Andrea Jurjević translating Olja Savičević Ivančević

"My Mother's Body;" "Woman and Blood"



A child is not fair, a child remembers what her body took: a kiss withdrawn in anger and when she, lightly but firmly, kicks me under the dress. Later, I remember what I gave, the deliberate sprinting into her body and big warm hugs. Her body is a string, and it’s ready to retreat. Soft on the outside, cuttlefish and cuttlefish bone; inside it is broken, bone by bone.

I touch Mom with my forehead and cheeks: her sinewy existence, thin vigor. Motherhood is self-explanatory and useless like fireworks; bowls and blades, breasts too large for such a skinny body and big white teeth meant for a big smile. The thin body of my mother is bent like a question mark, a collateral victim. On the inside, she is powder, ash and blizzard.

She loses bony combs deep inside my hair, and says: where did I leave my fingers. Puts hands on my head, her head on my hands. That’s it, that’s it. That's how a girl cared for by good nurses smells.




I watched the women in the hospital, they waited in the hallway, and under their flannel gowns blood dripped onto the tiles.

On the bedroom wall a poster of Jesus Christ used to hang. One said: What’s he doing here, what does he know?

Her stomach smiled at her like a snowman and it stayed that way for a long while, and the child died.

Still the rest of us, women from the hallway and the room, gave birth to death.

Most of the time I don’t want to think about things that happened when I was helpless and angry, full of blood.

Because maybe it’s unfair that I think I gave birth to you three times, yet I brought you into this world once.

When you play beside me on the shore in the early spring, I imagine your sisters: I never caress them and they cry.

Translator's Note

Olja Savičević Ivančević, born in 1974 in Croatia, is one of Croatia's most energetic and prolific literary voices. She received her first literary award as a 12-year-old after publishing her first story collection. Two years later she published her first poetry collection. She also often collaborates with theatres, and her stories have been adopted for stage. Her artistic versatility is admirable, but what is even more captivating is Olja’s brand of understated brilliance.

She has an uncanny knack for characterization—her characters are often disillusioned dreamers, truth-facing oddballs, subversive survivors, likeable antiheros. Her commentary, both in poetry and in prose, is subtle yet piercing, and always socially and politically engaged. Her casual use of the regional (Dalmatian) vernacular, the delightful ‘crookedness’ of her syntax, and her precise word choices are rich with beauty and individuality. I love how that variety of sounds and flavors yields a certain tension in translation.

The poems included here—“My Mother’s Body” and “Woman and Blood”—are from Mamasafari (2012), a collection of prose poems Olja Savičević Ivančević wrote during her visit to Istanbul. The book is a Turkish travelogue of sorts, but it is also an expedition that explores the various roles of a woman—mother, child, lover, friend, wife, etc. Olja often does this with the focus on the body, as if what time does to a woman’s body can be read as some kind of travel map. The two selected poems specifically examine the simultaneous fragility and the strength of a female body.

Andrea Jurjević

Andrea Jurjević is a native of Croatia. Her first poetry collection, Small Crimes, won the 2015 Philip Levine Prize and will be coming out from Anhinga Press. Her poems appear widely in journals such as Epoch, TriQuarterly, Raleigh Review, The Missouri Review, and her translations of contemporary Croatian poetry in Gulf Coast, Lunch Ticket, and Berkeley Poetry Review. She is the recipient of the 2013 Robinson Jeffers Tor Prize, the 2015 RHINO Translation Prize, and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

Olja Savičević Ivančević

Olja Savičević Ivančević is a Croatian author whose work has been translated into German, Czech, Italian, Spanish, French, Macedonian, Polish, Ukranian, Lithuanian, and Zulu, among other languages. Her collections of poetry include: It Will Be Tremendous When I Grow Up (1988); Eternal Kids (1993); Female Manuscripts (1999); Puzzlerojc (2005); House Rules (2007), winner of the prestigious Croatian award Kiklop; and Mamasafari (2012). Her collection of short stories, To Make A Dog Laugh (2006), and her novel, Adios, Cowboy (2010), won several Croatian literary awards. Adios, Cowboy is forthcoming in English by McSweeney’s in February 2016.