Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Boris Gregoric: Bend It Like Bendtner

Bend it like Bendtner

Not like Beckham
but Bendtner
you bend and curl
your foot ball
and keep on scoring
while the goalie
keeps on giving—
the unforgiving game
but sometimes
for a few moments
seemingly less menacing


 scenic drive

always slightly verging on menacing
this ride
through life
four wheels
two wheels
footloose —
chirping like a bird
whistling despite it
hot under the skin
caressed by loving hands
the life
a highway
traffic streaming
full force


from tree-hugging 
 to mourning
in one morning
stop and smell the roses
embrace that maple trunk
slow down to
the speed limit
have a glass of cold lemonade
get yourself some flowers
trim your soul patch
study your nihon-go
and, for good measure, 
some Gaelic too
perch on the back porch
draw a drawing
draw a breath
notice the highway rumble
beneath —
then see the picture
of a drowned 
Syrian child 

fire burns, then it smolders, then turns to ashes, keeping one's heart warm and cozy;  we go this way or that way; the circumstances turn one way or another, for or against, good cards or bad cards, the Milky Way keeps spinning. 

nihon-go, photo: boris gregoric

All publication rights reserved by the author,

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Eastern Europe: Master Storytellers: Petar Gudelj, Mirko Kovač

Petar Gudelj

How Couldn’t I Love Them

Dream, photo: Boris Gregoric

How couldn’t I love them? They shot my mother. My sister and my brother. On Mala Kamenica, they shot them three times.

They didn’t shoot me. I was in Bovan, with sheep and goats.

They looked after, and caught my pops. My pops never wanted to join the partisans. My pops didn’t want to join any army. Every army wanted him, looked after him and caught him. As if he was the most important in the world for them. As he was to us. As if my pops was the Philoctetus without whom Troy could not fall, and the Trojan War could not end.

He hid in the caves. By Stara Torina, in the dense hornbeam woods, where he made a straw hut and strewn it with dry grass. And I have spent one night in dry grass.

It was easy to hide from the ustashi, Germans and Italians. It was difficult to hide from the partisans, the cave and woodsmen, which until yesterday themselves hid in the woods and caves. To whom woods were like their backyard, and caves were their home.

At first, eight of the Dragović family hid, but the partisans captured and took away six of them tied with wire and ropes. Everyone but my pops and Luka Đokanov.

Young communists and their collaborators raided the Dragović family glen before dawn. They woke us with the machine gun fire from the guns given to them by the English. In English uniforms, wearing three-peaked hats, they’d first fire at legs, then break down the doors. My mom’s teeth clattered and her knees shook. In her lap there was my two-year old brother. Sister and I huddled by her side. Fearing that her heart might break out of sheer fright.

That day in February of 1945, young communists arrived late. Maybe they wanted to surprise as that way. They came around ten in the morning. If they’ve shown up half an hour earlier, they would have shot me too at Mala Kamenica.

They chased the Dragović family out of their homes, ordering:

-Bring on the straw! If you don’t tell us where your crusaders are, we’ll burn down your homes. The family carried the straw in armfuls and small sheaves. All homes were ready for burning. Barns were full of straw anyway. It was enough to strike a match for everything to burst up in flames.

One communist flashed a match.

-Tell us!

-Burn! We do not know anything! –the Dragović family responded.

-You shall and you shall tell us at Mala Kamenica –the young communist said extinguishing the flame with his feet. –Come along!

Marijan Jutin, a year older buddy of mine, who listened to behind the wall, run over to Mala Kamenica and slipped in the Hollow Oak. The four of us could squeeze inside it. High up in the branches there was a hole through which you could look out as if through a window.

They brought the Dragović family and placed them by the Hollow Oak. From their homes, so they can witness, they chased out the complete Ždero family. In front of the Dragović family the shooting squad lined up.

-Load! –ordered the commander of the unit.

In dead silence the bolt handles snapped sharply.


There was no need to aim. From muzzle sights to human eyes and lips there was less than four meters of distance.

The commander came closer standing between the Dragović family and the shooters. He ordered:

-To legs!

The shooters’ studded stocks of their firearms hit the rocky surface.

He came to my mother; he took away my brother and gave it to one of the Ždero women:

-Take care of him for a day or two, until people’s representatives will pick him.

Then by her hand he tugged away my eight-year old sister, who deadly afraid clinged on to mother:

-Tell us where’s your pops or we’ll kill your mother!

To my mother:

-Tell us or we’ll kill your daughter in front of you!

My mother and my sister kept silent.

Pulling to the side, he issued an order:

-Load! Aim! Fire!

A salvo flew over their heads into the Hollow Oak. More than half of the Dragović family fell to the ground.

They stood them up with the shoes hitting the groins, the ribs. My mother came to when they spilled itsy-bitsy of ice-cold water over her.

