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Gordana Benić: Four poems

Poet, journalist and a winner of the most prestigious poetry award 'Goranov vijenac', Gordana Benić was born in Split in 1950. She studied Croatian literature and philosophy in Zadar, completing her postgraduate studies in literature in Zagreb. For years she worked in Slobodna Dalmacija, the local paper, concentrating on historical monuments. In 2000 she received the Vicko Andrić conservation award for her articles on national historical monuments. Her poetry can be regarded as part of a significant movement in Croatian literature, that of the prose poem, which continues to resist fashionable trends and the commercial demands of a national literary marketplace made up as it goes along. Benić is indisputably one of the most important figures in that movement.



 

Stairway

 

    The city stopped at the point of my pen. And power multiplied like steps on a smooth dancefloor. And the evening’s necklace, like eyes strung on the track of the dark, began to rustle.
    Meshed summers behind the doors of houses and inhabitants from quiet shadows sensed this prismatic joy in the bready warmth of the sun and deaf peace of the rain.
    It happened at a troubled hour when all that is red pales, when all that yellow quietens, when every shadow rests on the oars and sails, and when a darkened track hovers over all, for no clear reason.
    And I recognised at once that condensation of violet. Of course I did: in place of the edge of the sky a city had stopped at the point of my pen.
    And I watch it, and I watch myself, standing here at the edge of the table, and my gaze is a border of lights and of angles, intricate and lazy, because it belongs to me; while  roofs and towers come down the darkened corridor, islands and seas come, sounds and city-squares come. While the I go by.

 

 

Eldorado

 

    Vulcan’s black lizard of Jabuka Island, volcanic Avalon, shapeshifts into a malignant reptile’s mobile body, a long-legged bird, membrane of a butterfly and snail. Carved in a dark hour from crooked craters overgrown with greyed grass. As the worm bores into the apple.
    Perhaps it alone, eroded from a long seed, knows the answer. The river is wide, formed by bewilderment, a symbol of history suspended. How do you continue a story you do not know? There are no woods here to make new land by rooting down, that is sure. The scars are mirrors, black masses of stone and fire, fingers of flame and tireless legs voyaging.
    Deep into the rock we enter, into great eyes, full of memory yet more of images. Around us and within us there multiply mute groups of creeping things, lizards, sable reptiles. They seem so close that we might touch them. Like everlasting sand sifted along the boats, withdrawn into shells, chased into fishing nets.
    I think: I know them well, they wander along the same path. And yet I don’t know how true the memories are, and what it is that I remember.

 

 

Isolation

 

Nothing in this room is mine.
When I close my eyes the walls move apart, slant
into thin surfaces; so quickly do they change.
Ants pull the woodwork apart, the distance between
things lessens. In the garden, the tiny tract of an
imaginary country is getting smaller. Stems transport dark sounds.
At night the paths vanish behind glazed doors;
slide over unknown horizons; the balcony, the pavement
and the street. Cocoons of plucked leaves collect in heaps
beneath the shadows. An echo cracks in the marble, flows along the corridor.
The sky wheeled through separated roofs, clouds hurried.
I see: the lawn is changing; ever weightier pillars come nearer,
within reach. Between them green or blue fabric
sinks into water. Deserted places die quickly.
Marijana M. asks: Coffee or tea? Violet raisins
shine pictured on an empty saucer.
Mistletoe grows upward in her steps, dwindling the stones.
On the stairs, ceramic flowers. Portraits of ancestors
darken in their gilt while in Venetian glass
the twilight ebbs. Cupids like orchids, their wings
spread among the shelves.
As the clouds shift I feel a blueness: the space in the
birch bark is measureless.
Crystalline leaves in the grass like a grain of rice, the wind
blows away fine fragments of wet flowers that journey about the earth.
At the picture’s height cities wide open, raised benches,
glazed parks, greenery of the river.
Birds are sleeping, concealed behind the clouds.
We sit beneath what was a family tree
pictured long ago. The past rises between us with words:
Like a house, the isolation of an extinct tongue.

 

Port Sounds

 

Sometimes ships are greater than houses,
brighter than streets. Cracks in the walls draw them together
to the city’s innermost, disperse them to the beach.
Palm shadows bleach there slowly, yellow grains
of sand crumble.
Like a shoal of red fish whose fever the seas
washed away, sunshades float at the shore's edge.
An inscription sunken in the shallows, Marinero,
hip-hop beats from the port café’s juke-box
muffle the long waves.
Torn posters on the pavement. Stairs mouldered by wet
near a white boundary wall. Fishbones everywhere,
and signboards below eaves of canvas,
their message long bleached out.
The port swells to infinity with the play of sun and clouds
and dwindles, pressed close along the sea-wall.
Stars like seeds drop from the stone-pines.
Between the benches where the sea chipped away evergreen 
steps crease. Strollers and sailors meet and pass by
exchanging voiceless messages.
I imagine their muted conversations, questions or answers,
in a dialect of Tuscany. Among strangers they have the scent
of African sands, exotic isles and chill seaweeds.
Spilled puddles share out a cubist image of the
port. Hawsers from the ships measure out the remnant of dry
land. Granite squares like pieces of black glass
on the dockside. Dull echoes under blocks of
stone. Boats sway by the breakwater like plants
braided with wet rope. Condensed damp gurgles
behind the drawbridges. Smoke or dew evaporates
from empty decks. Between the lighthouse and
the harbour master’s office ships pass without
sound, in a blurred mirror.
They drown in a haze scented with
menthol and salty dregs.

 

 

                                                                        Translated by: Kim Burton 

 

Read more of Gordana Benić's poems here.

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