TE17 Mysterious Montenegro
New writing from Montenegro - and across Europe
an online quarterly journal with some of the best new literature from Europe
is a publication of
Trafika Europe ISSN 2472-2138
Editor’s Welcome _________________________________ 6
Dominik (novel excerpts) _____________________ 8
Lena Ruth Stefanović
Four Poems ________________________________ 36
Catherine the Great and the Small (novel excerpt) _____________________________ 48
Eight Poems _______________________________ 66
Arcueil (novel excerpts) _____________________ 84
Elsewhere in Europe
Join the Dance (novel excerpt) _______________ 108
Three Texts _______________________________ 122
Cronos Cube (novel excerpt) _________________ 136
Ten Poems ________________________________ 160
Serioja, Maria and the Mop (novel excerpt) _____ 174
The Dreamed Part (novel excerpt) ____________ 190
Hot Tub (story) ____________________________ 214
Back Matter _____________________________________ 228 About the Artist __________________________ 230 About the Authors _______________________ 232 Acknowledgements ______________________ 240
TRAFIKA EUROPE 17 —Mysterious Montenegro EDITOR’S WELCOME Literaturecontinues, in this timeof pandemic.With this, our seventeenth issue, we’re pleased to offer a modest focus with fiction and poetry from mysterious Montenegro – and elsewhere in Europe. Milovan Radojević ’s Dominik is a novel set in the late 12th and early 13th centuries in Dioclea—a principality on the Adriatic that roughly encompassed the territories of present-day southern Montenegro. With fabulous digressions, constructed manuscripts, and like fancy, Dominik is about the friendship between twoclerics of theDioclean Church, which was under Roman Catholic jurisdiction. This tale may serve as a mirror for wider historical events, then and now. Lena Ruth Stefanović is a Montenegrin poet who, in her living and in her work, has explored broken systems and political epochs, and who is never far from the spiritual as she leaves a generous record of her thoughts in poems. In her award-winning novel, Catherine the Great and the Small , author OljaKnežević takesusonan intimate journey, via thepowerful character, Catherine, through Tito’s Yugoslavia and its aftermath. Poet Tanja Bakić ’s interests range wildly, from scholarship and poetry inspired by William Blake to a non-fiction bestselling book on Jimi Hendrix.
[ For an extra treat, check out our video of Tanja Bakić’s poem, “Together We Started Crying”, right here. ]
Rounding out our Montenegro focus, Aleksandar Bečanović ’s novel, Arceuil , has won the European Union Prize for Literature. On Easter Sunday, 1768, Marquis de Sade promises an ecu to a beggar by the name of Rose Keller if she follows him to Arcueil. So the novel unfolds…
Also in this issue, you’ll find works from French, Italian, German, Romanian, Livonian, Spanish and English writers. Straight from Éditions Julliard, we’re pleased to offer a preview in English of French novelist, screenwriter and cartoonist Jean Teulé ’s intriguing novel, Entrez dans la danse . Franca Mancinelli ’s is one of the more compelling voices in recent Italian literature. We’ve featured her poetry before, in this Trafika Europe Corner from 2018. Now we’re sharing three short prose-like pieces from her. Passionate gamer and speculative fiction writer Thekla Kraußeneck makes her English-language debut with this excerpt from her expansive work, Cronos Cube . Poet Valts Ernštreits is actively helping revitalize Livonian language and culture in Latvia, with his work. Moving between Santa Barbara and Moldova, Romanian author Alta Ifland ’s “Serioja, Maria and the Mop” is a comedy of errors, a culture clash, and a love triangle rolled into one. AccordingtoJonathanLethem, Spanish-languageauthor RodrigoFresán is “a kaleidoscopic, open-hearted, shamelessly polymathic storyteller, the kind who brings a blast of oxygen into the room.” Our excerpt is from The Dreamed Part , a new sequel to his celebrated novel, The Invented Part . English author John Saul finishes this issue, with his witty and kind short story, “Hot Tub”. If that’s not enough, throughout this issue and onour cover there’s avisual feast, featuring 17 photographs from Ivan Vojnić – giving us a glimpse of the true mystery that modern-day Montenegro maintains.
Milovan Radojević “I firstmetDominik, Bishopof Svač, before he was honored with miter and staff, in the time of internal division and general chaos before the last attack of our neighbors on Dioclea.”