They lined them up against the oak three times. Three times: To legs! Three times: Load! Aim! Fire! Three bullet salvos into the Hollow Oak. Each time: Tell us! Nobody told them anything. They only said aloud Creed and Confession. The second and third shooting they survived on their feet. They looked at the shooters’ eyes.

-People’s government is forgiving –the commander said. –This time we’ll spare you. Tell your crusaders to report to the people’s liberation committee within three days. If they don’t, here we come again. The next time we won’t have mercy. Do not take the straw out of your homes. We’ll burn you alive in your homes.

I’ve returned with my sheep and goats when they were knocking down the door. A man from the coast took a rifle off his shoulder and shot the bottom of the barrel. A jet burst from the barrel. They slipped a thirty-liter bucket under. While they were filling it, Marjantalo Garac, the committeeman, also armed, carved a cork from the piece of spruce and plugged the barrel. Taking the bucket of mead, he leaned over, so tall and burly, and whispered in my ear:

-Say hi to your pops! Tell him to stay away from home these days!

Everyone eventually returned, except Marijan Jutin. Neither that day, nor that winter. Never. It was as if the earth had swallowed him.

The oak had swallowed him.

They shot him inside the oak.

All the bullets that flew over the Dragovic family’s heads, ended in Marijan’s heart, in the oak. With the oncoming fall and winter seasons the tree didn’t yellow, it didn’t loose its leaves. It leafed. It was rejuvenated and greened by Marijan’s boyish blood.

When his peers, in the eighties, knocked down and sawed off the Hollow Oak, inside they found Marijan joyous and smiling. They found a boy he was when the young communists shot him inside the oak.

And they were old men by now.

It Flew and It Sang

The smell of my fingers, the smell of birds. The smell of the fingers that strangled the birds. They strangled the forest of birds’ singing and the sky of birds’ flying. It’s a miracle they didn’t begin to sing. They didn’t begin to fly.

And now, when I gather the five from my right hand and place them under my nose, the birds’ necks, blood and mucus smell to me. The springs and summers when I was emptying the nests, strangling and devouring the nestlings. So many had I strangled, that the smell of their necks became the smell of my fingers. So many had I eaten, that the smell of their bowels became part of me, part of my bowels, of my blood. I have become a bird myself: the only thing is that I walk, that I cannot sing or fly.

The birds’ death I was. A small human beast in the spring and summer karst’ forest. Who with his soft feet, barefoot, sneaks through the forest. Around me birds cry and chirp. My eyes sharp; my hearing sharp, my sense of smell sharp. A merciless heart; agile and deadly hand. In front of me, through the forest, the fear walked. At noon the darkness fell.

The snakes got out of my way. Flappers flapped their wings, warning the forest:

-Here he comes! Stop your heartbeat! Stop breathing!

Partridges lured me to Stinice: so I would break my neck.

Slier than a fox, blood thirstier than a weasel, more bitter than a snake. Hungrier for flesh than a wolf.

Birds were my flying meat. The meat flying overhead. I could not follow it in the sky, but neither could the birds do without the earth. On earth they found food; on earth they weaved their nests. If the sky belonged to them, the earth belonged to me. I waited for them here on earth.

Around me, across the fences and tracts of land, across the bright karst forest, many bird-killers had walked. It was called: going nesting. They were all of equally sharp eyes, ears, and noses. Of sharp teeth. All of them equally blood-thirsty and merciless. Each one hunted for himself. Who first found the nest, it belonged to him. Others weren’t even allowed to peek inside. Only the worst breaker of faith would have lifted the other’s nestlings. Such would be stigmatized, considered a thug for the rest of his life. As if he had broken the neighbors' chicken coop and stole the chicks. Nobody would have associated with him.

I was making visit to my nests, from afar and less frequently: so that they would not be visited by an escaped bird. It was not allowed to mix or take away the eggs. And they were so tempting: silver-white, pink, green, blue.

In front of the campfire you weren’t supposed to reveal the nest’s location. Especially if milk was boiling over fire. The milk would tell the fire, the fire the snake and the snake would drink the eggs and eat the nestlings. I’ve seen it many times finding an empty nest or, which was even worse, finding a snake inside.

All our snakes were bitter, motley like the strings, all of them climbers, even a heavy and clumsy horned viper. They climbed trees, emptied the nests, they snatched eggs below the birds. So cunningly and slowly that even a bird would not sense it or flutter about it. We saw them descend from the trees, a bird’s egg in their mouth. Or coming down with a bird. The song was heard, snake’s or bird’s. A snake’s song or a bird’s cry.

Hunted, exterminated, fried, and eaten. All birds except the holy swallows. These were nearly weightless. They’ve got no flash on them: only the thin winged bones. Who made them holy? Why were they considered holy? Because they had no bodies, only the spirit. Only their wings were real, the wings with which at dusk they’d flown over our street, low, close to the ground, so that their open beaks and tips of their wings would almost touch the ground. They mixed with us. They weaved their nests in our homes, on our barns. The tiny swallows would fall off the nest, and we’d save them from cats and returned them to their nests. They repaid us with their tweeter. They prayed to god for us and our homes.

