We first met Simo Mraović many years ago, when we were wrapping up university studies in Zagreb and he was one of our colleagues at Jutarnji list as well as a publisher of Pop&Pop. Simo read an early version of our first novel Raj, which meant a lot to us at the time. We remember him as a gentle soul with a meditative smile, and who didn’t try very hard to make himself heard. We felt that he was more focused on listening to others.
Simo was the type of poet and literary worker who more people should not only discover, but also aspire to be like. He clearly felt a responsibility to do something about the state of literature in Croatia, and we and many others have drawn inspiration from this. His work is a natural fit with ZiN Daily.
Here we have translated excerpts of his 1997 volume Između usana (Zagreb: Meandar). The rhythm is designed to confuse but also to teach, easing the reader into new sentence forms, making us increasingly comfortable with structural decay. Impossible questions are asked to nobody in particular, like a harmless sort of magic but always at the eleventh hour. As the poet writes, we are both suffocated by, and forested with, old letters.
Not so secretly, we wish this experience of every reading.
Ognjen & Natalija with Daniel
Poems from Između usana translated from the Croatian
Although every day I drop from the sky.
I don't give up.
While I'm still here.
I wander the skies.
It's no secret.
Everybody does it.
Except in dreams.
There the sky is forever salty.
And when we wake up it's heavy.
We carry it on our heads.
So when an idea strikes us.
The sky will soften the blow.
I feel in my bones it's raining.
That's why we're important, why we're here.
In the end you have to love.
Therein sleep all your secrets.
And everything is true.
Like in a harmless sort of magic.
In a hell of ice.
Our heads get peeled.
With old letters.
But every language.
Though full of splendor.
Wounds and diseases.
And armed poets.
And king suffering.
From the height of the loop.
Needs to be forgotten.
So I don't write anymore.
For I've seen many things.
In my life of a pea.
What's cooking? A stew or a tea?
I don't know, but in it floats a flea.
The day I met you
my solitude got rich
keeping you in its silence
in the light of pretty angels.
We drank the rain from an apple
secret nectar travels to our heart
there it changes knowledge about us
there where beasts crown us.
Your aura has the color of sun when
in the morning you seek mouthpiece and when day
chases me out of the room setting the fire
of Aum for me to fly around mothlike.
Inside of you fits the entire world of my
dreams about gliding, though you left
your airborne sisters and brothers long ago to
multiply without you and die in the wind.
When I met you you knew
the secret language that no longer exists
that all inside me have forgotten
the secret language that is no more.
Lying in the desert.
I know the end is near.
I have a glass of water.
So I take a sip.
When a miracle occurs.
I'm saved by a caravan that.
Passes here only once.
In a thousand years.
I'm fortunate I think.
While they put me in chains.
Starting tomorrow at every oasis.
I watch and give water to camels.
I look at the chain on my wrist.
It shows perfect time.
At half past seven the news is on.
I see why the desert has no water.
The camels drink it all.
They never have enough.
Holding no grudge I fill up a glass.
One must be stronger than the desert.
Whenever someone downtown says.
He's a poet I feel lucky to be.
Of darker complexion so I don't blush.
On occasion a writer colleague.
Says your poems are not bad but.
Fuck it I can't read that stuff.
Nevertheless I write persistently.
And pray to God not to be one.
Of those who work hard but have no talent.
The difference between the good and the bad is.
Slight and often I'm not too sure.
Or it's just not worth all that trouble.
So once in a while someone downtown says.
He's a poet but I'm lucky not to have.
Any red blood cells so I'm white.
As a wall with a slight tinge of green and.
I must admit sometimes I make up a huge.
Fortune though I'm broke so I borrow.
For a pack of smokes when the list reaches.
The zero meets with sudden riches and gets high.
Spirited across the debt and there you have it.
What time is it I ask my kitchen cactus.
The cactus replies say why not water me some.
You could replant me in a bigger pot too.
What time is it I ask my African violet she says.
Listen to the cactus and me you also could.
Water a bit and weed and repot and.
Buy some fertilizer in the flowershop.
What time is it I ask the tree of life.
I don't know man but my days are numbered.
I'm all yellow and you're not looking too good yourself.
You won't be able to buy this place you'll end up in the streets.
And us all with you so c'mon give us some water.
I fill up an empty plastic coca cola bottle.
And I water every one.
And they all at once say.
The eleventh hour.
Simo Mraović was born in Kutina, Croatia (1966). He wrote ten books of poetry and prose, was an active participant in Zagreb's literary scene as an editor, publisher, translator and host of literary events. He died in 2008 in Zagreb and was buried after his own wish in the village of Kozarac in the Kordun area of Croatia.