Duška Vrhovac (Serbia)

Duška Vrhovac (Serbia)
Duška Vrhovac, a poet, writer, journalist and translator was born in Banja Luka, now the state of Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1947. She graduated Comparative Literature (Department of World Literature) at the Faculty of Philology , University of Belgrade. She used to work for the Television Belgrade (Radio Television of Serbia) for many years and simultaneously for a number of major newspapers and magazines.
Duška Vrhovac has published 25 books of poetry, some of which have been translated in part or in full into more than 20 languages (English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Polish, Turkish, Greek, Hungarian, Dutch, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Albanian, Jewish…) and is among the most significant contemporary authors of Serbia and beyond. Represented in newspapers, literary journals and anthologies of prime value, she has participated in numerous literary festivals, meetings and events in Serbia and abroad.
Duška Vrhovac has received important awards and recognitions for her poetry as are: Majska nagrada za poeziju [May Award for Poetry], 1966 – Yugoslavia; Pesničko uspenije [Poetic Ascension] – 2007, Serbia; Premio Gensini – Gensini Prize-Poetry Section – 2011, Italy; Naji Naaman’s International Literary Prize for Complete Works -2015, Lebanon, Beirut; Plaque and medal with image of Sima Matavulj, founder and first president of the Association of Writers of Serbia – the award for significant work and contribution to literature – 2016, Serbia and Golden Badge awarded by the Institute for Culture and Education of the Republic of Serbia – 1992.
Duška Vrhovac is a member of the Association of Writers of Serbia, Association of Literary Translators of Serbia, of the International Fderation of Journalists and other literary organisations; she is the Ambassador of the movement Poets of the World for Serbia and their Vice-President for Europe.
Duška Vrhovac works as a writer and a freelance journalist and lives in Belgrade. She is mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and she is not a member of any political party.
Poems by Duska VRHOVAC
My soul
has only the face,
it has no shadow,
the other side or way.
Facing the full light
where the darkness is dissolved,
and has been transformed into something pure,
the being itself,
knowing everything about suffering.
Suffering is breathing,
walking, the idea
the flicker of a thought
and it perceives the harmony.
Everything is pain,
and inability
to blunt the blade of consciousness
to turn
tiny fragile wheel
which drives this cold,
frost and ice,
but invisible
and inscrutable,
as God Himself.
Eternal question,
sorted variously,
never figured out
as life,
and as death,
and more
as self-impregnation,
or self-death,
as salvation.
Beginning and the end torture the mind.
Everything else is known.
Life as happiness,
or unhappiness,
like hunger
and thirst,
a song
and crying
path and escape,
like a decision,
without looking back,
or fear,
sensed by body,
by hand,
by eye,
by lip,
or just by dream.
Life as nothing
although everything it is.
Between the beginning
and the end
is a string of pearls,
asp eggs
and dogberries,
wasp’s bites,
bachelors’ voices
and the girls’ giggles, that is it.
Beginning lures backward,
reverses gait,
requires a new measure
and character.
Longing to a pre-beginning,
to that murk,
countless times
which has left its trace invisible,
but powerful,
although misunderstood.
Beginning wants tempering
in volcanic lava
that announces itself,
and it is foretoken
only by a tremble of an eyeball,
only drowsiness,
open hand,
prayer for the sunset.
Fire of volcano
is mother of my fire,
the everlasting fever
that follows all my illnesses,
and while I am enfolding it
it is expands,
in my mind,
in the wilderness,
paves the paths to the glades,
inbred pictures,
landscapes dedicated
to humbly survival
devotional stay
on this unbelievable planet
which has already been distressed
by its darlings,
who have taken advantage of it,
withered and nibbled it,
as shameless children
who haven’t met their parents
never loved them,
but only tolerated them,
and together they were unhappy.
Opposite the beginning is the end.
I have seen it.
Several times.
My own end.
I imagined it.
Directed myself,
All preparatory work I wrote down.
But when I was supposed to start
with performance
some stone moved,
mind got upset,
and everything was held for the better,
more convenient time,
for larger storm,
for bigger madness
and greater concentration.
Is it the end – end,
or is the beginning.
What an old and silly question!
I knew so much,
and I had not been told anything.
I solved nothing.
Just a hunch,
future memories
evidence of weakness,
radiate in a circle,
as far as the sight can reach,
and a thought,
and furthermore,
idea of persistence,
on new meaning
thought of nothing,
not a thing.
It is a waste.
Pre-thought is a paused thought
shady spot,
attempt to ignite a spark,
without turning the light on,
fear to see a character,
image and sign,
grasp the knowledge,
whole, and final,
in this world of chaos,
chaos for which there is no letter,
no sign
but only a new hunch,
just outcry.
