‘Fear of Language’ – a Katja Perat poem translated

 
 

Nicoletta Asciuto writes: Katja Perat is a contemporary Slovenian poet and novelist. Her first poetry collection, Najboljši so padli (The Best Have Fallen), was published by Beletrina (Ljubljana) in 2011 and received the Best Debut Award and Best Book of the Year from the Slovenian Literary Critics Association. Perat is also the author of another collection of poetry, Davek na dodano vrednost (Value-Added Tax, 2014) and a novel, Mazohistka (2018), published in English by Istros Books (2020, translated by Michael Biggins).

 

Perat’s voice in her first collection is often witty and humorous. ‘Strah pred jezikom’, which I have translated, is an ironic take on the classic amorous rendezvous. In Slovenian, ‘jezik’ means both ‘language’ and ‘tongue’, thus creating an ambiguity in the title, first and final line, which is partly lost in English. 

 


 

    Strah pred jezikom

 

Vse je jezik,
Rečeš,
In mizo med nama zasedejo
Misli, ki ostajajo na koncu stavkov.
Obrazi južnoameriških starešin
S platna na steni
Bdijo nad nama.
In so tiho.
Po toplem in suhem diši
In po sadju,
Ki polni ladjevja srebrnih pladnjev.
Kar rečem,
Je več kot beseda
In manj, kot sem jaz.
Rolete so spuščene,
Življenje z druge strani okna
Je tiho.
Še ta kozarec medu spijem,
Preden te poljubim;
Nobene besede več.
Jezik je tvoj zaveznik.

 
 
 

    Fear of Language

 

It’s all language,
You say,
And thoughts loiter at the end of sentences
Occupying the table between us two.
Faces of South American elders
From the canvas on the wall
Keep an eye on the two of us.
And they are silent.
It smells of warm and dry
And of fruit,
Which fills the fleets of silver trays.
What I say
Is more than a word
And less than me.
The blinds are down,
On the other side of the window life
Is silent.
I only have this jar of honey to drink up
Before I kiss you;
No more words.
Your tongue is your ally.

 
 

Nicoletta Asciuto

About Nicoletta Asciuto

Nicoletta Asciuto is Lecturer in Modern literature at the University of York, where she teaches and researches comparative modernism, twentieth-century poetry, and translation. She has published translations from Spanish and Italian into English, and her latest translation of Natalia Ginzburg’s essay ‘On Women’ came out in The Fortnightly Review in 2020. (Image © Suzy Harrison)