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Hot Desk Extract: Holding It In

As part of The Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship program, Anita Solak worked on split, a multilingual poetry manuscript about the space language takes and how English fails us. The excerpt here is ‘Holding it in’, a poem about piss, repression, retellings, and what we choose to shine lights on/what we choose to make poetry.

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Holding it in

At my 27th birthday dinner this year,

Mama talked about how I used to

avoid public toilets.

How it didn’t matter how long we were out for

I would hold it in.

Is this why my bladder is for shit now?

The average person spends three years of their life

not closing the lid before they flush

living with the spew of toilet plume.

This is why I keep my towels in my bedroom

when I live with other ppl.


I held it for over 24 hours once in 2013

when we were driving through Bosna

to get to Dubrovnik.

We were frequently stopped by cows or goats

appearing from thick forests to cross the road

then disappear into more forest.


I spent a lot of time comparing this drive

to the Hum/Šćepan Polje crossing,

the narrow two way dirt tracks

with potholes and sharp turns,

the steep drops into

canyons, trees,

the glinting confluence

of three rivers,

the crosses or flowers or photos

framing the crumbling edges of the dirt track.

There is a project with no estimated start date

to fix the 25km of deadly road.


When night fell

we sank into a portal

without noticing.

I slept and woke several times.

One time I woke to a warped desert,

it was dark, no buildings or scenery at all,

like a vacation to the void,

with the exception of a dirt track.

The only sign there was a track

was the lights of a truck a few kilometres ahead of us.

In those lights, I could see the road was serpentine.

I couldn’t get back to sleep after that.

I can’t remember how we recalibrated

or what country we were in at the time.


My sister says she doesn’t remember any of that

but she knows it was the same drive

when we stopped at a restoran

in the middle of the forest

because she needed to piss.

They only had a čučavac toilet

so Mama had to teach her how to use it.

We bought a Fanta from the restoran

and Mama got sick of holding it after an hour,

so she threw the liquid

out the window,

squished the can

and tossed it in our plastic bag for trash.


Mama says we were going through Trebinje

but we were lost before that,

lost in the mountains,

the GPS took us somewhere,

there was a road under construction.

Halfway you go on it and then it just stops.

They ran out of money to finish it.

Tata had to reverse

but there was no room to turn around,

it was too steep.

There was a čučavac behind the restoran.

It was right after the restoran

we got lost the first time.

There is a joke about Serbian GPS.

Mama never tells me the joke.


Tata shouts

Jel ata piše o politiku?

Mama says

Ne, više od istoriju.

Mama asks

are you writing poetry or a novel?

I say poetry,

but not every story will become a poem,

not every conversation needs to be shared.

Saša Stanišić writes

‘What are we supposed to picture

as these “hard Slavic endings”?’

I write

as we plunged into a piss dream

I morphed into a camel

Mama was a horse, my sister a husky,

Tata was a songbird.

You don’t need to know the rest.

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