person Margarita Serafimova, seven poems

There’s something eerie about Margarita Serafimova’s poetry – I mean in a good way xxx


Margarita Serafimova was shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize 2017. She was awarded a merit-based fellowship by Summer Literary Seminars as one of fifty runners-up in their 2018 poetry contest. Margarita has three collections in Bulgarian. Her work appears in Agenda Poetry, London Grip New Poetry, Trafika Europe, European Literature Network, The Journal, A-Minor, Waxwing, Nixes Mate Review, StepAway, Ink, Sweat and Tears, HeadStuff, Minor Literatures, The Writing Disorder, The Birds We Piled Loosely, Noble/ Gas Quarterly, Origins Journal, miller’s pond, Obra/ Artifact, TAYO, Shot Glass Journal, Opiate, Poetic Diversity, Novelty Magazine, Pure Slush, Harbinger Asylum, Punch, Tuck, Futures Trading, Ginosko, Peacock Journal, Anti-Heroin Chic, Liquid Imagination, and many other places. Some of her work:


The evening port
was passing into the earth.
It was impossible to be outside the blue.



I looked at the water.
It was the book of life.
After that, I…

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Irene Hergottova (7 Poems)

My poems have been published by Underfoot Poetry. Thank you so much to Daniel Paul Marshall and Tim Miller for encouraging me to go over the lines lingering in my drawers and for providing space for new authors on their brilliant blog.

Underfoot Poetry

Nothing of Me on the Moon

The moon where I live
sucks up all darkness,
it’s a pond upside down.

The moon that I know
casts a circle of brightness,
a Chinese lantern in the sky.

Like a pot of honey never falling,
she just sits there, waiting for my glance.

I no longer ask such questions as
what’s the air like, is there noise?

I am happy sitting near the window
resting my eyes on the distant ball of stone.

I narrow my view—does she ever wonder,
am I a blot of blood, a stubborn stain
or just a fleeting interest
with a shimmering spotlight,
a random puppet
positioned in a frame…?

In the blink of an eye, everything’s forgotten,
there is nothing of my presence imprinted on the Moon.

An ocean that no one sees,
drops of rain falling on its surface at night…
I mean the sea…

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The devil’s own sheepfold

20180407_182024-COLLAGE.jpgMud banks have cracked into little pools of spit, urine and detergent.

Shimmering still waters where horses admire their own reflection

are fed from village women buckets giving a false impression of modernity

like Ariel, the magic powder that washes away all the sins.

Its end of March and the marshes are wetter than last year but today I do not care, it’s

the Orthodox Easter and all the twigs from the wines will go on fire.

Our vineyard is of a hybrid sort, like a bastard son of  two insignificant varieties…what

kind of person drinks a bastard wine? The hybrid vines trail the hybrid country, the

place divided by the creak full of mud and hope, it’s where mosquitos play one ants’ nest

against another and in deep dug cellars last year’s chillies tickle whiskers’ cats.

And so today, the bonfire made of vineyard twigs lits the corner of the world that does

not belong anywhere – who cares if it’s Romania or Moldova, the flames caught on the

camera paint devilish faces full with limbs and bodies perfectly formed. Was it not for

the blue crosses shining down on us from the moon lit graveyard we would be scared.

The village woman said, on the other side of the marsh there’s a ‘stina’, the devil’s

own  sheepfold where snake’s head rises from the grass into the charmer’s tune . It’s

where you disappeared on our walk and returned with a bottle of fresh

water. ‘From the spring up on the hill’, you said. Now I am not so certain was it up or

down in the ditch?

The sun has seeped into the horizon, leaving purple sheen above the stina now bare of

me and you but that horse with a plated tail.  The sheep bleating

behind me leaves the shepherds shouting the words I do not understand.




Sharks, Penguins and Clouds: SA 2018

Don’t make a trip from Somerset West to Boulder’s Beach on a New Year’s Day unless you want to drive very slowly! When you get there, do not swim too far from the beach or you might be bitten by a shark!