The machine that you made, while you were still a human being
and used to earn money with your own work, is entering your chamber,
waving with its metal hands and ordering you to move aside,
it’s telling you not to bother it while it’s sorting out your space, your life and your head.
You’re clutching your head, trying to talk,
but there is neither your voice nor anyone to hear it.
The machine is doing its job, everything is well organized,
You are calm and your only emotional click happens
when your identification chip coalesces with flesh
you turn to the reader to sign in or sign out.
You don’t even remember that is not something you actually wanted,
that you didn’t want to erase yourself, but to become a master.
Memory is frozen and you only have to find a way
How to transmit the self-destructing information
to those who will just come and marvel at the fragility of your bones,
the depth of your eye sockets, and study the composition of the fluid which used to be called blood,
while they would be replacing the oil for the lubrication of their artificial joints.
Someone wise would conclude that the beginning of the new era is happening.
(Tanslator’s note: *Burich, Vladimir – Russian poet, author of “Lead pillow”)
Evening completely entered into the room
and closed the door.
Rain is loudly sliding down the window
and smells of the cold north.
Hotel Tourist, room 525.
On one pillow my sleepy eyes
and melancholic thoughts
on another one, Burich* and you.
Slowly, I am putting together, masks of life
and images of the meeting with you
on the white lead pillow.
A break in Ljubljana
a break from life
fear of a return.
Evening completely entered into the room
and closed the door.
Rain is loudly sliding down the window
and smells of the cold north.
I don’t suspect anything.
The night is weakened
and the morning delayed.
Slowly, I am putting together, masks of life
and images of the meeting with you
on the white lead pillow.
(Tanslator’s note: *Burich, Vladimir – Russian poet, author of “Lead pillow”)
First, I raised my head towards the sky
and put my hands together
closed the palms.
On the ceiling of a temple
one funny angel winked at me
bringing a smile to my face.
Seeing me smiling
the Lord just waved off
and as rigorous as He is
He smiled too.
Then I silently
spelling letter by letter
cherishing them with the lips
moistened with the Jordan’s water
called your name.
The angel winked again
and God got serious.
My first thought
it seemed like packing a suitcases
for the pilgrimage trip
inside yet nothing
and around just the relics:
prayer book
photos stored in the iris
memories of tears and laughter
deaths and births
lost and found words
and the hope in prophetic, a new
impossible, sweet and cruel
without which there is no life
nor death.
The second thought was:
Goodness gracious, move that suitcase
it cannot take the thoughts about the trip
let alone so much baggage.
Now, the angel got serious
and the Lord smiled again.
I, whatever I touched
felt just anxiety.
Only the emptiness of suitcase
was watching me quietly.
I called your name again.
The Lord looked at me motionlessly
but as he uttered a single letter
as if I heard something important, paternal: Aaand …?
Bring him, Lord
I said out loud, and I opened my eyes.
I saw the angel taking off
and I saw the Lord
still motionlessly looking at me
with a paused question mark on his lips.
Bring him, Lord
I repeated clearly
while laying warm hands on the chest
in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer
and crossed myself.
Then the fireworks began.
Two doves frightened
of very loud sounds of celebration
whooshed just above my head.
The suitcase shut itself, empty.
Those relics of the former life
scattered around
entered into the shadows of their own
I set foot into the eve
the festive, New Year’s one.
Hunched, in front of me,
the Lord walked
or maybe just his shadow
who knows.
I acted foolhardy and now I uttered
his question Aaaand?
He turned
looked at me straight in the eye and
humanly, little pensively, spoke:
Sometimes I need help too.
It lasted, face to face with Him.
He and I, and between us – you!
No fooling, as if I heard.
It will open heart and die as Krishnamurti
like a deer in a quiet forest
in the light of the new moon
or it will close it completely, irretrievably
and live as another unborn I.
Then the fireworks stopped.
We remained for some time
in the comforting silence
of this festive eve
the Lord or his shadow
and we, you and me.
It all looked so literal
but it was a real life
so real that you would not believe.
After, you and the Lord left
each to his own side
I am still standing there
fearing the steps that lead
to the other side I have just chosen.
With poem on poem – Ataol Behramoğlu
If you die at dusk
It won’t be snowing black snow over the city.
One heart will light string of stars
over your last words
and send away a night from your asleep fingers.
If you die at dusk
on your way from the cinema
children from the suburb
will pick up bunches of field flowers
in which you will immerse your leaving image
and you will wish to laugh
when from a distance a train emerges.
