been going on for a while. He worked like an expert and no one in our building suspected we had a guest in the basement. For several days we heard about the disappearance of the well-known otolaryngologist on television. An anonymous patient told journalists about sexual abuse at Dr. Kaluđerović’s surgery. Even without this revelation, I would have hated him enough because of what he did to Milena.
Yesterday, while I was watching the evening news, Hans came back from the basement and told me the doctor had admitted everything: that he was to blame for Milena’s death, that he’d unnecessarily forced her to listen to and repeat the days of the week, the months of the year, and the names of cities, as a result of which she snapped and started pronouncing everything she heard. I replied that he could keep on enjoying the doctor, but Hans had also begun to tire of him. My friend talked more and more often about the neighbors who’d insulted me. The next on Hans’s list was Stefan’s father, then the woman from the tobacconist’s in Zabjelo. Because of her I’d had to buy my cigarettes at the other end of the street. 
“Tomorrow we’ll kill that bastard, and then we’ll see to the others,” Hans said when I put the leash on him so he could take me out for a walk. 

 

 

Translated by Will Firth

 

Viktoria Khomenko

Viktoria Khomenko

Viktoria Khomenko, born 1989 in Kyiv, Ukraine, studied journalism and communication at the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and also completed a CSM course in Cultural Criticism and Curation (2014, Ukraine) and a summer course in Communications and Human Rights at the Södra Vätterbygden Folk High School (2011, Sweden). She was a film critic and cultural columnist for national media as Insider, Bird in Flight, Kraina and Korydor. From 2015 she has been working as an editor at Docudays UA IDFF and as a communication coordinator of DOCU/PRO (industrial platform for film professionals) and producing Ukrainian documentary and fiction films. The first presentation of her literary work was at the Intermezzo Short Story Festival in Vinnitsa in 2015. In the same year she won a special prize for her collection of short stories Crude Earth at a Ukrainian competition initiated by the publisher Smoloskyp.

Mehmet Yashin

Mehmet Yashin

Mehmet Yaşın, born 1958 in Nicosia, is a Turkish-Cypriot poet and author. His poems, novels and essays are considered part of Cypriot and Greek as well as Turkish literature. He is one of the internationally best-known contemporary literary voices from Cyprus. His first poetry collection won the Academy Poetry Prize in Istanbul in 1985, but was banned by the ruling military junta that came to power after a coup d’etat in 1980. In 1986 Yaşın was deported from Turkey for what was characterized as his ‘subversive’ poetry. He lived between Cambridge, Nicosia and Istanbul from 2002 to 2016 and has since been living in Athens.

Yaşın has published ten poetry collections, three novels, three collection of essays, three anthologies and literary studies of multilingual Cypriot poetry in Istanbul. His work has been translated into more than 20 languages and his books have been published in various European countries.

Photo by Ayşem Ergin

Nora Verde

Nora Verde

Nora Verde (Antonela Marušić), born 1974 in Dubrovnik, studied Croatian Language and Literature. As a student she published her first poetry collection Sezona Bjegova (1994). She publishes poetry in several magazines and she is the author of the novels Posudi mi smajl (2010) and Do isteka zaliha (2013). Her prose and poetry have been translated into English, German, Slovene, Albanian and Macedonian.

She is one of the founders of the feminist portal Vox Feminae to which she contributes and for which she been an editor since 2011. She collaborates with several Croatian national and regional portals and media on independent culture, literature, music and human rights (Novosti, Kulturpunkt, Proletter, Maz, CroL, LGBT.ba).

Renato Baretić

Renato Baretić

Renato Baretić, born 1963 in Zagreb, is a Croatian writer. He used to work as a journalist for newspapers and magazines such as Večernji list, Nedjeljna Dalmacija, Slobodna Dalmacija, Feral Tribune, Globus, Nacional, Autograf, Tportal, Otvoreno more. He also used to compile quiz questions for the TV quiz shows Kviskoteka and Tko želi biti milijunaš. He was involved in the screenwriting for the television series Nova doba and Crnobijeli svijet 2 and the 2005 comedy-drama film Što je muškarac bez brkova. He also lectured at the House for Creative Writing in Split and the Center for Creative Writing in Zagreb. From 2007 to 2016 he was creative director and program editor of the Pričigin Storytelling Festival in Split.

His poems, short stories and excerpts of novels have been translated and published in English, Slovene, German, Macedonian, Italian, Ukrainian and Polish.

 


 

 

 

Tell Me About Her

 

She was the last to leave the smallish courtroom, her shoulder leaning against the wall three steps away from the door. She crossed her arms and stared directly into his face. He noticed her and looked several more times, but old man Stamenković, the client for whom he had just won a non-final appeals judgement, was doing his best to grab his attention in its entirety. The old man was pumping his hand, as if he would be happiest pulling it off and taking it home to put on top of the television in place of a plastic gondola or vase.
 
“Mr Tomo…” Stamenković said again, his eyes filling with tears. “Mr Tomo, I don’t know how to thank you… I hoped, my wife hoped… the children are a long way away, but we couldn’t believe that this was really possible… You don’t know just how grateful we are… You must come to visit us on Čiovo, once this is all finally sorted out, you… You’ll see what a proper fish stew is!
 
Tomo kept nodding, smiling uneasily.
 
“My house is your house, you’re welcome at my table whenever you wish…” continued Stamenković euphorically, using a handkerchief to wipe away the beads of sweat that had appeared all over his brow. “You and your whole family, whoever…”
 
He suddenly stopped and stiffened, and Tomo’s insincere smile spread across his face.
 
“I’m sorry. You understand what I mean…”
 
“I understand”, Tomo finally replied, sending a brief, pleading look towards the young woman who had leant against the wall behind the old man and was observing them enigmatically, as if she were enjoying the spectacle. “But let’s wait for the Supreme Court, they’re certain to lodge another appeal…”
 
“Well they can appeal as much as they want”, Stamenković continued, clutching his hand righter, his courage renewed once again after his gaffe. “There isn’t a court that would…”
 
“Mr Kriste?” she finally interrupted him, peeling herself off the wall and stepping towards them with her hand outstretched. Tomo quickly retrieved his palm from Stamenković’s grasp and offered it to his newly-arrived saviour.
 
“Anita Čelan from the crime desk at Novo doba…” she introduced herself.
 
“I know”, replied Tomo. “From the newspaper and from here, from court. My favourite journalist. No, I mean it seriously, don’t laugh! If nothing else, at least you’re decent and impartial. And you’re a lot more literate than most of your colleagues. How can I help?”
 
“Well it’s nothing really, I wouldn’t want to bother you, you just…”
 
“No, no, on the contrary, I was just saying goodbye to my client… We’ll be in touch, Mr Stamenković, we’ve got a fortnight to wait now. I guarantee that they’ll file their appeal tomorrow, but we’ll beat them at the Supreme Court too. Everything will be as it should be. Goodbye! We’ll be in touch”.
 
The old man nodded, confused, waved and walked off down the empty corridor, turning round and smiling. 
 
“Anita Čelan, Novo doba… Thank you, Anita Čelan!”
 
“Oh come on, I didn’t really want to…”
 
“I don’t know whether you intended to or not, but thank you. He almost tore my hand off, the poor man. So tell me, what can I do for you?” Tomo asked, picking up his briefcase from the floor.
 
“Can I ask you something… you know, just by the by? I mean, it’s not for the paper, it’s more something that interests me personally…”
 
“I’m an Aries, married, father of a big girl of eight…”
 
“No, not that… I knew all that already, some of it from talk in the bars, some from the paper, and some from TV. I’m not interested in those things, but…  Well, I’ve been watching you for a whole year, every now and then, and I can’t understand how you can do it. They screwed everything for you, your house, your family, your life, and yet it’s like you’ve become a specialist in defending them. And you successfully defend each and every one, which is the worst part!”
 
Tomo’s look darkened.
 
“Do you go to church?”
 
Anita was confused. Had she known how he would immediately counter her with such a left-field question she probably would not have spoken to him.
 
“I don’t exactly go, you know… but what has this…”
 
Tomo cut her off sharply:
 
“I don’t go either, but that’s why I go every day to have my marenda1. That’s what they’ve taught me to do here. Do you want to come with me today?
 
*  * *
 
“OK, we’ll make an agreement. I’ll tell you everything, even the disasters that happened… Well, you remember that, you must have recited that over and over in school… So, everything, but first you have to tell me something that I’m now really itching to know. You have to tell me a secret.”
 
“Yes?”
 
“Yes, it that OK?”
 
“I don’t know what you consider to be a secret… I’m divorced, have no children, I’m a Scorpio, no idea what my ascendant is, I’m a hypochondriac…”
 
“Oh no, not that, something really personal!”
 
Anita froze, mid-gesture, swallowed deeply and stared him in the eye, challenging him:
 
“OK, let’s try, why not? I’m really curious what it is about me that interests you and that you wouldn’t dare ask me at this time of day.
 
“Well, I find this incredible. Yes, I am from Slavonia, I’m not from here and all that, but how on earth can you order a coca-cola when you’re eating smelt? How can you do that? For me it’s an even greater mystery than, I don’t know, immaculate conception. Like a fruit yoghurt with, I guess, fiš2! Please try to explain that to me and…”
 
Relieved, she laughed for the first time in the last few days:
 
“Well yeah, it is a bit… like… OK, I’ll have some bevanda3 too.”
 
“Hey, Vinko, give us another clean glass! But I do mean a clean one, not like my one”, Tomo shouted over his shoulder, and then, leaning on the table, peered curiously at Anita:
 
“Let’s see. You wanted to know how I could defend Serbs, is that right?”
 
“Well…”
 
“I don’t defend Serbs. I don’t have any better opinion of them than you do. You’d be surprised by what I think.”
 
“No, I didn’t mean… I…”
 
“Take it easy. I simply defend people who are trying to hold on to what is theirs according to the law. So, yes, of course there is a possibility, and not just a theoretical one, that some relative of theirs is roasting a pig in my living room up there, over a fire made up of my parquet floor. Right? If you ask me, I could bleed him dry right now; I paid for that parquet and laid it myself, but the ones down here are in no way to blame for that. If they were to blame, they’d be up there with their relative, or literally anywhere else but not here. It’s easier for me to represent those people who are defending what’s theirs rather than those who want what belongs to someone else. And that’s the whole story.”
 
“So, basically, you just love your job?”
 
“I don’t have any special love for it; I just do it to the best of my ability. Do you love your job?”
 
Anita was silent for a few seconds.
 
“It depends on the day. If we’re being honest, I love it less every week”.
 
The doleful waiter brought a glass that was too warm, dried and heated up on the coffee machine, and then, dragging his feet, went back behind the counter.
 
“So, you see, that’s the whole story”, Tomo continued more quietly, pouring wine for her and nodding towards Vinko. “He’s a great landlord, but he’s clearly not having a good day today. Every minute makes him sick of the job he does, but he’ll be back again tomorrow. I do what fate has me doing. And it doesn’t seem to bother me that much. As I said, it’s a lot easier to defend people who are protecting what’s theirs, than people who want to take other people’s property. That’s what I tell myself when I have a moment of crisis…”
 
“That’s… well, yes, it sounds logical…”
 
“Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t…”
 
Tomo tossed a couple of the little fish and some bread into his mouth, then smiled at her as he chewed. Anita raised her glass and proposed a toast:
 
“OK, to all the good people who sometimes get sick of their jobs”.
 
They clinked glasses and she took a small sip, then raised her glass in the direction of the waiter who was behind the counter, blankly leafing through the paper.
 
“What’s up, Vinko?” Tomo called out over his shoulder. “Not busy today?”
 
“It’s not time yet, it will be in a few minutes…”
 
“There they are, they’ve started…” Anita muttered, her mood suddenly darkening.
 
“What’s wrong?”
 
“Nothing… my idiot of a boss…”
 
Tomo turned towards the door, through which two men had just entered. One of the men, balding and with a dark moustache, headed straight for their table.
 
“What’s this then? No time for a break while you’re busy with your marenda?” he asked Anita. “I could already be on the beach at Bačvice with my kids if those court reports had reached me on time…”
 
“Oh come on, you didn’t hear about the quake? The whole court building reduced to dust and ashes… Zvone, let me introduce you to Tomo Kriste, attorney-at-law… Zvonko Skračić, my editor…”
 
“Pleased to meet you… My apologies, I didn’t recognise you straightaway… you know, with the light coming from behind you…”
 
“How do you do”, replied Tomo, getting up. “Don’t worry, why would you recognise me…”
 
“Well then, you just keep on working”, Skračić turned back to Anita, “but make sure everything’s ready by one, half past one… OK then, you just carry on having fun…”
 
“Let’s get some coffee, but somewhere else”, Anita said quietly once Skračić was leaning on the counter.
 
“Deal!”
 
* * *
 
“So, did my answers disappoint you?” he asked her when they had left the cafe and set off down the street. 
 
“No, they didn’t, it’s basically what I had expected. I’m sorry if I was annoying you.”
 
“No, you weren’t at all. You’d have been annoying if you’d wanted an official interview.”
 
“I really wasn’t asking that. I know that you’ve turned down Novo doba alone at least twice for an interview. I thought that was something to do with us, but then I heard and saw that you don’t give them to others either… I mean, it’s obvious that you find it hard, but then again…”
 
Tomo stopped and pointed to a shop window across the road. Inside, arranged in two rows, were six television sets, all switched on showing the same channel. The six pale screens showed a list of towns which had just declared a general state of alert. The letters weren’t legible from across the street, but it was clear that they almost filled the screens.
 
“There you go, you’ve got at least a thousand people in each of those places for a better interview than you’d have with me. What use am I to you? What could anyone ask me? About my wife? Everyone knows everything about her, and nothing at the same time. What you don’t know, I don’t know either. Do you know what I’d tell you? I don’t know what I would answer and, believe me, you only think that you know what you’d ask. If, please God, we find her alive, then you have her and you can ask her when she comes. I’m just… I don’t know, some sort of industrial waste”
 
“Oh come off it!”
 
“Well, what else am I? I was complicit in turning her into a hero, into some sort of symbol. No one asked me if that’s what I wanted, but it doesn’t matter any more. I was complicit in it, and that’s that. I don’t know any more if she is a hero at all or if they made her one. But that’s what’s transpired, with my help. Now things are the way they are, the reality is only what they’ve made… only what you journalists helped them to make. So what do any of you have to ask me, when it is you who know best what is and what isn’t, and what will or won’t be there tomorrow?”
 
“Now you’re making me sound like Vava the oracle…”
 
“I don’t mean you personally, not you Anita Čelan, rather all of you. And you’re not… you’re not prophets or oracles at all. Most of you haven’t got a clue about what you’re actually doing.”
 
“Hey, hold on a sec!” Anita interrupted him. “What’s got you in a lather? I don’t work for anyone, no one pulls my strings, and I sure as hell am not complicit in anything and didn’t help anything the way you said, I didn’t do any of that…”
 
Tomo finally switched his gaze from the television sets across the road to look at his new acquaintance. 
 
“…and I’ve had more than enough of everyone slagging off journalists”, she continued, flushing redder and redder. “For fuck’s sake, isn’t that what you all wanted? Freedom of the press? Of course it is. And now that you’ve got freedom of the press, it still isn’t right for you! The way I write today is the way I’ve always written, about the city, the country, and now…”
 
“I’m sorry”, Tomo interrupted her. “None of this has anything to do with you, with anything. You touched a nerve and in a trice…”
 
“And you touched one of my nerves, Mr Kriste. The most sensitive one. What is it that you want? To antagonise everyone, to save Serbs from being evicted, to be the widower of the most famous wartime journalist, and at the same time to live in some sort of ivory tower where no one can ask you anything or tell you anything? Is that how you picture yourself?”
 
“Anita…” he started, his tone conciliatory.
 
“Oh I’m sorry… the widower thing just came out. I didn’t mean that, I was just…”
 
“Mirjana, look at this lady!”
 
Tomo pointed deliberately, arm outstretched at an elderly woman who had come to a halt a few paces from them. In each hand she had two plastic bags full of vegetables and she had been standing there, nosily, in the same place for at least half a minute, and now, faced with Tomo’s pointing finger, she started to turn, searching for a reason to be there. 
 
“There you see”, Tomo continued, imitating a Split accent “people stopping and listening to us, because they understand the issue. One day everyone becomes impotent. So what? Does anyone wonder why he’s impotent, why he can’t get it up? Those are things that get solved together, Mirjana, together, in private, and not on the street, not like this! Hey, missus, can your man get it up? Look at her running off, look! Look!”
 
The woman quickened to pass them and disappeared around the corner in the direction of the bus stop in front of the theatre. Tomo waited a couple of seconds, then ran after her and stopped on the corner:
 
“What’s wrong? You wanted the onions but didn’t want to pay for them, is that it? In the evening she’s off to the theatre, Turandot, Swan Lake, and in the morning she’s stealing onions. There she is, folks, take a look!
 
Anita stood there and waited for him to return, grinning at his very Split-like humour and extremely clumsy imitation of a Split accent. 
 
“Thieving whore!”, he hissed, feigning rage, and stopped in front of her.
 
“Mr Tomo…”
 
“Hold on, let me go first. Can we have another coffee, so that we can part without quarrelling?”
 
“I can’t, I have to write about what happened, with Stamenković and all that.”
 
“Just one drink? One little drink? Really little? It’s silly like this – we’ve said all sorts of things to each other, without really telling each other anything.”
 
Across the road, all six screens were now showing the video to the song Hrvatina.
 
“I can’t, you saw for yourself my idiot of an editor. I have to go, I really have to.”
 
“OK, no worries. I’ll see you around.”
 
“Of course. You’ve got Trifunović on the twenty-second, that’s next Thursday, right? So, if not before then…”
 
“OK, I’ll see you in court”, finished Tomo, wagging his finger at her.

 

 

 

Translated by James Cook

Nora Nadjarian

Nora Nadjarian

Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning Cypriot poet and writer. She has won prizes and commendations in international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, the Féile Filíochta International Poetry Competition and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize. She has been widely anthologised and translated into several languages. Her work concentrates on the themes of women, refugees, identity, exile, love and loss, as well as the political situation in Cyprus. Her poems deal with everyday episodes which go beyond reality in their atmospheric concentration, pointing to symbolic interior worlds.

Best known in Cyprus for her book of short stories Ledra Street (2006), she has had poetry and short fiction published internationally. Her work was included in A River of Stories, an anthology of tales and poems from across the Commonwealth, Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) and Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017). Her latest books are the collections of short stories Selfie (Roman Books, 2017) and Girl, Wolf, Bones (bilingual English-German edition) (2017). The author Anjali Joseph has said of her work: ‘Nora Nadjarian’s distilled short stories are abrupt and intense, as invigorating and aromatic as a double shot of literary espresso.’

Jasna Dimitrijević

Jasna Dimitrijević

Jasna Dimitrijević, born 1979 in Negotin, graduated from the Department of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the University of Belgrade. She writes short stories, poetry and reviews. She is a regular contributor to the magazine Liceulice. She is the co-organizer of the first regional short story competition ‘Biber’ on the topic of reconciliation, and the co-editor of the resulting multilingual collection. She published her first collection of stories Prepoznavanja (Recognitions) in 2015. Her second collection of short stories Fibonačijev niz was published in 2019. She lives in Belgrade and works in a bookstore.

Photo by Tamara Zrnović.

 


 

 

 

Happy end 

 
Rain woke me up. It sneaked into my dreams, and at first, I did not know where it came from. I swam through the endless Pacific. I knew it was Pacific, I know it from television. I swam through turquoise and crystal. That’s how they put it in TV reports, turquoise and crystal. I had crystal beads on my hips, part of my swimsuit. I know it from the photos. My first swimsuit, as a kid. The day was done as I was fixing the knot. Heavy rain was falling on my head and my arms, each time becoming thicker and heavier, until water filled up the entire world. It covered me like an eternal embrace, like an impenetrable uterus. I tried to swim vertically and then I woke up. What a pity. I wish I learned how to swim. But at least I was sure the ocean was not the solution. 
My dreams are more intensive since my childhood. More complex. More convincing. More exciting compared to my daily life. That life is just numbers. Accurate calculations. Accounting and fiscal accounts. Net and gross. Percentage for health and social insurance. One part through bank transfer, another in cash. It’s been decades since I also got paid by bank transfer. I try not to think about it. It’s not that I thought a lot about it thirty years ago either. I was just like everybody else. At the end of each day I longed to go to sleep. This morning I had to wake up at the first beep of the alarm. I had to do yet another laundry, packing, payment of remaining bills and the reconfirmation of appointment with the agency. Irena – the agent who sold me the travel arrangement – regularly reminded me of everything I should do before leaving. She showered me with helpful advice, recommended insurance companies I could trust and the health insurance packages I should purchase. She withdrew timidly when I told her I did not need any insurance and that she should stop pestering me, otherwise I might think of changing the agency. I reacted similarly when she said the offer included some fine cruises with the similar price. She looked at me worriedly, as if she was not sure if tropical zones are suitable for me. I interrupted her harshly. Since I don’t have regular encounters with people, my level of tolerance with this type of shit is quite low. Though it was not easy for her either. I could slap her in the face, and she would just nod her head gently, she would say I understand and excuse me for interfering,I just wanted to help, because that is the treatment one gets when one pays to travel to the destination which I’d just chosen. I remember our first encounter and Irena’s doubts when I asked her to calculate one of the most expensive offers at their agency. I am sure she expected me to write checks for Becici or Halkidiki. When I got Irena’s attention, her face turned red as blood. 
Raindrops hit the windows. I got to the terrace and peeped through the blinds. On the other side Marina’s shadow is fixing the window curtain. Of course, she is already awake. My friend wakes up every morning at 6.45. While the room is aired, Marina burbles pumpkin oil for detox. She got herself an alternative therapy. She believes there are methods which can preserve the body. I even believed myself that this could be true, but that did not last long. 
There is half an hour left until Marina is done with her daily rituals. She always listens to weather forecast,does exercises recommended by her chiropractor, mends her clothes. Retired early due to back injury, Marina does not give up. She believes in a happy end and she’ll welcome it happily. She always does grocery shopping with her make-up on, her fingernails painted. She matches her earrings with her clothes, her smile with the look of the interlocutor. When she returns from shopping, she puts the fruits in a rattan bowl, the flowers in a vase, the vegetables in a pan to cook slowly. If she were to waste her health, she says she would be spending time in pubs. She never misses gatherings with her former colleagues, once a month until dawn. And then again, balanced diet, early rising, daily walks, pumpkin oil. She is twenty years older than me, who would have thought. She sticks to this world like a cat and she does not intend to give up on it. Luckily or unluckily, Marina does not give up on me either, she always calls me, either to get free theatre tickets on Facebook or to visit Roman lagoons around Belgrade. She goes everywhere and always comes home stronger. She always calls to let me know how it was. Yesterday she called me to ask if I remembered that old chanson which was popular when we were kids, the one about a city and waves. She wanted to look it up on the Internet, but she did not remember the lines. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t remember either. That saddened me e little, more because of her than because of me. 
Marina is the reason for me to wake up, brush my teeth, answer the phone, because everything is easier thangiving her reasons for the mess and the carelessness. 
Las month I found a dead dog behind the garage. When dogs sense death, they isolate themselves. They hide from people and spend their last hours far from the curious gaze. This one got himself between the garage and the container. His jaws, glued by the dry drool, looked as if stiffened by a last try to get some air. Around his pear-like head circled mosquitos, and green wings came out of his nostrils. If we disregard all these things, he looked like he was sleeping. I took the phone out of my purse and took a photo of the dead dog, taking care not to be spotted. Later on, Marina, appalled by this, did not want to see the photo but rather joined her lips making a squeamish gesture: „I don’t know what fascinates you here. Animals, unlike humans, cannot have any impact.” „Humans are animals too,” I replied. This was the usual act of my petty malice towards the reasonable, calm and accurate Marina. I install some insecurity in her orderly life, as if – without her knowledge – I prepare her for surprises which hide behind the corner. Out of everything which is to follow, Marina for now knows only that I sold my apartment and I am going on vacation.”
I set by the edge of the bed, and started to get dressed. These pills give me fatigue and heaviness. I’ve learned to live with an invisible octopus which sticks to my body and embraces my joints. She is my ten-year-old child whom I cannot pull off. That is why I walk, sleep, and think with that heaviness as if this was always the case. Bur now, there are new moments too. Lately my blood circulation worsened, and I put on two pairs of socks and fingerless gloves. I have a hard time putting on the sweater. Lower pajamas are the last ones to go. When I moved my butt from the bed, I had an unpleasant surprise. Wet red spot. If this infernal changing body have ever had any lucky moment, that was when my periods stopped. And now, many months later, I am bleeding again. My own body is reprogramming me, getting me used to incessant changes. Fooling me, in other words. Hashimoto syndrome has always been a demanding guest, but since last month it got worse. 
I found some old pack of sanitary pads. I opened the green pad and stuck the thin layer on the lower part of the worn-out underpants which I took from the bag with the old clothes. I am not someone who keeps unnecessary stuff, I am not a hamster. There are people who never throw anything. Their shelves and drawers are full of articles which gather dust but throwing out is simply not an option. I am not like that. I don’t accumulate, I remember. Material memories suffocate me, they are demanding, they take up space and daily life, they demand care, they decay, their end is yet another small grief. Remembrance is my discipline, and every day I update my collection. Perhaps that is the reason why I feel at ease about this departure. 
I have already packed a great deal of stuff and took it to the rented basement. My drawer and wardrobes are neatly empty. There are only books on the table, some crime stories to keep me busy, and some documents. Passport, health file, recipes for pills I have to get, report from Social service office: 
Age: 53
Gender: female
Marital status: single
Children: no
Parents: deceased
Education: professional economic high school 
Employment status: unemployed
Length of work: 8,2 
Length of work experience: 32 
Decision of the committee: social assistance rejected
Marina is a pestering, dubious goat. She asks me what I am doing alone all day long. She talks silently, but clearly, word by word. We know each other for a long time, she must have sensed that something important is going on behind her back. I couldn’t tell her the truth, and I didn’t know how to lie. I don’t want to see her face when she finds out my intention because I am afraid she would not understand. I answered vaguely: I am getting things done before leaving. Marina thinks I paid for my trip to make up at least a part of that which I’ve missed in my life, and that I’d return in three weeks’ time as a new person, just like her, with motivation and newly discovered tranquility; that I’ll move in the new apartment which I bought with the rest of the money. 
Pain does not scare me anymore. Nothing is harder than to remain awake and incapable in this bed, in front of a flat screen, under the cracked ceiling. Painful climbing up the hill, painful cold sea, backpack and stones under the soles. Painful bloated stomach and lungs and back and tongue, but that is nothing, everything is temporary. For me, nature is the undiscovered planet and now I want to enter it as many times as a can. I don’t have other wishes. 
My lump, my tiny freedom. If it didn’t show up on the screen of the scanner and announce the billions of its voracious offspring, perhaps I would’ve never dared to leave this old apartment. In fact, I’m not even sure for how long they’ve been there, I don’t remember when I’ve done my last UV scan. When complications started to appear, I called the doctor because I thought he should change my therapy, and this wouldn’t be the first time. The doctor’s appointment was set several months in advance, so I spent half a year in obliviousness. I interpreted my throat pain as virus, Marina always brings some parasites from the outside world. Then I met with the new diagnosis – anaplastic thyroid cancer. The doctor said we’d lost a lot of time and that we should react quickly, so I reacted. 
I don’t believe in god. I believe in Marina and the dark-skinned man in plastic slippers who waits for people from the West at one end of the village. His presence gives me safety from pickpockets and guerilla soldiers. Then he takes them to the local sorcerer, counts their money and takes them to the shallow, dark room of the earthen floor. I believe that this man, skinny and trapped in his own village, knows how to get a gun. He’ll try to bargain with me, he’ll not know I’m ready to give up everything. When I stop enjoying the water and the rain, when I have a hard time to even open my eyes or take a sip of tea, all that I have will belong to him. 
I slept almost all day. Sometimes fatigue takes over for a couple of hours, sometimes longer. However, I still stick to the habit that the night rest is the best, when I take a shower, change my clothes and wash my teeth. I go to bed only when I see the light in Marina’s bedroom is off. The air smells like rain. The waves will overflow this city, I remembered the lines, and take me back to sleep. I will tell Marina first thing in the morning. 