It turns out everyone else had the same idea. Everyone, from the townships of Khaylitsha and Mitchell’s Plain to quirky Muizenberg and Fish Hoek was either crossing the road to get to beach or driven close by it, if not to see the penguins, then at least to see one of those beach-kind of weddings. (Turns out 1st January is a very popular day for weddings in Western Cape – and yes, I am writing this blog with a 5 weeks delay!).

The weather was very hot, the wind was very strong and we watched it all from the window of the Ford Fiesta for two hours until we arrived in Simon’s Town.

The townships were on a scale unimaginable and it was a wake up call for those tourists  have so far seen only the manicured vineyards and farms around Stellenbosch.  Repeated rows of corrugated steel roofs and tilted electrical poles seeped into the blue mountains horizon somewhere in the far, far distance. People, young and old and children walked to places and judging by the size of their rucksacks they were used to some distances. A groups of youth was heading for beach and whistled past the queue of slow traffic.


Not far from the Mitchell’s Plain there was a Muslim wedding. The bride’s dress was being thrashed by the unforgiving Atlantic wind, the veil lifted around her face and I was tempted to come out of the car, if only to take a photo, but of course, that’s when the traffic started to move and the kids said I was a ‘weird wedding crasher with a lousy camera’.

In Muizenberg, another wedding party was walking up a hilly street, some men were wearing Jewish caps, others had no head coverage including the groom who was Black. Muizenberg looked like a place where everyone wanted to be seen eating a posh meal opposite the beach. I recognised the colourful beach houses, I have seen them in pictures before. I never knew there was a large Jewish synagogue.


We carried on along the coast, just like the trains on the coastal railway did and it was somewhere there we saw the Start of the Sea Catholic Convent School that looked completely out of place as we concluded that surely, no one ever goes to school in such a stunning tourist spot. Shark spotters and black flags were everywhere, a number of surfers have been bitten/eaten in around False Bay, I was told, in recent years.

The only thing to say now is that we did finally arrive at Simon’s Town and parked up our car on the curb very badly. We joined the queue to see the penguins at Boulder’s Beach, together with a hundred or so fellow tourists. I began to wonder why is it that children always decide to throw tantrums just after their parents buy the expensive tickets. I had this idea that we would be strolling the beach and the penguins would congregate before our eyes just like they do in Happy Feet. And whilst we did see them dotted around the large rocks, we had to obey the long queue and listen to everybody else’s child wanting to see them up close (in addition to our own).

Still, our photos were worth it and we got to eat our picnic food further down on the Boulder’s Beach.

Having rested on the sand, windswept and wind-burnt, we drew up to the Cape of Good Hope which is the place where mountain peaks meet with clouds and mists. It is not everyday I can say we’ve driven through clouds, but we definitely did – on 1 January 2018!

In case you wonder why I haven’t taken more photos of all these events, there are two reasons – 1. I was sitting in the car for most of the journey; 2. when we finally arrived, my battery run out!




SA 2018: ‘Being’ White in Macassar

This is not a post about the Indonesian port, neither it is a planned tourist trip. This is where the Google showed the nearest shop between Somerset West and Raithby, South Africa.  Last night we were the first family to arrive at the Country Guest House under a start lit sky.  And whilst our friends were changing flights from Dublin to Istanbul and onwards to Cape Town, we wanted to surprise them with a fridge full of kids-friendly snacks.

And so we asked Google Maps and the Google Maps showed Shoprite. The mobile screen (which I had to grudgingly hold upright to navigate my husband) promptly highlighted a blue line leading to the nearest grocery store. As the line got shorter and our car drew  nearer, the name of the village showed up on the right hand side reading MACASSAR, followed by several civic buildings, including the local council, dentist and health centre.

Macasar Village Down Town Protest 25 May 2009_1

We drew through what looked like a housing estate, not unlike many inner city places in Birmingham UK, into a small market street with an open parking lot. The cash point was right by the grocery store, we saw the machine as we were parking up. It was only when the machine started counting the notes we realised everyone was looking at us. ‘We are the only White people here’, my daughter stated the obvious. ‘This is weird’, she expected a reaction, but everything is ‘weird’ in the world of teenagers and so I pretended to busy myself with a shopping trolley.  In the country with a history of forced resettlements, segregation and controlled movements of people we suddenly became acutely aware of the colour of our skin.