Dominik (novel excerpt) by Milovan Radojević Translated fromMontenegrin by Will Firth
I will long remember that stormy night, in the fall of 1180 in the year of our Lord, I suppose for as long as I live. A mighty gale arose, and the raging sea and the heavy clouds joined together. Thewaves beat fiercely against the cliff beneath thewalls of Ratac Abbey. 1 And what the Lord wanted came to pass. I dare say there was some sin hidden among us, and although Abbot Martin persistently encouraged us in prayer and humility, lightning struck our library and set it on fire. Brother Silvester saw the glare on the wall of his cell and roused us all with a loud cry. Although the rain came down like rivers from the heavens, we fought the flames far into the night because they were fanned by the wind and fed by the fir resin dripping from the beams. At daybreak, from great fatigue or agitation, and perhaps sorrow he had long borne in his heart, our dear Abbot Martin died, in prayer. His heart broke to see how many books and scrolls had been lost, how much of our labor and that of our predecessors had been irrevocably lost in a short pace of time. We found him slumped at the base of the altar, gripping the small wooden cross on his breast, from which he never parted. It was similar to that over which the blessed Vladimir was slain, and Abbot Martin
1 . A fortified monastery on the Adriatic coast just north of Bar. 11
Milovan Radojević often emphasized Vladimir’s powers when describing his holy deeds in his homilies. 2 We took that night as penitence, but also as an omen of adversity ahead. We began to ask ourselves if we were on the right path, but among the servants of God there is no place for the skepsis that leads to temptation. I felt that the troubles, which had lasted a lifetime in the Kingdom of Dioclea, 3 had now begun to creep into the walls of the Church of the Archangel Michael, where our small brotherhood fulfilled its vows. Stirred by conscience, and at the request of the bravest eminent patricians of the sorely beset city of Svač who remained true to their ancestral name, with no care for their lives, I set about consigning to parchment what I saw and heard, and what had happened in the land of Dioclea in recent decades, above all concerning the fate of that luminary of the Dioclean Church, Dominik, Bishop of Svač 4 —my friend. I dedicate this text to all those who bear the sanctities of Dioclea in their hearts and remember the innocent men who fell at their doors, defending hearth and home against the aggressors, and I bequeath it to my 2. Prince Vladimir, ruler of Dioclea from the late 10th century until 1016, was overthrown by deceit and beheaded by the ruler of the Bulgarian Empire. He was allegedly clutching a cross as he died, and soon afterward he was recognized as a martyr. His cult continues in south-eastern Montenegro to this day. 3. A principality that in the late 12th century roughly encompassed the territories of present-day southern Montenegro. From the middle of the 11th century it was a powerful kingdom that controlled substantial parts of what are now southern Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, southwestern Serbia, Kosovo, and northern Albania. 4. A former town between the Adriatic coast and Lake Skadar, today southern Montenegro. 12
Dominik dear pupil, because I know it will be balm for his soul. O Lord, grant strength to the word and wit of your humble servant Matija so that this endeavor might be fruitful, so that the truth about Bishop Dominik not sink in the darkness of ages.
I first met Dominik, Bishop of Svač, before he was honored with miter and staff, in the time of internal division and general chaos before the last attack of our neighbors on Dioclea. The illustrious Dioclean archbishop Gregory was attempting, with all his might, to preserve the dignity of the cathedra of Bar. We too wished to aid in that just endeavor, because our house of God, along with the fraternal church in Solin, 5 was the first in the whole of Illyria. One spring morning, in the year of our Lord 1178, Abbot Martin called me to his chamber. I was tired because I had stayed up all night with a text, in which I found fascinating words about events in our church in the late ninth century, as well as about its property and assets. When I went up to the Right Reverend to pay homage, I espied Brother Lucian and an unfamiliar friar in a shadowy corner. When subsequently he introduced us, Abbot Martin began to extol the ancient monastery and the Church of Sergius and Bacchus in the bishopric of Skadar, from where this monk by the name of Elia came, and exalted it as the crypt of
5. A town just north of Split.
the Voislavić dynasty, 6 where we had recently buried the earthly remains of King Gradihna. 7
At the discretion of Archbishop Gregory, we were to assemble a delegation from all the bishoprics of the Dioclean Church, to sail as soon as possible to see the Archbishop of Spalata, 8 to reaffirm the alliance with him in our common striving to convince the Pope regarding our old rights, whichwere in jeopardy. And Abbot Martin informed me that I would be part of that delegation, on his decision and at the request of the archbishop himself, since it had become known that I was familiar with the archives and could thus be of use for such an endeavor. As I searched for words to express my gratitude for his trust, Brother Lucian eyed mewith envy. The monk Elia bowed and unrolled a scroll, on which the authorization was written, and I added my signature. There were also those of Gregory’s secretary Maraldus, and canon Dominik, who had gained fame for his fiery sermons. At the beginning of May of that year, I boarded a galley and we set sail on a peaceful sea for the famous city of Spalata, on the central Illyrian coast. Dominik was a man of broad shoulders, high brow, and piercing gaze, and he spoke with us brethren sternly and captivated us with the confidence he radiated. I recall our first, strange conversation, which arose by chance as I stood on deck 6. Voislav (d. 1043) was a Dioclean prince who defeated Byzantine armies in several battles and established an independent kingdom. His successors were known as the Voislavićs. 7. King of Dioclea from 1131–1141 8. Split
Dominik looking out to sea, aside from the other brethren, and he came up to me.
“You’renot hoping toseeProvidence there, areyou, dear brother?” he said.
“Every true Christian hopes the Lord will choose his soul and show him His countenance,” I stammered, caught off guard.
“We believe in Providence, so we won’t be surprised if it happens to one of us, don’t you think?” he continued energetically.