 

 

 

Translated by Qerim Ondozi

Lana Bastašić

Lana Bastašić

Lana Bastašić, born 1986 in Zagreb, is a Bosnian writer. She studied English Language and Literature and holds an MA degree in Cultural Studies. She has published two collections of short stories, a book of children’s stories, and a collection of poetry. Catch the Rabbit, her first novel, was published in 2018 in Belgrade and was shortlisted for the NIN Award. Her short stories have been included in major anthologies throughout former Yugoslavia. She won the Best Short Story Award at the Zija Dizdarević Literary Competition in Fojnica, Bosnia; the Jury Award at the ‘Carver: Where I’m Calling From’ short story festival in Podgorica, Montenegro; the Best Short Story Award at the ‘Ulaznica’ festival in Zrenjanin, Serbia; Best Play by a Bosnian Playwright Award at the competition organized by Kamerni Teatar 55 in Sarajevo, the first award for best unpublished poetry collection in Zrenjanin, and the Targa UNESCO Prize for poetry at the Castello di Duino festival in Trieste, Italy. In 2016 she co-founded Escola Bloom with Borja Bagunyà and co-edits the school’s literary magazine Carn de cap. She lives and works in Barcelona.

Photo by Milan Ilić/RAS

 


 

 

 

Catch the Rabbit

 

[She never wanted to talk about her brother. But that night something was different, something broke inside her like a feeble straw fence. It was the first Monday after college graduation, one of those weeks when your life is supposed to start, or at least another stage of it. I had waited for the whole weekend to feel different. Nothing happened. Like someone had sold me bad weed. 

We were sitting on the couch in her room. Stray cats howled painfully in the streets. 

‘Twenty marks,’ she said, stroking the brown plush-cover that stretched teasingly between her and me. ‘The man came and changed it.’ 

‘What color was it before?’ I asked. It must have been the hundredth time I was in her room, yet I couldn’t recall that couch in any other shade but brown. 

‘Beige, of course,’ she said. ‘Don’t you remember?’

To me this was unacceptable: she and beige. She was never a person for beige. Those people are silent and ordinary. I didn’t dare ask for other colors that, I was sure, stained the pale couch during the years I hadn’t visited. I was quiet most of the time. Nervous. After that day on the island she had stopped talking to me. Three years of college without a single word from her. And now, out of nowhere, I was there on her couch, given in to the first call, embarrassingly ready to accept anything.

We were drinking wine, even though I didn’t feel like alcohol. Lejla poured me a full glass and said firmly, yet gently, ‘Drink.’ And so I drank. Wine or something else, I can’t remember. I only know her black-haired 10 head was surprisingly heavy on my shoulder. I say black because to me she has always been the scruffy raven from high school, regardless of all the bleach she now used as camouflage. I remember her eyes flickered with the reflection of a tiny window and the thick darkness spilled behind it. I remember her handsome brother observing us from the only photograph in the room. Time had faded his cheeks, his sky, and his swimming trunks. And what else? What more? What was the carpet like? Did she even have a carpet? Did the ceiling still have that hideous lamp with fake black pearls she had bought in Dalmatia? Or had she gotten rid of that? How should I know? It doesn’t matter. I can’t explain Lejla by describing her room. It would be like describing an apple using mathematics. I can only remember her heavy head and how her painted toenail peeked through the hole on her sock. I remember her brother. If it hadn’t been for that photo, there would have been no life in that room.

Her mother kept banging with pots in the kitchen. A bit of wall separated us. I think I said something stupid, something that seemed funny at the moment, like aren’t you too old to have a mother in the kitchen? or something like that, and that Lejla smiled benignly – after all, I had one too. It seems like our town was that way back then – full of grown children and slouching, gray-haired mothers.

Why had I come that night? I wanted to ignore her and not jump at the first bone. But that morning she had found her rabbit dead on the cold bathroom tiles. I say cold – someone will correct that someday. They will say I wasn’t there to touch them, how do I know they were cold? But I know a bit about that rabbit of hers, and the bathroom, and those fingers always going towards the 38th Celsius. I know she was probably wearing those puffy apricot-colored slippers and that she crouched to touch the corpse. I know she thought corpse. I can see the bruises on her bony knees.

He never had an official name. He was Hare, Rabbit or Bunny, depending on Lejla’s mood. I remember we buried him in her backyard, under the old cherry tree, which she claimed was radioactive. It was the first time I was burying an animal. 

‘That’s not true. What about your turtles?’ she asked me almost desperately. I remember how her hands were full of her dead Rabbit and how she held him, like precious dowry, in a blue garbage bag. 

‘The turtles don’t count,’ I said. ‘They were like 5-6 centimeters across, like uštipci. A couple of moves. That hardly counts as serious undertaker’s experience.’ 

‘So, what are we gonna do?’

 

The neighbor lent us a shovel thinking we were planting strawberries. It wasn’t a big tool, just a toy for adults really, lighter than hand. It took me forever to dig a hole big enough. I wanted to reproach her for the size of the corpse, but I swallowed my criticism that day. She looked small and frightened, as if she had fallen out of some nest prematurely.

We laid the bag with Bunny in the little vault. Minute roots crawled up from the earth, embracing the corpse with their thin fingers, and then pulled it deep down into their cold womb. When it was over, I laid two white stones on the ground to mark the grave, which quite expectedly made her roll her eyes. 

‘Go on, say something,’ she said. 

‘Say what?’ 

‘Whatever. You built him a monument, so a couple of words are in order.’ 

‘Why me?’ 

‘You’re the poet.’

How vicious, I thought. One pretty lousy poetry collection and now I was supposed to deliver eulogies to poisoned rabbits. But given the lost look in her eyes and her white hands sadly emptied of her Bunny, I coughed and, staring blandly at the two silent stones, pulled out the appropriate lines from some past life or other:

 

‘Speak low and little.

So I don’t hear you.

Especially about how smart I was.

What did I want? My hands are empty,

they lie sad on the cover.

What did I think about? On my lips, dryness and estrangement.

Did I live anything?

Oh, how sweetly I slept!’

 

And that’s when she cried, I think. Perhaps it was me, I’m not sure. It was dark; perhaps her eyes just sparkled in the streetlight. If she is reading this, she will be pissed; she will call me a sentimental cow, because she never cries. Whatever the case, the verses did the work – they closed an unmarked chapter better than a mere college degree.

My conscience was bothering me because I had made her believe the poem was mine. But in that moment, with dead Hare under the ground and Lejla above it, any idea of authorship made little sense to me. Verses were like runaway brides, free from Alvaro de Campos – who never existed in the first place, just like those strawberries – free from Lejla and me, free from the heap of cold earth with two stone eyes, free to be in one moment, and in the next to stop.

I can’t remember whether we returned the shovel to the neighbor, whether we said anything else or not. I only know that later that night her 13 head was heavy on my inappropriate shoulder and how I cursed both that shoulder and the brown cover which hardened into asphalt between us. We were looking at her pale brother inside four paper edges while her mother banged on in the kitchen.

Lejla said, ‘She still has a photo of Tito. It’s in the pantry, behind the turšija jar. If you look closely, you can see his eye between two pieces of paprika.’

I laughed, though I didn’t feel like it. I always found them unbearable – those silent nostalgiacs and the sinewy bubble in which they go on living their better, happier versions in some country where strawberries grow forever and rabbits don’t die. A country they could describe as perfect because they deprived us of the possibility to confirm that claim. I have heard her mother many more times than I have seen her. That night was the same. After a while, the pots went quiet – she laid her trombones down.

Lejla looked at the books lying on the shelf next to the photo of her brother, shut her made-up lids and whispered: ‘I watched it die.’

I looked at her in confusion. She opened her eyes and, noticing my lost expression, laughed and said, ‘One point for me.’ When she realized that I still didn’t understand what was going on, she rolled her eyes and added, ‘It is swollen now, like a corpse.’ That’s when I understood. It was our private game: one of us would spit out a forgotten quote from some of the books in sight, and the other would have to guess the title. But I couldn’t understand why she remembered our almost forgotten ritual at that moment. We had played with quotes at the beginning of college, back when we thought it was enough to say smart words so that people would think you understood them. But we were no longer those people. College was out of our lives – for me like a lover I had overestimated for four years, for her like a painful vaccine someone else had told her was necessary. It is swollen now, like a corpse was no longer the same sentence, just like we were no longer 14 the same kids. To Lejla, that game had always been just a fancier version of hide and seek. ‘Words are empty anyway,’ she had once told me during a Morphology exam. But that night she needed words, at least like placebo, so I followed the rules obligingly.

‘No, it has not shrunk,’ I whispered, ‘cold and empty it looks much bigger than before.’

‘Dark,’ Lejla said. 

‘What?’ 

‘Dark and empty.’ 

‘Yes… Dark and empty. The Travelogues.’

Once I had offered the satisfying answer and she nodded in acceptance, I closed my eyes and pressed her warm hand as if to save it from the brown plush and its charlatan, beige past. It calmed me to see that she was still able to play, to resurrect quotes from some books she pretended not to like and share them with me as if she hadn’t ignored me for three years. I wasn’t angry. I was happy she could still believe in beauty after she had witnessed death crucified across bathroom tiles.

That was the first time she asked me that vile question.

‘When are you gonna write a poem about me?’

I opened my eyes and sat up straight. I had known her longer than I had my period and this surprised me anyway.

‘I’m sure you still write them. After that morbid book. Right? Admit it,’ she said, suddenly making me feel ashamed, as if writing poetry was the same as hiding a bottle of rakija in a paper bag and sleeping under a bridge.

‘I do,’ I said. It was past ten p.m. The pots from the kitchen had long gone quiet. I knew I should have gone home after the funeral. Nothing good can happen after you bury somebody’s pet. 

‘So, why don’t you write a poem about me? What’s wrong with me?’

‘And what am I,’ I asked, ‘fucking Balašević1?’ 

I felt bad about it later. I should have said yeah, sure, she would have forgotten after a couple of days that she ever asked, or would have laughed her silly request off, adding she’d rather rot dead than play someone’s Muse. But I couldn’t help it. Not that my poetry was any good, but Lejla’s absence from that part of my life – the way she had diligently ignored the whole endeavor including promotions, reviews and awards – hurt like a dangerous pile in the middle of my body. No, I wouldn’t let her get away with this. Even if she had buried her mother that day, she wouldn’t humiliate me in such a banal way. Anyone else, a beggar in the street, could have asked the same thing, and I would have believed his request was genuine. But not her. For Lejla, life was a rabid fox coming at night to steal your poultry. Writing about life meant to stare at the slaughtered chicken the next day, never being able to catch the beast at its crime. Above all, it seems like she could never grasp why anyone in their right mind would sit down and write poems. Even less so, why I, in that place and that time, would ever choose to spend my nights that way. And now, after a lifelong policy of demeaning the only somewhat successful attempt in my altogether unspectacular life, she is sitting there, on her fake-brown couch, with her fake-blonde hair, insulting me. Well, hell no.

‘Geez, Sara,’ she said and stood up. 

‘I was joking.’ She wasn’t angry, just tired. If you ask Lejla, poetry isn’t even worth fighting over. She went to the shelf, took the photo of her brother and wiped the glass with the end of her sleeve. 

‘He didn’t wanna draw me, either,’ she said, putting the photo back to its place. Then she looked at me all wide-eyed as if she had suddenly remembered something.

‘Have I ever told you how he touched a painting?’ 

I was quiet, all of a sudden completely pointless on her couch, the way one slipper loses its point entirely when it’s not paired up. She obviously didn’t need an interlocutor, only an ear to empty herself into, like an animal before it’s stuffed. She said he. The first time after that terrible day on the island.

‘I don’t remember it,’ she went on, ‘I was too little. But mom’s told me the story a thousand times. We were in some museum. Armin was seven or eight, I think. I don’t know. Anyway, he stood on tiptoe and touched the painting. But really… Fingers on the painting, you know? And then the whole show – the alarm went off, the guards running around, our parents freaking out…’

I was sitting on the couch saying nothing. After all, what could I say? What could anyone say? The fox had already run away, I couldn’t catch it. All of a sudden words seemed false, expired, like stiff-dry makeup on an old woman’s face.

‘But, what matters is that Bunny got his epilogue,’ she said and shrugged, cutting the whole story about death, poetry and protected paintings. She was a simple girl again – the one that wouldn’t ask for a nine in an exam, the one who prefers to drink her beer and not talk too much. A blonde girl in plastic slippers who could joke about the rabbit that, I remember clearly, she used to love more than people. A girl who doesn’t know that Vienna is swollen like a corpse, who doesn’t talk about her brother. Someone’s frail, dumb Muse. I couldn’t stand her.

I said it was getting late and it was time for me to get going. Her mother had probably gone to bed already. She stared at me for a while – her eyes creeping about my face, from my lips to my eyebrows, as if I would change my mind if she looked long enough. I would stay, drink her wine, write her a poem – she only has to tug at the leash a bit. When nothing 17 happened, when she realized I had really made up my mind to go home, her eyes fell off my face like a sheet falling off a statue. She walked to the door, opened it and said, I think, I’m almost certain, though later she claimed it wasn’t like that, ‘Go fuck yourself.’

I finished my wine, or whatever else was in that glass, in one sip and left Lejla’s room. I reached my house too soon, so I just kept on walking, as if I hadn’t recognized my own front door. I walked for a long time, listening to crickets in unattended hedges and wondering where moles were hiding that night and whether it was true what they said about big venomous snakes by the river. I walked until all the churches tolled five o’clock and, it seems, long after that. I walked until twelve years later I reached St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, pulled the cellphone from my coat and said her name. Yes, I mean your name. Then I stopped.]

 

 

_________________________

1 A popular singer-songwriter from former Yugoslavia. Many of his songs are dedicated to women he 

 

 

Translated by Lana Bastašić

Daim Miftari

Daim Miftari

Daim Miftari, born 1979 in Gostivar, Macedonia, holds a Master’s degree in Albanian Language and Literature from Skopje University. He has published a number of books in both Albanian and Macedonian, his poetry has been translated and published in anthologies, newspapers and literary magazines in Macedonia and abroad and has earned him acclaim with literary critics. In 2017 he was granted the POETEKA literary residence in Tirana, Albania.

He lives in the multilingual city of Skopje, where he works as journalist, translator, and teacher.

 


 

 

 

Ices

If it Wasn’t Me 

 
if it wasn’t me
someone else would be living
in the apartment where I live today
in the same city
on the same street
at the same address
and those days would be quite the same
with all the seasons inside
all the happenings
joys and sadnesses
glees accidents foolishnesses
like loaded trucks
 
if it wasn’t me
someone else would be standing
on the same balcony where I stand
late at nights at times
watching the street fall asleep
like a tired traveler
under the neon lights
and the shadows of trees
 
suddenly his thoughts would fly
across the mountains
to the childhood home
that he too might have abandoned
and to some dreams
teared like the clothes
by some stubborn tree branch on the street
and to his word
his given word
that he would love her and cherish her
forever
and later on he’d ask
where did she disappear
her joyous stare
her thin laughter
and sometimes like a bird
on an April-green branch
sadness would rest upon her face
 
if it wasn’t me
someone else similar to me
would suffer to the bone
from the frauds unjustices
revenges greeds
losses infidelities
and when feeling tired
from the urban noise
he would yearn to put his head to rest 
he would also hide
far far away
 
if it wasn’t me
someone else like me
would have friends
to go out with 
and the world would seem nice at times
and sometimes he’d spit on it
and he’d hate his bad fortunes
for not living somewhere else
where he’d be better off
with his family
 
because he would also be married with kids
and would go out with them at the weekends
and carry them about
and worry about them
and their future
and play with them
in the evenings and read them tales
and often trapped
by some curious question
would try to find answers
when his kids would grow up he’d tell them about life
and his past
his loves
his dreams
his regrets
and against his will a tear would drop
like water gathered from tree leafs by the wind 
after a crazy rainstorm
and still he’d say
he’s happy anyways
with everything he’s accomplished in life
 
he’d have a library full of books
to read
any time he’d get a chance
 
or perhaps he’d have another trade 
it’s mustn’t be poetry
 
 

There May Come a Day 

 
there may come a day when I cry out
kind of annoyed
to hell with all my poems
written and unwritten
I’m so tired of them
putting each word in its proper place
in each sentence
much like a kid lost in his gaming world
and I sure was happy just as one
each time I believed that I had succeeded
and then just like a kid started all over again
thinking surely
I could be doing something else
easier perhaps or more useful
than wasting my time like this
but I realize then
I am not really skilled to do anything else
 
 

Sometimes My Life 

 
sometimes my life
thinks in vain
about many things
that might have been different
and turned otherwise
 
unsure until the end
how everything could have developed
if things didn’t happen
the way they happened
and made everything as it is
 
my life goes nuts 
sometimes 
when I say you still
should be happy
with how everything turned out
and that I envy myself
 

 

Translated by Sasho Spasoski

Azem Deliu

Azem Deliu

Azem Deliu, born 1996 in Skënderaj, Kosovo studied Albanian Literature at the University of Prishtina where he was honoured with the prestigious Distinguished Student Award for his first poetry volume The Funeral of Rain (2013). His first novel The Illegal Kisser (2016) became a national bestseller and has already been translated into English. Interest in the author is also growing in other countries. The French press have called him ‘a great author from a small country’ and ‘the new star of European literature’.

 


 

 

 

Notes of the worm Smolinski

 

PROLOGUE

 
“I am a dishonest worm” was all I could write in my journal on January 24, after Liliana’s burial. It was difficult to define what I really felt. I only knew I was tired. Exhausted after a hard day and with the feeling of Liliana’s unexpected death that was squeezing me within with an unbearable pressure, after I wrote these words, I felt like I was writing for days. Fatigue has priority, I said to myself. Man can feel many things at once, but nothing beats the fatigue. This type of fatigue, not the physical one.  
 
Then, as if I wanted to add something else to that sheet, I turn to it again and threw a glance at: I am a dishonest worm. 
 I stopped for a moment. Being a dishonest worm had accompanied me throughout my thirty-eight years of life. Now and then I heard it being said to me as a mockery or as an accusation. But I had never taken it so seriously like I did today when, with a convinction that encompassed all that I heard about myself, I labeled myself as such in my journal.
 
“Man takes seriously only what he said to himself before others say it to him,” I said to myself and without taking off my coat and without putting the paper sheet into the drawer, I went to bed. 
 

THE FIRST PART 

 
1
I barely caught the bus number 7 of city traffic of Pristina, which should take me behind the National Theatre. In front of it I was supposed to meet a young woman regarding a show, a journalist of culture. Near the bus stop, I saw some black-bearded young men moving strangely their bodies, as if they were dancing. I was astonished for a moment, and then when one of them gave me a very fierce glance, I moved on. Perhaps it is in their rite, I thought, not to be seen by anyone while they dance. I went to the other side of the sidewalk divided by side plants and I ran after the bus until it stopped a few meters behind the station and just before Bill Clinton’s statue. Humbly climbing the stairs, I felt that I had an unpleasant odor. It was my third day staying in Kosovo. I remember having a shower yesterday. I never cared about personal hygiene and my sister, Katrina, has suffered a lot with me at the time of my studies, when we decided to rent a flat together so our father would not have to pay two rentals. 
While the bus climbed uphill, a poster caught my left eye along the way. The note was quite clear: “February 24, 18:00. Meeting with Polish writer Piotr Smolinski at the Faculty of Philology.”   
My eyes, acostumed with variations of correction, they rearranged eveything in the head and came up with this variant: “February 24, 18:00. Meeting with the dishonest worm Piotr Smolinski, who disappointed his father and betrayed his girlfriend, at the Faculty of Philology.”
If I went on, there was a risk of projecting all the faults of life to my picture on the poster beside the road. I felt, though, a little bit relieved because it seemed to me that he had something different from me in the picture. He was an image, even though it was my image. “Blame the image!” – almost screamed the voice inside my head. 
While dealing with this, I felt that the theater station was nearby. I could hardly get off, and when my foot touched the ground, I caught myself thinking that I would like it more if after the bus stairs instead of the ground there was a huge hole waiting for me, an endless abyss. I headed towards the theater. I had difficulties crossing on the other side of the street, because a Mercedes Benz, a very old type, could hardly stop. 
Next to theatre, where the square begins, I put my hands in the coat pockets and although I felt that the scarf was not well adjusted, I did not even try to fix it. Perhaps because now I was looking at the young lady that was waiting for me in front of the theater stairs and with all those images of me around the town, it was impossible to believe that she did not notice me. So, it was too late to fix the scarf. Good that I did not have troubles with my pants, I said to myself and I relaxed my hands in my pockets. 
Regardless of my opinion, it seems that this miss or misses did not even notice me.  It could be that she did not notice me because I went around the square that stretched to the left of the theater, but a man with fragile self-pride as me doesn’t  need much to feel neglected. That she did not notice me is related to her carelessness towards me. Every normal person would have the right to call me a crybaby, because I was expecting from a stranger to deal with problems and uncertainties that I had with myself. 
As if she had felt that suspicious atmosphere inside me, the moment I apporached her, she said, “Excuse me?” and then she leaned to let the light fall to my face, she added: 
Are you Piotr Smolinski?
I reacted with enthusiasm.
Yes, I said with a glitter which I bet was visible in my eyes even from outside. – Liliana? I said to her. 
She nodded.
I was happy that I satisfied her with my enthusiastic reaction. But, in fact, I was not enthusiastic about getting to meet her, but because of my expectation that she would refer to me as a “worm” and when she said, “Piotr Smolinski”, it seemed to me as an applauding bonus. It almost got out of my mind that I, the dishonest worm from my neighborhood with thousands of inhabitants, was even Piotr Smolinski, the most prominent writer of Poland, a country which has forty millions inhabitants. Strangely, when debating with myself about these two identities, most commonly the worm was the winner.     
Maybe the screams of the neighborhood kids for the worm were stronger than the screams of the national and international press for the writer. Or the screams within me, to my surprise, were more fit with the kids screams.  
How can I to know, I thought and only when we approached the theater door, I realised that Liliana was speaking. To avoid embarrasing situations when she would at any moment  understand that I was not listening, I said to her: 
– I’m so sorry to interrupt you in this important discussion, but I just want to tell you that you look extremely beautiful today, – and by lowering down my hand and with a respectable bending of the body I said: – Please, continue.
It seemed to me that the compliment faded out a bit of what I said in the first part of the sentence. 
– Piotr, she said, stunning me by addressing me by my name, I was not saying anything important. 
Instead of shutting my mouth or at least changing the subject, I got even deeper into my dialoguing stupidity.
– That’s relative, I said, different things matter to different people. 
– Is that what I said really important to you? – she was surprised and by drawing two fingers to her lips, said: – What important thing was I saying? 
With that innocent voice, that seemed that as much as it was directed to me, was aimed at her too, made me feel guilty.  I was ready to admit that I didn’t hear her at all when, as if she was sparing me from this embarrasing moment, she shrugged and said in amazement: 
– Ah, you writers. Always the insignificant details, many times boring for other people, are so important to you.
Look at this, I said to myself. Once again, the fact that I am a writer spared me from an awkward situation. Would it spare me from being a worm? One nil for the writer.
 
 
2
When Liliana told me, after we left the theater, that one of the reasons she had invited me was that I was bisexual, I felt insulted. I was convinced to expect that the reason why a journalist of culture would be interested in me would be my literature, it was a fair expectation. But she told me so bluntly and shockingly: she hated writers.    
Perhaps the word hatred was a momentary exaggeration, but she had never felt any respect for any living writer. She called them “a priori arrogant”. The case changed only with dead writers. She liked them. I guessed more or less why she had such a notion.  
Within any cultural journalist, a failed writer is hiding. We used to joke around with this saying so many times in the literature students’ clubs, that it was almost demode. But it remained true, according to me.  
Each of us had a version of this phenomenon in the head. As for me, it was like this: I imagined cultural journalists as semi-connoisseurs of culture who were glowing in salons holding glasses of wine, while celebrating literary awards, who made mythical introduction to the writer that was invited to an interview, but always being a step away from him. Their beauty was only in the way in which they tried to conceal their intellectual inferiority.  
However, I could not wait for Liliana to approve something like that. Trying to make it as objective as possible, Liliana told me that the reason she does not like living writers that, unlike the dead that were colossus of the letters, among the living could hardly find anyone who was not influenced or not gave political stances.   
. “Victims of their ideologies and glory,” – Liliana called the writers.
I, however, couldn’t believe that she was defending so fiery an opinion that she had created, according to her, during the studies and she did not change it yet. This was a real problem for me. One should not remain with opinions he had when he was at the beginning of his studies. If so, studies have no value. 
Anyway, beyond theories, now as a writer and not as a bisexual, I had the right to tell Liliana that she was completely wrong. Not that writers today were angels or colossus of letters as she was saying about the dead, but neither the latter had been such.  
For example, she highly praised the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. You could see her eyes shining when she spoke cheerfully about him and without any critical examination. Otherwise, being an anti-marxist liberal and who bowed before the Holocaust, she could not, under any circumstances, have such love for Knut Hamsun. The latter, though perhaps the greatest writer of Norway, was a die-hard Hitlerian. This would be enough to say to her that her “colossians”, beginning with Dostoyevsky who was extremely infiltrated in Russian nationalism, then Turgenev about whom I’ve been told that has abused his workers and all the way to Hamsun who was Adolf Hitler’s die-hard fan, cannot be removed from the frame of her statement “victims of their ideologies and glory”.  
All these names, I agree, were geniuses. These facts, none of them, I did not tell Liliana. 
“Anyway, she hates living writers, – I said to myself. – Why make her hate dead writers?” Moreover, it was about the writers that I loved, without exception. Especially Dostoyevsky. Because the worm loves the worm. 
 
3
When I told Liliana that my nickname was a worm, she became curious, how and why they gave me this stigmatized name. I almost forgot the source of this label. So, searching every nook and corner of the memory I rebuilt the pieces of the confession.  
I don’t exactly remember how I realised that Pawel from the neighborhood was homosexual. Maybe he was a bisexual too, but at least I knew he was homo.In Poland of the nineties, when communism has just fallen and the Catholic Church, due to the help it provided in this fall, was quite strong, public calls against homosexuals were becoming more pronounced. Pawel and me had decided to challenge this. Of course, there was still no question to do a public challenge. 
We had just finished high school and, when we were eighteen, we were old enough to have sex. We were determined to do this with each other. No other place than in the church premises. 
“We need a plan,” Pawel said, half a year older than me, “ monk Smolinski never leaves the church.”
He did not know that monk Smolinski was my uncle. I did not want him to know. For a moment, I felt I made to Pawel a great injustice. But he would not do it with me if I told him. Pawel was quite a coward and if he was not angry because of the stigmatization done by the newspaper close to his father’s church, a prophesor at the Bialystok Institute, I could hardly convince him of this rebellion against the Church.
His proposal was that, on Sunday evening,when all the Masses were carried out, while the side door was still open, we would enter the church secretly and climb up to the bell chamber, where the priest did not go except to ring the bells. 
And so we did. As soon as we approached the bell, in the darkness that moon’s dim light just made it look grayish,  we started to make love. 
 “Slide, slide,” – Pawel groaned. Who knows how it came to him when my uncle and three nuns walked through the door and caught us in action, he was saying, “Slide like a worm.”
I don’t remember exactly how we avoided that situation. I don’t even remember what was my uncle’s first reaction. Immediate revolt or attempt to join us, if he wasn’t with nuns. But I know that the next day, across our entire Warsaw district were distributed leaflets liki mini posters, which read “Piotr and Pawel, gays and are hated by God” and “Piotr slides like a worm.”
It was strange that, perhaps because my uncle intervened, I was presented without a surname. So, I was not Piotr Smolinski, but Piotr the worm. That was the main placard because the other one, the one with “Piotr and Pawel, gays and are hated by God”, was immediately removed with intervention of a girl working on the largest Polish supermarket network, Piotr and Pawel. Maybe it was not her intervention. But my memory, more often illusory than earthbound, tells me so.   
Pawel commited suicide two weeks later. A few years later, when it seemed that everything was forgotten, in audience at the Palace of Culture, where my book of poems was being promoted, someone shouted, “Piotr the worm” and “Smolinski the worm”. That’s how my hell started. 
 