Most desired were the thrushes: the biggest among them had most meat. Most wanted were their nests. Big, larger than a sheepskin cap, in the boughs of hornbeam and maple trees, laid low, close to the tree trunk. On the outside there were all sorts of things: moss, turds, mud, branches. Inside, the nest was made of dry grass and wool. In dry grass and wool there were five large eggs. Blue and warm. The thrushes grow fast. Five little thrushes can fill the nest quickly. They flourish. Their shoulders grow prominent, strong: these will carry the wings. Which will never fly. Only flutter in our hands: when we strangle them.

We inspected them before they’d fly, checking their growing wings. So they would not grow too fast, so they wouldn’t fly away. The greatest joy: finding a nest full of young, well-fed thrushes. The parents pampered them with snails, grasshoppers, and worms. They grew, they fattened, spilling over from a nest. They would have flown already if they weren’t so heavy.

It was necessary to throw a shirt over a nest. So they wouldn’t get away and hid in the bushes. Under the shirt, one after the other, we took them out of the nest. With thumbs and pointing fingers we’d start to squeeze their necks. To strangle them.

It was harder to strangle a little thrush than any other type of nestling, any other type of bird. Their wings flutter for the longest time. For the longest time it was necessary to squeeze the thumb and the pointing finger around the neck’s vertebrae until they’d open up, until I’d break their neck.

During all this strangling, while the nestlings wriggled and fluttered, over my head cried and fluttered, the wings of the parent thrushes. I haven’t felt any compassion, any mercy, during all those years of emptying the nests and strangling the small birds. My heart was racing, the blood rushed in my head, my hands and feet trembled. In such an act I felt like a snake, a weasel, a skunk, a wildcat. I was no different than them.

We fried them in butter. They melted and swam in butter, and in their own fat. They were a rich repast for a family: each one of us would get a small thrush. We ate them with their bones: crushing them under our teeth. The thrush’ head was the sweetest. It melted under on tongue and spilled in our mouth. Around the small round table I was the most important because I captured the meat.

By Vukoja fence, on the top of the narrow-leaf ash, above her nest and close to the sky a golden oriole glistened and sung. Of golden body, black-winged, red-beaked. In the ash’ boughs hang her nest spun out of pure sheep wool, and apparent to the whole world. I seized the rock and killed her in the middle of her exulted song. I interrupted her song. I climbed the ash, broke the branch and took the dead golden oriole home, while she lay on her eggs, together with her woolly nest.

We competed with the snakes.

When in Micuka valley I’ve spotted a nest on an oak tree, I climbed the oak. A snake waited for me in the nest. My eyes were level with hers: we looked eye to eye. At the same moment, not knowing how, I found myself on the ground. The snake, very sated, had stayed on the oak for the longest time.

Another one, fully sated, I found under the almond tree, over our barn. A European goldfinch’ nested up in the tree. And there was small goldfinch inside a snake. She licked it, salivated, and swallowed. It was still going down her neck. She lay fully sated, sleepily, lazily. I killed her and split her open, finding a dead bird inside. Later, I was telling that out of the snake the bird flew alive and that she began to sing.

Translated by Boris Gregoric 

Petar Gudelj (1933): is a Croatian poet and storyteller.  

