Pavle Radonic  ~ The Hearth

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.


The Hearth

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—