poetry

Ivana Bodrožić: Selected poems

Selected poems from "First Step into Darkness" and "Wild Animals Crossing"
Translated from Croatian by Majda and Damir Šodan

Ivana Bodrožić was born in Vukovar in 1982. In 2005, she published her first poetry collection entitled Prvi korak u tamu (The First Step into Darkness) as part of the Goran Award for young poets.
Her first novel Hotel Zagorje (Hotel Tito) was published in 2010. The novel has been published at numerous respectful publishing houses and received a prestigious Prix Ulysee for the best debut novel in France, as well as numerous important awards in Croatia and the Balkan area such as the Kočićevo Pero Award, Josip and Ivan Kozarac Award, and Kiklop Award for the best work of fiction in 2010.
She has since published her second poetry collection Prijelaz za divlje životinje (A Road for Wild Animals) and a short story collection 100% pamuk (100% Cotton), which has also received a regional award.
Her works have been translated to German, French, Czech, Danish, Slovenian, Spanish, Macedonian.



 

 

***

 

Extension is God’s attribute,

or in other words, God is something extendable.

 

I’m standing at that particular Zagreb public transport counter

where there’s never a queue.

The one for the children of those killed / imprisoned /

abducted / disappeared /

taken in an unknown direction /

Croatian defenders.

It’s all written on the application form

and I have a discount pass every year.

It’s two thousand and three,

you say that to yourself slowly,

and there are still those who think that

I’ve jumped the queue without reason

and that’s what bothers me the most.

Aside from that

I have no trauma.

 

The more the spirit understands things as necessary,

the more power it has over emotions

and suffers less from them.

 

 

 

Room 325

 

Translators reserve the right

not to translate the term.

 

The world is happening outside me.

 

I live in a hotel

and every day, on my way

to school I leave my key

in cubby-hole

number 325,

slightly smaller than

the room in which we live

my mother, my brother, and I,

and the television that will

maybe, one day

reveal where my father is.

Until then, everything in threes;

beds, cups, spoons,

the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost,

and we cowardly buy

everything in threes

as if we’re not counting on him

anymore.

Even the pillow we sit on

is made out of the fur lining of his jacket

that Auntie saved from Vukovar,

and that's pretty much it,

but no one can save my mother,

no one.

She will spend years in the small

bathroom of room 325

writing letters to my father

who DISAPPEARED.

 

That's the official term.

 

 

 

* * *

 

Must take the dog for a walk.

Must keep in touch.

Must always be truthful, polite and well-meaning

towards him. Above all, must forget those times

when, we’d turn our cups over

after every coffee break,

and when we ordered for everyone

a gold lucky four-leaf-clover pendant

from Arena (described as gold-plated,

but which eventually started to peel).

It healed one woman’s son,

while a wealthy older man met

a beautiful young woman, it was a time of despair.

It’s all behind us now, the new bathroom has arrived.

It’s important we stay close and devoted.

That this may never happen to us again.

I’ll ignore that slight feeling of faking it.

Being yours, even though I’m not.

Being happy, even if I don’t believe it.

Life is good finally, and we’ll never again

have to order lucky charms.

 

In any case, this was a long time ago,

These days, I’m so out of the loop,

I wouldn’t even recognise help on its way.

 

 

 

***

 

I was ten thousand times dead

suffering all that pain that death brings.

 

Here, words like “epiphany”, “miracles”, “messages”

have the meaning of all too human

testimonials.

 

I don’t want to prejudice the judgment of the Church

to which here I absolutely submit.

 

Wrote the author on the cover of the book

that the woman next to me was reading.

 

Pope Urban VIII was also mentioned.

 

I sat next to her reading a poem

by Charles Bukowski

about his first visit to a brothel.

 

He mostly talked about whores

and some of his friends.

 

At that time I started publishing poetry,

wanting to write something about life.

 

 

 

***

 

(NOVEMBER 20th, every year, Vukovar)

 

 

I particularly like imagining

the wreaths of flowers on the Danube…

 

Sometimes you can even see them on television.

 

What you will never see is,

how people throw those flowers;

from the banks, or they come to the middle of the river,

in wooden or motor-powered rowboats.

 

For all those who lost their lives on the Danube.

 

I don’t try to imagine how, but I nevertheless wonder…

Was it from the banks, or did they bring them to the middle of the river?

 

 

 

FRANCE, JE T’AIME

 

The French live in France.

One of the French photographed the bridge,

the church with the two towers,

a horse and some buildings.

 

Orléans is too grey for your liking this year.

You haven’t slept,

and you’re writing nonsense,

the postcard will hopefully come before I go to the seaside.

 

I have so much to tell you.

I left for the seaside before the postcard came.

I wish I was French,

or at least had a passport from Orléans,

but like this, I’m just Ivana – Jeanne.

 

I guess that’s something in itself,

her being a saviour.

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS CARD

 

They raised a high brick wall in the courtyard.

And beside it, in the courtyard, they parked a boat.

