poetry

Ivan Herceg: Poems

Ivan Herceg (1970, Krapina) is a Croatian poet, prose writer and editor, majored in Croatian language and literature studies and South-Slavic philology at Zagreb Faculty of Philosophy. He is the executive editor of the Zagreb-based journal Poezija, devoted exclusively to poetry, the assistant editor of Poezija’s book publishing section, and the co-organiser, along with Poezija’s editor-in-chief Ervin Jahić, of the SUR (Stih u regiji /Poetry in the Region/) Poetry Festival. He received several awards for his poetic work, and his poetry has been widely anthologised and translated into a dozen languages. Published works: Naša druga imena (poetry, 1994), Noć na asfaltu (poetry, 1996), Snimke zemaljskih uzdaha (poetry, 1997), Anđeli u koroti (poetry, Zagreb, 2004.), Nepravilnosti (poetry, 2007), Koliko naju bo ostalo (selected poems in Slovenian, 2009), Snimke zemaljskih uzdaha (poetry, 2010), Anđeli u koroti (poetry, 2011), Goli (short stories, 2011), Naša druga imena (selected poems in Polish, 2014), Nepravilnosti (poetry in Bulgarian, 2014).



 

Black Scarf

 

You are – Lela – an abandoned black scarf,

incrusted with the thin veins of silver,  

the needles you stick into your eyes nightly.

 

You left me with permanent vertigo,

cold breathing and a pilgrim’s chain

buried inside the thorax like a dark nymphaeum

in the corner of the room where I brush your hair sucking the white honey

dripping from the breasts of your entire female lineage. 

 

In your new house you relentlessly gnaw at night,

a sinewy negrita one cannot tame

or snatch anything out of her embrace.

 

Behind this and that world we are shining,

spraying out of ourselves in separate jets

fiercely holding onto each other’s necks.  

 

 

Mona Lisa at Tromostovlje

 

As I was kissing your body, I was kissing the whiteness

that tomorrow will be blood-filled ice,

the severed tongue and ego of the former man,

the mercy and Last Judgment, sickness and fate

on the enchanted bench in Metelkova.

 

As I was kissing your shadow,

your voice grew too loud and French

so I thought to myself in awe

that the Eiffel Tower must be falling down in Emona

as Mona Lisa screams at Tromostovlje.

 

Barbara, hop on your bike and fetch us

some croissants from Mars

and ring your bell as you're passing by,

so I can recognize you in order to never forget you

your smell within, your restlessness without,

let us together escort all those souls

who used to run along with us

free of any belief. 

 

 

Dakota (the Woman Planting Soil)

 

All of New York’s secrets and malice are stored within you

and that's why I want to steal you and send you far beyond my gaze

We will be silent protestors at Union Square,

and in Central Park we shall swirl madly and loudly

like some deadly sinners.

 

I will bury you close to Lennon’s crossing

- just Imagine it – left or right, up or down.

It doesn’t really matter for you are neither Christian nor Muslim.

 

Your breath will be your epitaph:

“Dakota – the woman planting soil”

and I will never even try to resurrect

our crumbled bodies

forever concealing the fact

that you belong to neither of the two worlds 

so vicious yet vulnerable like the last living language

wherein you cannot know thyself and others

or claim a lover or a modicum of peace.  

 

The underworld is an open home, a lovers’ subway,

filled with the stink of gunpowder and urine, the final orgy

at the heart of the world, perfectly nauseating. 

 

 

Sarajevo

 

They say that the Miljacka river does exist,

but I can only sense it in the distance.

You, on the other hand, who flow

through the night so swiftly, are real. 

Your hair is black, your scarf invisible,

your hand firmly held by someone.

You're giving me that long piercing look

knowing there's so much that needs to be remembered.

 

In this city we are equally distant

from each other; halfway between Persia and Europe;

equally distant from all living and all dead.

 

I wish I could gently put out cigarettes on your arms.

I wish you would act the part of Satan for me

on the stage of some abandoned cultural centre.

Thus we would get rid of one life line,

one destiny, one string of love...

so that only those lines on my palms would remain.

 

How many cemeteries are there in Sarajevo?

How many in the entire world?

Does anyone ask himself.

 

Nobody asks that. Everybody steals the truth.

So, I'm begging you, miraždžika,

to please cut off my hands

with that last atom of strength.

 

 

Limbo

 

Birds fly around your legs and you count them

for eternity, but I can't figure out if you are above

or below, if you're calling me or not, or if you're just

seducing me with that barbed wire bra.

Positively, with nothing sacred in the vicinity

your walk is perfect because it's void of course. 

 

My new eyesight is the balls of riddles.

Therein swarm decrepit days,

black dogs, candelabras and psalms.

While I am repeating incessantly:

"My other name is Limbo,

my other name is Limbo..."

 

Words and poems circle around your head.

I read them in a monotonous voice.

With eyes blindfolded by barbed wire:

"Violet is the devil's colour. 

God is all honey and lead

and I am your mad namesake.

You remain my vulnerable jazz.

On the other side of the storm." 

 

 

Passage towards you 

 

"I will learn to live, we will live together",

we kept repeating inside each for himself.  

We knew that was the case although we did not look at each other.

Then, as if upon an order, we entered the sea

up to our shoulders and began kissing it

all around ourselves, around the world.

 

I journeyed slowly towards you

watching you as a beautiful timid village woman

in a dress made by Lyon tailors, like the queen of India,

as I listened to cruel Jeanne d'Arc and the cool Sai Baba

speaking out of you.

 

You approached me slowly, eying me

as a quiet filigree maker of planets and suns,

surrounded with maps, rectangles and distance,

accepting me as someone who might have been

Galileo Galilei or Hieronymus Bosch.

 

I will learn to die, we will die together.

As if upon an order we shall enter the sea.

Inside we shall reel and drown and pray

and dream under the water, listening to each other,

keeping silent for each other, hating each other

because of that depth that will disfigure us.

 

 

The scar

 

How many scars you have, I can't even begin to imagine.

Again they told you your father is dead.

Is that a good or a bad news?

 

Not so long ago, from the caesarean cut

on your hand, a freak king was born

mourning your loneliness at night when he festers

like a rotten watermelon forgotten on the table,

like an abandoned PHD thesis

on languages that betray you

the more that you study and master them,

on everyday life that offers little and false. 

 

"Good guys and ideals have been buried", you say.

"I am terribly uneven".

 

There's lime in your every word,

a deadly cream you're offering to me and the world,

the solidarity with evil that keeps you alive

incessantly returning you to the beginning,

to a new birth out of the scar.

 

 

                                                             Translated by Damir Šodan 

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