Some people live and die worse than their cows.
When the people were taken away cows lowed in the fields until they died.
When I talk about this to colleagues, they turn to one another, as if I’m crazy.
How do you talk about that at conferences? That’s much too practical for conferences.
That’s too practical even for poetry.
I remember the meadow where I cry
because I’m scared of a little dog, of the woods in which I get lost, and the dog finds me.
In the photographs they used to bring to us, shaggy new grass and wild onions had grown from the ashes.
Mom’s a stranger today, and she’s going on a fieldtrip, on a safari to her own country.
Are there flowers, where the two of us are going with a Gianni rental, growing from the uncle’s unripe vertebra. Or does someone’s tomato stake jut from Grandma’s toothless mouth.
We’ll get a rental in a nearby town.
When finally we go to our mountain.
We’ve been planning this safari for twenty years, every spring.
We wondered where our aunt went, with her black face and blue eyes.
She was already old, but never before had she left the village or the hamlet with hellebore and beehive.
Willful, fast and skinny, carried a rooster on her shoulder, drank rakija for breakfast, could tear a hog for bacon and cursed a lot, her stories were brilliant and her eyes bright.
Where did that peculiar aunt go, she smelled of sour udders and wool, and we ran from her hugs, and now, well, we’re sorry.
They say she was taken to the city, we found her in the school gym filled with old folks, sick on a mat. She asked: is this prison, well if it isn’t, why can’t I go out?
And she asked: what happened to my animals?
That’s where our mountain aunt with a sheep’s lock in her black hair went. And I climbed atop the well in the woods and shouted a secret: fuck you, motherfuckers.
She lugged away the house with her, the meadow, the hill, the dog and me. They say a young soldier took her. She lugged away the hay-barn with her, the ram, the smokehouse, the plum orchard, the snow and the summer and me.
That’s where our mountain aunt went, she didn’t come back. They say my sweetheart took her or someone who looks like him.
Later on, the third army arrived too, and burned the house down. The meadow, the hill, the dog and me. The ram, the plum orchard, the snow and the summer and me.
I’ve got wrinkles around my eyes, smiling ones, and one near my lips, the crying one.
I’m carrying a baby, paler than honey, fresh laundry smells, the husband pulls out curls from his chest, arrives with a black spark in his eyes, and on a leash leads a gentle cat and a white skiff.
This is my property, what I acquired.
I also have a dead baby in my stomach, in the hospital dump, half of dead father in the grave, under the vase, his legs in the hospital dump,
and dirty laundry and socks with holes, like everyone else from our beach I have,
those I never got over, those I did, the sick ones and the fucked ones…
A family blown out by a grenade, and finished off by a bureaucratic knife.
I even had this fool for whom I suffered a few years, if he were a disease, I would’ve died, this way nothing.
I’ve also got thunderous sisters with many husbands and children, they get straight A’s on their report cards and we give them money.
My mother finds me, and says: Sunshine, you put me together with the Earth.
I’ve got books, a desk, a chair. I don’t need more than two cubic meters for what I am and what I will be in death, and I’ve got more than that.
I grew up, that’s what my property tells me:
When we were little, tears used to be hot, now they cool us off.
When we were little laughter made our stomachs hurt, now we laugh so it won’t hurt.
Everything that is happening already happened.
Neki ljudi žive i umru gore od svojih krava.
Krave su do smrti mukale po poljima kad su odveli ljude.
Kad to ispričam znancima okrenu se sebi, kao da sam luda.
Kako o tome pričati na konferencijama? Za konferencije to je previše prakse.
To je previše prakse čak i za poeziju.
Sjećam se livade na kojoj plačem
jer se bojim malog psa, šume u kojoj se izgubim, a pas me nađe.
Na fotografijama koje su nam donosili, iz zgarišta je izrasla čupava mlada trava i divlji luk.
Mama je danas stranac i ona ide na izlet, na safari u svoju zemlju.
Ima ti tamo, kamo putujemo nas dvije rentakarom Gianni, cvijeća iz nezrelog ujakova pršljena. Ili taklja za nečije rajčice viri iz bakinih bezubih usta.
Iznajmit ćemo apartman u obližnjem gradiću.
Jednom kad odemo na našu planinu.
Planiramo taj safari dvadeset godina, svakog proljeća.
Gdje je otišla naša teta sa crnim licem i plavim očima, pitali smo se.
Bila je već stara, al nikad prije nije napuštala selo i zaselak s kukurijekom i košnicom.
Svojeglava, brza i mršava, nosila je pijetla na ramenu, za doručak pila je rakiju, mogla je rasparati svinju za slaninu i puno je psovala, njene su priče bile sjajne i njene su oči bile blistave.
Kamo je otišla ta osebujna teta, mirisala je na kiselo vime i vunu i bježali smo iz njenog zagrljaja, a sad nam je, eto, žao.
Kažu da su je odveli u grad, našli smo je u gimnastičkj dvorani sa starcima, bolesnu na školskoj strunjači. Pitala je: je li ovo zatvor, pa ako nije zašto ne smijem izaći?
Pitala je i: što je s mojim životinjama?
Tamo je otišla naša planinska teta s ovčjim pramenom u crnoj kosi. A ja sam otišla nad šumski bunar i viknula tajnu: jebem vam mater svima.
Odvukla je za sobom kuću, livadu, brdo, psa i meme. Kažu da ju je odveo mladi vojnik. Odvukla je za sobom sjenik, ovna, sušaru, snijeg i ljeto i mene.