The sea is far from our town, where

the only fish you can buy is frozen.

Beside the boat they trimmed a Christmas tree

with multicoloured lights.

All of this is somehow a little silly, but very appropriate,

like those tired men on every railroad station

in this part of the world, whom you can be sure

are missing a finger, or part of one,

but can rarely recall how they lost it.

Probably building a wall,

or working for a boat,

or a tree…

 

Certainly not by trimming one.

 

 

 

* * *

 

They placed their cameras by the curb.

You were leaving the town, like so many times before.

But somewhat differently that morning, your father hanging off your neck.

I look at you today, after all these years

On some foreign TV programme, and think,

How you could have been a friend of mine,

as you utter:

we are not guilty,

we don’t have food,

they kill us,

but we still don’t hate.

It’s touching, this window you have onto the world,

and I imagine you learning English at school,

maybe even at mine, and wonder what that lesson was about,

where you learnt the words kill, guilty, hate,

or did you get that from the movies, and now you feel yourself

closer to those people who are in the safe world, because they’re behind the camera.

What strange rules this world has,

while a war is waging in that very town.

I change the channel,

and know I’ll regret it, but I’m haunted by your father’s image,

as he hits that spot on his chest, beside a tear in his sweater,

somewhere close to where the heart is, and how he’s

weaker than you, a child, because he can’t even convey

how much he hurts, and if he could, he thinks,

those behind the camera would at least come over

and press their palms against that spot.

It’s clear now how high the language barrier can be,

when it wants to.

 

 

 

REMIND ME

 

All I can do,

is to write about the night air.

 

When I take off my jacket in the hallway,

it seeps out of my sleeves and pockets…

So fragrant and Christmas Eve-like,

sticking to my hair and face,

and I quickly run over to you,

to press my cheek against yours,

so you can feel its coldness,

as you smile and duck,

pretending not to like it.

 

All I can do,

is to write about a snowball.

 

Or rather, write about one

before it’s formed, in the early morning,

when it suddenly appears and I contemplate

how to bring it to you,

without ruining it,

bring it to you, or you to it…

 

All I have left to do, is write about

the Danube in the summer

and the time when I thought everything was possible.

 

Because I was seven,

and had a blue pail,

with a fish on it,

that I would fill up and drag home,

to rinse it out under the faucet and drink.

 

These are the things worth remembering.

 

 

 

* * *

 

What happened to the women in my life?

I know that no one is watching my back anymore.

After its thirtieth attempt, the Moon has thinned in the waist

and little by little I am left alone.

 

When I visit them

I am saddened most by their veiled glances

and stained tablecloths.

 

I take their place, there is a need to fight and call for backup.

I fill the spot under the bed sheet.

Please straighten out my hood, even though you think it trivial,

but one can’t ask such trivialities from just anyone.

Straighten it out and I’ll open up to you.

I’ll remain in the corner of the room, quietly, waiting for it all to finish.

Like a child licking off the fill inside of a wafer

and hiding the rest in a napkin.

 

I turn around after every flash of light, master the necessary skills,

I listen to the grass fighting a subterranean war,

spilling out its juices.

I refrain from life, sometimes I am so out of love for you.

For instance, for instance,

when a storm blows the windows open, and the wind shrieks into the room

and I imagine them finding me drowned and I cry, and cry,

and all you do is shut the window, and think yourself God.

 

I turn around after every flash of light.

Can I be even more fearful of life than I already am?

 

 

 

***

 

Everything is ready for your arrival.

The war is over.

The smuggled cube, two chocolates in the labour ward.

Bubbling water in the oxygen bottle.

Daddy says: that's the sea!

The magnificent moment of Your arrival

Into this world as we're crying from joy.

Here it is!

So far the most palpable moment of my motherhood.

I kiss you on your tiny back.

Mostly we're left alone, us two girls.

Then we spawn stories.

Listening to the batting of wings outside the window.

Batting.

How am I going to explain that to you, so much

has to be taken into consideration: feathers, wind, the space

of freedom, hollow bones...

Once my mother stole for me pair of black

tights at the Nama department store.

One needs war for something like that, a child who lost her father

and the beginning of the new school year.

I kiss you on your tiny back.

Instead of baby-talking to it, I fear it might be bending.

I'm saying all the wrong words on your twenty second day.

How am I going to explain than this whole world to you?

 

 

 

***

 

I was lying on my belly on the bed

in the Continental Hotel in Rijeka,

it was awfully cold,

but the sea was there,

it was March

and I was a poet.

my room-mate was smoking weed

since 6 AM,

the wallpaper was reminiscent of the one in Rosemary's Baby

and my first collection of poems

had just come out.

 

Life was just about to begin,

everyone was telling me that,

but I knew that something had been somehow over

and that never again will I be writing a book

so unaware of the fact that I am writing a book,

with a bottle of Badel brandy, a soft pack of York cigarettes and a candle

pretending I was Yesenin.

 

I was afraid that actually I was done with writing,

the door simply refused to be closed

with all those heads trying to pop in through the window.

