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.

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.

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.’