Barbara Korun

The smell of humans

 

for days I’ve been mulling over my report
on my work with refugees
by no means can I put it on paper
this smell
this smell of humans of the human being
this sharp and sweetish smell
a mixture of urine vomit menstrual blood
blood feces scared people’s sweat

for days I’ve been mulling over this report
it has been chewing on me in my dreams
it’s haunting me
how can I say this

Anything’s good enough for them!
dirty concrete floor
wet clothes
endless waiting in lines
in exactly one line
two thousand people in a single file
one behind the other for hours and hours
for two slices of bread for a fish tin
an apple and a pint of milk
and for water a pint of water

for days I’ve been mulling over this report
for days I’ve wrestled with it
how can I say
that people gestured to me with hands
I’m hungry we’re hungry
shrunken tired dirty resigned

how can I say
that we guarded them as the most terrible
most dangerous enemies
that we disinfected passageways after them
warned the local residents through the radio
they shouldn’t let out their pets
lest they contract horrendous diseases
tuberculosis, cholera, scabies, lice

I won’t start cleaning the tent while these
devils are in there! shouted the elderly woman
employed at the camp through community work
I won’t have anything to do with them, let them go
back to where they came from! she screamed
amid the night
amid the quietest night at the camp
when she woke up from the sleep
of the just

how can I say this
how can I describe the first scene
when I arrived to the Beti factory
before dawn

in the fields silence fog
but in the distance the light from searchlights
helicopters the whine of sirens police
cars army and its trucks
special forces armed to the teeth, their faces
covered in black caps, helmets and bulletproof
vests, and machine guns handguns
billy clubs shields and covered faces –
even humanitarians wearing gloves
and masks across the nose and mouth

and still everywhere this smell
this deep sharp sweet smell
the smell of humans

I will never forget it

 

 

Translated from the Slovene by Barbara Jurša

Barbara Jurša is a Slovenian translator, poet and English teacher living in Ljubljana. She has translated some of the works of several contemporary Slovenian poets, including Jana Putrle Srdić (Anything Could Happen, 2014) and Brane Mozetič (Unfinished Sketches of a Revolution, 2018).

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