Mirza Purić is a literary translator working from German and BCMS. He is a contributing editor of EuropeNow and in-house translator for the Sarajevo Writers’ Workshop. From 2014 to 2017 he was an editor-at-large for Asymptote. He has published several book-length translations into BCMS, including Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases, Michael Köhlmeier’s Idylle mit ertrinkendem Hund and Rabih Alameddine’s The Hakawati. His translations into English have appeared, or are due to appear, in Asymptote, H.O.W. (blog), EuropeNow, PEN America, AGNI, the Well Review and elsewhere. His co-translation, with Ellen Elias-Bursac, of Miljenko Jergovic’s story collection Inshallah, Madonna, Inshallah, will be released in 2018 by Archipelago Books.
Translated by Mirza Purić
WRATHS / BJESOVI
if winter is cold enough
village dogs freeze where they stand and for months
their skinny bodies look like museum pieces
if cold wind blows
their tails fall off
and they stand mangled
in such winters packs
of wolves come down from the mountains
for there are no dogs to raise alarm
in such winters
wraths multiply by the hearths
and overcome the villagers like seasonal flu
nana says it’s always been that way
wraths enter through your mouth when you least expect them
after midnight they go from one wolves’ den to another
and wolf children grow in women’s wombs
we mustn’t let ourselves be fooled says nana
by the childly faces they wear
the wolven in them grows faster than the human
sooner or later
they will bite
BONDING WITH DEATH / ZBLIŽAVANJE SA SMRĆU
everything is ajar
god could sneak through
our house without us ever knowing
I keep my hands on my kidneys lest they come to grief
now that everything’s been flooded
my fingers are wrinkly like walnut skin
I spend hours with my feet in cold water
and I run for a pee all the time
my hair is wet
mother shouts I’m apt to catch a cold
but she cannot shut
the doors or the windows
BROTHER / BRAT
he had polio as a kid
and they tossed him in freezing water all the time
to cool off his incandescent organs
but he took a breath and he burnt
as if he’d taken nuclear processes of stars under his roof
st anthony may have jumped in later
since god couldn’t be bothered
and brother started to walk again though by then they’d read
three more sicknesses from his spongy skeleton
in his head he grew unnamed birds
talked with them more often than with people
there are remnants of the sun’s incandescent corona
underneath his inexperienced skin
when no one is looking
he glows in the dark
TRAINS / VLAKOVI
when the first train passed
the villagers thought the night was a candle
lit up and put out
at the will of the roaring machine
and nothing was quiet and holy
only kata loved the noisy metal caterpillars
on tuesdays she grazed her sheep
and cows by the tracks
and observed obediently
as they spoke with god
* * * / * * *
When frost falls, the village stutters.
The doors are sealed shut, the windows mum.
He who has no house is eaten by pigs.
He who has no pigs is eaten by the frost.
First frost is remembered,
we count days on fingers in its wake.
If we run out of fingers, it’ll be a year of drought
and dearth of male children.
If there are fingers left over, the village gathers,
– this augurs a fruitful year.
Dearth of female children, silent bellies,
a rainy yellow summer.
Such years are like the sixth finger.
* * * / * * *
Morana slices the cap of a fool’s webcap,
an orange boat for the cauldron
that spreads the scent
of turnip and overgrown field.
Morana feeds the webcap to rabbits,
the bashful balls of cloud.
They drink from the cauldron a starless sky,
a permanent winter sleep.
Their mouths incandesce and they evaporate from thirst.
Rabbit fur is made into
hats to repel the cold.
A flayed rabbit feeds a family,
supper suddenly no longer seems strange.
Morana needs rabbit kidneys,
from their shape she senses the fertility of the soil,
the nature of mothers’ wombs.
She who suffers the fate of the kidneys
sails the waters of the webcap cauldron.
She who suffers thirst is a field and a boat
with no plough, no sojourner.
* * * / * * *
Morana is a woman without a floral name,
her name is the winter she embraces.
The fathers consider her a true witch,
an old woman who withstands death.
Morana tosses bones and cutlery
to protect her crops from summer hail.
No man thanks her for it, instead
they sharpen their axes to lop off her head.
