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Excerpts from Aleš Šteger’s works

Europe

Even now you peddle the story of the Turks

At the gates of Vienna, dismantling their tents only as a ruse.

And how masquerading as kebab vendors

Even now they’re only waiting for the right moment

To leap out from their kiosks and cut your throats.

 

No matter that your tribes are lost forever

In the marshes of your barbaric designs

And even you can’t tell the skull of a Goth from the skull

Of a Slav from the skull of an Angle from the skull of a Frank,

Still you believe only your sons’ spilt blood will rejuvenate you.

 

Still you think you’ll give the lie to all of us.

When I close my tired eyes, you appear

In the form of a hairy fat woman who gives birth while snoring

And of the man in the dark beside her secretly masturbating,

Thinking about America.

 

— Translated by W. Martin and Tom Lozar

 

Toothpick

 

 

A bit of undigested meat has gotten lost

And is calling for a revolt.

 

Rebellious foreign body. It signals from your mouth.

Although you do not speak.

 

Although you allowed no one to speak

In your name.

 

But it keeps yelling,

Incites an uprising, applies pressure.

 

You try to remove it with the tongue,

But there are no words that would silence its protest.

 

A little Robespierre in Polyphemus’ mouth.

But without sly fortune, without gods and flocks on his side.

 

You extract him from your conscience, grind what is gnawing you.

Down with the revolution.

 

Although the last linden falls.

You sprawl on her stump, break off a splinter and belch.

 

The toothpick juts from your mouth like a centurion’s spear,

Which cleansed the empire.

 

The black hole in the tooth whispers:

This kingdom also will collapse on itself one day.

 

 

Translated by Brian Henry

 

Knives

 

 

They hang there freshly sharpened.

In the glimmering light. Light.

 

The butcher’s shop is a big family enterprise.

Two million butchers and customers.

 

Customers and butchers. You hardly discern them.

For some are others. And others are others.

 

The buyer puts on the blood-stained apron.

The butcher opens a purse for a still twitching shoulder.

 

The knives watch you coldly, with closed eyes.

They remember where they were, what they mediated.

 

If you grab them, you feel a slight shiver in the handles.

At dusk the blades reflect the deaths into which they were thrust.

 

But where are the bones? Where are the names?

Look, look, they are also stuck in your throat.

 

And when you speak, you also speak with the silence of the murdered.

They are stuck in your duodenum.

 

And when you need to go, you shit what was slaughtered before your birth.

They are scattered in your shallow chest.

 

And when you get off in haste after urgent business,

It is not cans and brushwood that crack under your feet.

 

Where are they? Where are they? Where are they?

Everyone knows about them. No one remembers.

 

 

 

Translated by Brian Henry

 

The Romantic and the Realist School

 

Once we’d gathered the pearls from the snow, the mysteries  began to melt. There was no sun, and the white hills became a raging river of brown slush. We stood on the banks, watching how, among the empty bottles and the pieces of wood, the river was bearing away the dead angels, that had been asleep under the snow. How beautiful they are, we said, how even in this dirty river, their broken wings stay white, their faces untouched. Some of us went home at once to dream more angels and dream we did, that we lay on the floor of an hourglass, that, from the bright opening in the sky above us, snow was falling down and covered us. Others, meanwhile, ran to get their fishing tackle and began an angel fishing derby. Butchers joined them, who, in front of the photographers and crowds delirious, began to chop the angels up, as soon as they were landed, separating hunks of meat from entrails and wings, the latter later sold at auction. These were the realists, people who loved angels from up close and would later burn at the stake. Nor did we fare much better. The whiteness in which we died was swept away, and all at once we felt the hooks that tied us, while we were still alive to this only, this therefore best of all worlds.

 

 Translated by Tom Ložar

 

PTUJ – PRAGERSKO – LJUBLJANA

 

The weather cooled unexpectedly. A chain of Alpine peaks

And a hallucinogenic moon hanging all day long in the west.

You can feel it. It feels like the coin in your pocket.

The clerk slid it under the glass partition,

Together with a single from Ptuj to Ljubljana, via Pragersko.

The hole in the ticket tells you there has been a mistake.

Somehow, it should be possible to go back in time,

To erase yourself from the path you trod,

To correct your direction, to start all over again,

And you, lost in the sad monotony of the tracks, looking back,

Can only meet the space and time you just left with silence.

You lean your head against the rattling window. You close your eyes.

 

In the middle of your forehead a mark forms like a gum of resin

Under the quick slash of a forester’s axe on a twisted trunk of the oak.

Through the patches of snow and rotting leaves the woodsmen are coming.

Their bodies hard and tight with unbearable yearning for the treetops,

Which makes their lips crack and burn.

They come when the trees are bare and asleep,

And the bark has no inkling of the chain saw’s hunger.

Amputation happens in frozen silence.

A child cuts into its cake. The smell of fuel is cut off,

And through the air the silent hiss of a falling giant.

 

When the roots wake,

There will only be fading tyre-tracks

And trunks’ black trail in the undergrowth to remind them

Of whom they once nourished, so they would be able to touch the sky.

Ptuj – Pragersko – Ljubljana.

Only if you leave between the stumps, you know what exile means.

Everywhere the weather has cooled unexpectedly.

Chain marks on the stacked trunks. Fool moon.

  

Translated by Ana Jelnikar and Anne Talvaz

 

He writes

 

He writes, places marks, becomes excited,

Wastes his whole life on an apparently useless activity.

 

No one notices his undertaking.

Children run around, unaware they erase his efforts.

 

Despite everything, he’s convinced that the fate of the universe

Is in his hands, depends on his persistence.

 

What was uncovered countless times

Will be uncovered again.

 

His activity prolongs the word foam,

The word fan, the word this, the word presence.

 

It prolongs the artful veiling

That accompanies the seducer, poetry.

 

Weary bathers shake the towels

They were lying on all day on the sand.

 

What remains is an impression that will be erased again and again.

What there is is the revolt against the end of summer.

 

Translated by Brian Henry

 

 

In Front of the Border

 

In front of the border of your kingdom

We have sewn our mouths.

 

You have stored our names in the archives,

Which are gnawed by fish and the wind.

 

Your most enduring saints succumbed

Beneath the weight of our bones.

 

In front of the golden doors to your kingdom

We have sewn our names for you into our mouths.

 

We enter mute, with burning tongues.

 

From the other side we have sewn the border

Silently and permanently into you.

 

 

Translated by Brian Henry

 

 

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