Thursday, 6 December 2018

From 'Avalanche'

Legally/copyright-speaking, this is highly dubious, because I don't have the translation rights, but I am currently reading the novel 'Лавина' ('Avalanche') by Blaga Dimitrova and so I am posting my translation of a few pages from it in the hopes that the publisher and author's estate won't be too cross, because really I simply want to draw attention to this novel and its rule-breaking genius.

From ‘Avalanche’ by Blaga Dimitrova (pp.18-20)

You’re in pursuit

The individual’s steps are always in pursuit of someone or something.
You’re thinking who knows what is happening there without you.
The others advance. Outstrip you.
They’re joyful.
But you, you’re angry to the point of tears.
Even though you’ve woken up early, you feel tarnished, like you’ve overslept, like you’ve missed the freshest morning of your life.
Their way is intriguing, full of new things.
You fall behind. They’re getting away. They’re climbing high.
But you’re still below, at the bottom.
They step onto a peak. The whole world is before them, in the palm of their hand, and it belongs to them.
But you have nothing but your intent to reach them.
For the world is only habitable inside the circle of their presence, their voices, their steps. Outside this space is chaos, aimlessness, impenetrability.
Your tiny human solitude is much bigger than the great solitude of the mountains.
They live intensively, in a common whole.
Your being is emptied.
They forget you. Without you they can.
But without them, you cannot.
You’re superfluous. You don’t exist.
You’re not pursuing them, but yourself.
Even when they rebuke you, ridicule you, renounce you – they again confirm your existence.
They are WE. You are alone, I.
They are everything together.
You are nothing without them.


We, the group, are a special being.
We hardly think about you, punishing you for being late, for staying behind.
If we think and discuss the situation, it would be an even greater punishment for you. And you know that.
When we’re beyond your view, you suddenly see us in our entirety, as if you’re discovering us for the first time.
We’re moving in a column as one. Conquering the heights. Try to reach us!
Our feet in sturdy hiking books leave prints in the freshly fallen snow. We advance in a line at a specified distance from one another. Each of us deepens the traces of the one in front.
Your place has been filled. Occupied by another. And once you lose your place in the line, where is your place in the world?
Our packed rucksacks aren’t yet weighing us down. Youthful faces, flushed with joy. We feel our own glow as a warmth inside.
A common blood flows through our group. We won’t laugh until you catch up with us. You’ll be pale, nervy, cut off from the flow of Strong blood.
We’re overwhelmed by the mountain’s gravity, the opposite of the earth’s, not downwards, but upwards. Maybe that’s the ancient drive to resist the earth’s pull.
Imperceptibly, the snow absorbs the stains, the fumes, the poisons that have filled our souls – and it cleanses us.
We stretch ourselves, as if we’ve been tied up and finally given our freedom.
When the mountains turn white, we get the intoxicating feeling that we are taking the very first steps here. The snow exudes a sense of primacy.
We fill our lungs with deep breaths. Until yesterday we were scattered, dispersed, drowned in the muddy concrete wells of the city. Now we’ve come together, WE. A steady and self-confident being that no barrier stops. All powerful in our collectivity, impenetrable to others from outside. The other is not a being, but an element. It isn’t permitted.
We feel our coming together and the closing of our circle as liberation.
Liberation from the state of “alert”, which always tightly binds the singular entity in barbed wire: finding your own bearings in a divergent world, conforming, not missing out, watching your back. And hardest of all: not losing self-control.
Once we’ve grown into WE, responsibility is shared and doesn’t weigh so heavily on us. We draw a breath.
Eh, discipline still has to be respected. But it is far lighter than self-discipline.
Lightness – that’s a collective virtue.
The mountains swell beneath our steps. Above us only sky, below us the abyss.
One impetus unites us. We walk one behind another, brought together by the mountains. At a steady pace, which fills us with a primordial pleasure in the walk itself.

Translated by Tom Phillips

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Freedom in the form of a stray dog

Where the nightmare tramples words,
as if elite were equality misspelt,
picture a small child by a fence,
by a fence with railings,
and a dog, matted fur, a stray,
limping its way across waste ground.

Picture the autumn shadows cast
by a sculpted apartment block,
coloured carpets on the balconies,
the deep wet fallen leaves
(even fallen leaves cast a shadow).
The dog stops to sniff at a tree root.

The kid runs about, watches, breathes in.
Birds squabble on leafless branches.
Above it all, a half-hearted sun
does its best to vanquish the clouds.
We’re living in a post-war thriller.
The dog may well have its day.

Everything is unexpurgated.
That’s how it is: made of cardboard,
the erased URL of a porn film,
the great damn breasts of a dog
that suture the wounds which cut
into the place where we are.

I’ve had enough of this.
But I can’t walk away.
I’m on the corner of a street.
And that’s precisely where I am.
Architecture inherits its own tyranny.
Love’s simply not up to so much

as a Greek island where blue paint
and an out-of-focus beach is all we need
and a stray dog shits on the pavement.
And the kid … well, the kid just turns away.

Tom Phillips

Written in Sofia, 2018, for 1,000 Poets For Change and published in Mitko Gogo's Macedonian translation here