When frost falls in winter,
Morana has no more cutlery left.
She gnaws on bones in barren fields,
eats tree bark with her hands.
The elders and the fathers curse Morana
and search the plough fields for knives, spoons and
forks to feast in their misfortune,
to sate the hunger ahead.
* * * / * * *
Mother says: ‘Tomorrow doesn’t belong to you.’
Mother means: there is no time to which you’ll belong.
Just as I do not belong to the sacks of flour,
the run-down water mill or the stacks of hay.
I belong to a shadow, an eclipsed part of myself,
and it, too, vanishes when I turn off the light.
Father says: “Go to the cherry orchard and pick your supper.”
Father means: go hungry.
Our fields are dotted with mole hills
– the frozen knolls.
In the middle of the field, the rib cage of a cow gapes
like a morselless mouth.
Supper, if there is any, ought to be
spelt with a capital S.
Sister says: “This year the frost won’t last as long.”
Sister means: I don’t want to count anymore.
Counting is solace, mushroom soup,
a cow that has survived, revelry by the bonfire.
Counting keeps the village together,
keeps the fingers from being claimed by the frost.
But there’s no use of counting
it’s the same every year.
The frost lingers, the bellies are emptier,
the fathers angrier, god less convincing.
Whosoever does not wish to count, lops off his own fingers.
* * * / * * *
As its wings go up in flickering flames
glow seeps out of the butterfly’s antennae.
A woman becomes a dwindled sun
in the overripe hands of a man.
If dust is thereby removed
and it renders a creature innocent,
the creature will find itself pressed dry
in the poets’ dead troughs.
A man strives to bring each word to heel
for he who knows language, knows the woman,
he who controls it, controls her.
* * * / * * *
My disenfranchisement lies in language,
the namelessness is a sign of oppression.
The elders justify the gaps in the lexicon
by invoking the natural order of things.
A doe is a female buck, a hind a female hart.
I am a female child, not someone’s daughter.
There is no name that could put that right,
the forest is lorded over by the fathers and the sons.
God to them is a man without a mate,
the doe and the hind an old wives’ cock-and-bull tale
to fill the gaps in the nomenclature.
* * * / * * *
When god created forest,
he made the doe and the buck its rulers.
Their antlers, crowns of bone,
heralded the kingdom of game.
The buck saw that the does’ antlers
were much more beautiful than his.
Stars reposed on their tips at night,
the queen of the forest was cloaked in moonlight.
One night, as the doe was asleep,
he bit off her antlers,
hid them deep in the forest
so she couldn’t find them.
He proclaimed himself the only ruler
and scoffed at the doe.
She has since wandered the woods
in search of her antlers,
weeping, weeping till the dawn breaks,
till the heather blossoms.
* * * / * * *
Why does god allow the sacrificing of daughters
to obtain a male descendant?
Why does he fill bellies with heavy notes
and food that melds with the soil?
I often think it a mere tale of our fathers
to keeps us in fear, keep our pupils dilated.
We fall into our frightened eyes
as if into graves
for my friends,
the antlerless does.
* * * / * * *
Counting. Is what the village women do.
They count ears of maize, stalks of reed, yellow pond lilies.
Then the names of the men fallen in war,
the names of the sons and grandsons of the buried warriors.
No one thinks of me, or my future friends.
We are here to birth new coffins.
Whispery singing. Is what the village elders do.
They whisper about transience, the black of the night, the closeness of death.
Then the curse we are under, the famine and the frost,
the disappearing village swallowed by quagmire.
They do not think of themselves, or their actions.
Their whispers are torches that warm no one.
Silent naming. Is what mothers and daughters do.
They name meals, famines, a month of the year.
They see themselves in plants, borrow designations,
assign them to themselves to remember who they are.
They deny the men full control.
Their names are the weapons of nature.
* * * / * * *
When Father seduces Mother,
the cheeks are the sky before rain,
the torso a vine tendril,
the legs a shaky night.
Perhaps the eyes harvest the stars,
perhaps the hands tear up the clouds.
The aroma of mint in the air,
breaths are blizzards,
jagged and spiteful.
When Father conquers Mother,
axes rend tree trunks,
hair twines itself into ropes,
the wig heralds slavery.
