Yet Another Miracle: Poems by Monika Herceg

introduced and translated by Marina Veverec

“No one among our contemporary authors laughs like Monika Herceg; nor writes more sorrowful poems,” writes Miljenko Jergović, a Croatian novelist and essayist. The latter statement is especially true when it comes to Herceg’s debut poetry collection Initial Coordinates, from which a selection of poems is presented here. The poems in the book portray the lives of women in rural Croatia throughout the twentieth century, whose stories of poverty and struggle are recounted in the voices of Herceg’s family members (in the case of this selection, her grandmother).

“There were no books in our house, and paper was only used to light the fire,” Monika recalls. However, during her education in the Croatian town of Petrinja, her teachers soon recognized her talent and provided her the support her family could not. Herceg began writing poetry while working several jobs, all taken on to finance her study of physics at the University of Rijeka. Initial Coordinates details Herceg’s return to the roots of her family and to those earliest, often traumatic, memories that have haunted her throughout her life.


See Original Language See Translation

thunder god

my grandmother’s mother hauls water from the stream and sleeps
among the leaves when no one is looking
as a young woman she fell arm-first
into a cauldron of lard
and a big scar covered
her entire forearm

she would always speak of
her children
six sons and one daughter
sprouting up like mushrooms
summer after summer
back in those fertile rainy years

on a long-past july afternoon
the thunder god hurled a bolt
straight at their barn
cats lost their ears
her sons
scattered like ants
to the other side of the equator

 

deaf cats

when the thunder god rearranged the sky
the first lightning struck our barn
and the second struck young kata

they buried her neck-deep
in the garden next to the onion beds
and waited two days
for her arms to sprout
out of the wet black soil

it was yet another miracle
the villagers had witnessed
our deaf cats meowing wretchedly
not hearing their own voices
nor the purring guts full of mice and kittens
and kata wore the lightning underneath her heart
now skipping
like a broken toy

 

snake deaths

my grandmother’s youngest brother
long lay face-down in the hay
before they discovered
his young corpse

when the walnuts peered out of their green pods
he gathered their wrinkly heads
cracked them bare then ground them
the sunday gibanica cake smelled
of homecoming

in the early evening they put
a bullet in his dome
dragging him back down
to the center of the earth

adders kept vigil over him
like points of a compass
so quartering the death
that slept in him

 

birth defects

sometimes women abloom
amidst the greatest snowstorms
so the neighbor anka helped deliver my father
on the dirt floor by the hearth
the snow already knee deep

as a child he pursued animals
seeking in them
the hidden lumps of solitude
buds that overgrew his own throat too

he didn’t like being around people

when he was five
an enraged swarm of hornets
swooped down on him
from the den of a hop hornbeam
he cried out his sting-swollen eyes
and then without a blink
continued his hiding game in the tree hollows
rearranging the piles of humus
not noticing
his soles expanding and lengthening
the first mustache cropping up
until he tripped over his own foot
as if over a molehill

gromovnik

majka moje bake nosi vodu s potoka i spava
u lišću kad nitko ne gleda
pala je rukom u kotao pun masti kao djevojka
i nosila veliki ožiljak
dužinom cijele podlaktice
uvijek je pričalakako su njena djeca
šest sinova i jedna kćer
nicali kao gljive
jedno po jedno svakog ljeta
tih plodnih kišnih godina
davnog srpanjskog popodneva

gromovnik je bacio munju
ravno u njihovu štalu
mačke su izgubile uši
a njeni sinovi
razbježali su se poput mrava
na drugu stranu ekvatora

 

gluhe mačke

kad je gromovnik presložio nebo
prvi grom udario je u našu štalu
a drugi u mladu katu

zakopali su je do glave
u vrt kraj gredica luka
i čekali dva dana
da joj proklijaju ruke
iz mokre crnice

bilo je to još jedno čudo
kojem su svjedočili seljani
naše gluhe mačke nesretno su mijaukale
ne mogavši čuti svoje glasove
ni preduće utrobe pune miševa i mačića
a kata je nosila munju pod srcem
koje je preskakalo
kao pokvarena igračka

 

zmijske smrti

najmlađi brat moje bake
dugo je ležao licem u sijenu
prije nego su pronašli
njegovo mlado truplo

kad su orasi provirili iz zelenih tobolaca
skupio je njihove naborane glave
razbio ih i gole samljeo
nedjeljna gibanica mirisala je
na povratak

predvečer mu u potiljak
spremiše metak
koji ga je povukao prema
središtu zemlje

nad njim su bdjele riđovke
kao strane kompasa
raščetvorivši tako smrt
koja je spavala u njemu

 

urođene mane

ponekad se žene rascvjetaju
usred najvećih mećava
tako je pri porodu mog oca pomogla susjeda anka
na zemljanom podu kraj ognjišta
kad je snijeg već bio preko koljena

kao dijete proganjao je životinje
tražeći u njima
neopazive izrasline osamljenosti
pupoljke koji su i njemu obrasli grlo

nije volio biti među ljudima

kad je imao pet godina
razjareni se roj stršljena
iz jazbine crnoga graba
obrušio na njega
dugo je plakao nateklih očiju od uboda
a onda bez treptaja
nastavio igru skrivanja u duplje stabala
preslojavajući naslage humusa
ne primjećujući
širenje i duljenje tabana
izbijanje prvih brkova
dok nije pao preko svog stopala
kao preko krtičnjaka

Published on December 1, 2021

2021-12-01T13:00:50-04:00