 
4
I do not know if Liliana liked my explanation. In fact, I had no way knowing whether she like it, because I did not give it to her. I retreated at the last moment and, instead of giving her the letter in which I wrote this story of explanation that had some shortcomings, I gave her a part of manuscript of the story that I came to Kosovo. I heard on a train across the Balkans that in the Elbasan district, in Albania, there was a family called “Mark Bala’s family”. They, according to the story I heard, sheltered a Jew in the Second World War and after he abused their hospitality, by making love with their daughter, the latter decided to kill him. 
But the mere killing would not satisfy the insulted Mark Bala. After he had protected him from Hitler, Mark wanted to kill him just as Hitler would kill him. Thus, he took a long way to the most knowledgeable old man of the area to ask how Hitler killed the Jews. The journey was almost in the fashion of Don Quixote. 
However, when we met next time I had given her the story, she told me she had not only liked it but was beginning to think that the writers were not necessarily “a priori arrogant”. This was for me the greatest success. With my both hands I checked my body, whether I am dead. She got my humour and, surprisingly, she was not embittered as was her custom. 
I was not a dead writer, and yet she liked me. Finally, I broke the ice. I did not interest her only because of homosexuality, but because of literature. 
“Yet, she reasoned, you have to be careful.”
I did not understand why I had to be careful. However, I would find out when I met Hajdin Bytyçi, the residence coordinator through which I had come to Kosovo. I met him twice. Both times were incredibly uninteresting to be described here. For that man I had only two feelings: intellectual disrespect and sexual attraction. 
But we had an official relationship and so we had to stay like that. For the sake of the truth, that intellectual disrespect, more than from meeting with him, I had because of what was said to me about him, but for these there would be another opportunity to say it.
Liliana, extremely beautiful and moderately wise, was worried about me. I do not call her moderately wise neither for the job she is doing nor for her lifestyle. I call her moderately wise because she was stupid enough to worry about a man like me. For someone like me, about whom I almost did not bother to care myself either.   
If she was like me, someone who is scorned by society, then I could understand the sense of solidarity..
Here for a moment I stopped. It did not make sense to seek solidarity only from those who were like me. The whole core of solidarity is to solidarize with someone unlike yourself. So a wealthy man can be solidarized with a poor one. So, I said to myself, there is no sense if a poor man is solidarized with a poor man. They are solidarized at all times. 
However,  in order not to become an irreparable detallista, as they often told me that I was, I no longer have to deal with solidarity. Perhaps she did not have no sense of solidarity, but she was scared. This suspicion aroused in me when, after she followed me to the entrance of my apartment and despite the fact that I wanted to but did not invite her inside, she said, “The novel you are writing is good enough. Unfortunately, many of its parts are of some relevance here.”
I saw from her body language that she was serious about it. What was of relevance here? The hatred towards Jews? Feeling insulted by minutae? Psychopathic murders? Or all together?
I did not care. I was a worm. A worm can be crushed at any time, but its crushing, in addition to the surrounding fluids, also caused an unbearable stink for the pusher.
So, if they killed me, Piotr Smolinski, my fragrance would wander through world literature as a damned ghost. Then I would have much more imortance as a writerthan as a worm or bisexual. Two nil for the writer.
 
 
5
It is not very difficult to say that Pristina is beautiful, but with chaotic architecture. I remember once during my studies, the art history teacher, M.G., told me that it is odd how the chaotic architecture of places indicates the chaotic mentality of the people. Not always, of course, the professor hastened to clarify so he would not be misunderstood.
However, until now I have not encountered any exceptions. 
This “however” seemed to me like Giordano Bruno’s famous saying “eppur si muove”, who, facing the trial of the Church, was forced to admit that Sun moves around the Earth and not the opposite, he said while leaving the hall “eppur si muove” – “and yet it moves”.
Anyway, neither when he gave the assertion, nor when he explained the exceptions, my teacher did not take into consideration this small country in the Balkans.
 
 
6
Meanwhile, what was really hard was to talk about my residency cordinator, Hajdin Bytyçi. I met him, seriously, very late; except for two meetings that were quite administrative and short, when he handed me the keys of the apartment that I would use in Pristina and when he gave me the document by which I could withdraw the money. It was the very day that Liliana got a good news about the change of the editorial office and when, in order to celebrate it, she and I went a little further in our relationship. 
Hajdin was forty-eight years old. He kept his neck-tie tight against his throat and he did not take off his jacket even in dog days of summer. I never met him when it was hot, but they told me about it. There are some other things I’ve heard about him, but they did not impress me very much. What impressed me in him was his developed physics, despite his age, if his forty-eight years could be called age.  
 don’t remember where I heard an intersting story about him. When he was a teacher in gymnasium one day some students pranked him by giving him a poem of Adam Mickiewicz, translated into ghegh dialect by a teacher in Pristina, saying to him that it was a poem written by Gjergj Fishta, an Albanian epic poet. Hajdin began to highly praise the text, while the quarrelsome students were sneering. This lasted until a girl in the first row, one of those eager students that make sure to remind the teacher that he had forgotten to give homework, explained to him that he was caught in the trap. Hajdin ashamed by of his students, suspended  them from class for two weeks. 
He smoked a lot of cigarettes and spoke with admiration about literature. More precisely, he spoke with admiration about writers. As for literature, I do not know if I can tell you that he had any knowledge about it. He was a little nationalist and he had a lot of problems with humor.
“There can’t be a good relationship between ideologies and humor”, – I remembered saying my teacher of art history again. “This is because ideologies tend to launch great truths, while the humor strips them and makes them fall apart. There is nothing more disarming than a laughter.”
And my teacher was right. In the face of the disarming laughter, ideologies strike only moraly, that is, only below the belt. Sometimes acting like a victim, sometimes mocking the humorist personally. There is no nationalism, no religion, or thought, which can face individually, one on one,  against the humor. 
 
 
7
I was barely waiting to get away from the meeting with Hajdin. With an unpleasant stink, from a beer spilt on my shirt, I walked towards the door. He insisted on paying by explaining that Albanians did not allow their guests to pay. I didn’t mind. Intellectually, Hajdin was completely unattractive. A good part of our the meeting he spent reading to me some of his own poems and I could make a simple evaluation: those poems showed that they were written by a close-minded person. 
It is difficult to like the poetry of close-minded person. Morever, knowing the author. 
Before my father realized that I was bisexual, he had read and liked a lot some of my high school poems. The ones that were especially caressing his primitive pride. Many times our minds often make a mistake, we do not try to read poetry so we can experience it or not, but we read it so we can agree with it or not. 
“What’s wrong with that?” – I told myself as I approached Liliana’s appartment. – “Poetry is not an argument.”
As I was saying back then, my father, now deceased, liked many of my poems, until I wrote a poem which I titled it “Poem of Colors”.  My father, though close-minded, was sharp-witted in his backwardness. He understood quite well that within the poem of colors I had declared more or less, as one of the verses said, “I was not only white or black”. 
My attempt to explain to him that this is the way how the subject of poetry is felt, that I was not writing about myself, he did not swallow it. Unfortunately,  this exceeds his cognitive abilities. What followed was traumatic. 
I would continue to remember the case with my father if an orange taxi would have not stopped before my feet. Maybe better so. A man needs a brief break of thoughts from time to time. 
It was raining, so I could be labeled not only as a worm, but also as a fool, if for two euros and some change I would not take taxi to Lili’s apartment.  
Lili, on her part, did almost everything. She took care of every detail, so I began to feel ashamed because I smelled of spilled beer. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper where she worked, invited her to the office today and gave her good news that the newspaper editorial board has decided to move her from culture section to politics section.  
“Culture does not produce any news,” she said full of joy, “now I will be paid almost double.”
I felt empty at the full table. She was celebrating for leaving the culture section hoping for a better life. Would that mean that good life depended on how far you get from culture?
It sounds cynical, I thought, but, unfortunately, that’s how some of the truths are. Deeply cynical. 
 

 

Translated by Fadil Bajraj

Ana Schnabl

Ana Schnabl

Ana Schnabl, born 1985, is a Slovene writer, journalist and literary critic. A doctoral student of Philosophy since 2016, she focuses her research on the female autobiography and confession, and the woman in psychoanalysis. She writes for literary journal Literatura and the online portal AirBeletrina, has collaborated with daily Dnevnik and is the editor-in-chief of the European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture. In 2014 her short story MDMA was the winner of AirBeletrina’sshort fiction competition. Disentangling (Razvezani, 2017), a short story collection, is her first book. Schnabl is currently working on a play and a novel, with the latter delving into the topics of infidelity, illegitimate children and the ‘golden 80s’ in Slovenia.

 


 

 

 

Ana and The Only Son

 

Ana 

As a little girl, my sister was always stronger and faster than I was. While I spent my evenings reading in the armchair given to us by our grandfather who hoped one of us would use it to broaden her horizons, she was always on the prowl. At the neighbours’, in narrow valleys, under hayracks, among the ruins of the old factory. I envied her never truly getting tired, I envied her the rosy glow of her skin as she returned from these ramblings. When we were getting ready to go to sleep and she sat on her legs on the bed in front of me, brushing her long, heavy brown hair, I’d wish, if the night was particularly hard on me, for all her hair to fall out. I’d hope she’d wake up as I was, with a sensitive scalp, dandruff, with problem skin that took on an ugly reddish frown with greasy white lines whenever I worked up a sweat. I envied her that dad, whenever she ran in to hug him, would nimbly lift her up and spin around hugging her until they both hallucinated. As we came back home from the supermarket one afternoon, she jumped on his back, and he, despite being caught off guard, held her up, and they spun around for so long that he lost his balance. He fell back on the radiator, on top of the little girl, and the girl’s head just missed the sharp edge, so that the fall wasn’t lethal, merely extremely painful. The scar was later overgrown by hair, and the memory of danger by laughter.
Her laugh. So full of life and sparkle. A laugh that heals instead of repressing. Laughter that I was invited to share in but kept choosing to remain outside.
She was also the first one to start growing breasts. She carried them with pride, like she used to carry girly necklaces that dad brought back from his trips. While my chest was undergoing nothing but fatty, funny little buttons that I liked to stick my thumb into, checking whether they’ll pop out again, mom was already buying my sister her first bras. “75B,” she’d boast. Thanks to her breasts and the playful hair that rested on them, thanks to her narrow waist that hinted at womanly hips and thanks to her sense of humour, driven by a waking libido and flirtatious nature, she was popular with boys. Back then I thought the worst of her, however, my anger had nothing to lean on. Her actions, her answers, her jokes – everything was straight and average, silly as one would expect of a teenager. Only now and then did a glimmer of adulthood shine through in her behaviour. Like when she accompanied me to the doctor’s when I got salmonella and remained with me long after our parents had gone to sleep; when she confronted the Slovene language teacher because she called a child from an immigrant family a preemie for being so scared of school that he barely ever uttered a word. When my sister found that her pride can be hurtful, she consoled me with kisses and hugs.
The only thing my anger could lean on was her beauty. I tried my best to cover it up with other justifications, I told myself I was bigger than that, bigger than myself and my vapid impulses. But such efforts tend to be fruitless. Beauty has no force of its own, always using another’s to hurt, always returning what it receives. When it receives hate, it responds with injury. When it receives love, it responds with an illusion of its immortality.
In the last days of August before we entered high school, her body overtook me once more. As we were running around stores looking for clothes to mark the first week in high school, she got her first period. She reported that it arrived unannounced, with no burning or cramping, and that euphoria only came over her as she felt her first pad scrunch between her thighs. She requested ice cream. As she stared into the colourful pots, mom lectured her: “It’s all going to be different now. You’ll be adult and responsible. At least I hope so.” I resented her again. Her breakthrough to the next level again filled me with a dismal sense that life would never pick me up from the closet floor, that I would always remain pitiful and forgotten.
This was the last victory of her body.
I often ask myself whether I’d even have noticed, towards the end of the first year of high school, that her face had contorted into unhappiness if she hadn’t previously been so beautiful. I watched her intently, like a rare, precious insect under a magnifying glass; the twitching of the wings, the flutter of the antennae, the squirming around, the quiet crackling voice – I responded to everything. I noticed details. I noted how the regal arch of her brow drooped ever so slightly. In a couple of months, the skin around her eyes took on a grey tinge, giving the appearance of her velvety green eyes resting in a spider web. The sheen of her hair was no longer elvish, merely greasy. Her hair was falling out like an animal’s winter fur, in clumps, which I discovered in the unlikeliest places. On the edge of a refrigerator shelf, between the pages of a fashion magazine, in the kitchen sink. Muscles were stripped off her arms by an unknown wind, taken off her bones, upper arms, shoulders. Her palms became comically elongated and her knuckles jutted out from her hands. One evening I saw her naked, just for a second, before she wrapped herself in a towel in panic: above her still round breasts, ribs stuck out crudely, making it look as if the breasts were hanging from a grating, sticking out from a prison. Her torso seemed thirsty. Dry. On the screen of my memory I can still see the sharp round edges of her pelvis into which her transparent skin was desperately sinking.
I took these changes for innocent erosion and enjoyed them. After all, they were just details, slight deteriorations, dust bunnies of ugliness. I hoped my time would come. The time for the sister who was born first and thus received less. For the first child, the one that’s taken for granted.
She started hiding. Even from me. She knew that the density of her body was an intimate concern of mine and often sneered at me that I was crazy. “And if you aren’t, you will be,” she screamed and slammed the bathroom door. I remember hearing her yelling at the top of her voice for the first time that spring, at dad, who was the first to voice his concerns. His dear daughter was no longer his ally. When he hugged her or placed a firm palm on her shoulder, she froze. Dread descended upon her face and her sternum tensed and jerked towards the ceiling as if the heart underneath it was trying to jump out. She never told him about school, never talked to him about her girlfriends. One night she ran into him in the hall, wrapped in a thick bathing robe. I heard him ask: “Been relaxing a bit, huh?” Afterwards she spent the night sobbing and twisting in her bed. I didn’t try to console her, as I couldn’t understand what perfection could possibly be grieving.
Her voice grew dark, bitter like coffee. She started wearing baggy clothes and leaving her lacy lingerie at home, having convinced mom to buy her a pack of cheap cotton briefs. They had argued in the store, because my sister wanted them to be a size bigger than necessary, to cover the crease where her thighs met her buttocks. Mom hadn’t relented, arguing that this was all a weird phase that would pass and leave her feeling sorry about being stuck with a dozen panties the size of a tent. To avoid further conflict, my sister started leaving home looking like mom wanted her to, only to change clothes in the school bathroom, break up her bun and fluff the hair around her face in such a way that it was almost totally covered. The weird phase didn’t pass, it unfolded into years. At that time, our mom couldn’t tell adolescent foolhardiness and vanity from frantic threats. From the paving of the end.
She started smoking. By sixteen, she smoked a pack of the strongest cigarettes a day. I bypassed her if I saw her in the schoolyard as I was disgusted by her nervous sucking of the cigarette end, which our schoolmates had, only half jokingly, already started associating with her. She had rejected her beauty and now spoke in a caustic tone. And her constant rejection, her dedication to an incomprehensible goal stirred within me a terrible, self-righteous rage, a dark state in which everything that she did, she did to mock me, to gloat at my lack. Those who have are able to reject, while those who lack can never patch the hole with a piece that would fit. The pieces that come by are always wrong, too small to cover the hole or spilling over its edges.
I can still see her, nervous from nicotine and thin as a beanstalk, as she leans on the metal frame of the bike shelter behind the school: she steps on her cigarette, searches in her bag for a bottle of water, drinks it all and then turns away from the audience, slumped in her gloom, again reaches in her pocket and brings her hand to her mouth. Perhaps she sticks it in. Perhaps she just swallows. A mysterious ceremony, the most brutal of my rages.
She quit running. Mom was told that she’d stopped going to practice by the varsity coach. At home, the air was buzzing with rebellion. “I want you to leave me alone! I’m never going back anymore!” In a display of foolhardiness, my sister lit up in front of mom and blew smoke in her face. Mom froze. Her eyes darted around, her lips opened like the beak of a panicked bird, her breathing was shallow. When her daughter blew smoke in her face for the second time, she slapped her. The girl’s cheek showed a bloody, bruising dent, the mark of mom’s wedding ring. The scar remained, making her a further bit uglier.
My sister pushed away while I and our parents grew closer. Mom kept saying she always knew that I’d grow up to be a level-headed person. She never interrogated me about my sister, likely sensing how complicated the ties that bound us were. She was probably feeling pangs of her conscience, realizing how hypocritical she’d been, thinking about the neglected relationship with her daughter, the weird and ugly one, realizing that she, a mother, had measured out her love for us, giving more to the beautiful one. My dad followed me around like a forsaken dog, expecting me to provide him with the sort of warmth that he’d received from my sister and the sort of ease that she wielded. I’d always yearned for closeness, but when a connection did form between us, it formed in perverse circumstances. I was still a mere substitute and she was still the one they wanted. I wrapped myself in hatred. I dreamt about my sister never having been born, that all the beauty that had accumulated with her was instead infused in me, the single child, that all the loveliness and grace of the accepted, the loved daughter settled on myself. My hatred burned persistently and dangerously. It was only interrupted by a coincidence.
I was in third year of high school and it was the last Tuesday before the summer holidays. After the afternoon classes were over, I started off towards the gym locker room where I’d forgotten my equipment. The hallways were empty, sparse jabbering could still be heard from classrooms here and there. The locker rooms were in the look-out basement at the end of a damp, cold staircase that echoed every breath I took. As I descended, the amplified vibrations of my steps drowned out any other sound, but as the noise of my steps died down, I heard a deep male voice that I recognised as the teacher’s. I walked towards his study to explain what I was here for. His commanding voice gradually coalesced into words and sentences, but I was so focused on my mission that I didn’t really understand anything. I was only stopped in place by a forceful “do you understand?”, synchronized with a scene in which the teacher’s spade-like hand was grabbing the thin shoulder of my pale sister, bent over in hunger and hysteria. She wheezed out a resigned, tired “yes” and turned towards me. Her eyes stared like eyes of dead livestock, with pre-death horror frozen in them. I don’t know whether she recognized me, it seemed as if all her life force was channelled into the word that she’d spoken and that all that was left of her was a flimsy, ugly, decrepit frame. The teacher spoke to me, but I was nervous and confused and kept looking at my sister. As she slipped past me, I managed a fractured “Ana, what’s going on?” I retreated backwards from the study without really registering what the huge man was saying to me. In a panic, which I was unable to make sense of but which held me whole in its clutches, I ran upstairs. I couldn’t find Ana anymore. 
I asked her about the incident once again before going to sleep. She muttered, facing the wall: “Leave me alone, it’s none of your concern.”
All I’d wished for came true. My sister’s beauty and joy had withered. People started turning towards me as if they’d just discovered me. A new continent, a rugged, unexplored area that had always had a lot to offer. As my sister wrapped herself in darkness, a land of new opportunities for happiness opened in front of me. With every layer that evaporated from my sister’s body, my will and power grew. But that night something burned in my chest. That night, the magma of my wrath settled down abruptly, even though I hadn’t yet vomited it all out and it hadn’t yet burned everything down. Maybe my sister was suffering, I thought. Maybe her body, porous at that point, was not trying to take its revenge on me. That night, I listened to her breathing and tried to percolate down its column into her mind, her memories, her experiences and sensations. But I discovered nothing; I didn’t know my sister and in my envious, insidious schadenfreude, I never saw her as human. Sympathy could not bridge the distance between us because I couldn’t provide it with substance. In my imagination, the afternoon incident grew to terrible proportions from which I gathered every possible reason for my sister’s bitterness. In hallucinatory oscillation, the incident’s contours grew hazier and I burned with intuitions. Worry appeared as a powerful earthquake. Worry of one wanting to redeem oneself, of one who’d seen violence in one’s hands. A selfish worry.
The summer that followed was marked by a game of ingratiation and avoidance. I was convinced Ana’s silence was just that – a game. That she would soon lower her shield, as her strength had all but been depleted. She only carried the heavy armour and defended herself to punish me for the torments I dealt her in my thoughts. And I was ready to serve my sentence. I never shared my intuitions regarding my sister’s unhappiness with my parents. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity to be the first to bond with her after her descent. And at the same time, I didn’t know the actual substance of my intuitions. Had I called what I spun out in my sleepless nights by its true name, it could come true and then I’d be overwhelmed by responsibility for a new injustice – and I could barely carry the one. I was afraid. I kept quiet in front of my parents mostly to protect myself. Because Ana, Ana would tell them everything by herself sooner or later.
I kept quiet when they took her, dehydrated and delirious, to the hospital and fed her concoctions of raw butter, sweetened cocoa and milk for a week. As the pale brown liquid flowed into her, tears of disgust streamed down her face. I kept quiet when mom took cotton pads from her purse that was hanging over the side of the bed and burst into tears. Dad held her to his chest silently and stared at his daughter who no longer lied on the bed, but was draped over it like a frayed piece of fabric. I looked upon the despair that they walked up and down the floors of our house with the patience of the disgraced. I kept quiet when she spat in the face of the nurse who brought her a high-calorie beverage and scratched her bloody. I didn’t lose my faith in her even when she couldn’t walk anymore and still refused any sort of food. There was no reason to be afraid, my sister was good, in her core she was good, and she’d make things right. She’d deliver us from suffering, she’d absolve me. I kept counting on her goodness long after she’d ceased to be human. I held her hand tightly and watched the lanugo on her face, the grotesque tangle of blue-violet veins on the palm and back of her hand, the rising and falling of her pointy clavicles. Her lively wet body had disintegrated into paper. I touched her absent face and placed my hand on her abdomen. I wanted her to feel the pulse of my flesh and know that we can start again. My young hand would not crush her, would not finish what had been started in hatred against life. I hoped boundlessly, disguising my guilt into hope that she’d explain what I saw on that morning in June, that she’d tell me just how innocent it was. I kept quiet until her eyes glazed over. I stood by her and kept quiet so resolutely that I heard, in the tranquillity of her room, the exact moment when her heart stopped beating. Mute, I stood by the body of my twin sister.

 

The Only Son 

Rivulets of sweat poured from the nape of my neck, over my temples and chin and between my breasts. Hair matted my forehead but I didn’t have the strength anymore to push it away. The air in the room was heavy and acidic. I didn’t feel the bed I was lying on, my legs had gone numb. I could barely keep my eyes open, the blurry scene at the other end of the room was framed by the contours of my eyelashes. Two fat women were using a wet cloth to wipe down the baby. Its short limbs protruded into space and writhed grotesquely, the surface of its skin was greasy and bloody and disgusting. It screamed and coughed and breathed. I had almost fallen asleep when the thin-haired fat woman put the baby in my arms.
“Watch the head.”
I awkwardly twisted my forearms under the blanket that framed the inhumanly wrinkled face. I tried, but my arms refused to nimbly come together in a hug. Its eyes were half-closed. It seemed to me that the supple skin covering its skull moved inward, I saw it pulsate like the tiny bodies of Mediterranean lizards. Its wobbly head scared me. I didn’t open the blanket at all, I wasn’t interested in what lay underneath it. On my thighs, I felt the same weight that had resided inside me just a day before. A swollen tongue protruded from its mouth, its lips twitching greedily and leaving droplets of spit on my arm with every twitch. Chills went down my spine and engulfed my limbs like lava.
“You’ll have to let him latch on now,” giggled the other fat woman.
“What do you mean?”
She pointed at my huge, aching breasts riddled with blue and violet veins.
“Let him nurse. He has to nurse now. I think it’s time we called your husband.”
I did as the fat woman said, I opened the soaked-through gown and pressed the baby’s face to my nipple. I took a deep breath before its lips made contact with my flesh. It sucked forcefully, I felt as if it were stabbing me with a sharp awl that travelled through my breast, bored underneath my sternum and scratched my shoulder blade. It suckled and suckled, and I was unable to move, it was pushing me towards the top of the bed with all its strength. I shut my eyes and held back tears. I couldn’t let the two fat women see through me.
As the door opened, I felt the warm glow of hallway lights on my face.
Jan approached me as one would approach a wounded she-wolf that jumps at the mere sound of wind blowing and hurts at the sound of rustling leaves. Compared to my shallow, tense gasps, his breathing was even deeper and more serene than usual. He gently touched the baby’s head with his left hand, brushed aside the lock of hair that was getting in my eyes with his right hand, and kissed me. The contrast between the nervous suckling baby and the loving man stung in my chest.
“You’re so beautiful, Jasmin. You’re both beautiful,” he said. His eyes travelled across the baby’s face that radiated joy at him, while I stared at its thick, rough hair, hoping that the panic would pass before I had to look at the baby again.
“He is beautiful,” I lied. “He’s going to nurse for a couple of hours now. Will you stay with me?”
“Would you like me to?”
I asked myself what he was seeing. In front of him lay his helpless wife and his newborn who was throwing up a storm because the milk was lacking something. I wasn’t glowing and I’m sure Jan noticed it. The proverbial peace and tranquillity had not descended upon me, and my wishes in that tight little windowless delivery room were engaged in the same battle against time as they had been before.
“I’m exhausted. Maybe you could come back a bit later? We’re not going anywhere, I promise.” I did my best to sound caring, to give the impression that I would connect with the baby when I was alone and transfer to it the first pulses of love. I even believed this myself. He nodded understandingly and showered the baby’s brow with a thousand delicate kisses.
“Okay. I’ll be back soon.” Light shone on his eyes and brow as he gently closed the door. Not a wrinkle, not a smidgeon of doubt.
We were left alone. The room was filled by the sounds of the baby’s sucking and by a sullen purr that rose from its stomach. My nipples were numb. My vagina was numb. I wanted to touch it to check the damage that the baby left behind but I couldn’t reach across it. I was overcome by tears, the first one falling right on the baby’s fontanelle. A thought came over me: if I cried on the same spot long and hard, I could hurt the baby. Then it’d leave me alone.
You’re paranoid and insane, I berated myself. I’d never responded well to new things in my life. That’s what it was.

After a few hours, the two fat women took the baby away to better wash it, measure it, weigh it and take its blood. Maybe it’s ill, I thought, and would have to remain here. It’d be fed by tubes or by another woman.
As soon as we were left alone, Jan sat down on the side of the bed. He tried to hug me but I stopped him in time and held a hand in front of his face. He grabbed it and took it to his chest.
“I’m hurting all over.”
“I understand.” He touched my hair.
“Congratulations, honey. A new human being.” The green specks in his eyes glowed, he seemed curious, alert, in love.
“He is new, isn’t he.” My lips softened. I forced a smile. “So new that I’m afraid I’ll break him.”
I wished he’d sense my helplessness so that I could open up to him. I wanted him to listen to me and patiently sift through what I was feeling. To explain to me that sleep deprivation could easily distort reality and suppress beauty. That beginnings are far from being the only thing that determines the intensity and ends of stories. I swallowed nervously and felt my face flush.
“Is there something wrong?” The question rang like a shot in the room. It didn’t belong there, didn’t belong in a place where new life begins and vulnerability rests in its original form between the walls. It emboldened me.
“I’m all …” I tried to find words befitting a mother, “I’m confused. I don’t know how I’m supposed to act.”
“Of course you are, honey. How couldn’t you be, we’re first-time parents. Everything is different all of a sudden, there’s three of us now.” He kissed me on the lips. The mature textures of his skin and beard were soothing. He convinced me that we were feeling the same, that we were talking about the same thing.