 

then Simo1 walked into the room.

he laid down beside me.

I don't know how to go on, I said.

as we watched each other from a close proximity.

just pretend you are someone else, he said,

I do that all the time, when I sit down to write.

he pinched me on the thigh,

a little bit later we got drunk together.

 

sometime later, I bumped into him downtown, after his chemotherapy:

Hey I'm great!

I got a five year guarantee!

just like my washing machine, I replied,

which was the stupidest thing I've ever said in my entire life.

 

I still haven't erased his phone number from my contacts;

he's still there whenever I want to call someone

whose name begins with the letter "S";

I still pretend that something is just about to begin

that I am someone else

although it's clear - it's just the endings that matter.

 

 

 

***

 

Did those idiots cut the grandpa’s hands off?

No they didn’t.

But did they kill him?

Yes they did.

Did they beat you?

No they didn’t. I fled before they came.

And did they burn down the house?

Yes they did.

And burned down all your dresses and Barbie-dolls

and then you had only one doll left.

Yes they did.

And what did you tell them then?

Nothing, I fled before they came.

And what did they tell you?

Get out of here, this is our city!

And they killed your kitty?

Well, the kitty remained there.

Poor kitty.

But did they bury the grandpa underground?

They did.

Where?

I don’t know.

But he is watching over us now from the heaven above.

Yes.

How can he look when he has no eyes?

Well, souls don’t have eyes but they can see you nevertheless.

I hate those “didiots”! I will kick them with my legs!

Don’t hate anybody.

Why?

That’s not nice.

 

 

 

 

 

***

 

You will never know how much I love you

 

How much I enjoy in the smell of the thin line of saliva

Stretching from your chin down your neck

All the way to the collar of your T-shirt

As you hysterically scream – all in tears –

That you will no longer be my son

For you are three years old and you will run me over

With your bicycle.

 

You will never know how much I love you

 

In the evening when I enter the room to cover you once again

I am suddenly overtaken by the fear of all those who will enter your life

You always throw away the covers

Sometimes you even take off the bottom of your pajamas

Sleeping with your bare little ass sticking out

I wish I could bite and cover it with kisses that soft flesh of mine

-- mine and nobody else’s.

 

You will never find know how much I love you

 

As you sit next to each other

On top of the washing machine, freshly bathed and so fragrant

Amidst all this dirt

As I am cutting twenty little toenails

Those died out cells of your little bodies.

It is just death that we are journeying towards.

 

You will never know how much I love you

And I am way too tired

I have been screaming since this morning

Because it takes way to long for you to get into the car

Because I am not what you will want me to be

Because I lie about the world you’re living in

Because I lie about myself and others

Because I don’t know any better.

 

You will never know how much I love you

And how I’m getting ready to stop meddling into your life

One day

 

 

 

***

 

More and more seriously I am praying to God

for this life to never end.

Last night it took me some time to remember...

What was the name of that place, those circumstances

I once lived in, the relief centre

for accommodating displaced persons.

I knew there were a few words,

It just took me a while to remember...

I glue myself next to you,

We are two people much too responsible,

two prematurely matured children

with the baby in the other room.

The thought of death is so distant.

These shady balconies remind me so much of Vukovar.

Lime trees in June,

Watermelons in bathtub,

Boris Kidrič Street,

The place of perfect happiness.

But I don’t even know who that man is.

I don’t know the place,

The Place Where We Will Spend the Night2,

You,

That spot on her neck,

That’s probably the scent of Heaven,

If only life would spare me this time,

If only if would forget about me.

 

 

 

***

 

On her fifty-sixth birthday

My Mother smoked weed for the first time in her live.

 

She started working when she was seventeen

She got married at nineteen

She gave birth at nineteen

For the first time

At the age of thirty six she lost her job

At the age of thirty six she remained a semi-widow

At the age of forty she lost her father

At the age of forty three she slapped me for the last time

At the age of fifty he became grandma for the first time

At the age of fifty three

She became an orphan.

 

One third of her life she couldn’t sleep.

 

We sit at the table smoking

All three of us

My husband, herself and me,

She says – well, I don’t feel anything

You’re past the ability to feel anything, I reply.

 

But look at the two of you!

Your eyes are gleaming!

Yours are gleaming too, Mum, only you cannot see yourself,

And that’s the first sign that you are high.

 

As for myself – I am blasted, but I don’t want her to see it.

Before her I am calm and calculated,

I am big and experienced,

I am equally immune to the effects of grass

I am mean and tough – even more than she is.

 

 

 

 

1 Simo Mraović (1966-2008), Croatian poet, novelist, essayist with highly urban, metropolitan sensibility; the good genie of contemporary Croatian poetry, who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 42.

2 The Place Where We Will Spend the Night (“Mjesto na kojem ćemo provesti noć”, 2000), is the first collection of stories by Roman Simić (1972), a well-known Croatian editor and writer, Ivana Simić Bodrožić’s husband.      

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