Photo by Jože Suhadolnik


Essay on Slovenian poetry


Slovenian Feature


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Protuberances: A Chapbook

Aleš Šteger

By Aleš Šteger


Last night I was awakened by the oaks in the yard.
Out there, in their crowns, I could once again hear
My inner world rustle.

It was a miraculous inversion of perspectives,
As if you suddenly sharpened the rusty objective.
What for a long time lay indiscernible in the depth,
Came to the surface. And became the surface.

In the morning, I opened the door and sunk
Ankle-deep into dark fallen leaves.
I opened them slightly and stepped through two doors.
Through the first one into my world which is,
And through the second same door into my world which isn't.

Translated by Janko Lozar


Even now you're peddling the story that the Turks'
Dismantling their tents at the gates of Vienna was just a ruse.
That in the clothing of shish-kebab vendors
They're only biding their time for the right moment
To leap out of the kiosks and slice your gizzard,

Though your tribes are lost forever
In the swamps of your barbaric designs
And you yourself can no longer 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 that only the death of your sons makes you young again.

You still think you'll fool us all.
Closing my tired eyes, I see you appear
In the image of a fat, hairy woman giving birth while snoring,
And a man, who in the dark beside her secretly masturbates,
Fantasizing about America.

Translated by Tom Ložar

One And A Half

I have not spoken for a long time. Everything falls through me
without a reaction, without leaving a trail. In the evening
my tongue is my clothes you pin to the balcony line.
The shirt which once embraced me, my socks
with their bite marks still visible around my ankles— empty
like the missing footstep in the flutter of my pants.

I have not spoken for a long time, and together with my tongue
love has moved away also. The name of your hands.
Hands tracing the gleam on your brow,
straightening the locks of your hair, removing
a clothespin from your mouth and one more time pinning me down.
I hang in front of myself spread out as absence.
You are the cloud whose glowing insides
pass silently through clothes.

Translated by Peter Richards


Dumb explosions of ions. Suspense of energy in a symbol.
Anti-gravity. Dance of magnetism in bony bumps.
With the naked eye one sees only
When the body is squeezed into darkness
When it is screened and helpless,
Totally handed over, as when a patient's body is handed over
To the indifferent hands of technicians who have just
Closed the door the x-ray cabinet behind them.
They leave him with himself and the machine.
The rubber apron weighing down upon his chest.
A flash. Perhaps fateful.
For no good reason, 93 million miles away,
In the Sun's chromosphere,
Masses of white-hot gas are moving.
They pull away and race off into the universe at great speed.
A ray. Hardly perceptible.
Be the verbal wavelength of the light rays
That travel through memories and flesh.
Recording the wounds
You can cure those crippled by this world.

Translated by Andrew Wachtel

To You

Here, have a condom. You pretend you don't like it,
But in fact you need it. Take it. So.
Now read the instructions on the silvery surface of the cover.
You don't understand this language, but you like it because you know
That the message is meant for you.
Who knows, maybe it even speaks of you
Or someone may have written it with you in mind.
Open it. Without false modesty. It's yours
And you can do with it what you like. So.
Now press it to your mouth. No, no, you heard right,
To your mouth. If you find it difficult,
Close your eyes and imagine
That you're holding a piece of scented silk
Or a marguerite that you wish to kiss.
And now: blow. Yes, blow. Slowly, wait for the breath
To sweep all the rubbish out of you. Yes, It's getting bigger already.
Blow harder. Can you see how big it's getting?
Do you like it? Enough now. It could fill out
The entire room, press you against the wall
And crush you. Enough, I say. It's time
For you to tie it. Sooooo. Now it's really
Only yours and you can do with it what you like.
Aaaah, I see that you've taken a red lipstick
And started to draw on it. You've drawn a spot.
And another. And underneath a laughing line.
I understand: you would like to draw me
And thus become my master, but you haven't really
Got me right and now you're angry. You're mad.
But — what's this? It seems that behind my smile,
Where there is nothing except the air you breathed out,
There is something. You know that's not possible, but
The feeling won't leave you. On the contrary:
You grow increasingly restless. You feel
As if you were getting lost in a dark forest
Or as if you couldn't move your limbs any more.
You hate yourself when you're like this, so you press your ear
Against the mouth you drew, and listen intently.
The breath which earlier you expended so gladly, suddenly stops.
Horrified, you listen again. Now there is no
Doubt any more. In the emptiness of the condom
There is someone, and you know bloody well that
Only God can be where there is no one.
Astonished, you move away, for you never expected,
Let alone envisaged anything like it, and only now
Do you become really mad. More: mad with fear,
For you're no longer sure that in a moment,
When you produce a razor blade and slowly and deeply
Cut into me, I really will disappear forever.

Translated by Evald Flisar


You have remained empty-handed and you have a walnut in your hands.
At first you squeeze it and hide it like some magic,
But then everything squeezes you and you know that you must
React and kill the magician to survive.
In the middle of the walnut there is a kernel, but you don't care about it,
You need the solution which is inscribed on the inside of the shell.
The agony is too great, so you squeeze the empty fist and break the walnut.
It grows silent, the broken signs become incomprehensible
And the answer sphinx-like, but through the gaps you climb inside
And eat the kernel. So you make room for yourself. So you become the kernel.
And the kernel becomes You. You squats and waits
For the shell to grow around it. Like some kind of fetus
He squats and waits while in the walnut there is less and less light,
And fewer and fewer wounds. Slowly You can begin to read the signs
And the signs are more and more whole.
You reads aloud, but when he reaches the end
The shell grows complete and night falls around You. Caught in the dark,
You hears how a white rabbit with murderous teeth jumps out of a hat
And stops in front of the walnut, looking at it intently.

Translated by Evald Flisar

Coming Home

On the winding stairway,
Around the pots with their wilted flowers,
Rust blossoms.

Suitcases, full of dirty laundry
And old questions, make me stagger,
Mover of unrest from doorstep to doorstep.

The last four hundred kilometers we were silent.
But can our silence outlast
The silence of arrival?

The look on the face in the bathroom mirror,
From which I fled such distances,
Did not, not even for a moment, let me out of its sight.

Translated by Tom Ložar

The Romantic and the Realistic 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


The meteorologists will not tell you
Snow has buried the forests,
But the fire in the ceramic stove remembers:
I was hugging bark while the oak stand stood.

Felled now, sawn, stacked in piles —
For the last time, there you were taking me
Into the smoldering wound between your legs.
You knew, didn't you, I'd consented to clear-cutting.

The hand follows the poker into the stove and the fire knows
The forged hook will leave no traces
On its flames.
But you and me: our every touch, recorded forever on the hand.

It took years and years to finally burn you down,
It took until today, and the snow snowing in the house.

And nobody, not even the gentlemen
Grinning, embarrassed, under their cyclone charts,
Knew how to say that in the midst of deepest winter even
We touch each other with our burns.

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 ax 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 tire-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

* * *

Notes for Steger's poems:

“Sandwerder”: The title is the name of a street in Berlin where the Literary Colloquium is located. The German dramatist and novelist, Heinrich von Kleist, committed suicide on this street in 1811.