‘The women who bore me slept too long, so they could run:’ 2 feminist poems by Croatia’s Ivana Bodrožic

‘The women who bore me slept too long, so they could run:’ 2 feminist poems by Croatia’s Ivana Bodrožic
Image: David Gabric via Unsplash

5 March 2021
Intro and selection: Paula Erizanu

Born in Vukovar in 1982, Ivana Bodrožic has published two award-winning poetry collections and two bestselling, widely-acclaimed novels. Her works are available in more than ten languages. Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać and Damir Šodan, the poems below are from In a Sentimental Mood, printed by Sandorf Press, a publisher specialised in literature from the former Yugoslav countries. You can get your copy here.



Trouble with the stork

Written by Ivana Bodrožic, translated by Damir Šodan


little me is walking down the street

I observe her from the terrace of a café

where I sit sipping beer and writing a poem

first I wave, but she doesn’t see me

she is too busy explaining something

with her plump little eight-year-old hands

to her girlfriend who lets her down every other day

her fingers, even when they are grimy with black dirt

underneath her fingernails, smell of butter cookies,

but that won’t last long

she doesn’t notice me,

she does not even anticipate navel

that crucial tissue for her

only a few meters away

she joined the drama club

one day she’ll be a great actress

yesterday she heard of hollywood

she doesn’t know if she would go to filip’s birthday party

the kid from her class

who told her she’s a whore

your mama is a whore

I also told denis in the sixth grade

when he hit me with an ice-pack in the eye

at school we knew that whores had their secret code

wearing red on fridays

those women who cuddle with men for money

really?

she asks me as I turn off the light in the hall

go to sleep, I say

and what are they called, the men who cuddle with

women for money?

go to sleep.

*

I wear my bra when I sleep,

that has stayed with me from the war,

said my mother.

I wear my bra when I sleep,

that’s stayed with me from Mother.

Fold your clothes neat on the chair,

said my grandmother,

after a prayer in Hungarian

that tickles me still between

the ears and nose, how those words sound,

that death won’t come for you while you sleep.

Fold them nice so you know,

where your pants, socks, sweater are,

in case there’s an earthquake,

and we have to run,

everywhere it’ll be dark and no power,

you can’t go bare-bottomed into the street.

I sleep in socks

but that is different,

blood moves through me slowly,

I sweat only before morning.

But I can’t relax any more,

I can’t lie there, calm,

the women who bore me slept

too long that way so they could run.



Cycle

Written by Ivana Bodrožic, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać


At the first lecture about sexuality

(the war was raging around us

men were binding women with wire

all across the country)

in the Comrade Tito Conference Hall sat twelve girls

aged nine to fifteen.

They sent a lady doctor from Zagreb

she came dressed in a white coat

and asked us:

What does “cycle” mean?

I bravely raised my hand.

She signaled me with a look

— that’s when you bleed till it stops.

She shook her head gently,

her red cherry-shaped earrings

transfixed us

the blood rushed to my face and I wanted to vanish.

The cycle is everything, she said,

from the first day when the egg is released,

and all the way to the last

when it shrivels and falls away,

and the bleeding is

what’s in the middle.

The cycle is everything,

the muddy floods in spring

the rainy, rotting summers

and warm winters full of bugs and yellow snow,

bewitchingly beautiful red-hued autumns

endless day is

what’s in the middle.

The cycle is everything,

first loneliness

the way I gasp for breath

while you take me by the hand

a grand thought of dying in your arms

my desire for just a little more space

rebellion

and finally

loneliness.

The cycle is everything

a toothless hole in the face

and hard pink gums

full of invisible roots of teeth,

then daily diffusion of enamel

then broken bandoliers

and then again the toothless hole

bleeding is

what’s

in the middle.

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