Mirko Kovač

City in the Mirror
A family’s Nocturne

Summer Blues, photo: Boris Gregoric


After the bell and last class, the teacher whispered to me that the two of us will spend Sunday in the field, by the river, going on bikes and taking along a lunch basket. As soon as I heard that, I run away home, jumping with joy and arrived fast, thinking I’d tell it to mother first, but she knew already, she had even made an arrangement with my teacher to make the fritters for our jaunt. At once I started to fix my old bike; I greased the chain and wheel cogs and I was mending tires that whole afternoon. To anyone who spoke to me that day, it was clear I was happy. Truly, I’ve expressed my joy in many ways, unrestrained, sometimes even wildly, howling and walking on my hands; in such a manner I could have gone even one hundred meters. But that day seemed such a long one; time never moved slower. And the night was so long; I fell asleep late and woke up early. Mother got up before me; she made the fritters, wrapped them in a rag and put them in a string bag. She poured a bottle of mead, my favorite drink, which in my tenth year made me drunk and entertain a large gathering where one gentleman, a respected actor and director, a guest in our town with his one-man play, in the House of Culture, petted my head and said that a brilliant comedian was growing inside. Since then I imbibed mead in moderation, one or only half the glass, while I never reached for the second glass ever again.
I hung the string bag on the left handlebar, while on the right one stood a bell which I used often, even when I didn’t need it. I mounted the saddle; one leg resting on the pedal, while with the other one I leaned on the ground. My mother, standing by my side and grooming me, saw me off while I resisted pushing her hand aside. Whenever I’d do something rough to her, afterwards I was in a stew. Several times I sprung the bell’s tongue announcing my departure, and I drove with my hands off for the first fifty meters, erect in the saddle. Only when I seized the handlebars, I looked back and saw mother in front of the house; she seemed somehow unwilling, sad, a true penitent, waving at me as if I was departing on long journey.
The teacher waited in front of the school’s apartment, standing by her new bike. She wore light clothes, dress with the floral design, low cotton shoes and white brief socks. She wrapped a very beautiful scarf, also floral, and she had sun-glasses on her face; few people owned such elegant and pricey sun-glasses. When she mounted her female bike, she lifted her dress revealing her knees. She was not like our girls, she didn’t constantly pull the dress to hide the revealed parts of her body; to the contrary she’d often pull it higher, to the middle of her thighs. Before she sat, she turned around once again to make sure if the basket with food was well tied to the back rack of the bike.
We headed towards Dubrovnik Gate and along the way met the town’s brass orchestra which marched, played and was accompanied by kids, along the wide street, while we stopped to watch the orchestra without getting off our bikes, until it moved on and disappeared behind the corner. We continued down the dusty road riding fast; for two or three kilometers gravel flew under our wheels, and tiny rocks would fly from under the tires like ejected from a sling, bounced off a rock or some tree trunk and swished by our side. As soon as we passed the last houses in the suburbs, we took the turn on the narrow path that led to the river. To the right remained the rocky pastures, macchia and low marshland. As we neared the river, more and more we entered the belt of different wild grasses and abundant clover, and then we were greeted by frog croaking. The willow trees bent over by the river; we rode behind the weeping willows, and followed the river’s course. We passed hemp bushes and wormwood, and through high grass we rode to the wet section where the poplar-tree boughs rose.
The teacher found a niche close to the fresh spring; she was there before, so she stopped suddenly looking as if to make sure that this indeed was the place she had in mind. Grass thrived everywhere, and there were many multicolored flowers. We put the bikes away in the shade, while we placed the basket and string bag with our goods in the bush which we hushed over with leaves and branches. Both of us happy, we deeply and with full lungs inhaled the air, looked at each other and laughed. Her breasts rose and shook under the dress, excitingly, so I stared at them, thus she didn’t have to prey on at my hungry eye from the corner of her own; it was all obvious. In two or three moments she extended her breasts, bending over and straightening, making several wonderful gymnastic moves, especially the one when, in nearly ballet-like fashion, she lifted her leg and with her hand holding her toes, without care that her dress slid down, she revealed her thighs.
“Our folks are ignorant,” she said. “If they knew that today I don’t wear my bra, they’d take it against me immensely, they don’t know, poor people, that everything in nature must breathe freely,” she said.
Seeing the big blue, white and yellow flowers, Jozipa abruptly run towards them, while I remained where I was watching her bend and lift up, as is she was hunting for something, grabbing it in her hands. These were strange leaps of a very agile and long-legged girl. She screamed; at times even with panic, as if something was trying to get away from her. I thought she wanted to grab and steal away as much as possible from nature; and that all of it was inspired by some special zest for life. In a moment she sunk amid the flowers; I couldn’t see her any longer. As if she’d fallen in an abruptly open abyss. I was scared, but couldn’t budge. No voice was audible, only the crickets sharply chirped, filling the whole space with their uneven music. I didn’t dare call her, because what if she didn’t respond? And my voice could have betrayed me too; my heart beating under my very chin.
After longer pause I made several steps towards the place where she sunk, and then I stopped because my knees trembled and a shiver took over me. Not a tuft of grass flapped down there. I decided to shout in panic, in order to cause her to run back, but the voice verily gave on me, like in that weary dream I had. What happened to me, what paralyzed me in that moment, almost without any stronger reason, because it was perfectly ordinary that someone would lay down and nod off briefly in the grass, especially if, like in the case of Jozipa, one was hungry for nature. But when I think of it nowadays, it was certainly fear that Jozipa had died in the field, amid the flowers, and that an excess of joy, mine because of the jaunt with the teacher, was in fact an introduction to death. With all that, with so much talk about her death and illness, everyone could tell something about it, there were also cruel tales, and so it all imprinted my consciousness like some malicious image that I’ll find her dead in person and that it was destined for me to be by her side at the moment of her death.
When I collected myself and cautiously neared that spot, I found a scene which I’ll remember for many years as if I’ve seen and experienced it yesterday.
Jozipa lay on her back with her thighs completely naked, and on her chest a pretty, big, motley butterfly fluttered its wings; it fluttered slower and slower, without attempting to fly away. As if it was hooked to her dress. Jozipa took off the scarf from her head, and when I came quite close and kneeled by her side, I’ve heard her breathing and saw how her chest moved barely audible. The butterfly on her chest, was poked through with a pin and attached to the dress, and it occasionally flapped its wing, but he was obviously growing feebler. What cheered me and made that day lovelier, was the recognition that Jozipa’s head was not, like before, smooth and completely hairless, but overgrown with short hair, soft and thick, so that with the palm of my hand I gently went over those hairs and almost choked from pleasure. I stared at her barred thighs and very beautiful knees. I looked at her toes, as she took her shoes off, and her cotton shoes she placed by the side, at her arm’s reach. It was one of the most beautiful days in my life. Never again did I experience something like that, nor did I have a chance in such manner, with such an intimacy, with such depth of emotion, in the field, among the flowers, to observe a woman.
Jozipa opened her eyes and saw me joyous, kneeling; like entranced, while I kept the palm of my hand on her head petting her soft hair. Taking me by the hand, she understood that my pulse beat forcefully.
“You are excited and happy because the hair grows on me? Is that so?” she asked.
Even though I was afraid of my own voice, as it betrayed me once already, I still managed to eke out several stammered words of contentment, while the trembling rang in my gut. I thought that happiness takes over much more peacefully and painlessly, but now I know it is a big event, pushing aside the image of death which I could never had managed to separate from her own. And to be perfectly honest, I believed that that beautiful dress which together we decorated with embroidery was a preparation for funereal dressing. I felt relieved now; my life changed and became more precious.
From her dress Jozipa removed the butterfly stuck with the pin; it showed no signs of life any more. A gorgeous butterfly it was; rarely have I seen such bright colors, such visual abundance which could not be conveyed by brush in a skilled painter’s hand. Many years later, when I’ve learned a few things about butterflies and was enthused by lepidopterology to an extent, I became convinced that Jozipa then discovered a local fauna precious, in our parts rare example of a butterfly called the garden tiger moth, whose feeding plants are mostly wetland’s spurge and marsh marigolds. I will return to the butterflies, but only briefly, as it is a side pocket of a tale, but I have to point out that my love towards writing and my interest in entomology was grafted on me precisely by my teacher Jozipa, even though these weren’t her only merits; she has done much more, she developed in me a sense of resistance against the trivial; she sharpened my taste and developed my resistance to kitsch; she educated many of my virtues and directly shown to me that the system in which we live limits the liberties and chokes the individuality, as it is violent and unnatural, but more than anything else, and that’s how I think of it today, she made me discover love.

