Translation: Five Poems by Serbian Poet Milena Marković

Poems by MILENA MARKOVIĆ, translated from the Serbian by STEVEN and MAJA TEREF.

 

Translators’ Note

As translators, we have multiple ways in which we interact as a translator couple. Oftentimes, we will sit side by side and take turns translating and transcribing as we work our way through a text. Sometimes though, one of us may translate a poem and later have the other check it. The poem “little lambs” is an example whereby Maja wrote out her translation in a notebook, which Steven later typed up and checked against the original. In the middle of the poem where “a band of clouds cross above my son,” Maja had followed the line with “while he squatted in the shallows,” yet Steven misread “shallows” as “shadows.” The misread line made sense to him considering the image from the previous line in which the “shadows” of the clouds cast a particularly vivid picture. It was only when he checked it against the original and saw that the line was actually “while crouching in the water” (“dok je čučao u vodi”) that he caught his error. Generally, we would just correct the misreading and move on, but we felt that the misreading worked quite well with the rest of the poem’s imagery. When we shared this anecdote with Milena, she loved the happy accident and encouraged us to keep the new line. We’ve come to learn, in working with Milena, that she allows her art to evolve and change through translation instead of rigidly adhering to the published original. Her openness to changing the text, we feel, exemplifies a true collaboration because as literary translators, with Milena, we are allowed to experiment, play, and glide along the author-translator continuum. When mutual trust exists in such a relationship, the art accumulates meaning and continues to grow resisting the shackles of a strict transactional exchange.

—Steven Teref and Maja Teref

 

silver dust

we’ve been filming all day and today we
bought darts
my friend says one time some guy
provoked him so much that he threw
a dart into his leg
after that, the guy enrolled in a military academy.
today we filmed down a tunnel
where the rats were as fat as piglets
and the miners fed them saying
when you tame them they come in handy
they flee when they know
the devil is going to play for keeps
so the miners run too
the roma devil rules in the mine
her name is čohani
and down in the mine’s tunnels are murine
ghosts with lamps on their heads
when you approach them no one’s there
only miner’s clothing
women don’t go down there
there’s a picture of a woman being fucked by a donkey
no easy task but those porn stars can make bank
a miner can’t even imagine
a miner gave me a scarf but he felt bad
because it stank
there’s a kafana called miner’s night
and another kafana called trucker’s dream
there’s a fish joint with some girls
someone asked one for her hand last week
she was twelve years old
with an intellectual disability
she’s now going to germany
nature is soft and conniving
toxic vapor evaporates
in the lungs where the silver dust sticks
and the kafanas are cheerless
so I sit at home and throw darts
into the walls and outside
black snow
a miner named maradona cursed us
pissed himself
said he’d beat us up
said he’d fuck us up
the waitress kicked him out
she said she works in the kafana in the afternoon
and in the field in the morning
she doesn’t have time to talk to us
said her father-in-law is around
who lies with her
her husband works in algiers
her children grew up
and left
the miners say
there used to be a singer
who’s no longer around
everyone loved her
her fiancé picked her up one day
one says he saw her
in a nice car
another says he saw her
pushing a stroller with twins up in town
a third one says he saw her
on tv
but doesn’t recall where
a fourth one says
she owns a kiosk and even has three
employees
and the pljeskavicas
are huge
but I don’t think that she
ended up that way
I think that she walks down a serpentine road
and sings:

I was born on easter, nana,
and every day I’m dying
little
by little.

 

srebrna prašina

snimamo po čitav dan i danas smo
kupili pikado
moj drug kaže jednom me jedan
toliko iznervirao da sam mu zvekno
pikado u nogu
a posle je taj upisao vojnu školu.
danas smo snimali dole jamu
gde su pacovu debeli ko prasići
i rudari ih hrane kažu
kad se pripitome služe dobro
kad beže pacovi oni znaju
da je đavo odneo šalu
pa beže i oni
u rudniku je glavni ciganski đavo
on se zove čohano
a u hodnicima rudnika su murinje
to su duhovi sa lampama na glavama
priđeš mu a tamo nema čovek
samo odelo rudarsko
dole ne silaze žene
ima slika kako ženu jebe magarac
nije lako ali te porno zvezde zarade
kako ovaj ne može da sanja
jedan mi dao šal pa mu bilo krivo
što ne miriše lepo
ima kafana rudarska noć
i ima kafana šoferski san
ima riblji restoran sa devojčicama
ima jedna isprošena prošle nedelje
mentalno zaostala
od dvanaest godinica
ide u nemačku
priroda je potuljena meka
otrovne vode isparavaju
u plućima se lepi od srebrne prašine
a u kafanama nije veselo
pa sedim kod kuce i igram pikado
udaram zid a napolju
crn sneg
psovao nas stari rudar što ga zovu maradona
upišo se
rekao je da će da nas prebije
pa da nas prejebe
kelnerica ga izbacila
rekla nam da radi tu popodne
a ujutru u polju
ne može puno da priča sa nama
tu joj je svekar
koji leže sa njom
muž radi u alžiru
deca porasla
otišla
a pevačice
nema nigde
bila je jedna priča se
svi su je voleli
došao jednom verenik po nju
video je jedan
u dobrim kolima
video je drugi
kako gura kolica sa blizancima gore u gradu
video je treći
kako radi na televiziji
ne zna tačno gde je video
video je četvrti
kako drži trafiku ima čak tri
radnice
a pljeskavice
ko tepsija
ali ja sve mislim da nije tako
završila
mislim da hoda serpentinom
i peva:

na uskrs sam se rodila nano
a svaki dan umirem
pomalo
pomalo.