Days peel off like bark.
trees are digested.
When Father possesses Mother,
the spine is crestfallen,
the limbs are mixers,
the womb a birther.
From sunup to sundown
Mother keeps a fawn
tucked bellow her bellowing belly.
* * * / * * *
The elder says: ‘He who sacrifices himself is repaid a hundredfold.’
The elder means: you will die and we won’t remember you.
Just as my father who dismissed me at birth doesn’t.
Just as he doesn’t remember my sister, the sprouted seedling,
the frog weeping in a frozen well.
A village woman says: ‘My mother has gone to the forest.’
The village woman means: my mother’s been ripped apart by my father’s fangs.
A cemetery sprawls across our fields, a mass ossuary.
In the field the wind upturns the branches in search of antlers.
None of which are meant for the does.
Brother says: ‘The frost will leave after you leave.’
Brother means: a great thaw is upon us.
The frost has no respect for women, it sends the village into hibernation.
The counting of fingers is the writing of winter sleep.
Whosoever counts all the fingers, wakes up before the rest.
Whosoever counts not one, sleeps beneath the plough fields.
Virginia / Virginia
A summer star rests in me. The night took a knife, severed a freckle from a star and put it under my tongue.
I run my fingernails down my forearm, scraping slaked lime. Stellar wounds emerge, each akin to the freckle I’ve received. Slowly, spreading across my skin, with sudden flares I disappear into the corona of my body.
The earth wicks in the anaemia of July, the clay solidifies, the sky is lit ochre.
The body becomes an eternal lighthouse.
Every night, when fireflies encamp in my hair, I light a path between our islands.
Probiosis / Probioza
I often arrange small fruit on myself, from my neck down. Round my belly-button I make a forest circle. I say: this space I save for you, the way I was once connected with my mother I want to be connected with you. Then I crush it all with my palms and I ripen in the sun.
Blue is the colour of the placenta, in it sleeps the cub of the universe wrapped in hellebore hair. The child climbs towards the brim of the bubble holding on to the beam of the birth cord. If the child were a date, it would be the sheen of a tit’s feather. If the child were a rosehip, it would dwell on the dried out husk of an insect. If it took lodgings in my thigh, it would be a sign pointing to the existence of a cluster of grapes.
Blood travels to the stomach with the force of a waterfall. When it floods the abdomen, it pops the belly button out and the child sprouts into a circle.
Thrive, darling baby, thrive, you shout and spit on the scion. Out of your inflamed slime, a strange child protrudes – we name it birthcordia.
The Well / Bunar
The memory of you blooms in dim colours. You’ve lowered me into the well for I should drink still water.
The sun has baked the mud on the bricks. You’ve left me here to chew the red sky flickering on the surface of hooves.
Fingernails from the clouds have put you together. When you slacken the rope, I trip over the well’s rim. This will be my dungeon where I will awaken to slack hands which don’t pull my body out. It isn’t watched by drowned eyes, the sky above them isn’t red before dusk.
And the darkness spills on the bricks and I become the darkness. The well will bury your hands, they will have the strength left to wick out the water, meld with the mud on the bricks.
No one will find me in the deserted village. No one needs land, no one needs water, no one needs my body. All of that nothing will birth wilderness.
Gloamer / Sumračnjak
It wasn’t easy losing him.
He was slender – he’d enter the trunk of an oak. He was tall – we looked at his head in the crown of the tree. He was on the tip of the needle – we pricked our fingers and held him on our palms.
He had all the colours in his eyes and with every look he taught me a new shade. I wanted to be like him, dredge up canals along the river and meld the roots with the fish. Unlock the padlocks from the railing, toss all those loves, be a drop of the stream for him to drink me.
He was spacious – stars collapsed within him. He was present – we hugged his leafy arms. He was mine – a thin streak of sunlight on the horizon.
The sunset I managed to miss.