I glanced at Dominik, unsure of what to say. I tensed myself, suppressing my nausea from the rough sea. The open, gentle expression of his face was incongruous with the insistent tone of his voice. He then gave a hearty laugh when he realized my condition. I was amazed by that laughter, and that was my first impression of the man. Justwhenwe hoped thewaveswould subside, because the sunhad lit up the deck, the opposite happened. The clouds gathered and it grew dark again. We were ordered to go down into belly of the ship, where the galley slaves sat in the semidarkness, chained to the oars. We grabbed onto a beam in one corner of the underdeck and began to pray loudly. I had never heard anything like it: we prayed, the galley slaves sang, thunder boomed, crashing waves shook the body of the galley, its treenails creaked, and the roar and rumble was heightened by the rattle of chains, as the whole
ship seemed to come alive. Suddenly a dark-skinned slave fell from his bench. Dominik released the beam we were clinging to and crawled through the swaying space, to the wretch’s aid. He was already dead, however, because the oar, which the raging storm wrested from his grasp, had struck him on the temple. Although the man was not a Christian, Dominik crossed himself while kneeling above himand commended the Moor’s soul to the Lord. The Almighty heard our prayers, the gale died down, and we found ourselves before the island of Vis, whither the violent northeaster had blown us. From there we sailed easily to Spalata, on a calmer sea. Arnir, the Archbishop of Spalata, accorded us a friendlywelcome, and Master Gualterius, canon of Spalata and papal legate, was pleasant and attentive. After Maraldus delivered the letter from Archbishop Gregory and conveyed his greetings and those of the beloved brothers in Christ of the Dioclean Church, Dominik held an address, in which he reiterated the grounds for the efforts of the ecclesiastical province of Bar, in union with the Spalatan cathedra and with the support of the Holy See, to offer resistance to the incursion of the schismatic rite and every heresy, and he also criticized the ambitious endeavors of certain presbyters from Ragusa 9 to usurp the vested rights of the Archbishopric of Dioclea-Bar, after they had misled the Pope about that intention a decade earlier.
After he had respectfully heard out his “dear guests,” as he put it,
9 . Dubrovnik
Dominik Archbishop Arnir presented a letter of greetings, assured us of Pope Alexander III’s great sympathy for the efforts of our church, and concluded his words with a blessing. The Spalatan brethren bestowed us copies of God-pleasing works that had come from Padua. I was delighted that I would be able to add Sic et non by Peter Abelard to the library of Ratac Abbey—a text I would later return to numerous times. As we sailed the calm Adriatic to the coast of Dioclea, we struck up a discussion on theological questions. Dominik spoke about the Schism and downfall, whose seeds had been sown in the Arians’ heretical speeches, and about theGreek CatholicChurch’s opposition to the dogma of the origin of the Holy Ghost, which was a disguise for Constantinople’s efforts to impose a newdogma to justify Byzantine conquests: “Long ago, in the Epanagoge, 10 Patriarch Photios tasked the Byzantine emperor with holding current possessions, returning ones that had been lost, and acquiring territories the empire lacked—and this, imagine, by means of a ‘just war,’ because it was waged, he said, by true Christians,” Dominik exclaimed, animated by the issue. “Nor can we hope for good from Emperor Manuel, 11 because he too, in his campaigns to restore East Roman rule, calls on the Helleno-Romans to fight for the preservation of the true Christian faith. They are schismatics and attach too much importance to mere revelation, and the hatred they stir
10 . A Byzantine law book. 11 . Manuel I Komnenos, Byzantine emperor.
up toward Latin Christians has already proved very costly for the empire. And those hereditary malefactors, who wage war on Dioclea from the hinterland, are schismatics, as you know, and oust the clergy from the lands they subjugate and knock down the churches because they do not believe in the Almighty, and fear of the Lord does not stay their hand.”
Brother Luka from Drivast could not wait any longer and spoke up in his piping voice:
“You harshly judge other brothers in Christ simply because they do not see that the Holy Ghost also came from the Son of God. The Church is one, though on earth it is divided. We are here to cherish the goodness of the soul and strengthen the faith, and divine peace will reign among the people.” I then spoke to provide examples to back up Dominik’s words, and to underline them in a milder tone, since I was moved by their depth of foresight. I felt that his realistic thoughts about the Byzantines, at a time when Dioclea’s Great Prince Mihailo was accepting an alliance with Manuel’s empire, so as to more easily hold his own, cut like the sharpest of swords. A new age of ruin ensued, and Prince Mihailo was in no position to proclaim like his namesake, the mighty Dioclean king Mihail Voislavić (“I, Mihail, prevail, pacify, and rule”). Maraldus came to our aid in the argument, while Lukawas supported by themonk Parthenius of Sardis, and a lively debate ignited, and soon the remaining brethren joined in, on one side or the other. Only Elia from the
Abbey of Sergius and Bacchus held his tongue and blushed at the same time.
It seemed to me that we reached the coast of Dioclea before we had even properly put out to sea and, praise be to God, we eluded pirates and storms. It was onlywhen I was alone again inmy cell, I remember, that I realized howcourageous every one of Dominik’s words had been. In the silence, as I lit the oil lamp, the face of Brother Elia appeared in my mind, with his cunning eyes. Archbishop Gregory presently received the pallium from Pope Alexander, who thus revoked his earlier bull and rectified the injustice to the Dioclean Church. And we gathered at the archbishop’s residence to celebrate that great day.
The Holy Land is overrun by the infidels. Saladin routed the Christians and entered Jerusalem. A new Bernard of Clairvaux emerged to incite to holy war, and crusaders were on the march once more. A Teutonic Order was born, setting itself the goal, like the Hospitallers and Templars, of protecting the grave of Jesus. Emperor Frederick the German 12 and his host drew near the Byzantine Empire the same summer as we were defending the last foot of Voislavić Dioclea.
12 . Frederick I “Barbarossa,” Holy Roman Emperor.