We went about our business pretending not to notice the unwanted attention, some of us managing better than others, looking for Pringles, chocolate milkshakes and sun cream, only the suncream was nowhere to be seen. And then that thing happen, (that thing that always happen if you believe in simple acts of kindness), somebody noticed our we were ‘out of place’  and immediately emphasised. A guy stacking shelves left his cans of tomatoes and walked across to us: ‘Looking for something?’, he smiled broadly. ‘We can’t find any sun cream’, I pleaded. ‘Follow me’, he said and at that moment it seemed the odd feeling evaporated.  They did not stock much sun cream, he explained, but we found a dusty bottle nevertheless. They did not sell any beer, he added, but the next door ‘liquor store’ did. He located a manicure set that no one has asked for in a while. In the end, we have left the Shoprite with enough baby bells to last us for weeks!

Macassar beach

Macassar, I later read, was a village with a bit of a reputation for political action.  Situated on sand dunes not far from the popular Strand, its residents protested against relocation of people from the informal settlement Nomzamo into their midsts. They had enough of their own housing and schooling problems, let alone share their place with any newcomers. Macassar, similar to its namesake port in Indonesia is largely inhabited by Muslims with proud history of fishing and boat making skills. The sand dunes, though attracting spectacular flock of flamingos, did not manage to establish its reputation as an attractive tourist destination. Its Pavilion features in ‘the most amazing images of the abandoned beaches in the world’ on Pinterest.

Still, its PEP retail and a clothes boutique (where a young Chinese student was being trained in how to use the till) provide excellent bargain for the fair skinned who are in need of sun glasses, swimming costume or hats.



SA 2018: Winery Road

Whilst some of you wake up early to defrost your cars, we sit amongst the vineyards eating French toasts smothered in maple syrup. It is only 8.30am but the sun is already high, making our bare arms and legs look beautiful despite the lack of tan. Glancing across the table, the Helderberg Mountain seems even closer now that we’ve seen it in daylight. Grape wines hang over our heads and we couldn’t care less that Aussie flu is quietly sneaking into UK. Not today, not for the next three weeks. We are spending the North-European winter in South Africa, starting at 96 Winery Road.

Our first time outside of Europe (ever, ever in our 40 something years, with a bunch of good friends and kids that are up for adventure) – I can’t help boasting.

The Country Guest House may have a boring name but is nothing but for those who like to see the making of South African wine up close. Ken Forrester vineyards surround not only the 15 tourist accommodation cottages but sprawl far up the Raithby road. Small taster bottles of  the white, red and pink ‘petit’ are in every room, not to mention the cellars of the 96 Winery Road Restaurant that stock the full range of Ken Forrester varieties.

All that remains now is to start exploring the history of this rather posh part of Western Cape between Stellenbosch and West Somerset.  Originally inhabited by Khoikhoi people,  I struggle to find original place name for this geographical area on the internet.

Embarrassingly, I find that the term Helderberg Mountain is relatively modern, replacing the older Hottentots-Holland Mountain.  The term ‘you are speaking like a hottentot’ rings a bell with a derogatory phrase people used in Czechoslovakia during my childhood, describing  someone who couldn’t express themselves very well. Little did I know that this was a term coined by the European settlers who found it difficult to follow the click sounds of the Khoisan language and therefore referred to them as ‘stutterers’ (hottentot in Dutch/German). That just about sums up the attitude of the era everyone would rather forget.

But Ken Forrester pledges to be a modern, post-apartheid kind of winery business that treats the land and its people with respect. Everyone who looks after us, be it in around the cottage, breakfast cafe or restaurant seems happy enough, but you’d make a mistake to think they grew up in South Africa. Zimbabwe and Malawi are the two most frequently quoted places of origin for staff who are clearly overqualified for their jobs.


Apart from wine groves there are lemons, limes and a tree nursery of some kind. A couple of understated lakes, one of which is  good enough to fish in.