Flowery and Fruity / Voćan i cvjetan
how to turn a two-hump camel into a single-hump, without killing the camel?
rub half a lemon on your skin
disinfect your eyes with UV light
flagellate yourself with a bundle of nettles
you say: ‘male bees bee only once in their lives and then their stingers break’
you say: ‘I like to read urban prose whilst wearing urban clothes’
you say: ‘let’s cook up some crack, smoke it off foil, innit’
I’ve always loved destruction as a boy I built mud cities dug water canals it would take a few hours to finish it all in the end I’d pour a lot of water over the city and in a few seconds everything would be flooded I derived pleasure from that momentary relief a sense of power and control the primordial instinct of man is to destroy
I dreamt I’d beaten up a 50-year-old geezer for trying to pull you I dreamt of a nuclear plant exploding I dreamt we were flatmates and we talked normally and a neighbour was having a go at me for smoking cigarettes by her window
you say: ‘if god created man in his own image, what does he need the testicles for, he’s alone and doesn’t have to procreate? or is it that god actually has both a vagina and testicles and is a hermaphrodite? hence the folk saying that such people were touched by god.’
you say: ‘our dog can go by Salazar or Neon or Otter or Electra or Orion’
you say: ‘I thought I could change the world, but the world has changed me’
to forfeit the power of managing your desires
to love me like Mexico loves the desert
to slice discs of cactus and tickle my nipples
I say: ‘one morning you wake up and you’ve got no idea
who the person you used to love is or why you loved them’
I say: ‘with you I’d build towers on the riverfront’
I say: ‘death on you smells of jasmine’
My Walls Have Seen a Massacre of Mosquitoes / Moji su zidovi vidjeli masakr komaraca
I’ve borrowed two sewing needles and I push them into the wall socket because men like to push things into holes
it’s hard to take seriously someone who obsessively penetrates other people’s crotches, but there’s one hole he just cannot fill
at night when thoughts create surreal worlds he screams through his skin and feels as though someone were ripping up his rib cage
neighbours don’t hear him for neighbours have ears only for screams of their own
he never talks about it and no one ever brings it up
until one day they all die of emptiness and meld with the dayless expanse of the universe
of all of life’s breaths the neon one with the aroma of hashish is my favourite
some deal with sorrow by drowning it in alcohol some beat their wives when they come home
I sail across the ripples of my thoughts and I only lay a hand on myself
at night when the body is motionless in bed he conjures up parasitic images of kitsch
his friends can’t see them as they’re blind to the visions and colours of others
no one ever paints the life he lives behind shut eyelids
when the eyes dream a colour darker than black
darkness rips the titanic cobwebs that have intertwined in my head into your likeness
I mark my rage with different flavours – yours is bitter coffee and self-destruction
at night when everyone runs into the caves of their eclipsed minds
you shine under the sulphur lamp and breathe, dead as you are
though we’re not earthen we go to each other’s funeral
and one day we really feel the bitterness of benumbed buds
my walls have seen a massacre of mosquitoes
it’s insufferable being in a room that oozes countless suicides
at night when feral cats shine from the bushes and birds whisper a funeral march
neighbours hang themselves from their roof-beams
north node / sjeverni čvor
I’ve sat into the north node: a dark, cold and lasting place.
dependent clauses protest in cursive –
like drunken women they lean forward and finally speak the truth.
yet, the paper form is paltry – a trapping, a decorative
stencil into which I press all kinds of things:
Ludwig II, the woman who took the cloth,
plié I learnt at twenty-one.
I stumble on my own territory.
I listen to the petals falling off lilies.
women have foregone dresses, but not the crown.
instead of a sceptre,
here’s fasting and heresy: leave self not for a week.
we shall decant all things and turn:
air into froth, water into wine,
capricorn into cancer,
man into woman.
only verse is free / samo je stih slobodan
no hugs to be had
except those free of charge
I struggle with dialectics it struggles with me
Matija why did you lose weight
don’t say mishap
I’m a dislocated triangle they pushed into the theorem
and said: stay there,
we’ll return –
they never did
I confess to God almighty
and to you brethren:
I miss no one
can’t seem to say
I’m earth, I need air
oxymoron / oksimoron
forest, where once was sea.
park, where once were graves.
what’s walled us in, do flowers grow within?
I can never tell
flora from fauna.
every time I dream of you, something spills.
after meat, I clean my teeth with a knife (as did my forebears).