And while that agonizing suspense endured in Bar, Dioclea’s Great PrinceMihailo passed away. Hewent without a singleword, easily, without a moan or murmur. And we, who bore an ember of hope in our hearts for as long as his strugglewith death lasted, felt a fear stronger than sorrow, the fear of being left at the mercy of a galewithout a helmsman, as if he had betrayed us by departing in a crucial moment without leaving a successor. A wail and a dirge went up, and we laid Mihailo beneath a slab of the Church of St. George, with a ceremony that has been practiced at the funerals of kings from time immemorial. His wish remained unfulfilled that he be laid to rest alongside the glorious Voislavić rulers in the Church of the Martyrs Sergius and Bacchus. When the abbey was attacked by the Rascians, 13 they rode up to the altars on horses. And Abbot Isaac died, blessed be his soul, after holding out the cross at the blasphemers and violators, and barring the passage of theirhorses through theportal withhis body. ArchbishopGregory was shaken by Mihailo’s death because it was the last straw amid so much worry and pain, in the state of war, which prevented him from going to Pope Clement and seeking rescindment of the bull that he and the Pope before him had drafted and promulgated upon the persistent solicitation of Tribun, Antistes of Ragusa. In his sermon as the great prince lay in state, the archbishop said: “Thus passes the last Voislavić, grandson of King Vladimir and nephew of great King Bodin, and no one remains of that glorious family, and the people and the Dioclean Church are left without a protector.” 13 . Forces from the Serbian principality of Raška, whose capital was the city of Ras (today southwestern Serbia.
Dominik I had heard long before that there were hidden passageways beneath the city of Bar, which had once been dug and clad with stone, and led beyond the city walls. Amid that siege the cisterns ran dry, and those who kept the secret of those passageways now revealedoneof themto thepopulace, so thepeopleof Barwentout at night and fetched water. The entrance to the other passageway was beneath a slab in the basement of the archbishop’s court. One night we took part of the archives and the royal treasure down there. The plan was that we pile the caskets in a large chamber, from where the passageway continued to below the outskirts. Steep stairs led down through the narrow, arched space. One after another, heavily laden and carrying oil lamps, we trod carefully. But such was his vexation that Brother David suddenly felt unwell, his knees buckled, and he stumbled and fell on top of Brother Cyril, who in turn lurched beneath the weight. But Paul swiftly dropped his casket, braced himself with his hands against the wall, and stopped the two from tumbling further. The lid of the dropped casket broke off, spilling valuables, among them the crown of the Voislavić dynasty, which rolled away, clanging loudly as it struck the steps. We saw this, too, as an omen of a new calamity. After several days had passed, Nekman 14 roused his warriors and attacked before dawn, but the men of Bar were ready and met the first assault. I wanted to see the battle first hand, so I climbed up to the wall. Archers were standing one beside the other in a narrow turret and drawing their bows. The warrior I stood closest 14 . Stefan Nemanja, Serbian Grand Prince of Rascia. Although a Byzantine vassal, he exploited the empire’s weakness and occupied Dioclea.
to, with powerful arms and gray hair, saw me and said, taking no account of my habit:
“What are you doing here unarmed, dear brother? Surely you don’t think prophet Elijah will lend us lightning bolts?”
The ones closest looked around and glanced at me, and a fewgave a smile. I had a word on my lips, but then forgot it: as he turned back round, the gray-haired man was struck in his bare neck by a dart and fell from the wall without a sound. He died as easily as he had called me to the fray. I crossed myself for the souls of these heroes, begged pardon for the gray man’s soul, and grabbed the bow he had dropped. Someone handed me a sword, and I became a warrior again, like the time on the wall of Ratac Abbey. The battle wore on. At one time, God forgive me, I became intoxicated by the fighting. Since the centurions had been killed, the warriors began to listen to me, and then it was reported that the Rascians had almost broken through the lower gates—with almost no one there to drive them back. So I rushed through the general chaos with a company of men to help, but I did not reach the gates in time because the enemy was already in the middle of the city. Promptly I found myself facing a Rascian, who had just slaughtered a child, and yelled as I brought my blade down on his neck:
“Strike them, comrades, be brave!”
Dominik The lads forged ahead with a cry, and I began to pull the dead man’s hands off me, when I saw a woman appear out of nowhere and screambesidea fallenDiocleanwarrior. I felt the strengthebb frommy legs and I leaned my shoulders against the house behind me, and sat down to have a rest. The woman’s wail calling her brother rang like in an empty room and was lost in the rhythmic beating of a drum: “Sweet Nikša, dear brother, oh, what an evil day, answerme, speak to me, my brave hero, tell me you hear your sad sister, oh, woe is me!” The sky reddenedwith theapproachof dusk, and thecold gripped my jaws. I wanted to stand up, but sweet sleep began to take me. A cloud, or Saint George on a white horse, floated above the city, and I opened my mouth to call him, but a darkness quickly gathered. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the flame of an oil lamp and the familiar face of Brother Marko. The shadow of his head danced on the low vault and I realized he was calling me by my name. And then everything I had been through that August day returned to me, and I asked with great effort:
“Is it over?”
“Yes, last night,” Marko answered with a nod, and then I learned that Paul, Jacob, and he had gone in search of me, since I was nowhere to be seen, and had found me in the final hour, sitting and leaning against a wall. “Next to you, in a pool of blood, lay a
Rascian and a child, and there we also came across a woman of Bar lamenting her brother. Orna is her name. We snatched both of you from certain death.” Then Paul and Jacob came up, and the flame of the tallow candle trembled:
“Welcome back to the world of the living. Your wounds do you honor, knight of Dioclea!” Brother Paul spoke solemnly.