Tall African pines dominate the landscape in the distance and our 9 year old son wants to go fishing again. In the absence of any advanced equipment, Margaret, the Malawi cleaner advises on possible bait of corn from an unfinished pizza. She tells us her Dad and her little daughter, both of whom she hadn’t seen for a good couple of years, love fishing. But it’s ok, she assures me, though there are no jobs, there are luckily no wars in Malawi.

We chat, hang our wet swim suits on the wooden fence, then walk in the direction of the Helderberg Mountain to sit by the lake, attempt fishing (& catch nothing) into the evening (8pm-ish! December) sunset.

To be continued…




Golden ribbons

It’s five in the afternoon
and my office is a little lantern.
I am stepping out of it
onto the dark deck that is the street
my heels are pressing into the rotting leaves
with no earthworms underneath,
just concrete slabs
sealing off whatever secrets lay beneath.

Paving my way are two large ribbons
in plastic bags they are creased
one silver and golden one
on top of each other they
shimmer through the ethylene
past the Co-op Funeral Care
past the Christmas tree that is purple and shining
stealing the street from the lingering souls.

On the doorstep
of that Co-op Funeral Care
that I pass every morning, every dusk
behind that door, every relative has a wooden chair
but tonight I don’t care
It’s Christmas Eve.

I am hanging my thoughts on festive ribbons
One for my door
Another one above the kitchen window
And one that l wrap around my body
ready for take off
into the ether.

In the sky my ribbons will be multiplying
changing shapes like starlings
trying hard to impress
if it wasn’t for the heavy fog
that makes merry with smoke and cars,
past the lime trees’ trunks burried in concrete
I swear to lighting up the sky.

Feathers more colourful than 23 November

After the second spell of frost
the Earth warms up again and
concrete is covered in rotting leaves.

Fog bounces off the ground like a smoke
holding onto nothingness above
that is a playground for birds.

Where street bulbs are fitted seagulls sit,
all looking North-East
whilst car windows are steaming up
with people overdressed
in coats and scarfs,
searching through bags for lipsticks and purses.

On Butts Road pigeons have gathered
on a patch of green as they always do,
their feathers more colourful than 23rd November.

I step with my heels over the same kerb,
past the overflowing bin and high rise buildings
with men and their backs against tinted windows.

The United Reformed Church takes up a lot of space
like an unwanted box that does not fold.
Right next to it, Gala baths flash the polished seats
but no children are swimming yet
under the morning drizzle.

Finally, a used sleeping bag is discarded by the bin,
its waterproof black side shimmers
but inside is wet and wet…
A white pillow now stained with fresh mud
is not sure if it has rested any head.

What happened on nights of Sabbath.

Some might say that Sabbath started on Thursdays. This is when women took ritual baths. Those who have just given birth went in first, others have hurried across the path towards the mikveh in the evening.  Water carriers were busy fetching buckets from the nearby creek because it is written in the Jewish Orthodoxy that water has to come from a clean nature’s spring, The hills surrounding the town called Yeregin (or otherwise known as Szentgyorgy, Sankt Georgen or Svaty Jur) provided just that.


Now that the women are half immersed in the water, their children are playing by the creek chanting Jeshiva prayers. Christian children catching fish further down are spying on them and disappear only after a fierce looking elder starts to make his way up the hill. A butcher is having a good day, even cheaper cuts of meat are shifting quickly, he can’t wipe that smirk off his moustached face. Just before bed, poorer households up the road check their cupboards for dry beans, ready to be soaked overnight.

On Friday, it is time for men to take to ritual cleansing. Cholent pots come out and Hungarian and Slovak kitchen maids are busier than usual. It’s a common knowledge that Jewish families are not allowed to work from the sun down on Friday and well into the Saturday. Not as much as taking out meals from the ovens or lighting the candles. This is when Christian staff comes in handy, without them Sabbath would not happen.


German, Hungarian or Slovak casual staff played essential role in preparing Sabbath meals, setting the tables, tending candles, fires and clearing off, in a way that families were used to. Those who had done it long enough could no doubt speak a bit of Jiddish or even recite Sabbath prayers when their minds were not occupied by menial tasks. And following strict Orthodox Jewish tradition as opposed to the Reform was a hotly debated topic far and wide across the Austro-Hungarian empire .