I left the maternity ward after three days. During this time, the baby had changed noticeably, the milk had strengthened it and given it colour. When it opened its eyes, it opened them wide, and as it did so, its eyelids pushed deep under its brow. If it weren’t so tiny it would have seemed deranged. The two fat women at the maternity ward kept saying that he looked upon the world with intelligent eyes and that he’s sure to have it easy with the ladies. As we were saying goodbye they just couldn’t get enough of its cuteness. Just before we left, Jan inquired as to whether the baby’s weight was standard, whether it was big enough, whether the slightly ashen tone of its face would eventually disappear. They engaged in conversation that I was unable to follow.
I asked myself whether my body would ever be as firm as it used to be. Mothers lose their youthful volume. As their body is a prisoner of another, much smaller and weaker body, it takes on those qualities itself. In my mind I counted all the washed out, listless, desperate mothers, mothers with huge butts and thighs supporting a crumbling body, mothers with short-cut, withered hair, mothers with sunken eyes and with limbs flimsier than firewood. I shuddered thinking of their shapes. I stood silently at my husband’s side, absent-mindedly holding the baby whose body I wanted to divorce. I wouldn’t let it take me over.
The fat women watched me out of the corners of their eyes. I knew what they were looking for.
“Be well, Mila. Be good to him,” said the fat redheaded woman.
I replied with the tone of one who’s hiding something: “Too bad we’re leaving. It’s so nice and quiet here; I could stay for a while longer.”
“You know, space issues. We have to give others a chance as well, other women are mothers too,” said the other fat woman, pithily stressing the word mothers, and that was that. 
Jan thanked them for their care multiple times, further accentuating the difference between his excitement and my indifference. Tired of standing around, I tugged at his sleeve. We walked to the car. With the baby on my breast I sat in the back and avoided Jan’s seeking gaze in the rear-view mirror. I stared through the window, giving automatic answers to the stream of his questions about the delivery and comparing myself to the women I saw strolling on the sidewalks. The baby suddenly threw a powerful kick at my abdomen and my breast.
“Ow, damm…,” I stifled the swearword and felt it settle in a more treacherous place.
“What’s going on back there?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. Jasmin kicked me in the stomach. His eyesight probably isn’t very good yet.” My voice was clinical, and Jan noticed it as well. I felt a pair of doubting eyes settle on the top of my head.
“No, it really isn’t. The midwife said that he’d truly be able to see only in a week, maybe ten days,” he said, and then, as he realized I wouldn’t pick up the conversation, added with an acerbic tone, “So don’t be too mad at him.”
A wail rose in my throat but I swallowed it. Sitting here in the back seat of the car, where Jan and I had made love years ago, I was overwhelmed by rules and commandments. Mothers only become mothers once they’re spayed, I thought. Our fertility is that which first takes away our freedom. From now on, all my emotions would belong to a being that I wasn’t supposed to be mad at. I sunk into myself, and the wail that I had stifled dissolved in my milk and was swallowed by the baby. In its body, it became the devil’s cry.
“Wow, what a voice,” smiled Jan as he drove.
“Yeah. I don’t know what to do.”
“Maybe you could rock him a bit? Whisper something in his ear or sing something to him?” The suggestions turned into admonitions and Jan’s morning cheerfulness dissipated. What remained were big pieces of joy and smaller, jagged pieces of impatience.
I started singing to the baby and rocking it. Its screams intensified, reached its guttural culmination and broke off into silence just as I wanted to ask Jan to stop the car. The baby had lost its voice; however, that doesn’t mean it stopped screaming.
“You see, you’re doing well, it’s true that your voice can charm just about anybody.” Condescension didn’t suit him. He realized that and apologized, but my pelvis was already tingling with loneliness. Underneath me, attached at my nipple, rested the baby that seemed as alien to me as the man in the driver’s seat. Their expectations had pushed me away from my founts of spontaneity and relegated me to resigned silence. Again I held back tears.
The landscape that stretched between the city and the village where we lived was being evaporated by the heat, losing colours and contours. We were driving towards a house that was thoroughly prepared for the newcomer. From the rooms where the child would be free to go once it learned to walk, Jan removed all furniture with sharp edges and fixed all heavy objects to the walls. The scent of freshly baked bread or apple strudel may have still wafted upstairs. The baby was awaited by a lovely little room that Jan and I had furnished together, back when the germs of my fear were subclinical, back when I waved my hands arrogantly at the thought of infection and ascribed all symptoms to the pregnancy. Just above the door of the room that it would only occupy a year later, I hung a sign saying Welcome home, Jasmin.
As I crossed the threshold of the house with the sleeping baby, I lost my breath. The baby responded to my stillness with anger and crying, it kicked and stretched its hands towards my hair as if it wanted to grab it and pull. It wanted to control even my breathing. As I looked around the hallway in confusion, looking for a surface where I could set the baby down – I was afraid I’d lose consciousness – Jan approached me from behind speaking calm assurances: “There there, Jasmin, it’s all right, don’t be afraid, you’re home now. You’ll always be safe with mommy and daddy.” I turned around, pushed the baby in Jan’s arms and collapsed on the living room couch. In front of me, the brochure from the expectant mothers’ workshop awaited on the coffee table.
Holding the baby, Jan seemed relaxed, as if his skin simply flowed into the smooth skin of the baby. His hand gestures were fatherly and composed. Convinced that the baby would be soothed by vibration, he walked from one room to the next, while I asked myself whether he’d ever call me Mila again or would we forget our true names like all other parents.
The baby’s crying quieted down. Jan placed it on my numb thighs as if it were a gift and said, “I know you’re sick and tired, but I think Jasmin needs to nurse.” He sat down on my left and watched intently for my reaction, waited for the magic of nursing. I felt a burning pain in my left cheek that immediately moved behind my eyes. I felt as if I’d gone blind, my head was ringing and I could no longer tell the ringing from the baby’s cry. Jan’s voice joined the commotion, demanding, “Come on, take him! His head is going to fall back. This is not a joke.”
“Sorry. I can barely keep awake, I have to get some sleep,” I told him, never really hearing my muttered words. I picked up the baby and leaned forward to give it to my husband again, when he hesitantly grabbed my upper arm. “But Jasmin really has to nurse. The midwife said we shouldn’t withhold food from him while he’s so little.” He was trying to mask the shock that I immediately saw in his eyes, make it look like reluctance. He was talking in plural, which had nothing to do with my breasts, my thighs and my hands. I was overcome by rage, which the baby immediately translated into terrible wailing. I kept repeating, “The baby has to nurse.” I used one hand to pull the tunic over my head, unzip my bra and throw it on the floor. I felt as if my breasts expanded to fill the room, as if they were pushing at nooks and corners, as if their weight was pushing down furniture and crushing it. I was a factory under somebody else’s management. I pressed the baby at my nipple and wanted to squirt all the milk into its mouth, so that it would never go hungry and never cry again.”
“There you go, see, I’m feeding him. He’s drinking his milk and he’s quiet. Is there anything else I can do for you?”
These were not the family scenes we imagined mere months ago; Jan tried to nudge us in the right direction. He put one arm around my shoulder, kissed the top of my head and ran his fingers across my collarbone. 
“I’m sorry. I don’t want you to feel pressured, but …” his voice again accommodating that sterile, composed, pragmatic tone, “but it’s just that you’re his mother. You’re the only one who can feed him now. But I promise to take care of his food when he grows up a bit.” And he giggled as if this was all just a diet issue.
“You’re right. I’ll feed him and then I’ll lie down.” I had to work hard to manage the conciliatory tone. All fibres of my body remained aflame.

Nevertheless, I didn’t rest that afternoon. The baby’s demands intensified and it was constantly pushing towards my breasts. Tiny wounds were already appearing on my nipples, which leaked a couple of red droplets that mixed with milk while I was breastfeeding. They accumulated on the baby’s lips and then, when it made a face, ran down to its neck. The hallucinatory image was so enticing that I forgot to wipe them off. The baby’s bloody lips were the only truth that I could afford.
I walked around the house as if it were a museum of my former life. The baby always came between me and the objects. The porcelain cups, the pretty dresses, the stilettos, the cigarettes drying on the windowsill, none of this was meant for me anymore. I always hurried past the mirror in the hall, knowing that I couldn’t bear the moment of contact as it gazed into me. I didn’t respond to the phone calls of my mother, my sister and my friends, as I knew they’d expect me to be excited. I wrapped myself in silence, because my voice would break glass if I ever spoke. Whenever me and the baby slipped from Jan’s gaze, he’d call for me, checking what I was doing. He had lost control of his unease as well.
At night I sat with my back against the wall, staring at the naked, unmarked and attractive male body that had pushed the corrupt woman to the edge of the bed. In spite of my exhaustion, I couldn’t sleep. I gazed at Jan’s erections wishing to be their cause. I was overwhelmed by jealousy; I knew the place of every woman he dreamed of, but as soon as the baby cried, I realized that they were more powerful than I was. I belonged to a different order, an order that we mistakenly consider eternal. I had become substance, I had become love. Sitting on the bed, I silently dismembered myself; the legs, the arms, the neck, the back, the anus, the vagina, the hair, the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the abdomen, the birthmarks, the scars, the scratches, the indentations, the stretch marks, all for one baby, a baby that would never change the world. Whose choice was it, I asked myself and felt the first tear running down my cheek. It was followed by others, cutting, gouging. They were no match for my despair and my aggrieved rage. They could only pour oil onto its fire.
When I failed to respond to the baby’s cries and leave the bed, Jan woke and admonished me, just like I often admonished him for snoring.  I rose and walked to the crib.
It seemed as if I’d walked for hours. I found myself standing above the crib in pale light. The baby writhed, its mouth was open wide, but the sound never reached me. I was falling in its maw, it was swallowing me like a black hole. I couldn’t feel the floor beneath my feet. The surroundings were dissolved and distorted. For a moment, I regarded the abstract image as if it were a guarantor of possibilities. The baby floated under my hands, the only things I could clearly feel were its warmth, the beating of its heart, the crease between its neck and chin. Its body a variation on our bodies, its history one of parasitism. Its heart beating faster and faster, its skin becoming feverishly sticky. I took a deep breath and held it. My fingertips were tingling. My fingers sunk into the silky soft folds of its tiny body and, reaching the bones, pushed against them. The black maw narrowed and eventually closed. The tiny bones of the baby’s body gave way like piano keys. I placed both my hands upon them. Above the fugue of fingers, breasts and palms, the light of my eyes went out. Every mother has to make concessions.
The silence was pierced by a terrible screaming. I felt a cold sharp breath on my shoulder, followed by a powerful push towards reality.
“Mila, what are you doing?!” Jan took the baby out of the crib and held it against his chest. He backed away to the opposite corner of the room. He was pale, bathed in cold sweat, his teeth chattered and his hands gently brushed the baby’s head. The baby hid its face, sinking into Jan’s chest. Jan’s legs were flimsy, he was held upright by horror. Nobody runs away from a mother, but he wanted to run.
“Mila …” the words stuck in his mouth, “what …?”

“… are you doing? Sleepless again, are you?” He grabs me under my right arm, pulling the left arm that still clings to the railing towards himself.
“Calm down. You’ll wake all your neighbours. You don’t want to do that, do you?”
I rub my palms against the baggy nightgown to make the tingling stop, but it just moves elsewhere. To the crease between my neck and chin. To my nose, my brow, my temples. He grabs me again, pressing my nervous arms against my sides. He leans over to find my eyes. Once our eyes find each other, he continues: “Shall we go for a walk? That usually helps you.” My head is spinning, I lean on the young man in white with almost all my weight. He unlocks the door of the room and a long hallway with yellow walls unfolds in front of us.
“Will Jan be here tomorrow?”
“No, Mila, I’m sorry, Jan won’t be able to come in tomorrow,” says the stuttering young man. He barely manages to intercept me when I collapse. We sit down on a bench. There’s nothing, nobody to be seen in the long yellow hallway. Only children’s cries echo from the walls, inconsolable, mournful cries.
“He’s taking care of his only son.”
“Yes, he’s taking care of him.” He smiles and turns towards me. It seems as if his smile takes me in its arms, telling me I’ve nothing to be ashamed of.

 

Translated by Jernej Županič.

Tanja Šljivar

Tanja Šljivar

Tanja Šljivar, born 1988 in Banja Luka, holds both a BA and MA degree in Dramaturgy from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, as well as an MA degree in Applied Theatre Studies from Giessen, Germany. She is the author of full-length plays How Much is Pate?, Scratching or How My Grandmother Killed Herself, We Are the Ones Our Parents Warned Us About, But the City Has Protected Me, All Adventurous Women Do, Regime of Love and the short plays Stillborn, Self-Sacrificed and Europe – The Death of a Saleswoman which were published, publicly read and produced in professional theatres in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Albania, Spain, Poland, Austria and Germany (Deutsches Theater Berlin, Schauspiel Stuttgart, Theater Dortmund, Theater Paderborn). She also writes short stories, radio plays, screenplays for short films and texts in theatre theory. Šljivar co-wrote the script for the full-length fiction film The Celts, directed by Milica Tomović. She won several awards for her playwriting, most recently the prestigious Sterija Award for the best contemporary play in Serbia, the MESS Market Co-production Award for All Adveturous Women Do in Bosnia, as well as the nomination for the 2017 Retzhofer Dramapreis for the same play in Austria. Her plays have been translated into over ten languages.

 


 

 

 

Aber die Stadt hat mich geschützt

1 The title of the play is a paraphrased quotation from Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden. This was filmed in Frankfurt-am-Main and the play takes place in the same city. I felt that it was nice and appropriate for the title to remain in German. Translated into English it would be “But the city protected me”. Fassbinder used the plural rather than the singular: “But the city protected us”

The action takes place in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. It takes place in Frankfurt am Main on the day that the new European Central Bank building is opened. And it takes place in Frankfurt am Main on the day of protests against everything that this phallic, glass forty-eight-storey building should represent, protests against grand concepts such as Capitalism, the Dictatorship of Capital, like Germany’s economic and political domination within the European Union. The city moves through the text and the text moves through the city. March in Frankfurt am Main is an idea which could change at any moment. The drama has five scenes. This should not be changed. 

___________

2 This monologue is given at minute 79 of Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden by the character J. Smolik, the chauffeur of Anton Saitz (with whom Elvira, before she was Elvira, was in love), who became wealthy through unlicensed construction, by purchasing and demolishing slums and building skyscrapers in Frankfurt am Main. The city of Frankfurt and its buildings and its then mayor and its streets and officials and police officers protected him in all of this. The quotation translates into English as: 

Previously no one had given him orders. Those were the times. We bought old houses and emptied them. It was pretty difficult at times. Believe me on this. But in general, we still always managed it. We would let the prices of these slums fall. And we would build anew. Skyscrapers in the main. And then sell them for a good price. Great. Sometimes there was some anger about this. That’s normal. People are envious. But the city protected us. 

 

SCENE ONE – BURNING


Dramatis personae:

ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS, a girl with cubic zirconia on her nails

balzaaru

Anduzoidis

Mr. Tesla

Sorin Ivascu

Iosif Stalin

And also MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT, 52, a businessman from Loznica

And also OLD MAN SAVO, 77, a pensioner, formerly an employee of IG Metall

And also NAOMI KLEIN, 44, who has come to Frankfurt from Canada, specially for the protest

And also a TV REPORTER

And also the squares, streets, traffic lights, skyscrapers, bridges, museums, river banks, river, Hauptbahnhof, zebra crossings, pavements, cafés, patisseries, Starbucks, art school, small museum on a bridge, park on the riverbank, horseshoes on café walls, planetrees, blue and white glass on the tall buildings, the blue Euro symbol with yellow stars on Willy-Brandt-Platz, the Yok-Yok kiosk and the 280 skyscrapers of Frankfurt (as CITY OF FRANKFURT)

 

PROLOGUE

The body of a naked girl, with cubic zirconia on her nails, is on lying on the pavement in front of the new European Central Bank building. TV Reporter, next to the body.


TV REPORTER:

Standing next to the dead, naked body of this nameless, unidentified girl, next to this body on which only the cubic zirconia are still recognisable, we can safely say that we have proof that capitalism tramples over bodies, we have proof that capitalism leads to people dying, we have proof that capitalism always uses people’s deaths to accumulate capital. This girl’s head is shattered on the pavement, everything around her is blue and glass and tall. She too is blue with bruising, and her bones have been smashed to pieces as if they had been made of glass and scattered all over the pavement. The buildings around her are tall, but she is short. The monstrous buildings around her sparkle, the zirconia on her nails sparkle, albeit less brightly.

 


***

 

SCENE ONE
Željana the Waitress is on the roof of the European Central Bank, while everyone else is on the streets of Frankfurt.

 

 

ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:

 

From the air, my Sarajevo looks like a little dot of light and a heap of mud, while from the air my Frankfurt looks like a huge ball of light and a heap of asphalt. From up here, from one hundred and eighty-five metres, everything is simple and understandable. I have understood everything and made this decision myself. And I had someone to protect me. The city protected me. 

 

CITY OF FRANKFURT:

I burned, today I burned beautifully, most beautifully, I burned today, but I protected her. The protests are at no. 20 Sonnemannstraße, in front of the glass, blue forty-eight-storey building and in front of its forty-eight-storey sister. The protests are in front of the towers, almost like twins, the protests are at no. 20 Sonnemannstraße, very close to the flat and big and wide and beautiful river that is in my name, though my name is not in the river’s. 

They are walking along the streets in front of the Dom and Römer,

they are walking along the streets behind the old opera house,

they are walking along my beautiful, flat streets.

The protests are where eight police cars were set alight,

the protests are on Römerberg and in Innenstadt and in front of the Alte Oper

the protests are also in my flat, beautiful suburbs, where people have family lunches and set fire to HGVs

the protests are in my Sachsenhausen

and in my Bornheim, and in my Eckenheim, and in my Eschersheim, and in my Fechenheim.

The protests are on the Internet too.


BALZAARU:

Gas entire Israel

Fuck capitalism fuck communism


ANDUZOIDIS:

tremble America your end is near


BALZAARU:

love germany and its people, dignified


MR. TESLA:

Tesla is like Kosovo = Serbian

Muslims smell like piss

Fuck entire universe


ANDUZOIDIS:

one big fantasy

and fuck this protests

they’re doing nothing

if you know where Frankfurt is

fuck you all religious pussies


SORIN IVASCU:

any certain belief system is wrong, the banks are fooking you and your future up, and you are talking about allah, god, and other shit people don’t suck, just our worth system can suck


BALZAARU:

This is so sad instead of rioting and confronting the police, they should be rioting and confronting non-whites in Germany


IOSIF STALIN:

Hitler caput!3


CITY OF FRANKFURT:

The demonstrators stink. Their armpits stink. And they stink because they have spent a long time travelling from other cities, by train, by bus, by car, by motorbike, by bike to reach me. And their crotches stink and they are torching me so that I too might stink, that I might stink of petrol and corpses and the carcasses of dogs, but it isn’t that easy. She alone is fragrant. For this occasion she bought her Magie Noire perfume in me and now she is shattered on my pavement; in all of me she alone is fragrant. 


NAOMI KLEIN:

I have a special message for the ECB today: YOU are the true vandals. You don’t set fire to cars. You set the world on fire.4 


CITY OF FRANKFURT:

My lorry, which says Miki Export-Import on the side, something that was then crossed out and the name Željana sprayed over it in pink, is burning, anything that is in me is mine, anything that ever touches me is mine, I remember this, I know this, anything that scratches me is mine, anything that ignites me is mine, anything that drops a cigarette butt on me is mine, anything that spits at me is mine, anything that builds me is mine. My lorry, which says Miki Export-Import on the side, underneath the word Željana, sprayed on in pink, is burning.

One part of me is smoking a cigarette

One part of me is called Miki

And says:

MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT:

I said to myself, Miki, you’ll make it in the West. I said to myself, Miki, you’ll be the boss. I said to myself, just be strong-willed and that’ll be that. I said to myself, Miki, you’ll have fifteen lorries. I said to myself, you’ll have eighty-eight employees. They call me Miki. And I said to myself that I would call the company Miki after myself. When you see a lorry going past that says Miki on the side, you’ll know that’s mine. When I was little, everyone said to me, young man, the West is the promised land for you. When I set off, my mother sprinkled water after me for good luck. But there you go, this girl has screwed me over, and this fucking city has screwed me over. But whenever a lorry goes past and it says Željana in pink letters on its side, you’ll know that that’s also mine.5


NAOMI KLEIN: 

We have a choice between democracy and capitalism!6


CITY OF FRANKFURT:

My Mercedes S-Class W220 is on fire. 

One part of me is burning. One part of me is burning beautifully, most beautifully.

One part of me is called Old Man Savo

One part of me is smoking a cigarette

One part of me says:

OLD MAN SAVO:

The fucking Germans have organised all this very well, everything going to clockwork. And I was good at organising the smuggling of this car. I brought the guy to the border, to us in Gradiška to get the customs done quickly. It had to be, I organised all this, all because of the girl, all she talked about was that car, like she was obsessed. But, fuck it, there you have it – she won’t get it.

I was at the protests too. I put on my Muji scarf that cost me 10 Euros in the Christmas sales and my Massimo Dutti jeans that cost 100 Euros, and a Massimo Dutti T-shirt with three little buttons down the back that cost 10 Euros in the sales, I was proud of that, and my Mona leather bag, I won’t say how much that cost, my shoes are also expensive, well, sort of, but they’re good quality, so I’ve worn them for five years and that means they don’t count. When there’s a bit of sunshine, like today, I put on my purple Trussardi glasses, about 150 Euros, that mum bought for me. With a value of nearly 900 Euros in clothing alone, I am standing on Hochstrasse and shouting, surrounded by other bodies generally wearing clothes that cost as much as my own, I am standing, shouting and singing A – ANTI – ANTICAPITALIST.


CITY OF FRANKFURT:

Those people, who are the same as me, who are in me, who are walking around me and marching and setting fires around me, who are singing in me, they hate all my skyscrapers, they hate all two hundred and eighty of my skyscrapers. But most of all, more than all that glass and steel and cement and concrete, most of all and above all else, they hate the European Central Bank.7

But she, she who is also me, she loves me, she cares for and caresses me. She stands on me, she stands on my building, the tips of her fingers tickle me and I laugh happily and the liquid from her hole falls on my building and is smooth and sticky and warm, and again I laugh happily. 

Eight police cars were torched in the protests, but two other vehicles were also torched, the police cars were torched in the city, but in the suburbs, my flat and beautiful suburbs, an HGV, a lorry which had Miki Export-Import written on the side, underneath Željana written in pink, and a Mercedes S-Class W220.

Why did they torch cars that were not police cars and that were not even in the city centre, that were their own private property, why did they torch something that didn’t belong to the state, something that belongs to them, and yet still belongs to Frankfurt am Main, why did they torch a lorry that says Miki Export-Import on the side, something that was then crossed out and then Željana sprayed over it in pink, a lorry that when I feel it on me, I know that it belongs to Miki, a businessman from Loznica, why did they torch the Mercedes S-Class W220, they torched it because they were desperate, they torched it so as not to torch themselves, they torched it to torch me, they torched it because she loves me more than them. 


ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:

Europaturm

Commerzbank Tower

Messeturm

Westendstrasse 1

Main Tower

Tower 185

Opernturm

Taunusturm

Silberturm

Deutsche Bank I

Deutsche Bank II

Skyper

Euro Tower

City House

Frankfurter Büro Center

Messe Torhaus

Japan Center

IBC Tower

Westhafen Tower

Parktower

Gallileo

Eurotheum

I took a long time choosing, I thought for a long time about which building I loved most, which building is the most beautiful part of what I love, which building could look most like Haris. From a height of one hundred and eighty-five metres, Frankfurt am Main looks like New York, Frankfurt am Main looks like Sarajevo, Frankfurt am Main looks like Haris, but most of all, Frankfurt am Main looks like me. The river flows like my blood, and all the lights on the tall buildings are like my eyes, and the pavements are like my skin, only softer, and the planetrees on Zeil8, in the wind, are like my hair. I am standing up here, and down there cars are burning, I am standing up here, and down there the little dots of people are protesting. I am naked and it is nice and everything is available to me and I myself decide on everything. 
I decide to jump.


__________________________
3  All lines taken from the live-stream chat of the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt on 18 March 2015. The complete footage can be seen on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P7gfyZ5we3w
4  Part of a speech by Naomi Klein at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. Footage of the whole speech can be seen on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n7LDfjgT6To
5  Part of this monologue is taken from an audio recording of an interview I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend in Frankfurt am Main. The audio file is called STE-015.wav, recorded on 18 March 2015.
6  Part of Naomi Klein’s speech at the Blockupy protests.
7  The building that is symbolically (and literally, given its size) the thematic centre of this play is 185 metres tall, or 201 metres with its antenna, that was built in the architectural style of Deconstructivism a building whose construction cost approximately 1.4 billion Euros, and was designed by Coop Himmelblau, the building from which Željana the Waitress, the girl with cubic zirconia on her nails, jumped.
8  Shopping area in Frankfurt am Main, with beautiful rows of planetrees

 

SCENE TWO – GROWTH 

 
Dramatis personae:
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS, 22, a girl with cubic zirconia on her nails, she is mentioned, but she is not here, although she should be at work, she isn’t, and we saw earlier approximately where she is 
 
MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT, 52, a businessman from Loznica
 
MONTENEGRIN
 
and also GRANDFATHER 1, owner of a failed bra factory
 
and also GRANDFATHER 2, attempting artificially to stimulate his excitement
 
and also OLD MAN SAVO
 
and also YOUNG MAN 1
 
and also YOUNG MAN 2
 
generally all Bosnians
 
and of course, CITY OF FRANKFURT
 
The action takes place in the Gute Stute café, where Željana the Waitress, the girl with cubic zirconia on her nails, worked at the bar while she was alive. The subject of conversation among the regular patrons of the café is like a metaphorical Wachstum – the economic policy of growth, but in actual fact it is really Željana the Waitress. Furthermore, in keeping with Wachstum, everything in this scene is growing. The amount of alcoholic beverages being poured is growing. The amount of pressing of the colourful buttons of the slot machines grows. The desire for sex with the absent waitress in the café cellar grows. The skyscrapers of Frankfurt grow. And in Frankfurt, in the real Frankfurt, they grow daily. Whenever I come by train, I really can see with my naked eye how they are growing. The audience should also be able to see this on stage. If the skyscrapers could grow on stage in front of the audience, I would consider that fantastic work by the director or set designer.
 
Whether the growth is natural or artificially stimulated is less important in this scene. Thus money can be pumped into the European Union monetary system, old men can take Viagra so that their penises will grow, the buildings’ growth on stage can be some sort of optical illusion or video footage.
 
And yes everyone in the café is in love with Željana the Waitress, who is no longer here and will never be here again.
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
There are some parts of me that stink worse than a dog’s carcass or stale human urine, there are parts of me where dogs in the street eat human flesh, there are parts of me called Bahnhofsviertel, there are parts of me that stink of stables and the skin of immigrants. There are parts of me that I myself prefer not to look into, where only mares and idlers go, to warm each others’ hairy bodies. If I want, I can also take a good look at my arsehole here, a look at what oozes, fluid and stinking, every day from my bowels, and that isn’t money, and isn’t protests, and isn’t light or museums or skyscrapers or glass, if I want, I can also look into the Bosnian café Gute Stute10. I don’t check and I don’t understand everything in me, my ulcers and migraines, my haemorrhoids and infections, my inflammations and herpes and tumours and pus. I do not check my stables, but I can sense them and I can look at them. They eat meals that stink, and they munch on bean stew and pork ribs, they eat the peanuts that come free with beer, and they drink brandy. I have no idea how they entered me, and now they simply won’t leave. They entered me because they have been raped, set on fire, killed and someone who makes decisions about me, and I don’t know who that is, felt sorry for them and let them in and now I am food for them instead of their being food for me. They eat peanuts with pork ribs and dip my buildings in fat to make them easier to swallow and digest. But it won’t be that easy.
 