I raised myself up a little, every move ached, and in the dark of the space below the archbishop’s court I could make out more people. They were sitting motionless, with their bundles. “We’re waiting for night to go down into the fields,” Marko explained. The brothers tied me to the stretcher and carried me down the steep stairway, which led out of the captured city, to join the refugees. At the height of the battle, when defeat became certain, Great Princess Desislava had gone down through the same passageway, accompanied by the courtiers and faithful lords, as well as Archbishop Gregory and the bishops. Concealed by the first dark and the olive groves, they evaded the Rascian sentries and so came to the shore, at the place where a galley was hidden. The princess and archbishop quietly sailed away to Ragusa on a calm sea; it was only a fewdays before the Feast of the Assumption, and they hoped they would soon return. With themwent the prefects Černeha and Crepun, and the tax collector Grdomil, and all the
courtiers, but the bishops remained behind with the people.
Later I learned that the princess was well received in Ragusa, and that as a sign of gratitude for this hospitality she consigned her galley and barge to the Ragusans so they might make use of them for as long as she was a guest of the city. After the initial forced cordiality, however, Archbishop Gregory could not help but quarrel with the Ragusan pastor, Tribun, who refused to accept him as an equal. So as to avoid any further humiliation, he left the princess and sailed to his home city of Zadar. When I went to Ragusa later, as a member of the delegation from Bar cathedral, I had the opportunity to see the deed concerning consignment of the ships, which the Dioclean great princess signed with the council of the city. She was then no longer there, because the Ragusans did not want to defy the Rascians any longer, so she went to Venice. I copied the deed word for word, and it read: In the name of Christ. In the year of our Lord 1189, in the month of August, on Saint Stephen’s Day, in the city of Ragusa, before the undersigned witnesses, I, Princess Desislava, wife of Great Prince Mihailo, being free and without duress, willingly consignmy galley and barge to the City Council of Ragusa. I determine that these ships, as long as they are in the city, shall be in my possession but at the service of the City Council. Should they be lost by ill chance, I determine that the City Council shall pay me one hundred
perpers. 15 If I leave Ragusa or return to the city, the ships shall go with me, being my property, but if they stand in Ragusa and rot, or anything should happen to them, as mentioned, this shall be to the detriment of the City Council of Ragusa, which shall raise the one hundred perpers to compensate me.”
Given these stipulations, the City Council of Ragusa assembled to the ringing of bells and accepted the ships mentioned.
The following inscribed their names on this certificate: Gregorius Antiuarensis antistes, jupanus 16 Cernecha, Vitalis Bodacie, Dersimirus judex 17 Ragusij, Grosius Goyslaui, Dobroslauus Bodatie, vicarius 18 Michatius, Petrus Bubanne, Dobroslauus Slabbe, Teodorus Caputassi, Duesius Vetrij, Lampridius Mathej, Balotia Beletusi, Pauersenus Pesane, Michatius Furaterre, Berivoj Costinna, jupanus Crepun, casueius 19 Gerdomil, Pelegrinus Sergi, Radouan Neieuerius, Bratoe Techomiric—and myself, Marin, scribe and notary of the City Council, who was among them and recorded this. And may the City Council of Ragusa guard these ships as its own.
15 . A currency. The name comes from the Greek hyperperos (“refined”). 16 . Prefect
17 . Judge 18 . Vicar 19 . Tax Collector
The heat was oppressive that summer. I sat on a carega 20 in the shade of Dominik’s chamber, and we listened to Ioanus, a young priest of pleasant appearance, as he read new lines from the bishop’s biography, in which he praised himself.
“Have I chosen the right words?” he asked abruptly, his face burning with self-satisfaction.
“The right words, yes, but . . .”
“I know what you will say—that there is no ode to the Lord.”
“If we add a little humility to the tale of one’s services to humanity, I would say people will more readily believe it.”
“Thank you for the fine reading, Ioanus,” Dominik told the priest, who bowed and went out. Then he nimbly took a scroll from the table and reached it to me. “This is my last will. I want you to take it, Brother Matija, because I know you will see that it be fulfilled in every detail, as I intended.” While I sat there silently, in surprise, I saw the same light in his eyes as when he held up the chalice toward Šćepan. 21 It seemed to 20 . A type of chair (Venetian). 21 . Šćepan is the Montenegrin form of Stephen. This shady character, from an impoverished patrician family in Svač, abuses his role as court tax collector and attempts to buy himself power and influence.
me that he was trying, with all his being, to dispel the last doubt that set us apart, and I thought this was the moment I had been waiting for, for so many days: “If my life lasts a few days longer—,” I began, accepting the scroll from his hand. “It will, that much is clear!” he interrupted me quietly, in a tone that left no room for doubt.
“None but the Lord can know,” I hurried to add, so hiswordwould not be the last.
“Unroll the will and read it when I am no longer,” he said coldly and turned, as if he had not heard my comment, went to the window, and pushed open the shutters. The sun was sinking into the west and the loud, rhythmic chirruping of cicadas filled the room. He stood staring away into the distance, and I left him again, without us having spoken about anything significant. I was no longer convinced that anything could be returned to the way it had been, and I was overcome by a sinking feeling and painful foreboding. Whispers spread through Svač in the days that followed that none other than the bishop himself had killed Lazar Pervosio. 22 As is often thecase, soon loud accusationswerealsoheard, and Šćepan, who gladly partook in every evil, called the people together and made some of them attest that they had seen the Bishop of Svač
by Lazar’s house that night, with their own eyes: 22 . A usurer in Svač, brother of the abovementioned Šćepan.