Tamo je otišla naša planinska teta, nije se vratila. Kažu da ju je odveo moj dragi ili netko njemu sličan.
Kasnije je došla i treća vojska i do temelja spalila kuću. Livadu, brdo, psa i mene. Ov, šsljivik, snijeg i ljeto i mene.
Imam bore oko očiju smijalice i jednu pokraj usana plakalicu.
Nosim bebu, svjetliju od meda, oprano rublje miriše, a muž iznosi kovrče na grudima, dolazi s crnom iskrom u očima, vodi nježnog mačka i bijelu barku.
To je moje imanje, što sam stekla.
A imam i mrtvo dijete u trbuhu, na bolničkom smetlištu, pola mrtvog oca u grobu, ispod vaze, noge su mu na bolničkom smetlištu,
i prljavo rublje i probušene čarape, imam kao i svatko s naše plaže,
i nepreboljene preboljene, bolesne, pojebane . . .
Obitelj koju je raznijela granata, a dovršio birokratski nož.
Imala sam i neku budalu od koje sam patila nekoliko godina, da je bolest umrla bih, ovako ništa.
Imam i gromke sestre s puno muževa i djece, svi na kraju godine prođu s pet i damo im para.
Moja me mater nađe, pa mi kaže: Sunce, koje si me sa Zemljom sastavilo.
Imam knjige, stol, stolicu. Ne trebam više od dva kubna metra za ono što jesam i što ću biti u smrti, a imam više.
Odrasla sam, to mi govori moje imanje:
Kad smo bili mali, suze su bile vrele, sad nas hlade.
Kad smo bili mali od smijeha nas je bolio trbuh, a sad se smijemo da ne boli.
Sve što se događa dogodilo se.
Consider for a moment the world without translation: international news a mystery, foreign films without subtitles, various product guides incomprehensible. All the books on our shelves—Kundera and Murakami, Kafka, Hesse, Sapho, Baudelaire, Bulgakov—written in their original languages, not more useful or alive than room decor. It’s necessary, translation is. It creates our reality. Without it, the access and creative fuel it provides, we would descent into some sorry existential and artistic apathy. And what we get in translation is just a sliver of world literature, and that sliver rarely contains ‘minor’ languages. That’s why I translate. I think it’s crucial.
As for the process of translating poetry, it starts with getting to know the original poem—swimming inside its ambiguities, allusions, subtleties, its metaphors and music. You then dissolve all that, and try to recreate it into another language. At a certain point you start feeling as if you’re not just rendering but writing the poem. I’ve heard people compare translation to performance, and I guess it can be called that, in the sense that a translator doesn’t, can’t imitate or become the original poet. It’s simply that a translator gets into a mental space that feels as if she is actually making this poem, breathing life into it, as if the poem is coming into existence for the first time. Well, at least in this linguistic reality.
Olja Savičević Ivančević is a Croatian writer whose work has been translated into German, Czech, Italian, Spanish, French, Macedonian, Polish, Ukranian, Lithuanian, and Zulu, among other languages. Her first collection of poetry, It Will Be Tremendous When I Grow Up, was published in 1988, when Olja was only 14. Her other books of poetry include: Eternal Kids (1993); Female Manuscripts (1999); Puzzlerojc (2005); House Rules (2007), winner of the prestigious Croatian award Kiklop; and Mamasafari (2012). Her collection of short stories, To Make A Dog Laugh (2006), and her debut novel, Farewell, Cowboy (2010), won several Croatian literary awards. Her short stories have been adapted to short films and Farewell, Cowboy has been adapted for the stage in Croatia and England. This year McSweeney is publishing her novel in English. Olja is an all-around artist, and often collaborates with theatres as a dramatist and writes lyrics for theatre songs.
Her writing is rich in local color. Her characters are often disillusioned dreamers, truth-facing oddballs, subversive survivors, likeable antiheros. Throughout her works, her tone is subtly cutting, but always compassionate and very accessible. The poems included here—“Child and I,” “Character” and “Kolja”—are from Mamasafari, book she wrote during her visit to Istanbul. This collection is a Turkish travelogue of sorts that is juxtaposed with meditations on the author’s home, family, childhood, and the memory of war. I always admired Olja’s use of language, her brand of understated brilliance, her knack for description, her use of regional (Dalmatian) dialect, her piercing yet sharp commentary. When I read Mamasafari during my visit home to Croatia, I was bummed out that my American friends and English speakers in general were missing out on this, so I decided to translate it. The process consisted of literal translation first that was followed with endless waves of revisions. I was very mindful of preserving the tone of poems, the textured sounds of dialect use, and the role of punctuation in the pacing of the poems. And all of that terrifically sweet tension Olja creates in the original text was both challenge and fun during translation.
Olja Savičević Ivančević is a Croatian author whose work has been translated into German, Czech, Italian, Spanish, French, Macedonian, Polish, Ukranian, Lithuanian, and Zulu, among other languages. Her collections of poetry include: It Will Be Tremendous When I Grow Up (1988); Eternal Kids (1993); Female Manuscripts (1999); Puzzlerojc (2005); House Rules (2007), winner of the prestigious Croatian award Kiklop; and Mamasafari (2012). Her collection of short stories, To Make A Dog Laugh (2006), and her novel, Adios, Cowboy (2010), won several Croatian literary awards. Adios, Cowboy is forthcoming in English by McSweeney’s in 2015.