GRANDFATHER 1:
 
How’s it going in Frankfurt? How’s it going in Frankfurt? It’s good, we sleep until midday and go for a walk in the afternoon. We’re a team here. Anyone who has a business is doing well, anyone who doesn’t is a failure and that’s that. It’s good here, there are people here from all over the former Yugoslavia and no one meddles in any kind of politics, you see. I had a factory here, but I failed. I only sold bras and I failed completely. Trade. I had, do you know what I had? I had a designer from Sarajevo, but he didn’t do it well Women from thirty to eighty-five, that was my target group. I had a somewhat different plan. No lace, no silk, no black, only plastic and white and makes the tits bigger. I had a shop in the city. I had business. It went well, at first. I registered a growth in profits and then… then everything went tits up for me. Now the Krauts are giving me a sponsor for finances. Again the Krauts sub me for a bit, they give me a bit of Hartz IV11 a bit of this, a bit of that. Because you have to fail three times. I failed once, so I’ve got two more times to go. You have to fail three times and then they throw you out. Then it’s finished. So that’s how I failed, while I had my target group of women from thirty to eighty-five, I worked well, because they only want to have big tits, they don’t have to be firm or pretty, just has to be obvious that they’ve got ’em. And then I rushed into making a collection for this girl, black, silk, lace, with a hole over the nipple, I was really fooling around. And I didn’t advertise this well and I failed. And that was the first time I failed. The second time I failed was when I brought her the unique creation that I had the guy in Sarajevo make for her based on my instructions, with the nipples peeking out and two golden tassels hanging from each black cup, that’s what I imagined, but when she refused to accept this gift, the earth swallowed me up. And now I’m drinking brandy, waiting to fail for the third time, so that I can go back.12
 
 
YOUNG MAN 1:
 
Because today you’ve got Women’s Secret, you’ve got Yamamay, you’ve got Intimissimi, you’ve got Victoria’s Secret, you’ve got whatever you want. But no, the old man fell in love and wanted to go into competition which couldn’t work.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
I’m an expert on the Balkans down there. Politics. Politics. Yes, politics is important, very important. I don’t work. It’s not right to work. No, no, it’s not right to work. You know, some people work, some people don’t work. That’s not right. It should be everyone. Either everyone should work, or everyone should not work.
How do I live? Well, a bit of this and bit of that. That’s how it’s been my whole life, here and there, and now I’m getting ready to go to Kuala Lumpur, and who knows where after Kuala Lumpur.
 
I’m A-grade material. I’m respectable, logical, realistic, 100 per cent.
 
It’s not fraud, it’s easy to commit fraud, you can always do a bit of this and that, and bit by bit that little initial stake grows into fraud. It was only with her that I couldn’t pull anything off. I tried everything. The suffering I went through for that girl… that’s God’s honest truth.13
 
 
OLD MAN SAVO:
 
I was at the strike in Bonn. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Twenty-five thousand people striking, for fuck’s sake. And then they set off down that street. All the workers were there. IG Metall from all over Deutschland. All the workers. We were all in Bonn. Oh I don’t know what year it was, damn it, it was, it was twenty years ago. But it shook the country. But those Krauts, how fucking organised are they? They come by train. Fucking trains coming in, trains picking us up from all parts of Germany. Train comes in, unloads, it just goes there, and another train is already rolling in. We were striking for a pay rise. Something like that. I think we got something like five percent. And now someone says that I’m supposed to go to these protests today. You know, for the opening of that huge building. And these protests have a Reihenfolge14. Like you’ve got a timetable. So, you’ve got a fucking timetable of where to gather, at what time, there’s no room for anything accidentally not going to plan. And then you’ve got those guys who torched the cars. I reckon that even that was according to a specific schedule. So it’s 15:04 and according to plan I set fire to the car that I wanted to give to her. She was always talking about how she fucking wanted a Mercedes S-Class W220, and like a fucking fool I buy her one, OK, I did some wheeling and dealing, the Montenegrin helped me, like all of them here in the café, we’re a team here, people know that, and our guy down in Gradiška did the customs and then there’s the fucking car outside the café, with a blue bow on the bonnet, and she’s not here.15
 
Old Man Savo sets fire to the Mercedes S-Class W220. Not as an anti-capitalist act of terrorism, but as the act of an enamoured old man who has gone soft in the head.
 
GRANDFATHER 2:
 
I bought a box of Viagra. It’s said that the Krauts are artificially stimulating market growth, and I’m artificially stimulating the growth of my cock. So, I’m sitting at the bar, and we all knew already that the girl was a little tipsy and that she was somehow in love with the city, we didn’t realise how, and fuck it, we didn’t know whether it was with Sarajevo or with Frankfurt, or with Sarajevo, what we miss in this city, what we had there, if there’s something of Sarajevo in Frankfurt, or nothing of Sarajevo in Frankfurt, or something of Frankfurt in Sarajevo. And that’s it. And then all of us, dead drunk, sang to her together.
 
ALL THE OLD MEN AND YOUNG MEN TOGETHER:
 
Together we grew, oh city, you and I
The same blue sky gave us our verse
Under Trebević we dreamed our dreams
Who would grow quicker and who more beautiful.
 
You were already great, and I was born, 
From Igman, with a smile, you sent me a dream,
The growing boy fell in love with you then,
And here stays connected to his city.
 
Wherever I go, I dream of you
All roads lead me to you
I await your lights with longing,
Oh Sarajevo, my love.16
 
((Zajedno smo rasli grade ja i ti 
isto plavo nebo poklonilo nam stih 
ispod Trebevića sanjali smo sne 
ko će brže rasti ko ce ljepši biti 
 
Ti si bio velik a rodio se ja 
s Igmana uz osmeh slao si mi san 
dečak koji raste zavolio te tad 
ostao je ovde vezan za svoj grad 
 
Bilo gde da krenem o tebi sanjam 
putevi me svi tebi vode 
čekam s nekom čežnjom na svetla tvoja
Sarajevo ljubavi moja))
 
 
GRANDFATHER 2:
 
And she would grieve a bit, but it was nothing, there’d be brandy and beer on the table again, free peanuts, and we would grieve a bit too sometimes, and it was nothing. We’re a team here, everyone knows it, we don’t care.
 
 
MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT:
 
Well, the old man managed to save for twenty years, back from the protests in Bonn when they raised his pay. He saved, saved, for a house, saved, saved, none of us knew for what, and after the girl started working here at the Gute Stute, since she was always going on about the Mercedes S-Class W220, we all learned by heart what her favourite car was, he told her that he would buy it for her and he stumped up all his money for that Mercedes S-Class W220. So he bought it and now the girl isn’t here. I gave her a gift too, to ward off the old man. I said to myself, I’ll call the company Miki after myself. When you see a lorry going past and it says Miki on it, you’ll know that it’s mine. Well, I crossed out my name on one of the lorries and wrote her name, I used a pink spray to write Željana. And when you see that, that’s mine too.
 
Miki Export-Import sets fire to the lorry that says Miki Export-Import, that has been crossed out and Željana written over it in pink spray. Not as an anti-capitalist act of terrorism, but as the act of an enamoured old man who has gone soft in the head.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 2:
 
I brought her a vibrator shaped like the European Central Bank, it’s a double vibrator, an awesome product, I found it in the Bahnhofsviertel, you get one that’s forty-five centimetres long and the other that’s forty-eight centimetres, and they can stay connected for, like double penetration, but you can separate them too. Since she’s not around, it’s left to us, so we’ll see what to do with it.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 1:
 
Well she was a strange one. It is what it is, fuck it.
 
And, as usual, since the waitress hasn’t been around for a while, the men, who have all in some way and for some time been really, truly in love with her, now that she hasn’t been around for such a long time, slowly begin to think and talk about other things.
 
 
GRANDFATHER 1:
 
All of us came for a month or two, to lay the foundations, the first tiles.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
Some go back. Some don’t go back.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 1:
 
We’ll go back in a box.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 2:
 
I won’t be going back, not even in a box. The only way is maybe if they burn me and shove my ashes into that ECB vibrator so that the girl can at least benefit from me when I’m dead.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 1:
 
There are those among us who were born here, so you were born here, you’re a foreigner.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
This is a country for thieves, for idlers, for shitheads.
 
 
GRANDFATHER 2:
 
You’re a nice, well I can’t say thief, I can’t say idler either, you’re something like Njeguš.17
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
Why am I here? I don’t speak German, and I’ve been here for eighteen years. I don’t speak, I don’t speak, I don’t speak, in fact, I have no desire to. And it’s superfluous.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 1:
 
Women. They come and go, and sometimes stay. There are women all over. Listen, I like men.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 2:
 
Well, that’s honest. There’s no shame in that.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
There’s no shame in that. Women? I’ve had, I’ve had two or three of them, one of them turfed me out.
 
 
OLD MAN SAVO:
 
The last one turfed you out.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
Not the last one. What do you mean the last one turfed me out? Come on, who could turf me out? This is how it was, when I was four, I didn’t listen to my father. From when I was four until now. There were lots of them, but only a few long-term relationships, only three. I wouldn’t turn around for the president. If Merkel were to come in, I wouldn’t turn around, but when that girl started working here, I stood up every time she approached the table bringing us beer. Out of respect. There you go.
 
 
MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT:
 
You don’t speak German, but I passed the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade. I’ll say it again: I passed the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 1:
 
You’re invalidating marriages of two men or two women.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 2:
 
I’m only interested in black guys, I’m not interested in anything else, just black guys.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
Well, each to his own, and you enjoy then, and that’s fine.
 
 
GRANDFATHER 2:
 
Of all of us here, no one works, apart from you.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
They work, they work, there are people here who work.
 
 
GRANDFATHER 1:
 
You sleep until midday, and then go for a walk in the afternoon.
 
 
YOUNG MAN 1:
 
We’re all on benefits. We all have flats for free, we get money to live, there’s no country like this one.18
 
Now it no longer matters which of them is talking. They can all speak, and the lines can be assigned to the actors as the director wishes.
 
I entered on the sly
 
I was in the camps, raped, burned, killed, roundabout, and now asylum
 
When the war started, we all came, and at that time you didn’t need a passport or anything
 
Through the forest, over the hills somewhere
 
After one hill there’s another hill
 
Then a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth hill
 
Then you get rid of your passport when you arrive, they can’t send you back, they don’t know where you are
 
They wanted to send him back to Kosovo
 
And him back to Bosnia
 
You can stay, you can leave, it’s all the same, it’s your decision
 
Listen to me, don’t leave under any circumstances
 
And after the eighth hill there’s a dump with as much paper as you like
 
This one here is an Abgeordnete, what d’you call it, a representative of Herzegovina
 
They didn’t let me into from there
 
But now that I’ve got in, I won’t ever leave again
 
I await your lights with longing
 
Oh Frankfurt, my love19
 
 
 
____________________________________
9   Quotation taken from an unsigned text on an Ökologische Linke party flyer which I obtained at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. Translated into English: In capitalist centres low growth is currently stimulated artificially by the central banks flooding the market with cheap money.
10  In English: Good Mare
11  Translator’s note: Long-term unemployment benefit
12  Parts of a monologue taken from an audio recording of an interview that I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main. The audio file is STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.
13  Ibid.
14  Translator’s note: Sequence, order
15  Parts of a monologue taken from an audio recording of an interview that I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main. The audio file is STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.
16  Song lyrics taken from http://www.yu-midi.org/tekstovi/viewitem.php?j=8861#axzz3ZllVFREH, the whole song by Sarajevo songwriter Kemal Monteno is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPpOpy2CSYU
17  Old Man 2 says Njeguš, but clearly means Petar Petrović Njegoš, the most significant Montenegrin poet, philosopher and statesman of the 19th Century.
18  All lines taken from interviews I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main, audio file: STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.
19  95% of the lines are taken from the audio recording of interviews that I conducted with patrons of the Torta café in Ostend, Frankfurt am Main, audio file: STE-015.wav, recorded on 15 April 2015.
 
 
 

SCENE THREE – PUMPING IN 

 
Die EZB versucht gegenzusteuern, indem sie noch mehr billiges Geld in den Markt pumpt.20
 
Dramatis personae:
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT, as before, omnipresent, although it says nothing in this scene.
 
MARIO DRAGHI, 67, handsome Italian, works in the Frankfurt multi-storey building against whose opening we are protesting today, he says only one thing in this scene
 
 
Mario Draghi is in the tall building. I see Mario Draghi, we all see Mario Draghi in photographs in the European dailies and weeklies, only ever wearing navy blue suits. Sometimes Mario Draghi decides to fool around and wears ties with psychedelic patterns. Mario Draghi absolutely never wears a topcoat or overcoat. Regardless of the outside temperature, Mario Draghi is never afraid of freezing. Mario Draghi orders and buys his suits from just one tailor. Mario Draghi has a briefcase, of course, but never ever an overcoat or topcoat. Mario Draghi is looking out of the glass windows of the new European Central Bank building, he is looking from the forty-seventh floor, he is looking at Frankfurt, at the street, at the river, at the ditch, at the barbed wire security fence. Mario Draghi watches the cars burning on the streets and watches how, in the buildings, cheap money is being pumped into the European Union’s monetary system.
But on this occasion, surprisingly, Mario Draghi is not wearing a navy blue suit. Mario Draghi is wearing a bathrobe, and says just one thing.
 
 
MARIO DRAGHI:
 
Within our mandate the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the Euro.21
 
In fact, he adds one more thing.
 
 
MARIO DRAGHI:
 
And believe me, it will be enough.22
 
 
He says this and the deflation of the Euro stops immediately. J. L. Austin called this speech act theory: Said – Done.
 
He slides off his bathrobe. He gets into the Jacuzzi. Hot water is pumped into the Jacuzzi, which has been delivered from Mario Draghi’s homeland, and massages his body, hot money is pumped into the European Union monetary system and massages us all, and we do not know where that comes from. The only thing stopping Mario Draghi from relaxing is a naked woman’s body falling past the glass window of the forty-seventh floor. Mario Draghi, in surprise, is slightly sick into the Jacuzzi. But the water and money keep being pumped in.
 
 
________________________________
20  Quotation taken from an unsigned text on an Ökologische Linke party flyer which I obtained at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015. Translated into English: The European Central Bank is trying to counteract this by pumping more cheap money into the market.
21  Speech by Mario Draghi at the Global Investment Conference in London on 26 July 2012, following which the deflation of the Euro was partially, temporarily halted.
22  Ibid.
 
 

SCENE FOUR – DEFLATION (THE FALL) 

 
In a Downtown Athletic Club the Skyscraper is used as a Constructivist Social Condenser: a machine to generate and intensify desirable forms of human intercourse.23
 
 
Dramatis personae:
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS, we have met both of them in the previous scenes
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
I won’t look for Bistrik or Višnjik or Vratnik or Kovači or Čengić Vila or Pofalići,24 I won’t look for them in Hauptwache or Ostend or Bornheim or Eckenheim, or Eschersheim or Fechenheim25 either. All I’ll look for is a Mercedes S-Class W220.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
I don’t need to look for anything inside myself, I just need to take a look at myself and see three cities, and then many more cities, to see Manhattan and Istanbul and Paris, the sadder parts, when it’s raining, and when it’s not, I am my stinking Bahnhofsviertel and I am my parochial Innenstadt and I am Lloret de Mar and I am the towns they talk about, ones I cannot even pronounce; I am Čelinac, Prjnavor, Celje, Prijepolje, Banja Luka, Zvornik. 
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
We rolled around groping in the VW Golf that Haris used to pass his driving test and where I lost my virginity and all that he could say when he caught his breath was “I have to go to Germany and earn enough to buy myself a Mercedes S-Class W220”.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
There are at least 32,874 Mercedes in my garages and on my streets.
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
He pulled my hair and said fuck this scratched and battered Golf, fuck it a hundred times more than I’d fuck you. I want to drive a Merc into the yard. And all I could think was how my head hurt because he was pulling me and my jaw was about to explode, and I just stayed quiet or moaned – I can’t quite remember now.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
Sometimes the wind pulls up tress from my pavements, but I keep quiet or I moan – I can’t quite remember now.
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
Then he dislocates my jaw, then I scream, that I know for sure, and all the time he’s in me, and it’s both beautiful and ugly. I couldn’t get out of the Golf now, even if I wanted to.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
Then they say, austerity measures. They trash my jaw, and it’s both beautiful and ugly. I couldn’t leave myself now, even if I wanted to.
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
Then he pinches my little tits, and even he doesn’t know what he wants any more, and they get bruised, and then again he says only one thing, when he catches his breath, that he has to go to Germany and earn money to buy himself a Mercedes S-Class W220.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
When the rain is pouring down my streets, over my stomach, even I know that everything will be all right again, that the fire that torched each police cares and torched the Mercedes S-Class W220 and the van that says Miki Export-Import on the side, with that crossed out and Željana sprayed in pink over it, will be extinguished.
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
And then he disappeared. No one could find him in Sarajevo any more. I knew that he had gone to get the Mercedes, that cocksucking Mercedes, and we could have done everything in the Golf.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
I will never disappear, when there is nothing, there will still be my buildings and the trees that grow out of them and it doesn’t matter what else there is.
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
How did I get up to  the roof here? How did I get here? It doesn’t matter how I got here, what matters is that I am here now. I gave a start whenever I saw a Mercedes S-Class W220. And I realised, for fuck’s sake, maybe he’s not in Frankfurt, maybe he was fucking with me. And I got a job in a café and thought constantly about what he said, and continued to think: I have to go to Germany and earn money to buy myself a Mercedes S-Class W220. 
 
 
If we haven’t realised it yet, Željana the Waitress and Frankfurt am Main are just about to have sex on the roof of the new European Central Bank building.
 
It’s a challenge to be truly intimate with a public structure, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.26
 
Haris had one cock.
 
Frankfurt am Main has at least two hundred and eighty of them.
 
And Željana has chosen one, the European Central Bank, which enters her, she is so moist and capacious.
 
Željana cums. Frankfurt absolutely doesn’t – we probably wouldn’t survive that. Željana stands on the edge of the roof. Željana’s right foot and then her left go over the edge. Željana falls, but to her and to us it looks as if she’s flying. And Frankfurt am Main, like every man, carries on as before.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
The naked body touches my asphalt. Her nipple splits on something bulging out of me. I feel that just as much as I feel those who are marching around me and carrying banners that read:
 
 
MALE DEMONSTRATOR 1:
 
Kapitalisten aller Länder enteignet euch!
 
 
FEMALE DEMONSTRATOR 2:
 
Troika Kolonial!
 
 
MALE DEMONSTRATOR 3:
 
Sie retten die Welt zu Tode!
 
 
MALE DEMONSTRATOR 1:
 
Austerity kill, stop it.
 
 
FEMALE DEMONSTRATOR 2:
 
Ich bin nichts
 
Ich kann nichts
 
Gebt mir Uniform
 
 
MALE DEMONSTRATOR 3:
 
Kapitalismus geht über Leichen.
 
 
And here, those protesting against capitalism walk over the corpse a naked girl, almost without noticing her.
 
The all think and say together:
 
 
MALE DEMONSTRATOR 1, FEMALE DEMONSTRATOR 2, MALE DEMONSTRATOR 3:
 
Let’s take the party over.27
 
Of course, the City of Frankfurt is also invited to the party.
 
All together they think and say something that is not written on a single banner:
 
MALE DEMONSTRATOR 1, FEMALE DEMONSTRATOR 2, MALE DEMONSTRATOR 3:
 
Frankfurt am Main is being fed by the crisis. And we, its citizens, are also food for it.
 
It’s nice to be chewed.
 
It’s nice to be soaked in spit and chomped on.
 
It’s nice to be in the concertinaed dark intestines.
 
It’s nice to be swallowed and digested.
 
 
And if the naked girl could think and speak now, she would say:
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
How nice it is to be dead.
 
 
 
___________________________________
23  Rem Koolhaus, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, The Monacelli Press, New York, 1978.
24  Suburbs of Sarajevo.
25  Suburbs of Frankfurt.
26   Quotation from a documentary on sexual behaviour  labelled as objectophilia, where women fall in love with large public objects, Married to the Eiffel Tower, screenplay and direction by Agnieszka Piotrowska, 2008.
27  All lines taken from banners carried by demonstrators at the Blockupy protests in Frankfurt am Main on 18 March 2015.
 
 

SCENE FIVE – SHIMMERING  

 
The City of Frankfurt is on stage. It is the eighteenth of March two thousand and fifteen, and night has fallen. Frankfurt shimmers and flickers and sparkles and shines and glows and glimmers and gleams, as if nothing has happened in it today. In the centre of the stage is a river, large and flat. The river is in the name of the city. The city is not in the name of the river. There are three cities within the city. There are many more other cities in the city, but the first and almost sole Frankfurt, the Frankfurt of skyscrapers, as always, shimmers and flickers and sparkles and shines and glows and glimmers and gleams the brightest of all the Frankfurts. Lights flicker in the windows of the tall buildings. The lights flicker from the Europaturm, from the Commerzbank Tower, from the Messeturm, the lights flicker from Westendstrasse 1, from the Main Tower, from Tower 185, from Opernturm, the lights flicker from the Taunustrum, from the Silberturm, from Deutsche Bank I, from Deutsche Bank II, the lights flicker from Skyper and from the Euro Tower. The lights flicker through the glass blue and white windows, and through the windows we can also see the small heads of the big people deciding what they would like to do with us. It would be nice if the amount of electricity needed to make Frankfurt am Main, in Hesse, in Germany, shimmer and flicker and sparkle and shine and glow and glimmer and gleam at night could be brought to the stage and for the stage to sparkle like Frankfurt, for the stage to sparkle like the place that all the characters in this drama imagined as a paradise before they came to it.
 
 
With most of the characters whom we know from the previous scenes who are all Frankfurt am Main already.
 
 
MIKI EXPORT-IMPORT: 
 
I said to myself, you’ll do everything, but you’ll make it in the West.
 
 
Austin’s speech act theory is not as easily applied to the Bosnians in Frankfurt. In their case said does not also mean done.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
I shimmer. I flicker. I sparkle. I shine. I gleam. I glimmer. I glow.
 
 
MARIO DRAGHI:
 
And believe me, it will be enough.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
I shimmer and flicker and sparkle.
 
 
OLD MAN SAVO:
 
The Germans know how to organise everything.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
I shimmer and flicker.
 
 
MONTENEGRIN:
 
Listen to me, never leave here under any circumstances.
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
I shimmer.
 
 
 
Pause. The city is flat and beautiful.
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
From the air, my Sarajevo looks like a little dot of light and a heap of mud, while from the air my Frankfurt looks like a huge ball of light and a heap of asphalt. While I am falling from the forty-eighth floor, I know that I am going to myself, going inwards, going to what I came from. As I pass the forty-seventh floor, I see a naked man in a Jacuzzi, vomiting. As I pass the thirty-ninth floor, the wind whistles its hardest. As I pass the twenty-fifth floor, I scratch part of his building’s glass, and I feel as if I have touched myself on the stomach and navel. As I pass the seventeenth floor, I remember when I was seventeen in the Golf in Bistrik with Haris. As my cheek touches the concrete I know that we will always be together, I, a spot of blood and he, the ball of light. I enter him and he enters me and it’s no longer clear who is the man and who the woman, nor who has the bulge and who the hole, nor who controls whom, nor who is insecure with whom, nor who is shy nor who did whom first or more. We simply become one, forever and only one, we become one, and we shimmer, flicker, sparkle, shine, gleam, glimmer and glow like a huge ball of light, Haris, Frankfurt am Main and I.
 
 
And there is Željana on the pavement. She has disappeared and is not there. She has escaped from Hartz IV assistance, from Aufenthaltstitel28, from paying for ARD and ZDF, from extending her visa, from submitting requests, from electronic residence permits, from online banking, from TAN numbers, from university module codes, from her electronic library membership card, from paying commission on SEPA payments in the European Union, from group health insurance, from tax numbers, from the number on her Bosnian passport which broke, but which somehow can still be used for travel, from her Stud.IP portal number, from her students’ forum code, from electronic access to everything. And here am I, still in Frankfurt, and I have to contend with all this, to bear this for a long, long time to come. 
 
 
CITY OF FRANKFURT:
 
I burned a little today. Only a little bit did I burn, and this was the exception, and I sparkled a whole lot today, and this was, as always, the rule.
 
 
The city burned. But the city protected us. The city is now sparkling, and the city always guards us.
 
 
ŽELJANA THE WAITRESS:
 
I flew from him to him. But the city protected me.
 
 
END
 
 
 
_______________________
28  Translator’s note: German residence permit
 

Translated by James Cook

Nikola Nikolić

Nikola Nikolić

Nikola Nikolić, born 1989 in Podgorica, is a Montenegrin novelist, short-story writer, essayist, journalist and the artistic director of the Podgorica International Book Fair. He graduated from the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Montenegro and his Master’s thesis examined with phenomenon of collaborationism during the Second World War.His published works include the novel Čvor (2011), a second novel Meandar (2014), and a book of short stories Atakama (2016). His short stories have been published in local and regional literary magazines. In 2017, he won the ‘Bihorska Venera’ short story prize

Dijana Matković

Dijana Matković

Dijana Matković, born 1984 in Novo Mesto, is a Slovene author, translator, journalist and editor with a degree in Comparative Literature. In 2013 she published her first book, a short story collection titled In the Name of the Father (V imenu očeta) and is currently working on a book of essays and novel. She established and edited Airbeletrina and Državljanska odgovornost (Civil responsibility). She edited and contributed as a translator to Antologija tesnobe (Anthology of Anxiety, 2016), a book on anxiety with essays written by writers from Slovenia and other countries from the former Yugoslavia and was also an editor of Antologija svetlobe (Anthology of Light). As a journalist and author, she has contributed articles to Delo, Dnevnik, Mladina, Literatura, Le Monde Diplomatique, Pogledi, Airbeletrina and others. She organizes public discussions and tribunes about media, culture and society and has translated authors such as Danilo Kiš, Andrej Nikolaidis, Ognjen Spahić and many others.

 


 

 

 

The Return

 

I have been here for a few months now, in this house that, before my arrival, before I started talking to it, before I thoroughly cleaned and renovated it, wanting to also restore and cleanse it of all the bad things that used to happen here, had long stood desolate and abandoned. I have still not processed in my mind how I have come to once more be at the epicentre of all that I was terrified of as a child. Back at the bottom of the hill that casts a shadow over the vineyards which only ever produce sour wine, back in the four streets of the place where I was born, streets extending along the river like the veins of some small rodent, a rat perhaps. Back among the same people, even more exhausted than they were when I last saw them. Here, where I have been sent by anonymous commentators – ‘Go back to where you came from!’ – whenever my words happened to tread on some sore point.

I ponder over the degree to which I chose this rural withdrawal myself and how far my return was inevitable. I am aware of the human tendency to create narrative meaning, stories with which we nurture the illusion of free will and of forging our own path. Stories with which we reduce all the moments that have come before and the circumstances that surrounded them, eventually bringing us to the present juncture, to a superficiality of the I-am-exactly-where-I-should-be kind. Even worse, we believe this banality has a spiritual dimension. That we are on some kind of ‘path,’ created exclusively for us. Life is no path; we are going nowhere, not progressing towards anything (apart from death). Progress is the logic of markets, not human lives; we humans just are. Sometimes in better, other times in worse circumstances. To survive, however, we tell ourselves, and in conformation also to others, stories about our lives – as if weaving a blanket with which we can cover ourselves at night so we can fall asleep. And so I returned to the place of my birth so that I could write in peace. That is my narration, my own creation of purpose.

