Today we are featuring poems by Serbian poet Ivanka Radmanović translated by James and Viera Sutherland-Smith.
Ivanka Radmanović graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, Department of Fashion Design in New York (USA). She has published three collections of poetry: Where is My Home (Где је моја кућа, 2016), Heavenly Cage (Рајски кавез, 2014) and AMARANTH or About Eternal Love (АМАРАНТ или О бесмртној љубави, 2013). For her book Heavenly Cage she received the prestigious Milan Rakic Award in 2015. She translates from English. Ivanka Radmanovic is a member of the Association of Writers of Serbia, Association of Writers of Vojvodina, and the Association of Scientific and Technical Translators of Serbia.
JAMES SUTHERLAND-SMITH was born in Scotland but lives in Slovakia. He has published seven collections of his own poetry, the most recent being “The River and the Black Cat” published by Shearsman Books in 2018. He also translates poetry from Slovak and Serbian for which he has received the Slovak Hviezdoslav Prize and the Serbian Zlatko Krasní Prize. His most recent translation is from the poetry of Mila Haugová, Eternal Traffic, published in Britain by Arc Publications.
VIERA SMITHOVÁ was born in Prešov, Slovakia, and works as a teacher of English in a vocational secondary school for architects and construction engineers. With James Sutherland-Smith she has co-translated a number of Slovak poets with James Sutherland-Smith, including Mila Haugováá, Ivan Laučík, Milan Rúfus, Ján Buzássy among other others as well as collaborating on prose translations and the translation of dramas for Slovak radio. From 1999 to 2000 she was responsible for much of the work translated in 100 Years of Slovak Literature published for the Vilenica Festival in Slovenia in 2000.
It was said that
She knew the power of herbs
Perhaps they saw her,
How she wandered the valley
Along the river’s edge.
It was said
She ate up her husband
Like a Praying Mantis
Because no trace of him could be found.
It was whispered that
She bore sons because
To have a daughter she needed
love she didn’t get.
It was believed she cast spells at night
While the honest world slept
To punish the unsinful, too,
Who weren’t so many.
They reproached her
That she raised children single-handedly
Mowing the meadow, milking goats
She dug a field, pulled potatoes
Carried spring water in a bucket
Fed the chickens
Fired up the hearth
Patched the roof.
That she didn’t lock the door
That a cocked rifle was propped by her bed
That she didn’t hear the malice of gossip
That she was an only daughter
That she inherited so much land
That her husband ran off and never came back
That it was them who’d never have her.
* * *
It’s your Granddad’s house,
They told me, while the crickets rasped loudly.
Lovely place. The valley is in plain sight from there.
As is, by God, the house from the valley.
It was so easy for the Germans to shoot at
During the war. The Second World War that is.
House-titan. Chewed up by grenades.
House-rock. Still standing. Sombre-stone masonry.
Come in, freely, and don’t be shy,
See you’re Milo’s, your father’s daughter!
This is your house!
From the blaze of the crazed sun, entering the gloom felt blissful.
In the darkness, emptiness.
Neither chairs, nor table, nor beds,
Nor spinning wheel, nor mislaid spoon.
Overhead, the beams high in the ceiling,
Were adorned with clumps of corncobs.
Uncle Veso dries out what little that grows in Milo’s field.
So, Milo is a worldly man. He’s achieved so much.
Silence. Swaying particles of ancient dust
Through two crossed beams of the sun
Which waver and rip through the roof.
The silence of lives long gone.
The absence of those still living.
The abandoned heart of the house. Alone.
House-hero. House-man. The same fate. Left behind.
* * *
Not even a spoon.
They say she wrote down
Her herbs in a notebook
Punished by One from above
That she wrote was
Shameful for a woman
A countryside beauty
Without a man.
And when human kind’s
Bloodstained faces and souls
were stirred up again
The notebook disappears altogether
With the chest in which it was hid
Foreign soldiers took it away
Not to be returned.
She disappeared. And her record.
Some of her grandchildren vanished, too.
Those that remained remember her name
Her great granddaughters
Her great great granddaughters
Knew nothing about her
Yet they carried her power
In their souls.
* * *
I’m writing to you, bewildered
Here the dry ground is
Surrounded by walls
The stone poisoned by broom
Since medieval times
In the land of wonder
The sun glows frenetically.
The first morning bell.
Among the remaining sounds
The foam of lacy waves,
I’ll transcribe an ancient question for you:
Don’t we breathe the same air?
By your absence.
Your eyes, blessed breath,
To my deliberate
I cheat while I play:
I just seem to be
I lie – when I remember.