Jana Bodnárová: From the Memory of a Besieged Body

I was born in Central Europe just a few years after the Second World War. Both world wars, however, seemed to have entered my genes:  the first through the battlefields which my grandfather was dragged across;  the second through the harrowing memories of his son – my father – a soldier with the soul of a poet. Their bodies survived, but part of their inner selves had been shattered by invisible mines (this is how demons work, after all).  Their troubled lives, like icons of sorrow, etched themselves into my body, brain and language of feeling.

But it was not enough for the world’s warmongers that Hiroshima led humanity to start viewing itself from the inside of a nuclear submarine. I was still only  four or five when my mother organised a collection of clothes for war-affected children in Korea. Despite my hot tears, she crammed into the box my favourite angora sweater which I had so loved to press against my cheek. Many years later I saw a documentary on television in which a Korean woman was remembering the war. She talked about air raids, bombs, explosions and fire and about how, with her mother, she had lain buried under the ruins of their house with one of her eyes hanging out from her child’s skull. And all her paralysed and helpless mother could do was to tell the girl to rip her eye out herself… My body ached as I listened to her, as if we were attached by an umbilical cord. I was the same age as she was; perhaps it was she who had received my soft woollen sweater in which the scents of our bodies had embraced and merged. Few things are as intensely strong as the memory of a child‘s and woman’s body.

Vietnam encroached into the lovesick whispering of my teenage years. That terrible napalm… Later, as a grown woman I would look into the face of my adolescent son – tracing there echoes of my grandfather’s and father’s features. The war in the Gulf broke out… My children grew up, and laughed like bells… and the danse macabre of other, so-called “local“ wars had begun (as if such wars did not enter our minds and souls, too – we, co-passengers in the submarine): wars in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya… leaving behind them ravaged countries and living skeletons, minds in chaos, languages in chaos, feelings in chaos…

If it is threatened by military attack, there is no country far enough away from us .   Nor is our language remote enough to resist the contagion of the language of warmongers:  those who like to morbidly drone on about (fabricated) ”axes of evil“ and show off their brutal military might and misplaced science (those terrible unpiloted planes!).

I imagine some Iranian girl reciting  one of her beloved poets, the verses of Rumi ringing out in the Tehran evening and changing the ticking clock into a state of peaceful timelessness pervaded by the universal language of compassion. I say no to war in Iran! “Not in my name!“ And may this call echo in all the languages of the world.


Jana Bodnárová


Jana Bodnárová, a Slovak writer and art historian, was born in 1950 in Jakubovany. She studied the History of Art at Comenius University in Bratislava. Since the early 90’s she has devoted herself exclusively to literary activity. Besides novels, poetry collections, children’s books, radio plays and television scripts, she has been producing and presenting video performances and experimental theatre stage productions. She lives in Prešov.

The Little Match Girls

Hans Christian Andersen was afraid of being buried alive. on his bedside table was a note which read:
I am not dead. I just look as if I am.

what are you afraid of, little match girls, in your crudely tied headscarves? created from rock and sand. children of the desert. of oil cities. children without water  and chances in life. children of tacky adverts in shreds. you don’t count stars at night. instead you count the divine machines of people from the other side of the world. flashes of light like in the dreams of prophets… sirens… houses falling to the ground… little match girls transformed into men with revolvers and knives.

someone has stopped reading you a goodnight story.  the one about the little stag with golden antlers who is joyfully turned back into a boy again. such a story is for very different little girls – for barbie dolls with blue eyes.
but you are walking. following, across dunes, the voices of your lost fathers, brothers, husbands, the throaty wails of your unborn children.

Hoohoooooh, you sing your god’s name and it sounds like the wind. as Rúmí, the dark man in white, wrote. he span on his axis… span… until he flew off the edge of the world.
almost like you, little match girls. with a prevision of being buried alive.

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Report from the Besieged City/Informe sobre la ciudad sitiada/گزارش شهر محصور/ Správa z obliehaného mesta © 2018 All Rights Reserved