Translated by Boris Gregoric

Mirko Kovač (1938 —2013): was Montenegrin-born storyteller who wrote in Croatian and Serbian language.   This is an excerpt from his last novel 'City in the Mirror'. 

Danijel Dragojević: Birds

Le ciel intérieur (photo: boris gregoric)

Danijel Dragojević:


Pticama je u mojoj glavi tijesno.
Nisu one ono što sam sâm domislio
i što ima mali mrak takva nastanka.
Dospjele u moju glavu, one žele
unutra vani, vani unutra, kao da je to jedno.
Koliko je do mene, činim što mogu. Tu gdje sam
pošumljavam, svićem, primičem i razmičem nebo
za više prostora. Kada lete i sâm malo letim,
kada se uzlepršaju odlijećem od sebe,
kada pjevaju ćutim ljekovitu nemoć.
Za mnogo prostora, za raspored upisan
u krilima nemam pouzdana načina.
U iluziji sam da bih mogao, da mogu, da hoću,
ali polja kažu, moraš se dogovoriti s nama,
to kaže i potok, prve kuće u izmaglici
i dječak koji odmiče cestom.


In my head birds feel crowded.
They are not what I have made up in my mind
that which has a small darkness of such creation.
Arrived in my head, they want
in and out, out and in, as if this were the same thing.
As for me, I am doing what I can. Where I stand
I plant trees, I Dawn, I draw in, I pull apart the Sky
to make more space. When they take to flight I too somehow fly,
when they grow aflutter, I fly away from the self,
when they sing I feel certain healing weakness.
For ample space, for schedule in
the wings I find no reliable manner.
Living under the illusion, that I could have, that I could, that I want to,
however, the fields tell, we must agree on this,
the creek tells the same, the first houses in the mist
and the boy moving down the road.

Translated from Croatian
Boris Gregoric


Danijel Dragojević (b. 1934): is a contemporary Croatian poet.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Vasko Popa: Starry Snail

Vasko Popa:

Zvezdani puž

Izmileo se posle kiše
Posle zvezdane kiše

Zvezde ti od svojih kostiju
Same kućicu sagradile
Kuda je na peškiru nosiš

Za tobom ide hromo vreme
Da te stigne da te pregazi
Pusti pužu rogove

Miliš po golemom obrazu
Koji nikad nećeš sagledati
Pravo u ralje ništariji

Skreni na crtu života
Na mome sanjanom dlanu
Dok ne bude prekasno

I ostavi mi u nasledstvo
Od srebra peškir čudotvorni

Starry Snail

He crawled out after the rain
after the starry rain

Of their bones the stars
have built a house just for you
And now on a towel you carry it

After you Time walks lame
To catch up with you to run you over
To release those snail's tentacles

You glide over a massive human face
Which you'll never see in full
Straight to the jaws of the ne'r-do-well

Stray over to the Life Line
On my palm that I dreamt
Before it's too late

And leave me the legacy
Of the silver towel making miracles.