“I swear here and now, and may St. John be my witness, that I saw the bishop and two other men near Lazar’s house that night when he was killed, in the hour that the Lord provided for men and beasts for rest!” the priest Grigorius screamed with such force that it seemed he would expend all his vital force. And the crowd howled and called for the bishop’s head. And Dominik? Worthy of his pastoral staff, he held a sermon to repudiate the serious accusation: “And may those among us be damned who would summarily judge their pastor. May the Lord make their tongues wither for so readily speaking falsehoods. I expel the priest Grigorius from the church, and there shall be no return for him!” Once, as Dominik was returning to his court, he was surrounded and set upon by a group of men armed with cudgels. He defended himself bravely, but took many blows and fell. The Almighty, however, did not allow him to come to such a wretched end in his own Svač, because a groupof monks happened to come along and the aggressors ran off through the gateway. The brethren obeyed his request and carried him to the secret room under the roof of his residence, and he sent the priest Ioanus for me. The stairs leading to that attic were concealed by an architectural contrivance. I went up and found him lying on a narrow bed. The oil lamp above his head feebly dispersed the darkness, but still, when I approached, I could see he was pale, with contusions on
his arms and face. He was racked by pain, yet he smiled when he saw me. He was holding the same cross on his chest, and he looked at me with tired eyes. “My body is still alive, as you see, so you don’t have to touch that scroll,” he uttered quietly. I placed my hand on his, old and vein- mottled, and felt a fear of the emptiness if he should depart. “I’ll survive just to spite them, and I want to live some more . . . Do you know—,” he whispered with great effort, “do you know who is to blame for Dioclea falling to its knees and for all the suffering beyond description?” The priest Theodor brought up a pot of hot milk for him to drink, but he refused, and I heard his whisper again: “Bodin, 23 the great king who lies beneath the slab of the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus—may the earth cast out his bones. That wretch who could not resist the honey-sweet voice from the conjugal bed and attacked his own kin 24 sowed eternal ruin among the Diocleans,” and Dominik raised his eyes to the crucifix above the bed. And he pulled me by the arm for me to come closer again: “If I survive, and I want to and have to—guess what, apart from stubbornness, will keep me alive?” “Compresses and prayers heal bruises, and spiritual nourishment is balm for the soul,” I heard my own voice, and he smiled and pushed away my hand.
23 . Dioclean king, ruled 1082–1108. 24 . King Bodin married Jaquinta, daughter of the Norman governor of Bari. She persuaded him to kill his relatives who might later pretend to the throne, and this contributed to decades of civil strife in Dioclea.
Dominik “If you know a good healer and have faith in him, have him come. All the ones here seem to be in league with Šćepan, and I think they would rather pour poison in my mouth,” he added quietly, his eyelids shut, and soon I heard his even breathing. While Dominik lay bedfast, a revolt broke out, and some men of Svač, protected by Šćepan’s guards, under the pretense of searching for Lazar’s casket of gold, broke into the bishop’s court and made off with all that they could carry and seemed to them to be of any worth. “Let them, let the devils take everything from the house of the Lord,” he spoke. “The main thing is that the texts are here. They hope to kill me, but the rogues do not know that I will live on in these words,“ and he caressed the scrolls he held in his arms, like a mother holds her child.” The men of Svač who were with Dominik, mostly all patricians, began to gather to decide what to do, while the others, among them ruffians, impoverished former nobles, and apostate clergy, slandered the bishop at every opportunity and threatened to stone him. No sooner had Dominik risen fromhis bed, thanArchbishop Ivan himself came from Bar to examine what was happening and to take measures to preserve the standing of the Dioclean Church. The people greeted him warmly, and immediately afterward King Vukan 25 also arrived and was welcomed with great joy and 25 . Son of Stefan Nemanja (“Nekman”). His father made him king of occupied Dioclea
ceremony. Then a rally of the people and the clergy was held in Svač, and the bishop appeared together with the archbishop, in full regalia, and the king bowed to him and took him under his shield. A letter was read out, which Vukan had addressed to the new Pope, Innocent III, in which he recommended himself and beseeched the Holy See to send legates, who would affirm the people in the Catholic faith, because he himself “wanted to love and respect the Roman See as his own mother and submit to its orders,” and also requested that it confirm Ivanas archbishopwith the pallium, so that, “as God-ordained and legitimate archbishop hewould be inaposition toreformtheDiocleanChurchand expel from it every heresy and misrule, the way the blessed Apostles defined it and the chapters of the Lateran Council prescribe.” And the king and archbishop with equally sharp words condemned those who had blasphemously laid violent hands on the bishop, and it was promised that a synod of the whole Dioclean Church, which would “certainly be arranged soon,” would discuss the events in Svač. All this time, Dominik was pale. The patricians of Svač, who until then had received Nekman’s son with suspicion, deigned to favor him when they saw him place the bishop under his shield. Šćepan’smen reined their hatred, soVukan could again take credit as a conciliator. The fall was mild and rainy. In accordance with the archbishop’s wishes, I remained in Svač. When the mentioned rally was over, Dominik changed abruptly again. He would be silent all day, and when he did speak his thoughts were scattered, as if he was far away fromeverything, and he plodded through his pastoral duties in 1195
Dominik apathetically. We could no longer hear his fiery sermons, and he isolated himself, not wanting to mix with anyone or even speak with me. And I, the Lord forgive me, backed away with relief. Our ever rarer encounters did not give me the same satisfaction as before. There was no longer that tingling uncertainty evoked by his ebullient mind and tempestuous nature. Toward off loneliness, I soon found myself going down to the lake below the city with the Svač brethren. I loved the clear mornings when our oars cut the smooth surface of the water and the deep laughter of Evander, who enjoyed the fishing and joked about taciturn, good-natured Brother Nemesius—whenever he caught a fish, it would slip out of his hands again. Those days I pushed away the memories of rivers of blood, imperceptibly I became ever surer of salvation, and I began to hope, but before I could hope for long I collided with—Dominik! One evening, as I was preparing for my repose, Dominik hammered with his fist on the door of my cell. He was furious. At the very threshold he grabbed me and shoved me away, such that I crashed into the wall with my back, knocked over the oil lamp, and we were in the dark.