On one particular Sabbath night, perhaps 190 years ago (or maybe a bit earlier or a bit later), renowned Rabbi Chatam Sofer visited the Yeregin Jewish community and gave a fierce speech against the Jewish Reform (Neologs). He knew that Yeregin’s community, sheltered by Small Carpathians’, would have little to object. He found keen listeners in the little Jewish Temple behind the river where men sat on one side and women on the other.

Chatam Sofer made sure his words reverberate as he planted his most trusted student, Moshe Schick as the town’s Rabbi. Moshe has stayed for over 30 years, building a  strong Jeshiva (Jewish teachings school). Moshe became the most outspoken defender of the Jewish Orthodoxy and have even been approached to form political movement against the Reform. Some say that he raised 80 plus students in the local Jeshiva whom he then managed to relocate with him to Western Ukraine where he found a fertile ground for his ideas in the town Khust.


Reformist Jews were moving towards the idea of more integration with other cultures, introducing more secular education and sciences into teaching and were quite open to ideas of mixed sexes and gender equality in religious worship, choirs and occupations in general. The tension between the two schools of thought continues to this day and some of the Orthodox teachings promoted by Chatam Sofer and Moshe Schick continue to flourish in Jerusalem Pressburg (Bratislava) Jeshiva.

pressburg jeshiva

After the Second World War, not one Jewish family had permanently returned to the area of Yeregin and as I have written in my previous posts, the Temple remains a derelict building which happens to stand right behind my parents’ house. Access to the site is prohibited and very few pictures of the interior are available – as seen below.

I found the Torah curtain (parochet) that used to hang in the Temple on the site of Jewish Museum in Bratislava. The Hebrew inscription reads: “This is a donation by the esteemed Mr. Joel Neumann, may his light shine, together with his wife Madam Rikla, may she live, the esteemed Mr. Jeshayahu Markstein, may his light shine, together with his wife Mrs. Rivka, may she live, for the holy community Yergen in the year 666 of the minor reckoning”.

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 23.58.56

Parochets are used to cover the ark in remembrance of the curtain which covered the Ark of the Covenant, according to Exodus 40:21: “He brought the Ark inside the Tabernacle. Then he put up the curtain for screening, and screened off the Ark of the Covenant…” [FHJ].

My thoughts are going back to the little creek, the man with two buckets and another one with a long beard, his long black coat floating around his muddy shoes, perhaps it’s misty and cold and the thought of a bath is enticing. There’s a pretty woman busying in the larder across the fence and another searching for a clean table cover. They all speak a mish-mash of languages in which mundane words of everyday life are understandable to all, yet deeper thoughts and beliefs come from vastly different places. Still,, they probably all agree that there is only one God, therefore his worship is sacred to everyone on the night of Sabbath.

A lot of you might rush in to say that this kind of religious cooperation exist today. Look at America and UK, Visit multicultural streets of Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Walsall Caldmore or Palfrey. But I am yet to see any examples when people of different cultures allowed each other into sacred intimate spaces, into the core of worship. Everyone talks about dangers of parallel lives. Well, 19th century provides its own examples of mutual respect and cultural inter-change. Shame that this model ended in the most tragic way everywhere in Central and Eastern Europe and there’s now a huge fear of religious diversity should it ever reappear again.



All Souls Night

Not a migrant

On 2nd November the sky flips over,

gives stage to candles, no more stars.

The lights join the pathways,

from breath to breath drawing star constellations  –

Perseus, Virgo, Cassiopeia, Libra and others.

Behind the iron wrought fence

sheltering the graves from the main road

souls are lined up in a solemn oath

practising a march to silent drum.

One of them fell out of line,

another glances down longingly.

I walk from our house along the creek,

my breath tamed by the chill showing me the way.

The cemetery sits just under Ursa Minor,

my uncle’s grave is holding its foot.

I lit the first candle – is he a Saint yet?

Is he a wondering Soul?

or is he an In-Between.

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