I invoke words which all understand
the most emotionally charged ones:
love, family, fabric.
I know nothing of a pentagram in the baptistery.
when children lie, means they’re afraid.
when grown-ups lie, means they’re afraid.
I like to believe I’m wiser than the day before
and that I know more.
oxymoron, an absent presence.
chrysanthemum / krizantema
he says chrysanthemum
I get over him instantly.
she turns chauvinism into an event:
always invites her girlfriends.
I used to once, but no more.
you’re blooming Simone, but scentlessly.
Petra, you’re a rock and on it I shall build
a kindergarten, a hospital and a bird house.
to be kind all the time?
no, thank you.
und für Sie?
no, thank you.
the I in the poem menstruates.
if anyone asks,
I’ll say chrysanthemum.
Ofelia fell off her bike / Ofelija je pala s bicikla
Ofelia fell off her bike and
the asphalt wove itself into her face
five Roman emperors swore to kindness
a blade of grass wished it were a rock
a stone finally took flight, without wings
or awareness of the portentousness of the act
blood is warm only when fresh
the soul is a butterfly in a national park,
protected, without knowing
when you come, you bring me gifts
the cloud is empty, the ground cracks under the pilgrims’ feet
holy is the place where we part ways
to let things go to hell / puštati stvari da idu k ͜vragu
to let things go to hell and return crestfallen and unstable,
to wait for him to: translate Faustus, mine residual ore, charter a city.
to grow your hair long in the meantime, wrap it round the world like a noose,
to be the menace of blue, a sad woman with swollen breasts.
to learn about stylistic devices:
eschew grandstanding, greed, gluttony, alliteration,
almost fuck up and give in to each one.
accept a thousand partial solutions till one appears walking on water.
like a shelter dog be afraid of the bicycle and the refuse bin,
rest on the floor, in a corpse pose, halfway from here to hanging (people
change their mind when there’s no going back)
I’m losing my talent for eroticism, becoming a scoliosis in a porno,
taking sorrow to what’s not the place at what’s not the time,
people don’t add me, they mostly subtract me, you’re too multiplied, they say
you come as Pi, constantly irrational,
who can put up with that now,
we have issues at the office, you have issues in your head.
I miss the sea (when you dive in, you never change your mind)
sister: / sestra:
came in a strange form and rather late.
mother had already turned sixty.
still, a sister.
she was all I’d (itsjustanexpression) dreamt of.
beautiful, soft, with thick curly hair.
ready to play. and play we did:
she put her hand in my hair her tongue
in my mouth her finger
in my cornea
and said, these are the rules:
pronouns he/him be
what I want you to be submit
don’t touch my
breasts fuck off.
desire – enemy territory, a stern hamartia.
I pull myself out, lungs full of water, pull myself out.
mother says: now, then? isn’t that the sister you wanted, eh?
what now? don’t like her? no pleasing you…
I pretend not to hear.
for days on end, I sit on the rock pulling the arrow out of my neck:
if I’m a deer, I’ll bleed to death
I’ll turn pink, if I’m the sky
if I’m a woman, ( )
where do I go now?
centring / centriranje
you’ve been centring yourself,
for ten, twenty years, or more.
you traverse precarious ground;
you check mate both the king and the queen
but the game is forever drawn.
you sit violently somehow
as you read about Saturn and female sexuality.
systematically, you silence yourself.
you bring God to a boil
then pour him into revocable moulds.
unstoppably, you condense.
you cannot sleep,
but at least you’re in no hurry.
you live in a tense expressing
a state of being before a state of being
but after its aftermath.
when everyone changes their mind at once,
that’s pronounced trebuchet, spelt
metamorphosis of intent.
stop flailing your genitive – after all
we all walk hanging from the same question
where are my slippers
how to love,
what to love with
you know, this is how I picture it:
at the break of dawn
I go out barefoot on the balcony,
and what do I find – a revolution:
while we slept, the world bedewed itself.