Translated from the Serbian 
Boris Gregoric

Iowa City, September 2015

Vasko Popa: Fish In Soul

'Goldfish' by Borisse, 2015

Vasko Popa:

Riba u duši

Srebrna riba u duši

U ribi malo slame

Na slami šarena krpa

Na krpi tri zvezde device

Lovili smo srebrnu ribu

BIli smo veoma gladni

Riba jedva da je bežala

Otvorili smo ribu

Iz ribe se rasulo malo slame

Raspala se šarena krpa

I tri zvezde device

Izgubile su devičanstvo

Što se srebrne ribe tiče

Ni mačke je ne bi jele

Grdno smo se prevarili

Mračno nam je sad u duši

Fish in Soul

Silver fish in soul

Straw bits in the fish

On the straw a motley rag

On the rag three virgin Stars

We fished for the silver fish

Were very hungry

The fish hardly evaded us

We've opened the fish

From the fish the bits of straw spilt

The motley rag fell to pieces

And the three virgin stars

Lost their virginity

As to the silver fish

Even cats would not eat it

Gravely mistaken we were

Now feeling dark in the soul

Translated from the Serbian


Boris Gregoric


One of the great world poets of the 20th century, Vasko Popa (1922—1991) was a Yugoslav modernist frequently credited with freeing Yugoslav post-war poetry from traditional forms. His poetry is mythic, fantastic, often grotesque, while his terse, economical styleis enriched with the imagery of Serbian (his birth country and his language) and Romanian (his ethnicity) folk history.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Martina Vidaić: The Chicken Are Responsible For the Existence of God

Photo: Boris Gregoric, Hald Hovegaard, 3/2015


možda ne znam puno o životu, ali znam o bojama;
kad se trešnja i kuća zažute, čizme treba zacrniti.
to je vražji posao, a vrag nikad ne spava, čak ni popodne,
uvuče se u nokte i kasnije ga je teško isprati.

žuta kuća luđački titra na lokvi.
malo dalje, lokva mreška trešnju kao
trgovac majicu na štandu, robu sumnjive kvalitete,
zadnji trzaj prirode da podvali boju bez pokrića.
puž pokušava odvući krošnju u kuću,
on misli da svaka kuća nastaje kao njegova,
kad se izluči najtvrđi dio sebe.

zdenka izlazi i ulazi u kuću kao kukavica.
i nju je žuto izmamilo na površinu. bunarski dobar dan
razmazuje po meni kao sir s kojim dijeli ime.
ćelava je zbog raka pa nosi ružičastu maramu.
trebala bi nositi žutu, ili barem crnu.
ovako, život zvuči neuvjerljivo kad se napiše.
ipak, dobra strana bojā je njihova prilagodljiva simbolika;
ako baš hoćeš da netko živi,
dopustit ćeš mu malo ružičaste laži.

lokve se lede, led se crni od pogleda na čizme.
sad treba ući u kuću i otipkati pokušaj života arial black,
najdeblje, kao da je patina iz noktiju
ušla preko tipkovnice. popustiti težnji poezije
da nadvlada život u koji je uvučena,
da iz mekog tkiva izluči još mekše.
i pritom uopće ne nastane kuća.

treba živjeti što tiše. živimo u opasno vrijeme;
balkonska vrata ubijaju ptice.
živimo okruženi penzionerima, okruženost je
korak do predaje.
svaki put kad zaustimo, napa usisa isparine,
vani izlijeće nešto bijelo kao papirnati avion.
poslije nesreće
susjedi iščeprkaju crnu kutiju iz krhotina,
pokušavajući dokučiti srž.
svijet je ono što vidimo s prozora.
kad gledamo kroz balkonska vrata, nešto je veći.
izvana je dvostruk, ako računamo stakla.
ptice ubija nepostojanje neba.
treba živjeti što tiše. hodati na prstima.
kad otvrdnu u papke, obložiti ih spužvom.
pritajiti se, dresirati pazuhe da se ne sklapaju.
utisnuti u uši slušalice, nalik na male tuševe
koji ulijevaju buku unutra
da ne čujemo sudar, nego kad pronađemo pticu
pomislimo: susjedi napadaju kineskom robom.
ako tada kojim slučajem i osluhnemo vani,
bit će tiho,
kao pred bilo koju nesreću.