Beyond the narration are the facts, which are more difficult to live with.

It’s a fact that I did not as much leave town as it was the town that, with its impossible cost of living in combination with an unlucrative field of work, closed the door on me, pushed me back to the periphery. Towns are places that need no kind of fence or walls to eject from their centre any unwanted population, those with weak purchasing power. The barrier is invisible but effective: high rents and living costs alone act as gatekeepers.

It’s a fact that it is practically impossible to step out of the social class into which you were born (in my case a working class marked by immigration, poverty, lack of education and all their psychopathologic consequences), bolstered by numerous factors, not least by the individual’s tendency to recreate their home surroundings or rather their inability to sever their bonds with them. To put it differently: even if a series of unbelievable events, persistence, talent etc. lead to the rare opportunity with which one might change their life and drag themselves out of the misery of a constant survivalist mode of operation, the possibility that one will recognise and comprehend the opportunity is remarkably small. The experience of ontological inferiority prevents people from functioning in changed circumstances, generally leading to ignominious failure, regardless of how excellent the opportunity.

It’s a fact that my incapability of suppressing what I have seen within the toxic, discouraging or simply pointless working environments which I have encountered in town, and with it also an inability to enter into compromises, could lead nowhere but to a withdrawal of one kind or another from the world which I, prior to getting to know it, thought was real and one in which I belonged. Once I also began to recognize the pattern of activity at the systemic level – pointless reproduction of much of the same within the context of the rat race where there is no space for talent, innovation, common good – I could no longer bear it. I stopped participating. I stopped producing. I simply stopped. And, for a person with no backing, stopping is enough to set in motion a rapid downward slide. You no longer play along? You no longer believe? There’s the door.  – This is, if we listen out carefully, the mantra of the so-called free market that purports to be ethical at its core.

It’s a fact that I do not even belong to the world that I ran away from as a teenager and to which I have returned all these years later. I did not fit into the place of my birth when I was growing up, nor do I fit in it now that I am more equipped than then to figure out why shop keepers and bank clerks give me suspicious looks.

My position – the one I have chosen or that has, more probably, befallen me – is one of a person in between. Of one looking out from between the panes of glass of a double, Russian window; into the space where I happen to be at a given moment and out beyond it. And as I am neither here nor there, as I am nowhere, I am everywhere. From here I can observe better, see better. At least that’s what I’d like to believe.

 

***

Christmas Eve. My sister calls me from England, worried that I am ‘alone today’. “How interesting,” she soon establishes, “I called to offer you some consolation and here you are, consoling me.”

“Of course,” I reply. “You’re among people.”

 

***

Who are you and where are you going, what is your true calling, your mission? What makes you happy? These clichés, kitsch you come across even by only slightly opening the door to the world, serve not what they purport, they do not create truths and meanings, instead their function is to direct us towards a narrowly apportioned effectiveness and partial usefulness for those who drive the system – in return for an enslaved life. The purpose of this quasi-spiritualised kitsch is primarily to conceal the truth. It conceals the fact that the search for personal conceptualisation is intended for the poor, the workers – the well-off are allowed to just live.

With property in the village, even if I am penniless most of the time, I have a privilege similar to the privilege of the well-off – an attained space in the world that is not conditional on what I create. I can simply be in this world without owing anything to it for my existence. Even more – as I’m no longer playing along, I don’t need to nod, shake my head or reach my hand out anywhere and to anyone. I don’t need to go along with anything. And I don’t. I no longer cater to clubs of a common denominator, I no longer go for ‘positive alignment,’ for ‘self-fulfilment’, for ‘let’s go, just a little more, let’s tighten our muscles,’ for ‘you need to exploit potential,’ and least of all for ‘sometimes you need to so something just to pay the bills.’ I simply no longer play along. I doze. Repose. And rhyme. Mostly I rhyme. Probably because beside myself and those like me, only rhymes are more redundant. Probably because the world doesn’t give a fuck about rhymes just as I don’t give a fuck about a world in which you are worth only what you can produce and spend.

 

***

January. I ask a writer colleague to write a contribution for the Anthology of Light (my editorial work being a rare arrangement bound to the outside world that I have maintained after my move). A few days later he sends me a piece with a simple hypothesis –‘happiness is not thinking about things’– that he elaborates on over two scenes, one of which talks of a holiday trip to some exotic islands, when, writes my colleague, sitting on the boat, he has no thoughts and no angst. Perhaps this is happiness, he contemplates.

“The essay you sent me,” I tell him, “is written from a privileged position.”

“What’s wrong with privilege?” he objects. “Are you saying that simply writing from a privileged position is bad by its very nature?” he says. 

“There’s not necessarily anything wrong with privilege as such,” I reply. “But don’t let your privilege to send holiday postcards into your essays.”

He disappointed me, my writer colleague. By carrying out the task that petty bourgeois literature has in society – that of consolidating the idea of permanency and continuity of the familiar – he represents part of the problem, not a solution. By stopping at half the step. By stopping at half the step in life as well.

“But there is no exit, there’s no freedom, it doesn’t exist,” he told me when I articulated the problem I had with him.

I used to support him, but then… then I began reading more carefully, seeing things more clearly and, accordingly, became more and more radical, increasingly uncompromising.

“Of course there’s no freedom and no exit,” I tell him. “Just as there’s no safety and no stability for which you sacrifice freedom. What matters though is what you set out towards.”

 

***

 

A friend of mine concluded that I was suffering from agoraphobia when she read my piece on my trip from the village into town on which, after weeks of silence in isolation, the first person I came across had a serious case of verbal diarrhoea, a person whose raw existence is the embodiment of violence and an aesthetic crime that I could not, however escape – as we shared the ride – so I reacted with a panic attack. My friend’s conclusions are mistaken; for it to be a case of agoraphobia I should have a fear of open spaces, but it is not so. What I have a fear of are the people who inhabit spaces, and even that is not quite accurate, for I do not have a fear of people in general, but only people who are aggressive, wicked, obtuse. What scares me is the absence of reason with individuals (who like very much to connect into groups), who are not in touch with themselves or what is happening around them. And I am not only afraid of them when I find myself in their midst.

Long nights in the village between November and February; I am afraid of a situation where this absence of reason of theirs invades my world, after they discover that we do not match, when it detects what I think of them, when it locates the last sanctuary of common sense where I have found refuge. The absence of reason and with it a sudden irruption of violence that excludes me from the dominant equation of a world that is not made to my measure but that of the measure of the obtuse majority, that is what I fear.

I console myself with the thought that I am of no interest to anyone. My little prayer, even though I know not who it is intended for, contains a single plea: that the world would leave me alone.

Something is happening to me after the age of thirty. I see people more distinctly, they shine like a naked blade, I write in a novel in the making. When I look at them I see pain, but more often also what is missing; a severed connection and a greyness that forecasts even darker shades for the future of human existence.

An open, empty space? No problems. Quite the opposite. Open emptiness is what I long for.

 

***

I want to rest. I want to read on the balcony for as long as it takes, walk up a hill for as long as it takes, potter around with the soil for as long as it takes for all that is superfluous to drop away, all that I have accumulated over my years in town and probably even before. Beginning with fear, with a lot of fear. In the village I am alone, so I take care of everything myself, even fear. I know how to do that, I am adept at that. Creating stories from nothing. “Only humans are capable of that,” says my sister. “A horse, for example, will not make up some story and then jump back – boowhah, what’s this??” But my sister newer saw the horses that, after someone had attacked them with an axe, something that, to the delight of the outraged masses, the media reported on for at least a month, recuperated at the Veterinary Faculty close to where I used to live. There were two of them, beautiful, with coats that glistened in the sun when they moved their slender muscles, gracious creatures – with deep lacerations on their faces. If you approached them, and I once went right up to the fence, they twitched nervously and moved to the far end of the enclosure. After what they had been through, the horses had also become masters of creating stories ‘from nothing.’

 

***

It is spring. My trees are budding. All that pushes below the surface simultaneously opens upwards.

“Don’t give up, Dijana,” an acquaintance says to me. “In our neck of the woods women don’t give up either.” The commonplace is made of Teflon, nothing but another commonplace ever sticks to it. No real emotion, no thoughts, no song, no Nobody in the making. I give myself to reading, into tradition. I give myself to a room of my own with a door that seals well. I give myself entirely, under the skylight (that terrifying skylight!) through which the stars shine on clear nights, from Major to Minor, yoked to the Plough. I am the gap for Danilo, Virginia, Aleš, Boštjan, Felix, Marko, Thomas, Sylvia, Oscar, Gregor to reach through – all who did not like the outside world because they did not need it. Or it was the other way around. I give myself to the exit towards the balcony, facing the river, high enough that I do not need to be communal, low enough for the postman to pass me any parcel over the top of it. There are two postmen in our area, but only one motorbike with which they push their way up the hill. One of them never says anything, which is good, the other kindly addresses me by my name, which is nice. “Dijana, a little book for the holidays for you,” he says.

Recently people have all been calling me by my name, perhaps because I have given it up to anyone who might want to do something with it.

I unwrap the packing of the little book that has just arrived, removing all that is redundant, and read, read, read.

Rade is gone*, they write.

Now we can start getting to know each other, I think.

I am becoming a beating core, a crossroad traversed by numerous suns.

Give it all you have.

This has only just begun.

 

____________

 

 

*Rade Krstić, Slovene poet (1960-2018)

 

 

 

Translated by Gregor Timothy Čeh

Igor Angjelkov

Igor Angjelkov

Igor Angjelkov, born 1974 in Skopje, graduated in Interdisciplinary Journalism Studies and completed his master’s degree in Media and Communications at the Iustinianus Primus Faculty of Law of the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. He writes literature, music and film reviews for numerous Macedonian magazines.

In 1996 his first self-published book was published under the pseudonym Angel Gorski. His official debut as a writer was in 2006 with the short story collection Krotki Prikazni, the first domestic author to be published in the Macedonian literary edition PROaZA. His stories have been published in various Balkan literary magazines and his novels Kraj-pat (2010) and Foto sinteza (2013) have been very well received, leading to further editions.

Photo by: Maja Nedeva

Anja Golob

Anja Golob

Anja Golob, born 1976 in Slovenj Gradec, studied Philosophy and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana and worked as a theatre critic for twelve years, mainly publishing for the newspaper Večer and has also written around 750 theatre reviews. She has so far published seven books of poetry – three in Slovene, a reprint of all three collections in a single volume, two in German translation, and one in collaboration with Nikolai Vogel. Selections of her poems and other texts have appeared in numerous magazines. Her second and third books were both awarded the Jenko Award (2014 and 2016), a literary prize for the best collection of Slovene poetry published over the previous two years. 

She works as poet, writer and translator. In 2013 she co-founded a small publishing house Vigevageknjige, where she is now the chief editor. It specialises in publishing Slovene translations of graphic novels for both children and adults. She also occasionally still works as a dramaturge for contemporary art and dance performances. She lives between Maribor and Brussels.

Portrait by: Ute Helmbold

Marija Pavlović

Marija Pavlović

Marija Pavlović, born 1984 in Leskovac, is a Serbian writer. She has written short stories (American Dream, Discopolis, Disco Inferno, All Is in Line), a theatre piece The Strange Case of Mrs Jekyll and Dr Hyde (performed as an audio-visual performance in the Cultural Center Parobrod in Belgrade), a poetry collection (Imperatives), a book of short stories Horror Stories of Everyday (2014) and a novel titled 24 (2018). Pavlović has participated in regional festivals and initiatives, such as the short stories festival Kikinda Short, the UN project Writers for the Future, implemented in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the Montenegrin Literary Festival and the programme Neighbourhood Bound organised by the association KROKODIL. Her story Rapid Euro Movement has been translated into Hungarian and published in the anthology of contemporary Serbian literature Hogyan legyél mesterlövész? / How to become a sniper?. With the support of the association KROKODIL and the Swedish Institute in Serbia, she participated in the literary residency on the island Gotland in Sweden, during which time her story Memoirs of Ptolemy Tenia Solium III was translated into Swedish. She lives and works in Berlin, where she is completing a PhD degree in Comparative Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Jedrt Lapuh Maležič

Jedrt Lapuh Maležič

Jedrt Lapuh Maležič, born 1979, is a Slovene writer and literary translator of English and French with a BA in Translation Studies from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana. She first worked as an in-house translator at an agency, but has been freelancing as a translator since 2007. Among her translated authors are Khaled Hosseini, Julie Otsuka, Jeet Thayil, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., John Boyne, Mircea Eliade, Marie-Aude Murail, Jacqueline Raoul-Duval and many others. In 2016, she published two collections of her own short stories, Težkomentalci (Heavymetallers) and Bojne barve (War Colours). Težkomentalci was nominated Best Debut Book of the year, while Bojne barve was nominated Best Short Story Collection of 2016 at the Novo Mesto Short literary festival. Topics covered in her poetry range from psychiatric hospitals to LGBT issues. Her latest book was published in 2018 and is a novel entitled Vija vaja ven (Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe) dealing with the theme of new-age healers and sects.

 


 

 

 

Heavymentals

 
 

Where’s That Written? 

“No, thanks. I take pills in the morning at home and I’ve had enough for the time being. It’s what the doctor and I agreed on. I’ve already taken them today,” I explain at the doctor’s office.
“Take this. It’s what the doctor ordered. Here. Now.” She looks straight up into my eyes, but since she’s a few heads shorter she perches her hand on her hip and looks peevish.
“Just ask him,” I reply.
“So you would just ask him, eh?” Nurse Leopoldina looks around contemptuously, her gaze triumphantly sweeping over the clinic where the doctor is nowhere to be seen. “Know what? We won’t trouble him. It’s written right here. Seroquel, 600 mg. You’ll take it here and now, and then off to the group you go. End of discussion.” She hands me a cup of water and mutters, “You always have to be something special. You, you, it’s always you.”
This jolts me. Envious or sneering authority is something I don’t trust. I hold the cup of water in one hand, the pill in the other, but something in her voice indicates derisive, enormous anger at me for my not wanting to be a moulded patient. The nurses would be writing up the therapy themselves, wouldn’t they? – to take revenge on me? But they can’t do that, can they?
“I’m not taking it,” I say and try to sound conciliatory. She calls the doctor and it’s obvious I’ve gotten on her nerves. “Yes, Doctor. She doesn’t want to take it. Yes, but if she refused! She says she’s not taking it. I don’t know what to do with her,” moans Leopoldina into the phone, while the other two nurses look on in commiseration. Defiance is always unwelcome in the ward, which is why I, standing by the dispensary counter, am beginning to feel that my only joy today is souring the life and career of well-intentioned people.
He pops up with suspicious alacrity, as if he had anticipated my revolt. That’s not what we agreed on, I say. I’ve told you a hundred times that Seroquel makes me faint, I say. What’s the need for it now? I say. Do you really need the statistical data that much? I say. There’s no need for it whatsoever, I say.
He watches and measures me in silence, then coldly snaps, “If you don’t take this pill right this minute, there may be catastrophic consequences for your whole family.” His voice is that of a radio announcer, his eyes a pressure drum. That’s all he says and as I’m coming to terms with the long-term effects of his statement, I realize that I never had an ally in him. The entire white team is in on this massive betrayal, and together they are forcing my hand up to my mouth. Some are helping with gazes, others physically. First they lift my pill-hand, then the one with the cup. I’m turning into a robot. I’m regretful. I think I have tears in my eyes when I swallow. “Say ah.” Seriously? Don’t we know each other well enough? They repeat the command. “Say ah. Come on, quick. The group’s about to start.” I say ah and now I’m really crying. The tears are gushing, even I don’t know where from, as I tamely move over to the room for groups. I can feel that they’re hot and that my skin is cold, and I’m reflecting on how I managed to be so delusional about mutual respect. Only one nurse looks at me with compassion, everyone else is joyous at having crushed me. Only one sits down beside me and remains calm, never looking me straight in the face. Only one can muster up the decency not to stare into my tears but just to let me breathe. Maybe they also pay her, and only her, solely to watch over me.
The group is off and running and everything is as it was before. I can’t follow because I’m expecting an assassination, insofar as one can even be on the lookout for an ambush. The Seroquel strikes for the first time, my back breaks out in goose bumps. Chills. This is something I recognize. I’m shuddering with the thought that I might die since I’ve already taken a double dose this morning, and on top of that also various other types of pills. It occurs to me that they’re out to destroy me, that they’re getting rid of me for the sake of peace in the group. I’m hissing too much, that’s what it is, I’m poking my nose too far into the system. Oh fuck, they’re gonna get rid of me, sweet Mother of God, they’re gonna…, this is it, I’m tripping out. And immediately after, the voice of reason, which is not actually a voice but a screaming thought, says: No, no, get a grip on yourself. I tell myself that I’ve just strayed off the path a bit, otherwise I’m not sick, no matter what they say. There’s nothing I’ve got they can heal with pills. There’s no medicine for me.
At this moment I see myself, from below the ceiling, how I’m setting in motion “catastrophic consequences for my whole family,” and I bash my fist against the chair and stick the index finger of my other hand into my mouth to make me puke out the foreign object. I gag and there follows an entire uproar as the common folks all gawk at me, and the personnel begins to prance around me in a rhythm dictated by gagging. If I didn’t know I’d done that myself and in anguish, for sure I’d be thinking: Look at her, what an attention-whore. She’ll do anything just to get their attention. What’s with all the theatrics? I have no idea what should be done after all this when I’m crouched in the middle of the circle. Though I’m doubled over, there’s no vomit. When the only nurse approaches me and starts to rub my back so I can feel her soft chest and the promise of a secure lap, I decide that this was a bad idea. I race over to the sink, which by sheer chance is on the wall just behind the doctor’s back, to put my hand under the cold water and wake myself up from this creepy dream the pills have lulled me into. One little pill and all this uproar.
They rush over to me and grab me. Only then do I realize what it must have looked like, what my “attack” must have looked like to the doctor. Because I’m tall, at first I can shake them off, and I howl: “I just need the sink!” But they’re already back, these gadflies. I can feel the room’s gazes upon me, some of them urging me on, even cheering for me, and some staring smugly at me as if to say didn’t we already knew there’s something seriously wrong with her. I don’t care, slackers, we’re all inside here and it’s time for us to start behaving like it. This isn’t a fucking Sheraton, dimwits, it’s a Charenton, where people disappear if that’s how it has to be and if that’s what the system wants. I cough and succumb, oh how I succumb. 
They’ve already tied me back to the chair, and I can see less and less through the veil. Partly because I’ve lost my glasses, partly because of all the excitement, and partly because of dizziness. When I calm down, a silence descends, but the gawking doesn’t cease. It’s like the weather. What’s the forecast for today? Foggy with gawking. I almost crack a smile, but all I can manage through the coughing is, “This is a bit much, you bloody cows. It’s all your fault, you and your Seroquel.” The nurses, positioned around Doctor Traitor, the rooster in this henhouse, are almost all nodding. The only friendly one, the one who rubbed my back, sits down beside me and holds me gently by the wrist. Her wrinkles deepen when I don’t shut up immediately. One of the cows at the trough says, “Whose fault is all this, Amber? Who’s the cow? Nurse Sanja, perhaps?” Nurse Sanja surreptitiously squeezes my wrist and her every gesture suggests I should resist temptation. But it’s beyond resisting.
When I stand up, I am careful to strike out at and hit precisely the one and only who belongs in the same basket with all the staff and I have no intention of sparing her on account of some personal inclination. “Yes, each and every one! Even Nurse Sanja is a cow!” I holler.
After too short a time I’m so much in my element that I add, “Milker!” and Nurse Sanja, the one and only, lowers her gaze. I’m so embarrassed that I burst out of the room and make for the john, where else? My head is spinning so much that I lie down on the floor and before that I turn the lock. The team chases after me, but they’re not fast enough. I hear faint knocking and voices, while my gaze clears at the touch of the necks and hands against the icy tiles. This is definitely enough to put me in the lock-up ward, I think. The knocking is steady and incessant, but I don’t answer until I hear something close to panic in the nurse’s voice. “Can’t you let me pee in peace? I haven’t even been able to crap for two weeks. You know everything. I couldn’t even slit my wrists in peace, remember? I had nothing with me, when you fucked me up,” I howl from the ice cold floor. There’s a bit of silence, with no knocking. Oh, that’s real good.
I probably blacked out for a moment because the knocking wakes me up, this time at head-level, just above the floor. It’s hard to imagine Nurse Sanja, in late middle age, sitting in front of the john with her back against the wall, watching over me. But it’s true. When I open the door she’s so surprised I almost knock her over. She looks at me turgidly but earnestly, and apologetically, it seems. My attack has passed and I’m ready to talk about how and when they’ll deport me to the lock-up ward. The only fleeting regret I feel was for calling her a bloody milker. How did that fly out of my mouth, at my one and only ally? If I apologize and tell her that despite her ample bosom she’s no milker, it would sound stupid, but keeping quiet would also sound stupid. So I tell her I’m be ready to be admitted in five minutes. “Admitted? Why would you want to go there?” she asks. 
“I didn’t say I want to…” I begin, though actually a bit of peace wouldn’t hurt. “Can’t I just sleep over at admitting?” I ask. “No, Amber, I would never recommend admitting to you,” she persists and tries to take my hand. I slip away from her and decide, out of pure defiance, that I’ll go ask by myself at the lock-up ward whether they’ll take me.
It turns out that they’ll take anybody who wants it badly enough. When I get to the ground floor, I first have to buzz at the door to the ward. A hospital attendant, for whom my wish was a huge nuisance, opens up. I’m persistent and wish to speak to a doctor. He understands, clearly. He just nods and writes something in my file. Satisfied, I leave the consulting room as the lock-up ward’s newest resident. As if by order, the blaring radio starts to play Honesty. Then they call me back to the doctor’s office. For my morning medication, they say. If you search for tenderness, it isn’t hard to find. I shake my head, it was all a misunderstanding. I’ve just told the doctor that I’ve been given two doses, which is why I’m here. Two, I raise two fingers, giving the victory sign. “I swear, if there’s anything I’m full of, it’s pills,” I say with a smile, but when I try to open the door from inside, the technician blocks it with his foot and silently, roughly, turns me around.
“I’m here voluntarily,” I say. “I can leave whenever I feel like it, right?” I give him a cutting look.
“Where’s that written?” he replies, and hands me a cup with medicine. There are three pills. Three. And mostly what I need from you. And when I take them, I have to stick out my tongue so they can confirm whether I really am going to die.
 
 

Michael Jackson Simply Liked Children

 

Fugazi on my USB player while out on the balcony a discussion rages about Michael Jackson and about this, that and everything. Sancho says he thinks Michael Jackson simply liked children, that’s it. He says that for him zyprexa is a miraculous pill and that he’ll never get so fat you won’t recognize him because he works out all the time. Sitting in a waiting room… waiting, waiting, waiting. To prove how nimble he is, Sancho, right there in front of me, drops from a standing position onto the floor and starts doing push-ups, a hundred of them, out of pure mania.

Sancho has never heard of Don Quixote and Don’s never heard of him. In fact, his real name is Samir, and his parents’ names are Samir Sr. and Samira. He says they had no imagination. Sancho has only just arrived but already he’s the boss of this ward, because practically everyone is afraid of him and because he’s so strong he could crush anyone who isn’t. He’s respectful towards the elderly, he says. He’s respectful towards everyone, always and everywhere, because that’s how you earn respect for yourself, he explained to us five minutes after he was brought up to us in his pyjamas. When he wets his gangster hair and slicks it back, I notice that tattooed on his neck below the crew-cut is some sort of letter, or maybe even an inscription, in Arabic. Hafez, he says, the Sufi poet. But he doesn’t know what the line means and neither does he care, he says. He’s supposedly arrived from Afghanistan, where it’s not known how many people he’s killed in the service of his homeland. Probably nobody.

Sweat is running down Sancho’s cheeks. I’m waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. He says it’s because his body only cools itself down when he’s upset and restless. I ask him whether now, among us, he is upset and restless, but he just shakes his head anxiously and says that one has to differentiate between physical-effort sweat and psyche sweat. Michael Jackson was constantly sweating when he danced, he says, look at him, he swept away all the competition and yet there’s no sign that any of that fame went to his head. This statement makes me choke on the coffee that I just took a swig from, but I don’t think it would be wise to break his authority and embarrass him in front of everybody, because it’s still not known how many people he has killed.

I’m in line for a talk with the shrink. I’m sitting in the waiting room… I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait, so he can start with his questions. So long, Fugazi, because he’s gesturing to me to turn off the private entertainment running through my headphones. Lately my world has been revolving around the people in the hospital, so it’s only with difficulty that I can think when the doctor interrogates me about my family beyond these walls. I can easily occupy myself with what’s inside, among these stumbling ones, and I’ve learned to love their sweat and tears. Sancho says things are similar in the army. You forget about the places and the people outside those confines, you get wrapped up in the drama inside. Gradually, that’s how I explain it to myself, in this world in miniature you practice reality seriously enough that you’re able to function along a similar pattern even after you go back home.

So the shrink is not satisfied with my progress. Throughout the interrogation about my family situation, I respond with concrete examples from the hospital balcony. I’ve been spending my whole time talking about Sancho, the shrink remarks. Am I aware he has his own history and I have a completely different one? I am aware, I am, but histories are contagious, I say. In what sense? I don’t know. I fall silent. It seems to me that I’ve caught something, I think, and pretty soon I’ll have to pull myself together. And if he confided in me that Sancho is having trouble with the law? That’s sobers me up. So he really did kill some people, down there, I say. No, no, no. Let’s just say that you should keep an eye on your stuff, the doctor imparts. So he’s a thief, nothing drastic about that, I think, and besides I haven’t taken anything valuable with me into the hospital, some old clothes and a few diaries and pens.

When I put my headphones back on, I shuffle the songs back to the start and I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait, to clear up what kind of virus is spreading through my brains, making me feel more at home here than in my own home. I don’t turn to the balcony, because Sancho is too loud as he awaits his conversation with the doctor and he’s showing off, doing his push-ups. Instead I think about how much I’d love to give him something, so he won’t have to steal. But I don’t have anything here. Maybe in my car, which is still parked in the nearby lot. It’s worth checking. I just can’t let myself be tempted into driving off, that’s all.

So I go beyond these walls and the song changes the instant the automatic door opens. I go back to the beginning, I’m not sick of it yet. As if I’m waiting for someone to surprise me. I stare through the windshield for a bit and then it dawns on me. In the trunk I’m still hauling around my out-of-date collections of cassette tapes for which I don’t have a player. There are a few boxes of them, and hidden among them are some gems, which are slightly embarrassing to me, such as Michael Jackson’s Bad album. I’ll give them to Sancho.

Heaped high with these precious objects, I take the elevator back up to the ward on which, it seems, they’re in a state of emergency. The doctor is standing in the corridor in front of his office, the nurses are dancing around him, their arms raised in dismay. I can barely see over the boxes, so it’s really not clear to me what’s going on. When I put them down, at the end of the hall I see Sancho, who is moving towards his room around the corner, and I can see he’s cooked something up. I ask the first nurse what’s going on, but she just says: “They threw him out of the ward. He stole a car from the parking lot.” No, no, that can’t be true, I think, and run after Sancho, who’s already at the door to his room. I’ve just come from the parking lot, and I didn’t see anyone. They’ve either mixed something up or he really got on their nerves. “You were on the balcony the whole time! I’ll vouch for you!” I call after him. Sancho shakes his head, while from behind me I hear a doctor: “He is well aware of the why and the how. We have zero tolerance towards criminals here! That sort of stuff won’t work here.”

