4 Poems by Maja Haderlap, translated by Deirdre McMahon

Poems by Maja Haderlap
From langer transit (Wallstein, 2014)
Translated by Deirdre McMahon

dreaming language

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

are questioned.

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.

Poet Biography

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.

About the contributor

After a career as a primary teacher in Ireland Deirdre McMahon completed a M.A. in literary translation and writing. She is particularly interested in poetry and children’s literature and writes an occasional piece herself. She is also interested in writers who write in a second or subsequent language.

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