“Give me back my will, you worthless creature!”
His labored breathing filled the room, and it seemed to me to last an eternity. I said nothing. He fell to his knees beside me and began to sob. I felt as if I had died and was lying on my bier,
burdened with guilt and sin. My throat seized and a nausea came from all I had experienced. I felt the weight of the futile battles—all the death and destruction—which continued there in the silence. He was not allowing me to be born again through oblivion. But perhaps that new birth would be a death before death? If it had not been for that night, I would not have written these words about Dominik. In the dark that concealed out faces, he revealed to me that it was the priest Theodor, his loyal right hand, who had killed Lazar Pervosio. “My body is still alive, as you see, so you don’t have to touch that scroll,” he uttered quietly. I placed my hand on his, old and vein- mottled, and felt a fear of the emptiness if he should depart. “Had I not given Theodor my solemn word that I would ordain himas priest and free himof sin before thealtar, and had I not sent him there to do the deed, Pervosio’s conspiracy would have borne fruit and the poison would have been in my mouth. Lazar had engaged a poisoner to concoct a lethal dose and was searching for one among the monks who would willingly break his vows and accept gold to smuggle poison beneath this holy roof. Brother Ioanus brought me word of their plan after a relative, who serves Šćepan, accidentally misspoke.” “W-w-why?!” I stuttered, stunned by this sudden admission, and crossed myself.
Dominik As I listened to these words, it seemed to me as if I too was becoming a murderer, and that it was my hand, too, that slashed the blade across Lazar’s throat. I began to feel around me to find the oil lamp, and then the light revealed our faces.
“I see sorrow in your eyes,” Dominik almost yelled.
“Yes, yes, from fatigue . . . Do you remember what I asked you recently about love?”
“Tobesure: hewhotastesearthly love, loves theLordmoredeeply,” and he gave a bitter smile and got up to go. “Do not believe what you heard tonight from my mouth, Brother Matija, because, as you said, fatigue troubles the soul, and I amweary of this country and this people.”
Lena Ruth Stefanović
Lena Ruth Ste fanović
“What remains when a poet dies? What happens with his verses?
May they be left to us, The miracle survivors?”
Four Poems by Lena Ruth Stefanović Translated fromMontenegrin by the author
Excuse me, I think I am dying
Two years ago I passed away No, really I haven’t written about it Which is unusual Given that I write about almost everything First you don’t understand Then you get it, you are looking into Death’s eyes None of you is blinking Death had found me at a birthday party I was wearing a lace dress And I laughed a lot At the ER there was a queue I approached the room for exams and said: “Excuse me, I think I am dying…” In a wheel chair They transported me to the emergency vehicle Blue lights flashing on the top of it And we took off towards the Urgent Care Center Some other doctors examined me there
Then I fainted Next thing I remember Is watching from somewhere above With birds’ eye view 39
Lena Ruth Stefanović I see myself on the narrow hospital bed And I think to myself ‘Kay, that’s over too I’m sad I hadn’t published my novel …
Then plenty of medical personnel came in They ran while pushing the bed with me on it down a long corridor to some unknown destination later on it would turn out that it was then my heart had stopped as soon as I was released from intensive care like everyone else, the first thing I did was to post a hospital selfie on facebook.
Never Talk with Strangers
Satan, Jesus, Stalin, Pontius Pilate as essential ingredients a great Artist and the woman who loves him assorted literary critics in 1930s Moscow, poet’s bitter road to truth, demonic henchmen (including a big black cat) Muscovites are obsessed with espionage: the enemy is scattered around the country Their only desire is to bring «mischief and harm» Talking to strangers is dangerous They are of «the breed of the unknown ».