I grab Sancho by the shoulder and say, “Aren’t you going to defend yourself?! Stay and fight, you’re a good fighter!” He tells me there’s no point and that the shrink has already decided because that’s just the way it always is, the poor get screwed over. Then he moves over to his hospital bed and starts stuffing things into plastic garbage bags. At that moment I decide I know what I’m going to give him. I run into my room, across from his, on the women’s side, and I pull out Bad. The album will protect him from real criminals, since Sancho has no home, though he does have a dealer who’s threatening to kill him because he can’t pay for the horse he’s already shot up.

I reappear at the door of Sancho’s room and offer him the Michael Jackson tape. So he’ll remember that, like Michael with children, he simply likes cars. So he’ll know that he’s not guilty because they’re accusing him of theft, that even good people do bad things sometimes, which goes against logic. That the tape will remind him of the way back, which is always possible. He has tears in his eyes and he gives me a manly thanks, and we smack hands like some guys from the hood, and one minute later he’s on the woman’s side of the ward asking me whether I’m really sure about wanting to give him the tape. “Is it really mine?” he asks. “Yours and yours alone, but it’s not like it’s worth anything,” I say with a shrug. In his currency, it really isn’t worth anything, since he can’t smoke it or suck it up into his veins. After that Sancho doesn’t say a word. He disappears into his room to pack.

A little while later, I receive a very small package from one of the hospital attendants. A “friend” has sent it. Inside there’s a slightly bent and slightly bloodied earing for my un-pierced belly button. At first I’m frightened because I’m sure, completely sure, that it’s stolen, perhaps plucked right out of some local chick’s navel, and I’m also afraid that he has hurt somebody on account of the earring. He doesn’t know his own strength. But the hospital attendant just tells me, “Don’t overthink it, just accept it and tell him thanks.” Right, I thank him, I think, and stow the earring into a pocket because they’re calling me from the doctor’s office.

The shrink wants to talk to me, for the second time today, to “clarify” something. We’re wedged in right away when he mentions Sancho. It means a lot to me to uncover the real perpetrator, because I think of how awful it feels if you want to go home after getting healed and you realize that some perfidious swine has taken away your means of transport. But I know Sancho can’t have been the perpetrator. I had him in my sights the whole time, with the exception of when I popped out to the car, but even when I was gone I would have been the first one to see him, I explain.

How about if you worried a little more about yourself, the shrink points out, about your life? I don’t answer. Right now the most important thing is not to send an innocent person to jail. If you must know, he didn’t steal the car himself, he just let his accomplices know that the car was unlocked, says the geek on the other side of the table. I bet his mommy cooks him lunch on Sunday and proudly shows him off to all her friends, and, above all, he’s not the one who supports her, like Sancho does. It would have been impossible, I staidly claim, for him to move off the balcony while I was gone. These people have all kinds of manoeuvres, whether you’re aware of it or not. The doctor divides people between these people and us, I realize, and that really disgusts me, which is right then I get up and slam the door behind me, and in front of the door of his office, indiscreetly bellow down the corridor: “Damn!”

The definitively departing Sancho, who is not ready to stand up for himself and who does not know what his own tattoo means, looks at me in the hallway, stunned, and asks me what in God’s bloody name, what in God’s bloody name just happened to him. Because that’s not entirely his business, but between me and the doctor, I just mumble that the shrink labelled Michael Jackson a paedophile, whereupon Sancho simply shrugs his shoulders.

This is obviously not so important to him, even though he spent half an hour this morning defending the King of Pop’s innocence. Actually, I feel like I’m the only one for miles around who is not indifferent to him, to Michael, or to the owner of the stolen car. Out of general protest and because it’s not clear to me what it was that got into that damned Michael Jackson to make him snap, I snatch the earring from my pocket and chuck it into the laundry hamper because today’s the day they wash our pyjamas. I hope it will rip holes in all of the bottoms and all of us will end up looking like those people. I enter my room so I can put my headphones back on and wait for something decisive, then I go smoke on the balcony and accompany the dull afternoon as it runs its course. I check my backpack. I check my cupboard. I check all my pockets but I can’t find the headphones. Maybe I forget them in the psychiatrist’s office.

I knock, but right as I’m knocking I realize where my most valued possession is or at least that it probably already departed, with that poor guy. I change my mind, and when the doctor opens the door to ask me what’s up, I tell him I’d just like to apologize for before and that maybe I’m ready for my therapy to finally commence.

He gives me an approving pat on the back, and right away I regret my self-humbling. I’ve found myself on the side of the privileged, of those who don’t care if others creep knot-throated through the scorching sun to their dealers, debt collectors and creditors. And, disgusted with myself, I suddenly feel relieved. I sit on the blue chair and hope that the doctor’s joy will eventually dissipate, because I don’t like to be docile. We’re hanging in the air. For a moment. Then I begin: “I broke up the family by myself, by my very own hand.”

The doctor fights back a smile and listens.

 

 

 

Translated by Jason Blake

Marko Tomaš

Marko Tomaš

Marko Tomaš, born 1978 in Ljubljana, was one of the founders and editors of the Kolaps literary magazine in Sarajevo. He has worked as a journalist and radio speaker and has published extensively across the region. He is a poet of a rare sensuality and emotional refinement with a rarefied bohemian touch reminiscent somewhat of a young Leonard Cohen. His published works include, Hands Under Head (2002), Mama I’m Successful (2004), Life Is a Joke (2005), Marko Tomaš and Other Poems (2007), Goodbye Fascists (2009), Midnight Conversations (with Mehmed Begić) (2012), Boulevard of the People’s Revolution (2013), The Black Prayer Book (2015), The Paper Boat Race (2016), Thirty-Ninth of May (2018).

 


 

 

 

Selected Poems

 

When I Return From War 

Perhaps I should go to some war.
Become a real man in a manly situation.
I am no longer good at predicting the future.
I am curing alcoholism with a rather conservative method.
In other words — I am gradually trying to quit.
How did the sea enter my verses? How did I grab the gun? 
My face covered in moss, the smell of unknown soil. 
I dream of agaves – our names carved into a single leaf.  
                                                           I miss you. 
When I return from the war, I will kill you, I’ll sit on the sofa,
light up a cigarette and let you bleed lying on the carpet.
Today I ate snails. How did we end up here? We have gone far, 
                                                                       way too far. 
I have tattooed your name on my forearm. You won’t like it. 
Perhaps I should try describing the sky? I think yesterday 
                                                                       I killed a man. 
When I return from war, I will kill all of those who seduced you
                                                                       while I was gone,
I will kill them before the eyes of their dearest the same way they
                                                                       killed me
When they slid between your thighs.
I have problems writing. Worms. Fire. Mutilation. However, 
                                                                                              it’s mostly worms. 
I feel sorry for the tree we knocked down yesterday. Do you like me, kitty? 
Today it’s raining. Soon we’re off to the woods. Nature 
                                                                                              is beautiful.  
When I return from the war, I will make sculptures out of wire,
I will calmly mow my lawn, grow roses,
keeping your heart safe in a jewellery box.
I’m all sticky from the mud. We’re listening to the radio. Some sad song
                                                                                              for the sad soldiers. 
One of the murdered boys looked me straight in the eye. I was pissing blood. 
                                                                                  They say I caught a bad cold. 
When we reached the sea, the captain shot himself in the temple. 
They are supplying us with rations of marijuana and brandy. Many of us 
                                                                                  Are inconsolable. 
We got hooked on death. I’m writing a poem for you, expect it 
                                                                                  in the next letter. 
On the bedside table my photo in uniform. 
 
 

Try This, Dear Wagner 

Now, awaiting my thirtieth birthday,
I can never get rid of the depression,
because I still don’t understand baseball.
I wasn’t born an insect.
I cannot forgive my mother for that.
There is no efficient poison spray
for my kind.
I don’t listen to the radio anymore.
Everyday on the shortwave radio God is being
reborn as a voodoo doll
in the hands of a Nazi war criminal.
I can barely stand
the hysterical yoga practitioners.
They have found meaning. They live stress-free.
My ass!
Bing Crosby, the Christmas torture,
I cannot think of enough disparaging terms
for all the bullshit humanity falls for.
I should be listening to Wagner,
but I cannot find any Wagner on my computer.
A woman will take my last name.
Our kids will be prow angels. 
I will bring them handfuls of juicy and ripe oranges.
The house will smell of olive oil.
I would love to be perfect like the sea.
 
 

My People 

My people are scattered in distant cities.

My people wake up in Saigon and Managua.

They drink in bars in Zagreb and on those parapets in Split. 

They get wasted on speed in Sarajevo nights.

They drive their kids to school on the streets of Vienna.

They hallucinate underneath the Berlin sky.

They hurry to work in Paris.

They play banjo in the bars of Edinburgh.

They practise yoga in Sombor.

They urinate in the entrances of buildings in Belgrade. 

They make love on Bosporus.

They tell juicy jokes in the gardens of Mostar.

They wash dishes in the Copenhagen restaurants.

They are looking for a sunny spot in Oslo.

Homeless orphans, much like those Dickens’s boys and girls.

My people – I say.

 

 

Ghetto 

It’s still here, the mean bank of the river. 

That’s where I grew up.

Raised by my grandma and my grandpa.

My whole childhood I listened to horrible stories.

That taught me respect.

Those stories and terror I used to feel

walking down the street.

Sometimes I would hear distant echoes

of some pointless desperate battle,

would sense the stench

that flame-throwers leave behind.

And only the smell of wet dough

in my grandma’s kitchen

would bring me back to reality

that each time looked more and more yellow

like that Mitteleuropean sky.

In fact those young Israeli pilgrims

are really horrible. 

They stumble in drunken rage over that place with so much sadness.

The sadness I haven’t been able to shake off my whole life.

My girlfriends, the stewardesses, all tell me

that the worst flights to work on

are those from Tel Aviv to Warsaw.

You hear no kaddish, just burping and drunken cussing.

Oh, those Israeli youth in the Zamenhof Street

always used to creep me out. 

Every time after they would depart,  

leaving behind the smell of alcohol,

heaps of paper waste and cigarette buts,

I would just like in my childhood

hear the distant echoes

of some pointless desperate battle.

 
 

A Little Man In a Little Town

Little men in little towns are obsessed

with their own stature. 

The same goes for me, I’m looking for a perfect

little spot for all these little words

in order to electrify my homeland.

But this search for the homeland will someday

be the death of me.

Tom Waits hates me

whenever I try to write

like American poets.

For this little history little words

that can bypass each other on a narrow road

should suffice. 

Not to mention that try as I might

I could never be able to get rid of the heavy Slavic accent.

In a little town everything is a little toned down.

For example, street-lights are never strong enough 

to light up this entire prosaic fresco, 

as they can barely embrace a young couple

having a fight, or that linden

to whose smell I have always been allergic

to the extent that it makes me really hate

this little town spring.

I would like – like other little men in big cities –

to really mind my own business, but I am too bloodthirsty,

plus the little parks in my little town have indeed turned

into little cemeteries and I never fail

to rub that fact into everyone’s nose, because

the glorious war merits of us little people

are just enormous.

Nobody wants us – little people – for his enemy!

Our condescension, our haughtiness, our haughty-naughty-haughtiness

will always defeat every decent word.

For we are little people,

we are arrogant people,

we are not-entirely-fulfilled-people.

Walking across this wasted land.

 

 

Morning in Mahallah1 

 
It is morning – Tuesday!
The spring is fat
like a castrated tomcat.
Behind the high walls of the houses in mahallah
someone’s waking to a cough.
Paul Celan’s wandering look
gets stuck at the top
of a cypress.
Resting there
like a shot-down Sun
releasing a yellowish butter of light.
The houses, the fortresses
blown up from the inside
are resting in ruins. 
The way someone chews food
can easily turn into an unbearable experience.
One finds refuge in a dream
as if fleeing before the Barbarians.
One wakes up reluctantly getting into
the heavy armor of short-lived future
marked by the money
you have to set aside for utilities.
In fact, the night has the color of coffee.
Soon the former proletarians will begin they daily quarrels. 
 
 
_________________________________
1 Mahallah (or mahalla, mahallya, or mohalla; from Arabic: محلة‎, Persian: محله ‎, Urdu: محله ‎) is an Arabic language country subdivision or neighbourhood term. Also the historically important Ottoman section of the city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

 

 

Translated by Damir Šodan

Vitomirka Trebovac

Vitomirka Trebovac

Vitomirka Trebovac, born 1980 in Novi Sad, has published two poetry books, Plavo u boji (Blue in Colour, 2011) and Sve drveće, sva deca i svi bicikli u meni (All the Trees, Kids, and Bicycles Within Me, 2017). Together with Jelena Anđelovski she edited a book of poetry Ovo nije dom (This Is Not Home, 2017). She works in a bookstore and at the publishing centre Bulevar Books in Novi Sad.

 


 

 

 

Selected Poems 

 

OPPOSITES 

in front of the 
‘olga petrov’ 
retirement home 
a man kissed
a woman’s hand
she raised her head 
and he blushed
and what happened after
I don’t know
because the wheels of  my bicycle 
are big 
and I’m
already in another part of town.
here it begins to rain lightly and
there is the stink of mcdonalds
a girl plays accordion in front of it
stiff families eye her  suspiciously. 
I would crush 
them with my big bicycle, 
but I am polite as well
my upbringing does not let me
cause any issues.
 
 

I WILL NEVER FORGET

some woman reading proust

in a tram in gdansk

and a fat cat who 

ate my pancakes when

I was a child

I will not forget

how mom screamed

when they told her something over the phone 

and the view

of the skyscrapers from  some hotel 

I will never  forget

the waiting line for visas

and how we played frisbee

drunk in a park  in berlin

before dawn

then I will never forget

how they helped uncle to escape the army 

because the war began

and my grandma’s hands shaking

I will never forget when sara was born 

and I was at the pool

first second third 

emigration

I will not forget

when I saw you 

on the staircase of the bookstore. 

never.

 

SCAR

maybe I’ve already said

that I had three friends

one liked Russians

one Americans 

and the third  was so-so

he didn’t know whether to go

left or right 

and he’s still like that

anyway

once when we 

were children

I beat them in a street race 

to the lamppost

(and they were in a good shape) 

I touched the post and  collapsed. 

now I have a scar,  a small one, 

in the middle of my forehead

I wear it like a trophy through life.

 

WALKING

s. and I wandered away a couple of times

yesterday at the cemetery 

and we barely made it to the funeral.

we took a strange route

three kilometers on foot

through terrible mud

and we mostly talked about

gaudy gravestones

odd last names

about the fight from the previous day 

he said that

the grass is really nice here

and I agreed

but the whole time 

we were walking 

I was thinking

how the saddest thing in death 

is not the death itself 

but a sunny day

compared to a dark grave.

 

ABOUT OLD AGE

maybe one should not write 

about old age 

and about me  bathing you 

and how you were ashamed

because I touched

your decayed body and freckled skin

with your downcast eyes

powerless

you suddenly

talked about how your  feet 

were small and charming

and how now

one should die

but not even that is easy

while you were talking

the smell of a sharpened pencil 

overtook me

and I see my childhood self at once 

I’m sitting at my desk,

sharpening my pencil,

but the lead keeps falling out

then I remember

that my feet today

are small and charming

I got that from you

I thought

I shut the water off

and hug your 

bony

weak body

my grandmother little girl

maybe this is not

a poem about old age. 

 

 

Translated by Tamara Božić

Alen Brlek

Alen Brlek

Alen Brlek, born 1988 in Zagreb, won the ‘Na vrh jezika’ Award for the best unpublished poetry collection Metakmorfoze in 2013. His second book, Pratišina, was published in Serbia in 2017. He participates in the Zaron Project where he explores spaces and atmospheres of poetry and music with the poet Darko Šeparović and the musician Emil Andreis. His poems have been published in a number of magazines and translated into various languages.

 


 

 

 

Selected poems 

 

A DIVE

We don’t build lighthouses, we’ve got phones –
the firebug’s urge compressed into signal.
I don’t like the bell in any form because on the other end
someone’s eyes always lose focus. Waiting is a journey
into astigmatism. 
I’m teaching myself to be close to the water every time it dives,
reach out with my palms facing away from the sky because
I don’t trust the laws of the market.
I’m teaching myself to enter as if for the last time,
plant a pillow, exit as if I’d never entered at all.
To put Neptune to sleep. Cut into the night in all the right places.
Not to scratch my back every time it itches, not to forget
the details. To put more
trust in the depth of the dive.  

 

 

ARCHITECTURE 

We should find a place, an open intention
which doesn’t deprive. Like dams
built by beavers. We should
lift the belly skywards, invite god
to lay his head down and try to sleep.
We should give up on the right angles
and other things that cannot be touched,
forever split the heart in two with our thumbs like an apple,
give the pieces to children.
We should decant, as if a flock of birds into the crown of a tree,
humans into humans.
 
 

BLUE 

Today is Sunday, I breathe eerily softly
like a stag with an arrow stuck in his neck. This is the place
of a thousand bloodhounds rushing into my arms.
In the morning I read the silence of sleepy birds, the sound of
dishes which is always to do with the space between two buildings
the same distance stretches from the balcony.
At noon I look in the mirror and repeat – it’s all a dream
all a dream. 
Later I read deeply into what’s been said, I await symbols
and symbioses, and some other Ss. Like sky, like
smile, sleep
kismet.
At night I read about people fleeing famine and war
about the sea and the death of poetry, I cry and all things lean towards the blue.
Today is Sunday, in all things I discern you
in all things I wait for you. 
 
 

BREADLY

Suddenly, everything we do is a prayer,
all that is between us
an altar and swimming reflex. Tart
earth conquers us,
supplies the body with softness for a breadly tomorrow.
Tomorrow, your metals will forget the war,
tomorrow, my tongues will learn the art of wound cleansing.
Tomorrow, our lips will be botany and fish. 
 
 

DESCRIBING THE EXTRAORDINARY

Light was hollow this morning.

On the kitchen table, motionlessly,

an onion levitated, and I wanted to say

I missed the ring of your voice.

Alongside water, thoughts boiled into

sugar isn’t awake, fast,

one should fast.

 

 

DESCRIBING THE MUNDANE 

For days I’ve been trying to describe parquet. Parquet is
unvanquishable, it agrees only to scratching 
and it’s always potentially full of water.
Parquet is an indescribably harrowing version of the East,
a cherriless space. A journey of palms and
feet into the pain of a lonely man.
I shall not agree to dying above parquet level,
just as I don’t agree to trams, lifts,
clocks and hate.
Parquet is an indescribably permanent absence of oxygen
and her.
 
 

FAMILY GARDEN  

I shall carry you, o, roots,
even after a thousand ploughings,
fear not.
God is here, drupacious,
right behind the eyes.
 
 

HENS 

These days the sky crumbles into dust
and everything ends up in the kitchen somehow.
The cold opens up softly like a cotton flower,
the hot hens I tell no one about shiver
ceaselessly,
they don’t go out, don’t sing.
Sometimes, silence carves the city into my bones
and my smile, using the dream and distance
technique it builds you a home.
Only sometimes it becomes the water from the North’s edge.
The white enters behind the eyes
tries to remember which way you tilt the plate 
when there’s just a little soup in it,
what storks in love sound like
and at what temperature roof tiles are fired.
 
 

HYPOTHESIS OF LONGING 

Out of the atomic mushrooms in my chest flocks of
yellow vowels of her take flight,
with the horizon inscribed into their third eye.
oaoie
oaoie
iuieu
Let whoever translates this poem write thus:
silence is thickest from eight to quarter past.
We are all hybrids of ancient dust and light
and we only differ in the way we dive.
With time,
all things turn white.
 
 

MAIZE STARCH 

From my window I watched,
through the scope, the aerials on the city’s rooftops,
shore them of tips.
Your hot hair inscribed the big bang
into my skin, we pulled the knife
between each other’s feet
and prayed. Love is an abattoir
we march towards, tireless and calm.
 
 

RADIATOR 

Days are patient, safe and cold.
The heart is wet cotton. I get up, cotton
courses through my body as I approach the radiator
expecting a change. When nothing happens,
I return with my palms warm and I cover my back,
that soft universe which
contains innumerable definitions of freedom
(we’re free from waking till the first cup of coffee,
we’re free when we reduce everything to chemistry and biology,
when we ask about the freedom of others
when we stand in front of the mirror and we don’t choose pronouns
and adjectives
we’re free when we don’t think about freedom)
but, with us, everything is equally innocent and deadly.
 
 
 
 
 

 

Translated by Mirza Purić

Ahmed Burić

Ahmed Burić

Ahmed Burić, born 1967 in Sarajevo, graduated in Journalism at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Science. He is one of the most influential reporters, columnists and intellectuals in South-Eastern Europe. He writes columns with humorous and insightful comments about Sarajevo and the World, published on the of Radio Sarajevo portal. He has published over 4000 articles about cultural and political topics relating to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of South-Eastern Europe. His work has been translated into English, French, Czech and Slovene.Burić is also a poet and has published four poetry collections, Bog tranzicije (The God of Transition, 2004), Posljednje suze nafte i krvi (The Final Tears of Crude Oil and Blood, 2010), Maternji jezik (Mother Tongue, 2013) and Vrata raja (The Gates of Paradise, collected poems in Slovene, 2015). In 2017 he published his first novel Tebi šega što se zovem Donald?.

Photo: www.media.ba/

 


 

 

 

Selected Poetry

 

 

WOYTILA

Brought to the walls of the Eastern Empire of evil rulers and the good
but hungry and naïve,
like Janosik,
to finally tear it down, you are leaving now.
You are leaving now
for the place where you preached the eternity lived,
you are leaving your audience, the show goes on,
all cameras are on the squares,
and all roads lead to Rome.
 
At Christmas, everyone will sing again,
Rejoice, O people,
and you will be like a dream. The one that has gone.
And we don’t know who will answer,
for the 80s Gdansk,
for the poverty after the Wall,
for the tea shortage in Georgia,
for the blank gaze
of the unemployed.
in Detroit or Dushanbe, all the same.
for the shameless world.
 
You are leaving now and I already
await a new world,
the same or worse than this one,
and one of the successors,
some clerk,
a protector of the brand of the Cross and
the institution of confessors.
 
You are leaving now and that is the only difference between us,
you and Coca-Cola will live forever,
they will read about you in
3D encyclopaedias. Merry singers will devote 
farewell songs to you, mein gott, even Karel Gott may sing for you.
 
You are leaving now and I can’t help thinking
that your duty was only partially done,
I was 11 then, from the living room echoed
the voices of the elders, someone said, perhaps my Father, 
he was happy the Pope was finally 
a Slav. I mourn you today, but did you stop
the slaughter of my Slavs – you did not.
I had an illusion you could have after all,
you, the Polish poet who did not despise his Polish roots.
 
A woman who was crying in front of St. Anton’s Church 
said her Muslim name and 
said you were a father to all. 
Well done for Africa and Jerusalem to you and all, and
for the church in Krakow and the friendship with the old poet,
we are all alike at this age,
so take surahs prayed for you,
but to me, I repeat, and to my people you were no father at all.
 
Mind is to sword what poetry is to banks,
no enemy worthy of respect,
I know it won’t be the same,
what is to follow, my dear,
could bring even more contempt.
 
Brought to the walls of the Eastern Empire of evil rulers and the good,
but hungry and naïve,
like Janosik,
to finally tear it down, you are leaving now.
You are leaving now,
for the place where you preached the eternity lived.
 
 

ULF KIRSTEN, THE RED STAR MAN

There were several rounds of beer in front of us, our youth behind us.

And a match on TV: just like in a TV ad.

“Ulf Kirsten” – the commentator said, totally 

unaware what those two words with a nine on his back 

could stir in us.

“Ulf Kirsten” – you repeated and we remembered watching Dynamo Dresden 

on the coast so many years ago, mourning the city and drunkenly cursing 

the allies for flattening it. Yet, we were happy that 

this fervent centre-forward defended their colours, the colours of the vanishing country, just as ours was vanishing, too.

“Ulf Kirsten” – I repeated and we laughed. When he ran on to the pitch in a white jersey

with an eagle on his chest, instead of a blue one with a sickle 

and a hammer and a DDR sign, nothing was the same any more.

Neither we nor Europe. He alone, robust and strong-legged, always reminded us that it

was possible to survive. And score.

We drank beer and he played on. The result was 0:0, in life, too; the defence 

opened up, the ball crept into the penalty box from the right, and he simply put his foot out.

He raised his arms, and stood with his legs and arms wide apart,

in shape of a red star.

A great monument to revolution.

“Ulf Kirsten” – was written on TV, and we jumped in front of the screen,

kissed him and promised to bid him farewell from the pitch 

in his last match. The red and black jersey he celebrated in 

evoked memories of Vardar and Sloboda, of Čelik, of football 

that was once played for people to clear up their lungs shouting names, 

swearing at the referee. 

For Ulf Kirsten, the red star man. 

 

 

THE MOTHER TONGUE

Last night I dreamt I found

my mother tongue

I spoke about something important with my mother

about my future, and 

I laughed, and then bitterly cried 

I woke up happy

some harmony echoed in my head

vineyard, vineyard, vineyard

ninth, tenth, bronze, Bosnia

and deep inside, with my mother’s help,

I found my mother tongue

but I found not much about myself.

She told me: you could have lived,

continued to love music and theatre,

continued the family name, gotten married,

so I could have some grandchildren 

in my late days, but no,

you kept on dreaming.

And I dreamt how I once

kissed at Tromostovje

and perhaps then missed the grandchildren boat 

while holding on to her tongue,

which is not my mother tongue, but it was the

sweetest thing I had ever tasted.

The places I left at the crack of dawn

were meant to become well-lit, magic cities

with wide streets, but they had no such luck,

and neither did I with

my mother tongue,

we didn’t find each other, we just

occasionally meet in dreams. 

Or in a French kiss.

I, merely a talker,

and he, a monster under beam lights,

but with little,

too little light

which gives any hope.

In my mother tongue. 

 

 

UPSTARTS’ BANQUET 

Tonight, in a theatre cafe,

after a play from Bonn 

we had a pleasant chat over wine

and found faults with everyone. 

We all get on well

as long as we talk food or the others

our words cling to napkins and

dance around the table, hanging out is so nice.

They ask “why don’t you write art critique”

you were so good at it once,

“No” I replay, mouthful,

why spoil fantasy for the audience?

Step by step, joke by joke,

the mild night pulled out its last caprice

and before sleep, there seemed to have arrived 

some news of stable peace. 

Landscapes pass by, the evening act is on

the wise proclaim banalities an “artefact”,

yet it hurts inside, I know, this peace is the devil’s act,

nothing more than the upstarts’ banquet. 

 

 

 BUENOS AIRES

For Milorad Popović

Years pass by

and there is less and less hope for me

to ever see Buenos Aires.

To take a deep breath

of fresh air.

We are Europe,

we fight against plastic packaging,

and for the human rights,

and for the aquarium fish 

rights

we who enjoy living among

the artificial algae,

while through a pipe placed behind glass-walled sovereignty,

we are given oxygen.

There is less and less hope for me to sing and tango

and go crazy at La Bombonniera,

and, like a Polish prince, W. Gombrowitz,

not give a damn about what they think of me

back in my homeland.

To forge ahead fake plans

about my homeland,

plans that will fall apart as soon as

the plane touches its soil,

I, a former emigrant,

the herald of freedom.

They pretended to welcome me back 

only to start strangling me 

with bare hands.

Years pass by and there is less and less

hope for me to see Buenos Aires,

to have my homeland of

fresh air. 

 

 

 ATLANTIS

Almost two decades have passed,

while we have not written anything good or honest

about the breakup of Yugoslavia.

There, on the sea bed, are remnants of destroyed vacation homes

whose owners, mostly Serbs, will probably never return to the cove.

From the surrounding hills, the cove was bombed,

on their behalf, by Montenegro army reservists, 

their descendants’ success is evident

 in positive reports for institutions for European integration.