a remove / odmak
you’re a gap in my secondary literature
an inequitable equation for the new century
an irreversible touch
if there’s a system that can encompass you:
let it be lenient and imprecise
if there’s a weapon that can protect you:
let it be cold and in someone else’s hand
if there’s a love that won’t cripple you:
let it be bestowed on you every day
this is a new forest
and in it we’re lost anew
trade in sad / tužna trgovina
numismatic collections of memory sell best
great myths of small lives
bourgeois notes on times and people
cognitive distortions from the centre
and the centre is always stern
its claim on the luxury box
we condemn the clergy, for clericalism
nationalists, for nationalism
violators, for violence
we want applause for our deduction, a gallantry cross
wide, all-encompassing blind spots become
our brands –
all rights reserved
our own above all
to you we magnanimously gift the ones we don’t fancy
we’re anti-capitalists, but our capital keeps increasing
we’re feminists, but the blueprint is male
we’re anarchists, embedded in institutions
we’re here to teach you:
our justice is selective
our equality pharisaic
our intentions noble
stay safe and naive
your stupidity is fertile soil for our joint success
BAD FATHER / LOŠ OTAC
bad father likes the carnival
he changes masks year-round
finds it immensely amusing
he’s phonetically gifted
fluently bad in all the languages of the world
he rules from the shadows within
knows exactly what you want
you never get it
he’s seductive and charming
some say charismatic
when he dies
all the world’s dignitaries
attend his funeral
but the next day
he resurrects unseen
reads his own necrologies
bad father doesn’t feel a thing
it’s a point of pride
everything he cannot feel
you feel triply
bad father eats
dips them in cognac
as he sermonises on socialism
and workers’ rights
the worse he is
the more the children love him
believing that someday
they’d entrench themselves in his place
unaware that he’s long been
entrenched in them
writes a poem about bad father
with a bone-tired daughter’s hand
in the poem
she sticks a stake in his heart
he sticks her head in the oven
bad father only wants to fuck
what a woman should look like
he introduces standards
of aesthetic surgery
turns them all into mannequins
with bar codes on their napes
to those who don’t want to be mannequins
he whispers that looks don’t matter
they are his brainy lovelies
he makes them work
twice as hard
shin up the mountain
on day two of their period
write a dissertation
whilst in labour
be iron ladies
single and determined
the new old order
in his name
sons he castrates
if not directly
then through the mother
leaves them permanently latched
onto her teat
turns them into perpetual boys
little peter pans
who only want their tinker bell
bad father advocates non-violence
love and solidarity
he worries about our safety
especially since 9/11
worries so much
he kills six million
people with worry
bad father always needs
a projection screen
is a victim
of bad father
and when all the strategies fail
there is always
the victim card
that’s his trump
works every time
bad father tells you
whispers through all your windows
assures you that there are mortal sins
for which you’ll be punished
bad father is
the supreme authority
he governs through one of the two poles
those whose poles can no longer
drive him insane
he hates them more than anything
ignores them systematically
hushes them up
pretends they don’t exist
bad father is so bad
he makes the mother
look better than she is
that’s just contrast
she’s an accomplice
a passive observer
a peacekeeping mission in Srebrenica
she’s never at fault
enjoys protections under international law
doesn’t know where she was
or what she was doing
if he is bad
she must be good
if he doesn’t cry
her tears cannot
bad father gets up early
lest he misses something
he enjoys that sense of control and domination
before the world (finally) rises
bad father gives likes
to all his children
obedient ones in particular
knows what they think
and where they go
plies them with likes
so they keep coming back for more
bad father attends a protest
against bad father
invites the organisers for a cup of tea
compliments their hair styles
there are other methods
but this one without intimidation
closes the borders one day
deploys troops, unleashes dogs
welcomes you warmly the day after
helps you look for a job
bad father created the world
in his image and likeness
all things must be like him
what is not like him
he tramples down with brutality
bad father is the arbiter
of our reality
on his good days
when he isn’t so morose
it may seem to the children
he has more virtues than faults
bad father has a name
but no one calls him by it
the children refuse
to use it
he is our father
such as he is
children sometimes do
the opposite of bad father
run in a different direction
till one day in the mirror
that same deathless chimera
bad father likes nothing better than
when children argue and fight
the left spits on the right
the right twists the left’s wrists
bad father renounces all that is evil
and only when he’s drunk
he lets loose a cry –
the state, it is I!