The literary authority Berlioz and young poet Bezdomny debate on a bench at the Patriarch’s Ponds subject is the existence of Jesus when a third man joins the discussion he introduces himself as professor Woland Berlioz will be decapitated that very day, he predicts, by a Russian woman,
a member of the Komsomol and it was inevitable, because “Annushka has already bought the sunflower oil,
Lena Ruth Stefanović
and has not only bought it, but has already spilled it 1 .” According to the legend, they sat on the third bench from the left – it’s this yellow bench on which I am currently sitting, close to the mythical Tverskaya Street “Who are YOU then”, you ask I whisper: I am a stranger in a strange land,
“I am part of that power which eternally wills evil and eternally works good.” 2
1 . Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita 2 . The epigraph, from the Faust’s Study, 1st part of part of Faust, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 42
In Memoriam Aleš Debeljak
What remains when a poet dies? What happens with his verses? May they be left to us, The miracle survivors? What remains when the poet leaves? He wrote about The ancient sun of Altamira, Broken telescopes, And the heavy scent of acacia in one verse Made of patchouli and Turkish carpets Dedicated to nameless Sleepless Us Only he could put motorcycling into verse And make Ludvik Starich immortal Once upon a time in America Once upon a time in Ljubljana At the Komuna movie theater At Cankarjeva street ... Once upon a time in Podgorica ... Shivering skin and The countless stars on your window In the poem dedicated to Simona He had said that when the air is cold
He expects inaccuracy Tonight the air is warm Tonight we are quivering
While we are remembering Alesh There can be no mistakes tonight
Lena Ruth Stefanović
Salty water is burning my skin I swim at random Here, near me, I hear dolphins,
the galleon’s eye is watching me
blind for the pain of the rowers
it does not see dolphins
indifferent, albeit enlightened (the eye of the galleon) or it is precisely because of it
it is there against the curses so the Argonauts wouldn’t become bewitched
minding my own business, as they say in this night in which I can’t sleep I am the sea I am a dolphin And I am the eye of the galleon
Borislav Pekic 3 sits on the edge of my bed he is smoking
3 . Borislav Pekić (pronounced [bǒrislaʋ pěkit ɕ] 1930- 1992) , Yugoslav writer and political activist, born to a prominent family in Montenegro. He left a vast corpus of complex narrative structures. “The Golden Fleece” crosses the genre of post-modern novel and is best described by the author’s sub-title “Phantasmagoria” (the work is more than 3,500 pages long). 44
he ashes his cigarette in the plastic ashtray snatched long ago from a club in Halkidiki on the ashtray there’s the club’s name - it’s called ARGO “Synchronicity?” I am asking him “a causal connection between the events?”
“Lol, no” He says “it’s merely a phantasmagoria.”
Dreamy me recalls the first constructed ship in its prow – a talking piece of sacred timber renders prophecies I remember Greek heroes Jason, Heracles, the Dioscuri and Orpheus…
The all-seeing eye And search for the golden fleece
My mouth is dry I feel my heart pounding What’s Borislav Pekic doing in my dream?!
He acts as if that’s totally ok I mean, you know
Lena Ruth Stefanović
Genius dead writer In my bedroom I know what he is going to say, don’t ask me how, I simply do “…In vulgar dictatorships, it is obvious, best survive those who least deserve it … Between those in power and the people is fear regulating loyalty” [Marginalije i moralije, deo CCXXXXI; Službeni glasnik, 2014].
“No”, he repeats and starts laughing,
“It’s that you left your umbrella at my house…”
I get up early I run to the crossroad of the streets of Freedom and Gold sellers The two streets cross each other in the heart of my city Freedom and Gold, two paradigms Antonyms or not, antitheses … Depends whom you ask
Officially, the street of Gold merchants is named after Duke Miljan Vukov 4 ,
You must admit it’s another discourse Breathing heavily I arrive to the house where Pekic used to live It’s a coffee shop now (what else?)
It smells of baked pastry and freshly brewed coffee
4 . Duke Miljan Vukov Vešović (1820-1886), Duke of the Vasojevići tribe, a historic Montenegrin Highland tribe and a territorial unit in northeaster of the country 46
Podgorica is waking up metal gates on the jewelry shops raise with the creak in Sloboda Street there is a traffic jam smiling waiter is approaching me, he says
“Last night you left your umbrella here”
- And what about a galleon? What about Borislav Pekic?!
- What ?!
I look up
Towards the sky above Podgorica
I taste infinity in my mouth
And it’s as if I am seeing the constellation Argo Navis
And a shiny white star The cosmic lighthouse the eternal landmark for the lost poets’ souls
Catherine the Great and the Small
“In this city of dreams, I’m not seeking adventure, I’m not on the lookout for soulmates.”
Catherine the Great and the Small (novel excerpt) by Olja Knežević Translated fromMontenegrin by Ellen Elias-Bursac and Paula Gordon PROLOGUE We have proclaimed this small room an office. English people call a room of this size a broom closet. The English people, my husband and I maintain, are spoiled, even poor English people. That’s our attitude all year long right up to Christmas, when the bittercold sets in. Thenwemarvel at themrunning around town in the howling wind, going about their business as usual, bald men without hats, women wearing ballet flats without socks, everyone sleeveless, and again we remember where we’ve come from: a small Mediterranean countrywhere as soon as the north wind blows, no one goes outside, where everyone skips out of work early—noon at the latest—with the excuse of attending funerals and paying condolence visits. My husband says we should build a new life out of the contradictionsofourpersonaloriginsandmindsets.Weshouldn’t be do-nothings or cry-babies. I agree, even though I have begun to hold plates as if they were butterfly wings, pinched between my thumb and two fingers. Every weekend, at least one slips from my fingertips, numb from poor circulation, and shatters. Most often a dinner plate. Weekends are an accumulation of 51 I am Catherine the Great, holed up in a small room. The small room has become a workroom.
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