If you die at dusk
It won’t be unnoticed.
All you loved will know it,
by accident or unavoidable,
long and painful,
or just for a moment, at a glance.
If you die at dusk
I shall wait for that night
in the town which we haven’t been before
I’ll take you into the garden
of blossomed oranges
to look at the sea
like it is the show
we have directed ourselves
and which promises catharsis.
If you die at dusk
I’ll sail with you easily
Like the paths of childhood
And we shall be two shiny, sliver clouds
Two chords of a tender sonata
Composed for a divine harp
But never played.
If you die at dusk
You’ll trick all others
And you will follow only my voice,
The one which promised you, one night
In the ancient Smederevo
Essential date,
referring to this, present life
and you only said: maybe in another life.
If you die at dusk
Everything will happen the way I wanted to be
And you will have no choice.
You will love with the strength of
All your former loves,
With ardour of youth which has escaped so suddenly
And poetry in which you have found meaning and salvation.
And you, now, after this poem on poem
choose and die, if you must die.
My shadow still standing at the door
and waving at an innocent smile of someone who used to be a boy
who has lost track and forgotten the magic word.
You small daughter of a great vaseljenski emperor
Simonida, you angel whose arms are
forever imprinted around your mother’s neck
and your gaze asleep on a distant star
the one you could not climb
a poet sang about your dugout eyes
transported you into a poem, turned you into a symbol
made your image alive and the dust from the
hollows of your dugout eyes became a balm
which issues a soothingglow of poetry.
You sad little queen, what is it that remains
that you could not take with you in the sack of time
that you wish to put into my poem
the blueness of your eyes which now colours
Asteroid 1675 Simonida and invokes
longing during cloudless nights, the tears of marriage bed
turned to ice or the sadness of a nun with an invisible crown
from which black pearls and broken crystals of rubies
and emeralds had kept falling for a long time.
I do not know why but I think of you
whenever I meet the sad look of small girls
black, white, yellow, wanted or unwanted
which even today in all the continents
their heads held high and with tearful colourless eyes
pass by in this world of unrestful souls
aware in their innocence that they are destined to
cruel beds, tight dresses and at the end
quite at the end – barren wombs
which, perhaps, only poetrycan fill for a moment.
(Simonida Nemanjić born 1294, daughter of the Byzantine emperor Andronicus II Paleolog, the fifth wife of the Serbian King Stephan Uroš II Milutin.
Andronikus II Paleolog gave his daughter, Simonida, still a child, to be the wife of King Milutin as a guarantee of the Peace Treaty made between the two countries in 1299. Simonida was known for her beauty. She died as a nun in 1345. Her fresco in Gračanica monastery is one of the most beautiful and valuable representation of the Serbian medieval art. The fresco was partially damaged it is believed intentionally by the Arbanas (Albanians) during the occupation of Serbia by the Ottoman Empire – the eyes of the fresco were dug out.
Two Serbian poets dedicated their work to her: Milan Rakić wrote a lyrical poem entitled Simonida and Milutin Bojić wrote a psychological drama entitledKing’s Autumn.
Asteroid 1675 Simonida discovered by the astronomer Milorad B. Protić was named after Simonida Nemanjić.)
It happens sometimes,
when something gets torn off the heart,
when longing for the South beats me
and my whole being is disturbed,
the skin wants a touch of the southern sun,
eyes get covered by the southern landscape,
heart starts beating as “Teškoto”,
and in mind resounds “Zajdi, Zajdi”
and in the ear that pure, pleasurable
“Snijeg pade na behar na voće”
And I whole, convert to longing.
Then my throat let it go,
the voice twists, breaks away
the soul flickers gently, more gently,
and tears flow like a fountain in the middle of the village,
crystal tears, tears of poetry,
clear as a sunny day,
severe as maiden ones,
slide down the face,
I have raised my arms towards the heavens,
I have looked with my blue eyes
I could clearly see the inherited images
the imperial roads,
blossomed cherries,
“Ozdola idat sejmeni”,
the tradesmen carrying past, wine and silk,
I hear the Slavic words,
I hear the church bell,
language, Macedonian,
murmur of the Vardar water,
and over it, the rains of Ohrid,
silver drops pouring,
love is dripping down the southern country,
verses are rising ,
heady winy words getting squeezed as a must.
I then sigh,
I sigh deeply, from the bottom of my being,
put a face of an angel,
laugh with a voice of a harp,
who is crying and I say to myself :
the sorrow for the south has risen again,
once again, something primordial is calling me
as the blood was red wine,
and with both hands and my whole heart I rise
the gold cup, of wine and poetry!
