Six Interpretations of Poetry

Judita Šalgo | trans. Vladislav Beronja

 

Figurae Veneris

 

Man-period (or better yet: woman-period, because both woman and period are feminine, grammatically speaking), so, WOMAN-PERIOD is neither a small woman nor a paranoid woman. It is an erotically sensitive period in space through which, as through an eye of a needle, a thread is being pulled, a refined offspring pushing out of nothing into something—WOMAN-LINE.

And WOMAN-LINE is not your long and languorous woman, overly consigned to pleasures—but a hand on a clock, by which linear time opens into spatial time; that is to say: woman-line is a slit in time through which, as an entire year out of a single night, emerges MAN-CIRCLE.

 

And MAN-CIRCLE is not immortal nor is he a vain man who incessantly looks at himself. He is a hole in the Law (in memory?) from which with great labor, as a body from its shadow, a great fruit of lawlessness is born—WOMAN-SPHERE.

 

And WOMAN-SPHERE is not a fat nor pregnant woman. She is a perfect woman; her spirit surrendered to earthly love, her body submitted to the celestial mechanism: a gravitational Grace.

 

she is an apple that falls to the  earth,

she is the earth onto which an apple falls,

she is a girl who sits on the earth

                      eating an apple


Between the Lines

 

As soon as I started to speak

I stopped growing,

that’s why I talk in this child’s tongue.

My words still follow me,

they also refuse to answer for the past.

 

In the house I have nothing older

than yesterday’s answers,

(nor do questions, in a hurry, get to

gracefully age).

The retreat is too short

for lengthy emotions

o . . . foreignness

o . . . desertedness

only a small foreign desert

can fit between the lines.

 


Life on the Table

to another J.

 

Thank God, I’m spared from living.

On the writing desk—stamps, labels,

stickers bearing my image: oh Judita,

our heads are in a school satchel.

 

Every time I sleep with the enemy

my common spots start to ache.

Linguistic acupuncture is no good here,

light stabs of pencil hardly reach the mind.

 

(I copulate across the darkroom,

my belly full of queer pictures.)

 

With rouged lips, I kiss the knife and fork:

Love is nourishing even as the morsel suffers;

what remains of supper is called art,

tooth marks on a cold surface.

 

On the writing table are yesterday’s cups;

—we were born under a teetotaler’s sign—

your bloody story has been watered down,

the sea, even here, increasingly turns Dead.


Milky Way

 

Only a punctured shopping bag,

with a trail of milk behind me

ever since I detached from the breast.

Self-check out did not make me self-sufficient,

I’m ashamed of the food that gets on my eyes

so I suck on all the fingers that are pointed at me.


Upside Down

 

When I stand on my head

I am certain that I sprouted right from this soil.

My legs are walking, but only clouds pass by,

and thus rooted in place I travel around the world.

With my forehead on the ground, I live with deep deference,

and nothing can knock me down;

the earth shields the head from being uprooted.

I look around me as much as the hole in my sock allows,

I only speak with the open wound on my heel.

I talk into air, I think into earth:

the one that remembers but never returns.


Interpretation of Poetry

 

To interpret                  small poisonous images on the skin

one’s own poetry                      to scrape until it bleeds

means to write a poem             despite the saddened delight

of one’s own interpretation                                          to lick the wound

that separates the meaning from the interpreter                         hopelessly

The sword is the weapon of the interpreter. With it he splits the poem and takes the better part for himself. And the writer, conversely, thinks that the fairer, more painless part belongs to him, and in order to preserve it, he divides the poem in good time, while he’s still writing it; he’s writing a split poem.

            And while writing a split poem he himself is being split: he would like to talk and be silent at the same time, to dream and to stay awake, to run and to stand at the finish line like one’s own referee; and while he’s doing one thing, he’s already speaking about another, and as the border between words and deeds is becoming all the more blurry, it appears as if he’s living two lives at once, writing two poems in one, that his verse is reverse and his ode in a double mode, that he’s speaking with two mouths and looking through four eyes.

            There is a belief that man is given one life to make mistakes and another to atone for them. A poet, however, knows that there is no life after life, and no poem after poetry. That is why, according to him, the judgment day doesn’t arrive at the end (after which usually comes a new beginning), but stands, like a fissure, amidst life itself, like a cut along a body, like whiteness within a poem.

 

And this whiteness is nothing other than a slanted ray of light that enters through the window to rest on the writing desk; a narrow passage (a vein?) through which the unbounded fullness of the sky drips—drop by drop—to be absorbed into the bottomless blankness of the page, unfolding in front of the writer’s eyes.

***

Judita Šalgo (1941-1996) was born Judita Manheim in Novi Sad. At the beginning of WWII, her father Sándor Manheim was taken, as a communist and a Jew, to a concentration camp in Baja (Hungary) and later transferred to the Eastern Front in Russia, where in 1942 he was murdered. In 1943, her mother, Jelisaveta Abraham, was also taken to a camp in Bergen-Belsen (Germany), leaving young Judita in Novi Iđoš (Serbia) in the care of a Hungarian friend whom Judita addressed as mother. Šalgo would later state, “If a mother is replaceable, then everything in this world is replaceable, including my own self and everything that makes up my identity.” Upon Jelisaveta’s return from the camp, the family moved to Novi Sad where Judita attended grammar school and started learning Serbo-Croatian (Hungarian, until then, was her first language). Her mother remarried and Judita took her stepfather’s name. In 1966, Šalgo graduated with a degree in General Literature at the University of Belgrade and returned to Novi Sad, where she worked as an editor in chief of the Youth Forum at the Novi Sad Cultural Center, one of the hubs of experimental art (also known as New Artistic Practices) in Yugoslavia. After that, she worked a series of jobs as a translator from the Hungarian, an editor in television and in publishing, as well as a bookstore clerk. She is the author of three collections of poetry, three novels (two of which were unfinished and published posthumously), and a collection of short stories. Besides these poems, only one short story of hers has been published in English, in The Third Shore: Women’s Fiction from East Central Europe (Ed. Agata Schwartz. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 2006).

Šalgo died in 1996 in Novi Sad. A street at the margins of Novi Sad carries her name, just as her writing—unbound by conventions of genre, form, and identity—occupies the experimental margins of Serbian literature.

Vladislav Beronja was born in 1984 in Bihać, Yugoslavia (now Bosnia and Hercegovina) into an ethnically mixed family, which was separated by the Yugoslav wars and reunited in the United States in 1999.  He holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature and a Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is co-editor (alongside Stijn Vervaet) of Post-Yugoslav Constellations: Archive, Memory, and Trauma in Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian Literature and Culture (De Gruyter, 2016). Currently he is finishing his first book manuscript on representations of  traumatic history in post-Yugoslav literature and working as an Assistant Professor in Slavic and Eurasian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. When he gets frustrated with words, he makes images.

These poems were originally published in Život na stolu. Belgrade: Nolit, 1986.
Image: by Vladislav Beronja

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