The Hearth (Montenegro)
The fucking of the sun had always irritated and wounded Bab. It was uncouth and seemed to her to be as unholy as the fucking of God, Jesus and even worse, the mother. The worst her father had ever cursed was the fucking of the goat.
Our house guest at one point, Slavisa the Southern Serb from down in Nis, a master of obscenities, though rarely very much employing them himself, had been amused during his stay by this choice of the sun.
In the case of his elder brother, Slavisa reported, it had been only bread he cursed, never anything more. Which in fact recalled the bar-room brawler Stojan, the Bosnian boarder of earlier years. Another brilliant raconteur, though not in Slavo’s class: Hleb ti jebem. (I) fuck your bread.
Others of course fucked the father, sister, breast (both genders) and the behind.
In Southern Serbia, at least in Slavo’s circle, they also gravitated toward the elbow—the crook it must have been—and of course the mouth, which seemed not to be employed at all in Montenegro.
One of Bab’s most precious endearments had used the figure of the sun. This had emerged in the latter years of her caring, which had possibly surprised the old duck; her kind of loving and care had not really expected return in same.
Sunse moje ogrijano. My radiant sun. Long vowels in the Serbo-Croat.
“Others revere the sun, yet you curse it,” she grievously complained more than once.
Once at the laundry trough, again in the last years and under her breath, when something was not coming out right, Bab had astonished by cussing the mother.
Jebem ti majku. Fuck your mother.
Whoa! Strangely, at that hearing there was something like disappointment felt.
Gore visoko, dolje tvrdo
Above high, below hard
(The earthly predicament.)
Sto se mora nije ni tesko
What is necessary cannot be difficult
(Related: Umrijet se mora; Dying is necessary.)
Sto si se namrstio ko prase na korito
Why the face like swine at its trough.
(Finally on the Equator The Analects had demanded to be read, where one found Confucius reminding of the importance of maintaining a benign aspect. There was an undoing of self otherwise.)
Da ti nije nosa travu bi paso
Were it not for your nose you’d be cropping the grass
(Belittlement, mostly playful, though offense might be taken at it too.)
U zlo nemoj se ponizit, niti u dobro dicit
Unbowed in ill, nor crowing in good
Sjetit ces se ko stari konj majke
You’ll recall (yourself) like an old horse its mother
(To one given to anger)
Nesmije se tebi nista rjec
One cannot venture anything with you
Mici mi se s’oci
Remove yourself from my sight
(Doubtful even a volcanic father like Granddad Rade ever directed such at any of his children. A common expression in the Montenegrin karst.)
Ko tebe kamenjama, ti njega hlebom
To him throwing stones return bread
(Up in the village Granddad had done a year or two of study with a priest, before his father died early and thoughts of the priesthood had to be abandoned.)
(In hardship when rescue comes from a willing hand)
Nadje se covjeh
A (true) man is found
(Related: Netrazi se prijatelj u zlu; A friend is not sought in hardship.)
Sazalit kao pomoc
Sympathizing (is) like aiding
Nije svako zlo za zlo
Not all ill ends in ill
Pogledaj sebe prvo / u ogledalo
Examine yourself first / in the mirror
After almost six years in SE Asia one was drifting further and further away, the tongue-twisting more and more pronounced. (Lomit ljezik, in Serbo-Croat—breaking of tongue.)
As hoped, however, once the recovery began, over the next few days more of the cavernous voices returned.
Kapu studenog kamenja
A cap of cold stone
(Proverbially for hollow attainment. A cap might otherwise be filled with vegetables, wild fruits or berries)
O cega se pametan stidi budala se ponosi
What shames a wise man the fool claims for honour
(Counter & defensive case: Sramota se rodila pre mene / Shame was born prior to myself.)
Zlatna rjec carska vrata otvara
Golden words a Tzar’s door open
Ako sam reko, njesam te posjeko
If such I spoke, I didn’t knife-poke
(Disarming after offense had been taken too easily: posjeko—to cut)
Ja cu tebe Vojvodo, a ti mene Serdare (a obojica znamo kakva smo govna)
You salute Lord and I will return you Commander (we know ourselves what turds we be).
(Big-noting and lordliness, with private and frank acknowledgement understood.
The proud Montenegrin does not come second in any measure; rather Do prvoga, “Beside the first.”)
Sunce moje; Ogledalo moje; Hranitelju; Roditelju moj
My sun; Mirror mine; Provider; Parent mine.
(Oddly the last for a Montenegrin mother’s endearments. In the house up at Bijela in aged Uncle Petar’s last months he could be heard in his room calling, Majko moja; Mother mine)
Niko sretan; niko zadovoljan
None fortunate; none satisfied
(The Ancient Greek epics had their counterpart in the Montenegrin gusle songs that Goethe had esteemed.)
….Then two more later still arriving that were as relevant on the Equator as anywhere else:
O sirotinjo! I Bogu si teska!
Oh Poor! even unto God you are burdensome!
(The hardship was extreme up in the karst.)
And the counter was important:
Da nije sirotinje nebi ni sunce grijalo
Were it not for the poor neither would the sun shine
(The accusation of ignominy could not be left to stand.)
Australian by birth and Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years living in SE Asia has provided unexpected stimulus. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, including Ambit, Panoply, Citron Review, The Blue Nib, Ginosko and New World Writing. A mountainous blog holding mainly the Asian work is here— http://axialmelbourne.blogspot.com/