I hear clearly then:
Dionysus and Ferdowsi responding,
Miladinovci Brothers responding,
Konstantin thoughtful singing
Koco Racin and Blazhe Koneski
Gane and Mateja and Radovan responding too,
all raise their cups full of words,
words minted of life,
unrepeatable, blue and white,
emerald and bloody,
as ripe red grapes
in Oplenac near Topola,
aromatic as the sweetest
fruit and strong as the mastic.
Cheers my brothers, poets, I shout!
Glory to you people, of great heart
nests of love
bowls full of heeling honey for the souls.
Drink this noble sorrow for the South
with me and everyone who
likes the earth and sky, and others
and everything the Lord has created!
With the grace of God, already tonight
new poems from the veins to squeeze
plump as ripe tropical fruit,
lush as the lushest wine!
My wine is T’ga za jug.
To the health of the whole world lets drink it!
Translator’s notes:
Teškoto – (Тешкото, Macedonian for The Hard One), is a Macedonian folk dance
Zajdi, zajdi (jasno sonce) – (literal translation “O set, o set, clear sun”), traditional Macedonian song
Snijeg pade, na behar na voće – (literal translation “Snow fell on the fruit blossoms”), traditional Bosnian song
Ozdola idat sejmeni – (literal translation “The guards are going uphill”, sejmeni is a word for a soldier, guard during the Ottoman Empire), Macedonian song
Ohrid – lakeside town in Macedonia
Vardar – river in Macedonia
Oplenac – place in Serbia, famous for its wine yard landscapes
Mastic – traditional Macedonian alcoholic drink
T’ga za jug – (literal translation is “The sorrow for the South”), Macedonian red wine
It’s January, the 12th,
In the year of our Lord 2010
Time – local.
At this very moment, people,
on the planet Earth
are having their breakfast,
getting ready for work,
children are going to school
or they’re coming back from there,
ones are making love,
others are getting divorced,
and some are being buried.
Someone’s going for a date,
someone to the hospital,
someone to the wedding,
or just to visit a good, old friend.
Someone’s happy,
someone is not,
but majority disoriented
and led by inertia.
Everything’s happening,
usual and unusual,
jolly and sad,
difficult or easy,
shortly, life’s happening.
From the Universe’s perspective
I’m sitting at the cosy room,
somewhere in Serbia,
in the city of Belgrade ,
The Slavija Square,
The Balkans, a black hole,
where God of passion
and Angel with delicate soul live
and war very often.
Europe, the old, tired country.
I’m sitting in front of my computer,
having freshly made lemonade and
making plans for the following day.
I sign in Facebook from time to time,
Just to be on the network,
connected with people.
I am doing that right now: Homepage.
I can see the letters on my screen:
Destructive earthquake in Haiti,
7 degrees on the Richter scale.
That’s dazzling me.
I thought I’d lost my consciousness
for a moment,
But the planet continued spinning
as it always does
And the world continued living
as if nothing unusual has happened.
24 days later, February 5th,
I was asked by Argentinian poet
Marisa Aragon Willner,
who I had met on Parnassus,
the real homeland of poets,
to write this Inscription about horror:
The Prime Minister of Haiti
has confirmed that the number killed
in the destructive earthquake
which happened in his country
exceeded 212 000.
Million people have been left homeless
and 300 000 have been injured.
Before the earthquake
300 000 children of Haiti
lived in orphanages,
And now 50 000 more
have been left without parents.
Police has arrested 100 of 4000 prisoners
who escaped from the central prison
which was destroyed by the earthquake…
10 Americans,
members of one charitable
Baptist organization
from the USA,
were arrested last Friday
near border with neighbouring Dominican Republic,
along with 33 children aged from 2 months to 14 years
whom they tried to take out of the country.
They did not have necessary documents
and they have been accused for kidnapping the children,
and the court of Haiti has to make a final decision.
UNICEF alerts that we have to be careful
and to protect Haiti’s children
of traffickers linked with international adopting market
and that these criminal networks, very often,
activate after catastrophes like this one in Haiti.
People kidnap unfortunate children,
sell them to other people
and that makes them happy….
It happens, sometimes,
I genuinely regret
I belong to Homo(sapiens) kind.
Sometimes I am ashamed of monkey,
cow, goat, pig or crocodile , snake or spider,
I am ashamed of cactus, orchid, bamboo,
Coconut, and hemlock and henbane….
I’m ashamed and I’m crying now,
while I’m thinking about children of Haiti.
(Belgrade, February 5th 2010)
Translated from Serbian: Aleksandar Malesevic

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