Stories weaved at the table hold a thousand and one nights,

the ghosts of heroes of roads and lies float by,

this tension only matters to us,

Thanksgiving is celebrated, those dates when, contrary to the Geneva Convention,

kilometres of territory were “won”, kilometres whose fate had been decided long before,

just like the fate of the grilled fish.

Carnivals, celebrations in the country of peasants on the hilly Balkans,

Nowhere to be found so many algae,

Nowhere to be found so many squeaking beds and safe sex on the beaches,

Nowhere to be found so many young people untrained to be waiters.

And could love, after all, be what it takes 

to persuade you that this life was not in vain,

that it was not wasted.

The walls of solitude are broken by

children’s laughter,

like a run of cards, the ace of spades, 

jack of hearts, queen of diamonds,

and show me a child who has not imagined

their house completely filled with water, 

and themselves swimming between chandeliers, canopies,

pianos and brocade curtains.

This country has thus sunk.

And children?

The children believe they have learned to swim

in the pool of new rules of solvency,

in the ads of enhanced taste and smell,

which is all 

with so little imagination,

much, much less than a dream

of a country under water.

 

 

THE GOD OF TRANSITION

There is no need whatsoever to go across the ocean, to where He may have arrived from. 

Or, at least, not until He goes somewhere else. To yet another bar where we will also go 

to have one more pint before the waitress kindly warns us: it’s closing time. Like Maljević’s cross that has only kept its shape, my life stands.

Unstoppably, like a train through a field, the God of transition has dashed through it.

I ate His body today –

in a sausage pastry which an Albanian guy makes for a pence in a bakery near

the bridge, I saw Him in the papers this morning, I saw Him in the mirror tonight

for the last time before I decided not to see His face ever again. 

As I said, there is no need whatsoever to go across the ocean, to where He may have arrived from.

Or, at least, not until He goes somewhere else.

 

 

SALT-FREE SOCIETY

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? Matthew 5:13-14

“Don’t put so much salt

it’s not good for your blood pressure.”

My mother says while

one drop of sweat falls into the plate

making the meal saltier.

My aunt takes a painting off the wall

and gives it to me saying:

“Look, I may check out soon, and the painter is also biting the dust,

so the painting may be worth something.” She gives me five books as well:

one, I throw away immediately, the others are

Death in Venice, a bibliophile edition,

Poetry by Crnjanski, Buñuel’s biography

and Miodrag Stanisavljević’s diary 

published in Novi Pazar in which 

he mocks chauvinists.

It doesn’t matter to anyone anymore,

our paintings will not be seen by anyone,

nor our books read,

we are a fallen society

we have fallen while

admiring beauty and fooling

ourselves that, for our fall,

we are not to blame. 

In a salt-free society

we live our epoch,

it is still found only in tears,

in sweat. 

 

 

BETWEEN THE TWO WARS

What is good for your poetry
is not good for you.
It’s been nineteen years since the signing of
the Dayton accord.
Life after the war
is boring
and goes too fast.
Or have you finally accepted
what they taught us 
in the 4th grade:
“that the period between the two Wars“
is the darkest period
in the history of our peoples?
 
 

TIME 

Too much time was wasted on the stations,

glory grows only in the sun

and darkness is the sanctuary of illusions,

in a buffet, it looks like a cop is

protecting a woman,

everyone speaks as if they had something important to say,

as if all this had already been recorded,

there, the sun may also be a unit of time.

 

 

WHAT REALLY MATTERS

I didn’t know what really mattered in life,

I am not making excuses here, before the towers of a new Babylon,

that imagine the sky to give absolution

for oil-stained money made by slaughtering brothers and infants.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life – birth, circumcision, baptism, marriage and death.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life: I preferred talking football

and retelling anecdotes about musicians whose talent I would never match.

It was more important to set out to save the world than to choose the right side.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life, it was more important to be loyal to my friends than to my homeland.

I cared more about hearing or telling a good story than publishing a book.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life: I loved, mostly in vain – is it not what real love is all about? – I didn’t take part in the creation of national programmes, or TV programs, or computer programmes, for that matter.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

I am the last of the Gutenberg dynasty.

The one reaches for a book rather than clicking a link, and who, in dreams, sees letters mixing with images collapsing like realism.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

I am the one who meddles in everything but is sure of nothing.

And the one who knows that having one thing means losing another, often at the same time, most often for good.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

I am standing in the desert, sand slipping through my fingers, wind blowing through my face and eyes.

I will remain here for a while, and then, like a phantasm of an oasis, like a mirage, disappear into nothingness.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life. I am Ahmed, the son of desert that

was created after my world dried up.

I didn’t know what really mattered in life.

All I know is that all the poems are Snowman’s tears.

 

 

ALL RIVERS FLOW

We are travelling to Prijedor

through the Sana river valley

all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

this was an ad then 

when we thought that 

Keraterm was a ceramics factory

only two years later

it became a concentration camp

with four rooms

where prisoners were beaten 

to death 

Fikret, Fahrudin, 

Ilijaz, Uzeir, and one Jovo 

whose wife was a Muslim

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

while we are reading  poetry to

retired language teachers and 

some two guys with cameras

whose presence would be understood later

I feel nails piercing my neck

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

there is a stout man with longish grey hair and

neat beard around his mouth

I cannot say it didn’t cross my mind

what he did during the war

but he seems civilised

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

he also read a poem

and then we went to the town called the Sana Bridge

the bridge made of dreams and we spoke for a long time

about how people from riversides are different

from the mountain folk

people from Krajina and I

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to  you

I saw the Commercial Bank sign

that’s where my father 

when we thought

that Keraterm was a ceramics factory

set up a computing centre

people from Krajina and he

it was all way ahead of their times

at weekends he would return home delighted

and I started dreaming again

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

we stayed in a hotel

where in 1995 Željko Ražnjatović Arkan 

had his headquarters

screams pierced through the walls

which an inappropriately loud prayer from the mosque

tried to out loud at dawn

you asked why everyone acts 

as if nothing had happened we spoke of our

poetic achievements 

and headed back to Sarajevo

to tell the Writers` Society 

how everything went very well

how we earned our daily allowance

when we returned to the Society

a photo of the grey gentleman from Prijedor

who read his poem was already waiting

and bitterness

why they said you poets did not

go to bow to the murdered victims

to Fikret, Fahudin, Ilijaz, Uzeir

and perhaps to one Jovo

whose wife was a Muslim

this guy was the commander of the concentration camp

shame on you

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

he was invited to the event by 

a fellow poet who was 

the camp prisoner himself 

and he said

do not preach me about it

I am a Muslim and I know what happened

I understand goodness and forgiveness and 

who should be invited and who should not

ashamed and anxious I went home

I found no wisdom in what had happened today

for all rivers flow towards the place they are due but

the Sana only flows straight to you

 

 

NEUROMANCER

May I tell you that I love you?

Will any trace ever remain,

no longer is the old play on

like, you’re an angel and I the devil’s gain.

But inside me, everything is the same,

I fear the beginning, because 

I fear not the end

I know that an escape is just 

a false delay and for a long time

I have prayed to no god, old or new,

but still, sometimes I ask myself:

“May I tell you that I love you?”

And what are you going to say to me,

in the end it does not matter either,

for this Nothing in which I build

a perfect you,

to me, in fact, is everything,

it would actually be

a victory over an android,

and not the love of two people,

of which at least one wonders:

“Do androids dream of electric sheep?”

all those moments in time, like tears in the rain,

I had a musical delirium:

Bach’s blindness, the deafness of Ludwig Van,

I pondered Brahms’ great suffering,

I carried mad paintings of William

Blake, screamed the Munk’s cry,

closed the dark chamber of Robert Cappa,

rode with Lawrence of Arabia,

secretly loved Marlene Dietrich on return to

Germany,

broke the jeep Patton’s Cadillac crushed in, and yes,

I told Kennedy:

“Come on, what kind of a Berliner are you,”

 so I was a little sorry afterwards,

I stole Mona Lisa, tore down the Berlin Wall,

racked Yugoslavia,

attacked the Gulf and defended Kabul,

there, I did all this,

but I still have not found the courage

to express a clear view,

and still sometimes I ask myself 

May I tell you that I love you?

 

 

LA HIGUERA, OCTOBER 9

Dear Aleida, forgive me that I rarely write and do not be afraid.

Everywhere around, indeed, are Zenteno’s people,

but we will try to break through, next to their shadows.

It would be good to reach the Americans,

all these dogs were trained in their camp.

There’s something damn cold in Terán.

My life is in his hands, but who am I to judge, I was like that myself

in Santiago.

I hope, darling, you have forgiven me.

I forgave the Compañero.

Raúl, you know, was always with us,

F. is the leader, but Raúl is capable of anything.

Even of that fake letter.

No, Raúl was not married to the Revolution,

and he followed him.

The Russians finally left me,

I’m slim again Aleida

and you will like me when you see me.

It would be nice to take a walk now,

La Habana was our only home, after all.

When they killed Artur and Antonio,

I remembered that you had once said:

“Ernesto, you have three people in the world.”

I have only you now.

I love you.

Yours,

El Cigala

 

 

Translated by Azra Radaslić

Ivan Shopov

Ivan Shopov

Ivan Shopov, born 1987 in Skopje, studied General and Comparative Literature at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in his hometown.

His first book, Azbukaizalutanizapisi (An Alphabet and Notes Gone Astray) – a diptychally structured cycle of 62 short stories, 4 poems and a newspaper collage – won him the Novite Award for best debut fiction in 2010. He followed this success with Meshenagodinata (Belly of the Year), a collection of neo-surrealistic prose poems described by Macedonia’s leading modernist Vlada Urošević as “remarkable” and “inaugural… of new words and sensibilities”. In 2017 he published a flash fiction booklet, 091 – antirazglednici od Skopje (091 –Anti-Postcards from Skopje), a lyrical commentary on the controversial architectural remodelling of Macedonia’s capital.

Shopov’s poems and stories have been translated into English, Serbian, Croatian, Albanian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Romanian and German. He was a board member of the AnOther Story Festival and has moderated the Nights Without Punctuation multimedia artistic event at the Struga Poetry Evenings.

 


 

 

 

Eight narrative rounds with a Fikjo –  or what I learnt about writing from a Zastava 750 

 

From time to time, without any particular cause or reason, an orange ‘Fikjo’ with SK 121 BJ plates joins the busy traffic on the main road of my present from the side streets of my memory. It was made in 1982, five years before my birth. This orange little tin pot was owned and driven by my father and I spent my entire childhood and the beginning of my adolescence riding in it. It was a hero of many stories that I recall with joy.

Seven or eight years after my family had already parted with the Fikjo, I started writing stories myself, without any clear poetic awareness about what I was doing and what I wanted from the literature I had read and written. In the years that followed my knowledge of literature widened and deepened and the Fikjo and my memories of it kept receding somewhere far away. As if I had parked them in an old garage I had completely forgotten.

While reading various books and drafting new stories, I tried to answer the following question: ‘What is good writing?’ or ‘What kind of books I like reading?’ or ‘What kind of stories would I like to write?’’ And then, completely accidentally, I came across the old manual for Zastava 750 LE. I smiled when I remembered that the manuals for the Fikjos had undoubtedly been one of the greatest Yugoslav bestsellers. They were printed in the same number as the number of produced cars of this make, at the least, and that number is 923 487. Maybe even a bit more. 

I usually don’t like the books branded as bestsellers much, but the manual for the Zastava 750 has always been dear to me. I remember it from the time when I loved reading books that I didn’t understand (while today I read books that I pretend I understand). I can see, though, that the expectations I have from a book in order to call her good do not differ much even today: it needs to be difficult to fathom, magical if possible, with an illustration or two; it is desirable that it refers to a thing that has a certain kind of existence in reality, just as the Zastava 750 model existed on the streets and car parks, and exists mainly in memories at present.

The sudden discovery of the Fikjo manual helped me understand what kind of books I like and it led to other new discoveries: that the magic tin pot called Zastava 750 can teach me a few things about writing.

I have no ambitions to enlighten, but I would gladly take the reader to eight narrative rounds with the Zastava 750, strolls through my memories and my reading and writing training. Let’s ride! – I would say if I were learning from some other car. But, this is a Fikjo and that’s why I’m saying – You have to push me to make me go.

 

1.

Quite often in the 1990s – I can’t remember the exact year: I might or might not have been at school already – my father would take me with him to where he worked as a teacher at the Nikola Tesla secondary school for machinists and electro-technicians. Sometimes I’d attend his classes and other times I’d sit in the library, looked after by his colleagues or entertaining myself in various ways. Most of these conversations, games and drawings have forever disappeared from my memory, but what I remember very well is the anatomy of a Fikjo stripped down to its mechanical parts, without its shell or interior, that was used as a teaching model for the students. ‘What is this?’ I asked when I first set eyes on it. ‘A Fikjo – just like ours,’ my father replied. I didn’t believe him at first since I knew very well what a Fikjo should look like, with its distinctive ‘eyes’ at the front, its rounded badge with a bar going across with the letters ZASTAVA, the grille on the lid of the boot where the engine was, and its ‘nose’ that made it look like as if it was frowning from behind… but there was none of that on this model. When I asked why it looked nothing like our own Fikjo I was told that this was what ours looked like on the inside. It took me some time to accept the truthfulness of this answer. Nonetheless, from that moment on I became obsessed with the insides of cars – their anatomies rather than their façades – and always tried to penetrate my gaze through the exterior of cars as if I had X-ray vision. The Fikjo’s likeable exterior design no longer interested me. Instead I always tried to imagine the mechanical skeleton of every Fikjo I saw. That stripped pile of iron – that magical mechanism elevated on a pedestal in a schoolroom, letting everyone see what it was made of – attracted me much more than the cars that rolled past along the streets or stood still in the local car parks.

 

Sometimes the stories that allow you a peek into the way they were made – those stories that disclose their anatomy – are more exciting and powerful than those that deploy magic tricks to hide their mechanisms behind a veil.

 

2. 

May the 1st, some time in the 1990s. Every year the morning of May 1st  began in  exactly the same way: getting up early, all excited in anticipation of a short trip to one of the picnic sites near Skopje, imagining the games we’d play with our cousins and the walks we’d take in the countryside. Despite their brevity, we always experienced these trips as mini-adventures. 

My mother would pack the food she’d prepared and my father would take it down to fit it somewhere inside the Fikjo together with the drinks. My sister and I always carried a ball and a toy or two. All four of us would manage to squeeze inside the Fikjo together with our little mountain of food, plastic crockery and all the other necessities for a hedonistic celebration of Labour Day. 

We were all ready to go. The engine of the Fikjo started this time with no problems after only one attempt and we set off on our way. Just ten metres down the road, however, the Fikjo stalled and we could go no further. For the umpteenth time in my life I heard the words ‘It must be the coupling’, and as usual had no idea what they meant. I only knew that this required a mechanic’s intervention and that our picnic would not happen after all.

I liked those May the First picnics but I have to admit that they were all somewhat uniform. I remember certain conversations and games. I remember the taste of the soda drinks and barbecue. I even remember some arguments. But all that has been placed in a box with a ‘May the First’ sticker on it and all my memories are jumbled inside. I can’t possibly remember which part of which picnic belonged to which year.

And yet the only memory that stands out really clear and distinct is that attempt at a picnic abandoned only ten metres from the car park in front of our block of flats in Kozle. 

 

Sometimes what we remember best are the stories that were interrupted – those stories that were never told or written to the end.

 

3.

My father never installed a radio in our Fikjo. None of us ever asked him to. But there was always some music whenever we took a ride in it, even on short trips. I sang together with my sister, making my parents happy, since they enjoyed our singing more than any music they could find on the radio.

 

Sometimes you need to know when not to overburden a story. Only then will it transform into music.

 

4.

It was summer, the middle of July, and as an elementary school pupil I enjoyed all the privileges the summer vacation had to offer. I was glad Skopje was a dusty city since it meant the car got dirty sooner and needed more frequent washing. I delighted in the ritual of making the Fikjo spick and span, shining in front of the entrance to our block. I enjoyed the cooling jet of the hosepipe, the streams of foamy water meandering to the drain. I couldn’t wait for the Fikjo to dry and make the fruits of my labour even more self-evident and indisputably clear for all to see.

But this ritual didn’t always go so smoothly. My father would turn up from time to time. He would object to the order in which I did the cleaning. He would advise me to start here and continue there, to hold the hose like this and the sponge like that, and use the rag like … but I can’t even remember like what any longer. After just five minutes of this I’d start fiercely opposing his prompting and meddling and threaten that if he didn’t leave me alone to wash the Fikjo in peace he would have to do the cleaning himself. Eventually he’d relent and disappear somewhere behind the block of flats or hide from the heat in the cool of our home. Only then could I continue happily washing the car.

 

A story cannot have two masters. That always causes problems. 

 

5.

The law did not prescribe that particular piece of winter equipment, but every driver of a Fikjo knew that it was necessary regardless:  a chamois (well any old rag would do) and someone in the passenger’s seat were a must – and perhaps a passenger or two in the back – all tasked with wiping the fogged-up windows. The Fikjo was well known for its overheating engine, but no heat could ever reach the interior. There were openings aimed at the windscreen, but the anticipated warm air never reached the glass to demist it. My father would wipe the window of the driver’s door, while whoever occupied the passenger seat was in charge of the other window. The windows in the back were wiped by any passengers in the backseat. My father obviously did not enjoy driving with fogged up or even half-fogged up windows, yet they were always misty because they fogged up almost immediately after every wipe. And behind this new layer of ‘mist’ the smudged traces of the previous attempts at wiping remained visible, further annoying the driver. For me as a passenger, though, these misty windows were lenses that offered a different and uniquely distorted image of the world – my neighbourhood transformed into a distant planet or an unknown city; a space that I had yet to explore, or perhaps even a colony in the midst of the clouds. 

 

Since then, stories that simply reflect reality have never satisfied me. I strive to make my writing a quest for just such a lens that fogs up and distorts the vision while offering a glimpse of more exciting and – paradoxically – truer worlds.

 

6.

On the streets of Skopje one could often see Fikjos adorned with the emblems of Mercedes and BMW or even Volkswagen instead of the Zastava emblem. Their owners indulged – in the spirit of Rimbaud, however modestly – in identity games, turning their Fikjos into something else. Those who couldn’t afford a more comfortable, safer, faster or more powerful and expensive car, which at the same time would have been more prestigious, could at least afford the emblem –a symbol that strongly reflected their yearning for a better car.

Despite being otherwise just the same as other models of Zastava 750, I never found those Fikjos with false emblems that tried to be something else as likeable as the ones with their true badges. Their stories seemed phony to me.

The Zastava 750 was only a license-produced version of a Fiat 600. Everyone knew that. But when a Fikjo was passed off as a Mercedes it became repellent and grotesque to me.

 

A story should not hide its sources and must remain authentic.

 

7.

‘The coupling’s gone’ … ‘The coupling’s broken’ … ‘It’s that coupling again’ …  ‘I changed the coupling’ … ‘The coupling is dead’… These sentences recurred throughout my childhood until the day my father decided to get rid of the Fikjo. It had gradually started lost its usefulness, fading away before its replacement –Renault 5. The old Fikjo came to resemble some ridiculous ikebana, covered with pine needles shed by the yew tree under which it was parked. Before it was sold, this former favourite was all ‘sorted out’: its famously problematic couplings were replaced with CV joints from a Zastava 101; the shell was knocked into a decent state; the brake belts were replaced… It seemed we parted with it when it was at its best.

 

Stories should be liberated and the writer should set them free when they are at their peak, even though the writer might be sorry somewhat for letting them go at that moment.

 

8.

Summer 2017. I was taking a walk with my three-year-old son through the settlement of Zhelezara. While walking home, he glanced at the row of parked cars in the car park near the tower blocks on Kotse Metalets Street. He noticed a Fikjo that in his eyes must have looked like a toy in comparison to the other vehicles. He pranced about excitedly, smiled and approached it to kiss one of its front sides.

He had never seen such a car before, nor had we ever talked about it. This ‘recognition’ made me happy – my child’s fascination with the Fikjo – though I couldn’t fathom where it came from.

 

Every good story must contain a small dose of mystery. Or at least an indicative coincidence. 

 

***

 

These narrative rounds with the Zastava 750 helped me learn something about writing, which does not at all to imply that I know how to apply this knowledge when writing myself. Writing is like driving a Fikjo: you know where you start and where you want to arrive and at what time, but this does not actually mean that you will eventually get there or that you will follow the route planned in advance and arrive there at the expected time. And yet you push the key inside, turn it and…

 

13. 01. 2019

 

 

 

Translated by Marija Jones

Marko Vidojković

Marko Vidojković

Marko Vidojković, born 1975 in Belgrade, is a Serbian writer. He studied law at the University of Belgrade. He has published several novels as well as two collections of short stories. His stories have appeared in many newspapers and the following collections, Projekat Bukvoski, Podgoričke priče, Pričaj mi o ocu, Priče o Kosovu and Orlovi ponovo lete. His works have been translated into German, English, Bulgarian, Slovene, Macedonian, Hungarian, and Czech.The novel Sve crvenkape su iste (All Little Red Riding Hoods Are the Same) received the Vitalova Award for best book published in 2016, while the novel Kandže (Claws) received the Kočićevo Pero Award and Zlatni Bestseler Prize. Both novels sold over 20 000 copies. His novel E baš vam hvala (2017) was translated into Slovene, Croatian and Macedonian and was shortlisted for Biljana Jovanović Award bestowed by the Serbian Literary Society. It was also short listed for Fric! Award and has sold 23 000 copies since its publication.

 


 

 

 

Knock-Knock 

He reached the building. Straightaway he glanced up at the windows of her apartment on the first floor. The light in the living room was switched off, but the bathroom light was on. He looked up at the window to the left of the bathroom, the kitchen window, but there was no light there either. It was a Saturday in November, about nine in the evening. He rang the intercom. He rang it again. He waited a couple of seconds, spat on the house number and then rang a third time. 
“Who is it?” asked a woman’s metallic voice.
“It’s me. Open up.”
There was a buzzing sound and Toma pushed the door, but at that exact moment the buzzing stopped and the door remained locked. He rang again.
“Oh come on!” the woman’s voice was intractable.
“Press the button for a bit longer” said Toma.
The buzzing started again. He pushed the door and finally was inside the building. He climbed the stairs to the first floor
The door to the apartment was ajar. He went in, closed the door behind him and locked and bolted it. The bathroom door was open and the light was on in there. Now, the light in the living room was also on. Anita was sitting on the sofa. Two books lay open on the table in front of her. Judging by their weightiness and the amount of underlining in them, they were university textbooks. Anita was wearing tracksuit bottoms and a vest-top. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Her nipples were clearly visible, and Toma looked away, feeling himself get hard in an instant. He went up to her, his head cocked, and gently kissed her on the mouth.
“It’s November, Anita, aren’t you cold?”
 “No, the heating’s really good”.
He took off his cap and placed it on the table. He slid off his belt and put it on the sofa. The weight of the baton, pistol and handcuffs made the sofa sag an inch. 
“How come you’re here?”, she asked him.
“It’s Saturday evening, they’ve sent us all out onto the streets. I was with Ljuba, so we agreed that he would go round to his girlfriend and I would come to see you. We’ll meet up at ten at the petrol station and then go to shake the kids down a bit”. 
“Be careful they don’t find you out. You haven’t done this before”, said Anita, just to say something. 
“Even if they do find us out, I can’t cope with these Saturday evenings. Everyone goes out; the fuckers run wild, racing around in cars, boozing it up. The whole time I’m wandering around, and right in front of me they’re breaking into kiosks, fighting, stabbing each other and nicking each other’s shoes”.
“They do what with the shoes?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. I hate this day and everyone who’s enjoying it”. 
“I hate it too, that’s why I’m happily sitting at home”, said Anita in agreement.
She put her hands behind her head and leant back against the wall. Her nipples were no longer visible under the vest. 
“I can leave, if I’ve interrupted…”
“Oh shut the fuck up, Toma, please. If you weren’t working tonight, we’d definitely have seen each other, so sit down and enjoy”.
“Really?”
“Really”.
“What about the books? You’re studying?”
“Well, sort of. My exam isn’t until January, so this evening was the official opening”.
“Right”.
Toma was sitting half a metre from her. He looked straight ahead. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her staring at the ceiling.
“How come the light in the living room was off a minute ago?” he asked suddenly.
“Pardon?”
“The living room light was off. Only the bathroom light was on.”
“Oh, that… I went for a shit. I’d just finished when you rang.”
“But why did you turn off the light in the living room when you went to the loo?”
“Toma, are you conducting an investigation?”
“Well, no… erm, no. I just found it strange”.
“I was getting changed and I didn’t want the people opposite watching me. You wouldn’t want them watching me, right?”
“No, I wouldn’t”.
They sat in silence again. Anita flicked on the television. There was football on one of the channels.
“Do you want me to leave this on?”, she asked him.
“No, I haven’t come to watch football. I’ve come to see you.”
“OK”, said Anita, turning off the TV. “Do you want some tea or coffee? Or maybe some of grandpa’s plum brandy?”
“Coffee would be nice”.
Anita went off to the kitchen. Now there was a light on there too. Three of the five lights were switched on. Only the light in the hallway and the one on the balcony were not on. Toma got up from the sofa and went to the window. There wasn’t a single light switched on opposite. Who could have been watching Anita getting changed from those darkened windows? Perhaps there had been someone in those apartments but in the meantime they had turned off the lights and gone off to have fun? Or maybe they were watching her in the dark? Toma went back to the sofa. Anita returned from the kitchen.
“What’s up with you? Why did you get up?”
“No reason, I don’t know. I’m kind of on edge.”
“Saturday evening.”
“Yeah, it must be that.”
Anita sat down next to him, putting her right arm around him.
“Anita, about the day before yesterday…”
“Oh, don’t be silly, Toma, I’ve already forgotten about it.”
“But I really went too far. I’m sorry.”
“It’s all OK. I was really on edge too. It was just an ordinary fight. It happens.”
“Yeah, but we haven’t had a single fight in a year. I don’t know what was wrong with me, it was as if something took over.”
“You were just a bit jealous; you’re probably more paranoid because of your job”.
“I’ll get rid of the uniform, the baton, everything… People hate me as it is just because of this uniform.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Toma, you’ll get used to it. You’ve only been working for a month”.
Toma bit his lower lip. Anita’s light had three bulbs, only one of which was working. 
“What was that?”, he asked her.
“What was what?”
“I heard a noise.”
“There was no noise. What’s wrong with you, Tomislav?”
“I heard something. Something like a knock-knock.
“Knock-knock?”
“Yes. Knock-knock, tap-tap, something like that.”
“There’s a bit of a difference between a knock and a tap.”
Toma turned round, confused.
“There it is again.”
“Toma, what’s wrong with you? You’ve cracked.”
“Can’t you hear it? Knock-knock! It’s definitely a knock-knock. It’s coming from there, from under that cupboard!”
“Go and crawl under the cupboard to see what’s knocking. You’re too tense, Tomislav. I didn’t hear anything.”
Toma grabbed his baton and went over to the cupboard. He crouched down and swung his baton two or three times underneath it. The cupboard was old, standing on four feet. Even a mouse couldn’t have found room under it. Toma stood up, looked at his baton and noted that there wasn’t even a single speck of dust on it. Anita cleaned her apartment regularly, even under the cupboard where the strange sounds were coming from. 
“I’m going to put the coffee on”, she said, and went into the kitchen. 
He sat down on the sofa, but didn’t lean back. He sat with his hands resting on his knees, his baton swinging between them. One minute he was looking under the cupboard, the next out of the window at the neighbour’s switched-off lights. From where he was looking, he could see absolutely diddly squat: five centimetres of space under the cupboard and the upper left two centimetres of the neighbour’s window