 

oh god, early spring

a ghastly wind and blazing sun
laundry flapping on balconies
a washed car
struck a man
sprawled now with a strangely twisted leg
a taxi waits
for a disoriented man to bring out
an overweight woman
who had just slit her wrists
some little boy was being beaten up
a smaller boy ran up
and spat on him.

 

o bože, rano proleće

gadan vetar i jako sunce
veš na terasama
oprana kola
koja su udarila čoveka
leži sa čudno izvrnutom nogom
taksi čeka
smušenog da dovede debelu
koja tek što je presekla vene
nekog malog su tukli
onda je pritrčao jedan još manji
i pljunuo ga.

 

little lambs

today, we ate some
that gamboled just yesterday
tomorrow we’ll toss the leftovers
to the dogs
we’ll shoo the cats away, so the dogs won’t
savage them
in the dark, children sense their
bodies
in the dark, children keep their
secrets
I sat in the meadow and saw
a band of clouds cross above my son
while he squatted in their shadows
and wept
I sat in the meadow and saw
the clouds form an image
that disappeared
the day passed and night fell
sweet, sweet night
fragrant grass and the sky
star strewn.

I love my life
but life doesn’t love
me back.

 

jagnjići

danas jedemo one
što su se juče igrali
sutra bacamo ono što je ostalo
psima
mačke teramo od vrata da ih psi ne
udave
deca su počela u mraku da osećaju
tela
deca su počela u mraku da čuvaju
tajne
sedela sam na livadi i videla
pruga oblaka prešla je preko sina mog
dok je čučao u vodi
i plakao
sedela sam na livadi i videla
oblake kako prave sliku
a onda se slika izgubila
prošao je dan i došla je noć
slatka slatka noć
mirišljava trava i nebo
zvezdano.

ja volim život moj
samo on mene
ne voli.

 

a hedge

for the hypocrites
peering over it
at our garden
there’s nothing special here
we barbeque
we booze it up
many unfortunates
come here
I cry here
you read here
someone sleeps over
someone gets kicked out
some young women get drunk
then regret it the next day
our friends fight
over some old slight
someone spits into someone else’s drink
eyes on calves
eyes on windows
smudged from children’s hands
high-heel-pocked parquet
the biggest trash peer over the hedge
the biggest trash assumes
the biggest trash
you know who
like
you praise an enemy
to blunt them
celine’s cat
vysotsky smokes a cigarette
aren’t I glad to hear high praise
I roam the fields
above them
the sky drips milk
in those rivers blood flows
there aren’t any white rocks
what do I care for the world
what do I care for people
I have my own hair
to chew on.

 

živa ograda

da se zalepi licemerima
koji vire da vide
našu baštu
nema tu ništa
tu se roštilja
tu se ispijaju pića
tu dolaze
razni nesrećnici
tu ja plačem
tu ti čitaš
neko prespava
neko biva izbačen
neka devojka se napije
pa joj je sutra žao
prijatelji se potuku
zbog nečega od pre
neko nekom pljune u piće
oči na listovima
oči na prozorima
prljavo od dečjih rukica
parket uništen štiklama
najveći šljam je taj što viri
najveći šljam je taj što zaključuje
najveći šljam su ti
znaš već koji
ono
pohvali neprijatelja
da ga otupiš
selinova mačka
visocki puši cigaretu
što je meni bitno da čujem lepu reč
ja lutam po poljima
iznad njih nebo iz koga curi mleko
u tim rekama ide krv
nema belog kamenja
što je meni bitan svet
što su meni bitni ljudi
ja imam svoje dlake
da grizem.

 

station

bells clang and a cur trots across a field
the dried mud smells like a cemetery flower shop
the girl isn’t wearing warm socks
some men catcall her at the bus station
she pretends not to hear them
the barking dog chases the escaping sun
there used to be a landfill
behind the supermarket
black birds used to have lunch
and even dinner there
I laugh
I have a bottle in my pocket
just this once
just this once
to imagine that I have my act together
that I’m a fine woman
who has earned the right to chug the bottle
damn, I hope everyone can see
I’m in a good place
and not
in the landfill.

 

stanica

zvone zvona i poljanom ide ker
blato se osušilo i devojka nema tople čarape
miriše ko cvećara grobljanska
dobacuju joj na stanici
ona se pravi da ne čuje
pas je zalajao na sunce koje mu je pobeglo
iza supermarketa
tamo iza je bila deponija
crne ptice su tu ručale
bogami i večerale
smejem se
imam flašu u džepu
još ovaj put
još ovaj put
da mislim da sam na svom mestu
jedna fina gospođa
koja sasvim zasluženo će da sljušti flašu
valjda se majku mu vidi
da sam na svom mestu
a ne na
deponiji.

 

Milena Marković (b. 1974) is an award-winning Serbian poet, playwright, and screenwriter. She has published seven poetry collections; her latest collection, Deca (Children), is a book-length poem published in 2021.Deca won the NIN Book of the Year Award, the Serbian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. Her plays have been staged across Europe and in the United States. She has also written screenplays for film and TV, such as Patria, winner for Best Screenplay at the FEST International Film Festival.

Steven and Maja Teref’s translations include Ana Ristović’s Directions for Use, shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Best Translated Book Award, and the National Translation Award, and Novica Tadić’s Assembly. Their translations have appeared in The New Yorker, Brooklyn Rail, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. Steven is a co-editor with Aleksandar Bošković of Zenithism (1921–1927): A Yugoslav Avant-Garde Anthology, forthcoming from Academic Studies Press in 2023. Maja teaches English at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

Translation: Five Poems by Serbian Poet Milena Marković

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