The Nude, poems by Nataša Velikonja
Nataša Velikonja (1967) is a sociologist, poet, essayist, translator, lesbian activist. She has published six books of poetry; her first poetry collection Abonma (Subscription) from 1994 is considered to be the first openly lesbian poetry book in Slovenia. She is also the author of four books of essays and scientific papers. Her poems and essays were translated in English, French, German, Spanish, Portugal, Polish, Serbian and Croatian language. She is also a translator: she translated several works of lesbian and gay theory and radical social criticism (Monique Wittig, Lillian Faderman, Larry Kramer, Richard Goldstein etc.). She was an editor of Lesbo magazine and a founder of the Lesbian Library and Archive in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She is a member of Slovene Writers’ Association. In 2016 she received the highest award of City of Ljubljana for the artistic creativity, the Zupanciceva award.
nina is sitting in the hallway, her face is sleepy and she is completely silent, she wants to be in complete silence, I sit on the rocker next to her, we sit in silence, I get out my notebook and I write, today is a homosexual holiday, the International Day against Homophobia, in the morning I see pictures of activists at the raising of the rainbow flag on the balcony of the US embassy, and all I can say is this: when I was a teenager, I wouldn’t hang out with them. not to forget. all they want is to be there, and they would crush anyone who would interfere with their wishes of a small eastern-european man: to stand on the balcony of the US embassy and experience imperial rapture, if even just for a moment. I sit on the hallway of a nineteenth-century apartment building and next to me sits nina and she is speechless and dead tired and our surroundings are miserable and it’s almost two o’clock in the afternoon and she got out of bed two hours ago and is already dead tired and we’re sitting in this miserable and freezing hallway and there is no flag and there is no rapture, no country around us, and we’re both scrawny, the people on the balcony of the US embassy have devoured everything, they have devoured the hope that homosexuality used to have way back when, around the time it all started, that the body would not be a cage, that the body would not be an empty and hollow volume, a long time ago I used to think there would be more rock’n’roll on the scene and nina thought there would be less conventions on the scene and urska, who says she only eats enough to feel full and not a bite more, while others devour everything they see, they think that, because of a certain position, says urska, they’re entitled to everything, and so they think they can devour everything and that’s why they have devoured everything and keep on devouring and just think of all the things they have already devoured, anyway, urska used to think there would be more flirting on the scene and, in the end, these servile, colonized morons have brought us to national flags on national embassies, and all of them are standing on that national balcony and we’re here in this miserable and freezing hallway of an old apartment building, both of us scrawny, we’re completely silent, we’re whispering, we’re listening to shostakovich’s quartets, drinking coffee, nina’s staring into space and if I look at her long enough, she looks back at me and smiles, rising before us we see elite postmodern apartment buildings from the seventies where they put up the moronic elite of then and now, and they’re falling apart now, they’re oozing, rust is leaking from their metallic rooftops, there are dried water stains under the concrete planters on the concrete balconies, the blinds are rotten and the shutters are rotten, nina gets up, goes to her room and brings me a drawing of me standing on the terrace of a modernist apartment building from the fifties, looking out into the horizon before me, on the wall next to me is a white sheet of paper on which she would draw a nude of herself that day.
This could be fun
when I told her, I’m in love with you, she said she liked it because lesbians don’t say things like that, they say, I think you’re so cool, or, you have such beautiful eyes, and when I told her that I was in love with her, the first thing she did was ask me, why, because lesbians don’t know how to say things like that, she said, lesbians say, I think you’re so cool, or, you have such beautiful eyes, she liked it that I told her, I’m in love with you, but she didn’t respond, and then one time when I was exhausted from my explicitness in this mute world, I asked urska, what do people think when you sincerely tell them about your love for them, and she said, they think, ‘ooh, this could be fun!’
we’re talking about survival. we’re surrounded by ceiling-high stacks of books and the freezing cold and the wet and cold and endless winter and it’s already night and the heating has died and we’re drinking coffee out of paper cups, discussing survival. nina is talking about her job. she says that she wakes up every forty-five minutes at night. that she has nightmares. she says, this is no life. lesbian activism could be the way to go, I say, but lesbian activism is entirely in the hands of a specific amorphous entity called the authority, and it won’t let go, and nina asks me, would you let it have me, and I say, it destroyed me, it completely crushed urska, but maybe you’re stronger. but nina is, in essence, a musician, and she doesn’t understand why she can’t just make music and just music, because all she wants is to make music and that’s it, and so here we are, holding our paper cups in this freezing cold, joking how she should write a pop song because pop songs have a happy ending and that would do.
let me say something about the past few years. I have been learning a necessary lesson: distance, distance, distance, an instruction in bold letters, absolute absence, and so the surroundings disappear, I can no longer see them, materiality has vanished, I didn’t manage to kiss her, fight distance with distance, we remain without a common view, we recognize full powers in love, she who attacks me before I can hug her, we’re standing in below zero temperatures, smoking, wondering, just like the night before, what we are doing here, leave, but they have banished vagrancy if it ever really existed, what is left is this city, we walk the streets, climbing and descending steeply together, do a circle, finishing under the arcades, we didn’t meet, we didn’t stop, I saw how we lived, we didn’t create a space, we have reached an approximation, made an approximation, emptied the world so that now there is nothing left, and nina says, I am the best partner, and writes a song about it, we are here, but the signs that used to make up love poems have long changed, and urska says, but I need the material world, my body needs it to function, she says, art is not enough, and here, in my temporal and spatial proximity, a cataclysm is underway, and I keep thinking how I’m going to write old love poems, because I saw us so glorious and I can’t leave.
All poems are taken from the book “Stay” (“Ostani”), Skuc Publishing House, Ljubljana / Slovenia / European Union, 2014; translated by Spela Bibic. Copyrights: Natasa Velikonja.
© Nataša Velikonja