kosa mi je noćas kapa od grube vune
koja se truni na vrat i ono pod čelom (to zovem

soba me izbljuvala kroz prozor,
bilo joj je mučno zbog toliko nemira.
nebo je obloženo, zgrušanocrveno od oblaka.
tako mora da izgleda užarena unutrašnjost peke
koju je ćaća kupio u benkovcu na sajmu,
malo napukle sa strane pa zora ulazi.

mrak iza kuće je najgušći šuškanjima,
kao da još uvijek imamo kokošinjac.
imali smo ga dok su ih imali svi susjedi,
tako da nikome nije smrdjelo. jedna susjeda
otkrila je u ocu koljača i prinosila mu kokoši.
kad bi krila zaklepetala, sklopila bi ruke
i molila za njegovu dušu. mislila je s pravom
da bi bog trebao biti nadležan za oca
kao što je otac nadležan za kokoš.
kao što je većinom stvoreno iznad stvoritelja.
ja nisam prilazila kokošima, pogotovo onoj sivoj
koja je imala kosu kao karadžić.
nisam mogla podnijeti toliko moći.
moje tkivo želi noćas nadići sebe.
biti točka koja će izbljuvati novu liniju evolucije.
kokoši znaju,
tako nastaje svaki bog.

posljedice su neuklonjive, ali otklonjive,
pijetao zna kako rascijepiti pukotinu u peki,
pokvariti bogu ručak,
sirovošću nahraniti kokoši.


kad je prva mačka ispala iz baudelairea,
dotakla sam je oprezno, jednoprsto kao e.t.-a.
bila je napeto meka,
pojas za spašavanje koji ne voli vodu.
kratkovidno gledano, izvana svjetlucava, iznutra tamna,
noćno kupanje za početnike.
pitala sam: što je to?
ono kad odjednom obrišeš puno prašine
pa se zarola, ponudila je mater.
ima plastične oči, plišana je, zaključila je sestra.
papuče, obradovao se ćaća, ali nije mogao naći
rupu dovoljno veliku za svoja stopala.
mačka nije radila ništa osim štete:
kandžama tetovirala točke svjetla na nogavicama,
repom izvlačila smijeh iz dlanova,
šapama dizajnirala pločice.
nikako se nismo mogli pripitomiti na nju,
morali smo pustiti da je cigani ukradu.
oni su pokupili šatore s venerinog brijega šume
i odnijeli ih prema suprotnom kutu trokuta,
kao prema vršku balkana.
vratili su se koju godinu kasnije,
oni isti, činilo se, ali s ciganima nikad ne znaš;
uvijek su isti i nikad nisu isti.
mačka više nije bila s njima, očekivano,
u tim tamnim gudurama samo kusturica
ponekad preživi.

od tada sam postala puno pametnija,
kad god mačka ispadne iz baudelairea,
glatko je progutam.
s eliotovim je nešto teže, treba žvakati.


naginješ se nad okruglo staklo stolića
u dnevnom boravku, jezero
u kojem će te utopiti vlastita ružnoća.
nije ti žao. ružnoća je tvoj princip.

pod staklom je kružno poslagano djetinjstvo,
brojčani slijed katova na torti.
odraz je osovina kola, objekt rituala,
u svakoj zjenici ucjenjivački čuva po jednu tebe.
podižeš glavu
i nestaješ iz svojih očiju
koje refleksno podupru televiziju, još uvijek živu
sliku žene u bijelom. bila bi reklama za uloške,
da krv nema boju krvi,
što znači da to i nije krv
jer prava krv ima boju wc-gela.
osim toga, žena pada u blato. sad je može spasiti
samo jedan od onih deterdženata
koji svladavaju dvostruke izazove pranja.

opet se naginješ nad svoj princip.
ružnoća dolazi iznutra i unutra se vraća,
oteža utrobu da lakše potone.
utapanje u odrazu oslobađa od tkiva,
postaneš plošna kao televizija,
u odnosu na nju.



perhaps I don't know much about life, but I do know about colors;
when the cherry and the house grow yellow, the boots need blackening.
a devil's job, and the devil never sleeps, not even in the afternoon,
he crawls under the nails and later is hard to wash off.

the yellow house madly quakes on the puddle.
farther off, the puddle ruffles the cherry tree like
a merchant does in his booth with a cheaply made tee,
the last pitch of nature's to underwrite its colors.
a snail attempting to drag a canopy back into the house,
thinking that every house is made like his,
when the hardest bit of self is extracted.

like a cuckoo bird the cowgirl Zdenka gets in and out of the house.
she too drawn out to surface by the yellowness. a good day exchanged at the well
she spreads over me like the processed cheese she shares the name with.
she is bald because of the cancer and wears a pink scarf.
she should have worn a yellow one, or at least a black one.
this way, once written down, the life sounds unconvincing.
still, the good side of the colors is their adaptable symbolism;
if you just want to see someone live,
why not allow them a bit of the pink-colored lie.

