escape

 

we started locking the room at night seeing

grandfather’s shadow standing next to our beds

a knife in his hand

he said he heard footsteps around the house

and makes sure they don’t drag us into the woods

for good

 

shortly after he spoke to the dead

for the first time

and fled leaping

the high fence of our yard

so the neighbors witnessed

four days later we found him

on the other side of town

hidden in a ditch

 

he said he was fleeing and must not return

someone’s chopping people’s heads off

and planting them in the woods

to grow an army

 

 

withering

 

he didn’t get a chance to return with us

to live amongst vixens hedgehogs and does

but the image of orchard

he would give us as a gift each spring

with years flourished into a biosystem of his plums

his systematically rejuvenating big old pear

and the two cherry trees that would redden

always in may

 

amidst the autumn fusion

we would dig out a tunnel through time

and talk to him through death

overgrown with ivy

full of plum kernels

that nurtured us

 

once the withering took its turn

autumns ate themselves backwards

no longer of our concern

 

no one picks plums

and grandfather sits alone

under the old pear

waiting for us to remember

 

 

inheritable diseases

 

a ring a spring another ring and a few coins

all of this they found in grandma’s belly on the x-ray

we stared at the image and could not agree

whether insanity is inheritable or contagious

 

for years after she wouldn’t come near us

she was a half-doe half-grandma

mud dripping off her hooves

we feared she would dirty us up

she would plant in us the seeds of autumn

that would overgrow us like weeds

 

saving the vows of my father

behind the belly button

she told me she had plenty of lads and deer

rumor has it they once found her

even with the priest

by the creek

 

 

grandma’s eye

 

she laid full of dust

old maggoty furniture

of a renovated house

not recognizing us

and in a few weeks

she had wilted like a plant under snow

we could have carried her in our arms

along the entire circumference of the earth

so light almost woolen

but we waited for her to drain out

like juice out of the elderflowers

fearing the death that eats away from inside

slow enough to go unnoticed

 

at the beginning of february

mother found on her bed

only one frozen eye

the other one probably eaten by the cat

and let a whole bush of jasmine

grow out of it

 

 

rabbit deaths

 

we stored death into animals with care

feeding them freshly cut grass and hay

and then drew the same death out of them painlessly

one incision under the neck

 

rabbit fur always hung from the old walnut tree

like an oversized coat

and next to the fur suit

the muscles we stripped bare

gazed at us in shame

and swayed in the gusts of wind

 

my father’s stiff body mother

found by the rabbit hutch

one september morning

thus suspecting the axiom

we are rarely aware of

 

the death we feed to others

sometimes by chance

comes back into ourselves

 

 

bird deaths

 

no one speaks of birds

in whom the winter settles

the light hardens on their feathers

so they drop from the frozen clouds

feeble and full of landscape

 

winter corrodes the sparrows’ most insistent

inner waymarks

so they plummet through the sky like

kamikaze

into piles of white peace

 

for generations we have kept the secret

that birds do not die indeed

 

with the first southern wind

the sunspots in them come alive

taking them back to initial

coordinates

 

 

the water had long escaped before the violence

into the earth crust’s cracks and faults

so the forest lake had run dry

 

only one spring remained

from it drink wild boars and deer

and ghosts that wander

buckshot-packed

 

out of their heads

like out of acorns

grow a young forest



View Original Work ↓

bijeg

 

počeli smo noću zaključavati sobu vidjevši

djedovu sjenu s nožem kako stoji kraj naših kreveta

rekao je da čuje korake oko kuće

i pazi da nas zauvijek ne odvuku u šumu

 

nedugo zatim je prvi put

razgovarao s mrtvima

i pobjegao preskočivši

visoku ogradu našeg dvorišta

tako su svjedočili susjedi

nakon četiri dana našli smo ga

na drugom kraju grada

skrivenog u jarku

 

rekao je da bježi i ne smije se vratiti

netko siječe ljudima glave

i sadi ih u šumi

da uzgoji vojsku

 

 

odumiranje

 

nije se stigao vratiti s nama

živjeti s lisicama ježevima i srnama

ali slika voćnjaka

koju nam je poklanjao svakog proljeća

s godinama je narasla u biosustav njegovih šljiva

velike stare kruške koja se sustavno pomlađivala

i dvije trešnje koje bi se zarumenjele

uvijek u svibnju

 

usred jesenskog stapanja

prokopali bismo tunel kroz vrijeme

i preko smrti pričali s njim

obrasli bršljanima

puni koštica šljiva

koje su nas odgajale

 

kad se dogodilo odumiranje

jeseni su se pojele unatrag

nisu nas više doticale

 

nitko ne ubire šljive

a djed osamljeno sjedi

ispod stare kruške

čekajući da se sjetimo

 

