Poems by Maja Haderlap
From langer transit (Wallstein, 2014)
Translated by Deirdre McMahon
my little language dreams up
a land where she can build word nests
that fan out over borders
not her own. She wants
to grow outwards, to expand,
to glide through faraway
avenues of water and air,
to dive into hot subterranean springs,
to have a frame for every picture
she wants her doubtful shadow
to settle in people
like shimmering word-beings,
laying larvae in the pores of their skin.
my language wants to be great and free.
to leave her anxieties behind,
the fears that take her over,
all those dark and light stories
in which her worth and weight
only in her dreams can she
raise herself up, feathery and light
above her place, almost like a song.
is there a dark zone between all languages,
a black river, taking words and stories and transforming them?
this is where sentences must strip off,
go with the flow, learn to swim,
without losing their memories,
secret kernels, nestled in their bodies.
will columbine blue turn violet
when it reaches the other side?
will red bergamot go pearshaped
or smell sweetly of cinnamon?
will my tench lose a fin
in the light of the new language?
will it have to learn to crawl?
or stand on its own two feet?
can one language embrace another?
or does it simply spurn it?
can every word risk the crossing?
believing itself invincible,
steeled by dark immersion?
ljubljanica river of memory
bent over the indolent river
familiar with the legends
of the trio of mountains, bridges
and lime trees, practised in
researching every tender lament
looking to the riverbed,
do you seek out your slovenian face,
searching for the sole true story,
whilst the water vanishes underground,
changes its name, its direction, its banks,
draws heavily on its lances, fables and axes.
inextricably the nightmare
of past bloodbaths
hangs in the river trough.
worn coins and shattered fragments
drive solemn promises and prayers
in the runoff.
in the search for you, you notice the other
contorted and ambiguous
on the upward incline.
on the shores of the new land you will
lay aside your mother-tongue. clouds
drawing over you will be echoes of words
you once spoke. now they are silent. long after you
the airknights of your imaginings
will meet, love, worries, reconciliation
as strange as those giants of la mancha.
the house you once lived in
is a rough-timbered frame made of smoke.
it hovers above, insubstantial as you are
washed up on the coast, an old comb
a wrong sock for the right shoe
the scrumpled horizon clutched in your hand
an island of garish paper.
Born in 1961, Maja Haderlap grew up in rural Eisenkappel-Vellach (called Želena Kapla-Bela in Slovene) in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia close to the present-day border with Slovenia. Her family is part of the minority Austrian Slovene-speaking community. Haderlap learned the German language at school and went on to study Theatre and German Literature at the University of Vienna. She has worked as an academic at the University of Klagenfurt as well as in the theatre in Klagenfurt. Her first novel, Engel des Vergessens (Angel of Oblivion), was published in 2011. She has won numerous awards including the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.