the puddles freeze, the ice blackens from the glance at the boots.
now to get inside the house and attempt to type life in arial black
the blackest font, as if the patina of nail dirt
had crept across the keyboard, to surrender to the poetry's aim
of overcoming life in which it is drawn,
to extract from a soft tissue even softer one.
and in doing so the house is not created at all.


one should live as quietly as possible. we live in dangerous times;
the balcony doors are killing the birds.
we live surrounded by retirees, and being surrounded is
one step toward surrendering.
each time we are to say something, the vent hood sucks in the fumes,
something white, paper plane like, flies out.
after an accident
the neighbors dig out the black box from the rubble,
attempting to grasp the gist.
the world is what we see from the windows.
when we look through the balcony doors, it seems bigger.
it doubles on the outside if we count the glass.
the birds killed by the nonexistence of sky.

one should live as quietly as possible. walk on one's toes.
when they harden into hoofs, cover them with a sponge.
hunker down, train the armpits so they don't fold over.
press the earphones in the ears, like tiny shower heads
showering the noise inside
so we do not hear the clash, but find a bird
and think: the neighbors are attacking us with the Chinese goods.
and if, by some chance, we hear what is on the outside,
it will be quiet,
like it is before any accident.


tonight my hair is the cap made of worsted wool
which unravels at the neck and that part under the forehead (which I call reason)

my room barfed me out of the window,
she felt nauseated by so much anxiety.

the sky wrapped, caked red from the clouds,
this is how the blazing inside of the oven must look like
the one dad purchased at the fair in Benkovac
a little cracked on the side so the dawn can pour in.

behind the house the darkness is densest with the rustling,
as if we still had the chicken coop.
we used to have one, together with other neighbors,
so nobody minded the smell. one neighbor
had discovered a butcher in my dad and sacrificed the chicken to him.
when the wings would flutter, she'd fold her hands
praying for his soul. rightly she had believed
that god should be in charge of dad
as dad is in charge of chicken.
as the created is usually above the creator.
I stayed away from the chicken, especially the gray one
having hair like Mr. Karadzic.
I could not tolerate that much power.

my tissue tonight wants to overcome itself.
become a point that will barf out a new evolutionary line.
the chicken know,
that's how every new god is made.

the consequences are permanent, but removable,
a cock that knows how to split the chink in the oven,
and to spoil the god's lunch,
to feed the birds with the crudity.


when the first cat dropped out of a Baudelaire,
I've touched her gingerly, with one finger, like the E.T.

tensely soft she was,
a life jacket hating the water.
in the myopic view, shine on the outside, darkness on the inside,
the night bath for beginners.
I've asked: what is it?
the thing that, once you wipe off a lot of dust
curls up, the mother suggested.
it has plastic eyes, is made of velvet, the sister concluded.
the slippers, the father gladdened, but could not find
a hole big enough for his feet.
the cat created nothing but harm:
with its claws she tattooed light dots on trouser legs,
with its tail she drew out laughter out of the palms of our hands,
its paws designed the tiles.
nohow could we have mellowed at her presence,
we had to let the gypsies steal her.
from the venus' mound in a forest they've picked their tents
taking them toward the opposite side of a triangle,
as if toward the tip of the Balkans.
some years later they've returned,
those same ones, it seemed, but you could never tell with the gypsies;
always the same and never quite the same.
the cat, expectedly, was not with them any more,
in those dark gorges only a Kusturica
survives sometimes.

since then I've become much smarter,
whenever a cat drops out of a Baudelaire
I swallow it smoothly.
with an Eliot's it's somewhat harder, one needs to Chew.


you lean over the round glass of a small table
in the living room, a lake
in which your own ugliness will drown.
you don't feel sorry. your ugliness is your principle.

under the glass a childhood is laid out in a circle,
a numerical sequence of layers on a cake.
the reflection is the axis of a vehicle, a ritual's object,
in each iris it guards one of each of you, blackmailing.
you raise your head
and disappear from your eyes
which automatically buttress the t.v., still live
with an afterimage of a woman in white. it could be an ad for Tampax,
if blood had not the color of blood,
which means it is not blood at all
for true blood has the color of the toilet cleaning gel.
beside, the woman is fallen in the mud, now she could get saved
only by one of those detergents
which overpower the double challenge of washing.

again you lean over your principle.
the ugliness comes from within and to within it returns,
weighing the bowels so it can sink easier.
the drowning in the reflection releases from the tissue,
you become flat like the t.v.,
in relation to it.

Translated from Croatian into English
by Boris Gregoric


Note on the poet:

Martina Vidaić is a contemporary Croatian poet. She has won the prestigious Goran poetry prize in 2011.  Her poetry in the Croatian original is rich, intricate and deeply-layered.