Hippodrome by Miklavž Komelj

$17 Zephyr Press

Publishing his first poetry collection at the age of seventeen, Miklavz Komelj has for twenty-five years permeated Slovenian literature, garnering several national awards in the process. His work is of such a caliber that the late poet and fellow Slovene Tomaz Salamun, in “a breathless email” in 2007, suggested to translators Dan Rosenberg and Boris Gregoric that they tackle Hipodrom—Komelj’s fourth book, of his eight to date. Luckily for us, they shared in Salamun’s excitement after reading it, and have brought a full volume of Komelj’s work into English at last.

The poetry of Hippodrome is inextricable from Slovenia’s tumultuous 20th-century history (as a part of Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union as a whole), from its ancient cultural and linguistic influences (being situated at what is now the crossroads of Eastern and Western Europe), and from Komelj’s intense study of art, philosophy, and international literature/translation. It is a cosmopolitan poetry of broad allusions and sweeping chronology, with speckles of opacity and “a certain amount of discomfort”; and it is precisely because of all this complexity and range that Hippodrome is a beautiful, rewarding text filled with consideration and devoid of pretense, crafted by a true modernist seeking not to outwit nor befuddle the reader, but to enrich and embolden.

* * *


The fence planks are all chewed up,
the grounds pitted with uneasy footprints.
The only records of resistance.

A forgotten three-hundred-year-old manuscript: someone chanted
verses upon the death of a racehorse: “Baggiano—
generoso destrier—faster than an arrow—
like Pegasus—he trumps the wind—taunts lightning—
morto è Bagiano—torches in his eyes—a soldier’s heart—
he killed himself with a leap—broke his spine—
offered his back to the gods—
now he pulls the chariot of the Sun . . .”—The stale madness
of treacherous rhetoric cannot hide
the terrible, silent figure:
a horse who silently flies by in a gallop.

Electric pulses wrapped in gauze.
Not too strong—so as not to irritate.
Crowds of snails cross
the track at regular hours,
before daybreak blankets it with hooves.
Buzzards perch on white poles drilled into the ground.
In winter, into the snow.

—Mama, don’t the horses look
at little clouds too?
O despair! Which I have no right to ascribe
to anyone. But that does not diminish it.
That makes it grow. As it writes itself into a figure
of power and grace,
into an emblem of freedom.

—Have you ever seen a free horse?
—Have you seen an unfree one?
—Have you seen a free one?

There is no plan to acknowledge
anything else.
The eternal skidding of hooves.
Resistance, inseparable from dance.
Which is recorded nowhere.
Evidence, which is recorded nowhere.
Circles, endless circles.
Cramps from sprinting begin in dressage.
Deadly tiredness.
A body bolts through the air, weightless, weighing 500 kg.
Two guys talk in a bar:
—All the horses that won the races—
They haven’t been seen since . . .

Flies crawl around the edges of enormous eyes
and into a cut under the forehead’s white blaze.
Horses are not the same anymore.
People talking among themselves:
yawning, fainting.
Water, which runs from rubber hoses
over the unreachable legs stepping high,
over the backs, strangely calm, twitching wildly,
retreats before the eyes. Ritual curses. The sadism of friendships.
The blessed, stunned staring of children.

Posted by Alexander