 

nasljedne bolesti

 

prsten feder još jedan prsten i nekoliko kovanica

sve su to pronašli u bakinom trbuhu na rendgenu

dugo smo gledali u sliku i nismo se mogli složiti

je li ludost nasljedna ili zarazna

 

još godinama poslije nije nam prilazila

bila je polusrna polubaka

s blatom na papcima

bojali smo se da će nas zamazati

da će u nas posaditi sjemenje jeseni

koja će nas obrasti kao korov

 

čuvajući zavjete mog oca

iza pupka

rekla mi je da je imala puno momaka i jelena

jednom su je našli priča se

i s popom

kraj potoka

 

 

bakino oko

 

ležala je puna prašine

stari crvljiv namještaj

obnovljene kuće

ne prepoznajući nas

i u nekoliko tjedana

okopnila kao snijeg

mogli smo je prenijeti u rukama

duž cijelog zemljinog opsega

tako laganu skoro vunenu

ali smo čekali da se iscijedi

kao sok iz bazginih cvjetova

bojeći se smrti koja izjeda iznutra

dovoljno polako da bude neprimjetna

 

početkom veljače

majka je na njenom krevetu pronašla

samo jedno smrznuto oko

drugo je vjerojatno pojela mačka

i pustila da iz njega izraste

cijeli grm jasmina

 

 

zečje smrti

 

u životinje smo pažljivo spremali smrt

hraneći ih svježe pokošenom travom i sijenom

a onda tu istu smrt vadili iz njih bezbolno

jednim rezom ispod vrata

 

krzno zečeva uvijek bi visjelo na starom orahu

kao prevelik kaput

a kraj krznenog odijela

mišići koje smo ogolili

posramljeno su gledali prema nama

i lelujali u naletima vjetra

 

očevo ukočeno tijelo majka je

našla kraj zečinjaka

jednog rujanskog jutra

naslutivši tako aksiom

kojeg smo rijetko svjesni

 

smrt kojom hranimo druge

ponekad se nehotice

vrati i u nas

 

 

ptičje smrti

 

nitko ne priča o pticama

u koje useljava zima

na perju im otvrdne svjetlost

pa padaju iz smrznutih oblaka

nemoćne i pune krajolika

 

u vrapcima zima izjeda najupornije

unutarnje putokaze

pa se stropoštaju kroz nebo kao

kamikaze

u naslage bijelog mira

 

generacijama čuvamo tajnu

da ptice zapravo ne umiru

 

s prvom južinom

u njima ožive sunčeve pjege

koje ih vrate na početne

koordinate

 

 

voda je već odavno pobjegla pred nasiljem

u pukotine i rasjede zemljine kore

pa je šumsko jezero presušilo

 

ostao je samo jedan izvor

na kojem piju divlje svinje i jeleni

i duhovi koji lutaju

puni sačme

 

iz njihovih glava

kao iz žirova

izrasta mlada šuma

Translator Notes

Our world, growing more distant through technological progress, seeks to escape to natural landscapes offered by poetry. Monika Herceg’s lines trimmed of unnecessary words, sprinkled with drops of traditional Slavic storytelling and topics of life and death in their rawest form take us back to the roots, reviving the scenes of rural life. Initial Coordinates, her first collection of poems, explores the cyclic nature of life reflected in the poems’ very structure.

 In “rabbit deaths”, for example, the circle of death first touches plants and animals and then finally humans who cannot, despite their self-given “noble” status, escape the karmic force. The poems “escape” and “inheritable diseases”, zoom in on the process of aging and how it affects our fragile minds, but also on our fear that the same thing is awaiting us, thus the fear of grandpa’s shadow with a knife can also be interpreted as a metaphor of keeping the disease out, while in “inheritable diseases” the fear is expressed both in a subtle humor, arguing whether “insanity is inheritable or contagious” and as a metaphor of “plant[ing] in us the seeds of autumn/ that would overgrow us like weeds”, as in autumn everything weakens and loosens, preparing for hibernation. In “withering”, the death does not have a final say; the orchard that grandfather was nourishing throughout the years of his life continues to flourish, in contrast to his withering. Same goes for “grandma’s eye”, as her mother found a way to keep grandma alive by letting her eye grow into a whole bush of jasmine.

Throughout the whole cycle of poems, the war that Herceg experienced at a very early age lurks in the background, thus grandpa “makes sure they don’t drag us into the woods”, the pronoun that finds its subject only in the last part of the poem, the same someone who is planting the heads in the woods “to grow an army”, and in the last poem the violence that has made the water escape, further reinforced with the image of “ghosts that wander/ buckshot-packed”.

Nature's self-destruction was long ago thematized: “I wander on my way with an aching heart and the universe is to me a fearful monster, forever devouring its own offspring”; so suffered young Werther, but Herceg offers a solace in the cycle of nature – “out of their heads / like out of acorns / grow a young forest” – reassuring us it all returns, like birds after winter, to the Initial Coordinates.


Marina Veverec

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In the Classroom


Marina Veverec

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