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(E) Croatian Stories - BALLAD OF THE MINERS
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  07/20/2003 | Culture And Arts | Unrated
(E) Croatian Stories - BALLAD OF THE MINERS



by Ivo Tasovac

"So much Autumn, so many memories,
should the head in a melancholy promenade,
through beings and and objects, fall
on someone's shoulders, descend softly upon
the unknown transient with the words: I should like you
to be good, or to become so if you are evil as so many
others, for the Autumn is here and one should listen
to its voices."
  Frano Alfirevic
  The graveyard was located about two miles
  east of the original mining colony of Park City in
  Utah, which because of its mineral wealth attracted,
  at the turn of the twentieth century, many Croats from
  the Lika regions to this part of the New World. I had
  heard a lot about the miners and their graveyard but this
  was the first time I could visit it and see it with my
  own eyes. After an early Sunday morning mass. I was
  driving alone towards Park City. I deliberately took
  a longer drive through the Emigration canyon and the
  Wasatch Mountains. The smell of incense still hung in
  my nostrils to be gradually replaced, as i was
  zigzagging up the mountain, by the smell of dying
  Summer. The day was soft and the mountain, turning
  its color from green into red was soothing. At this
  time of the year it was a majestic sight . The Autumn
  beauty, stretched from the bottom to the top of
  the mountain, and beyond to the next, looked like a
  surrealistic garment, woven by magic hands of an
  unseen mountain fairy. Indeed, I felt how someone's
  head, in a melancholy promenade, was falling upon me
  the unknown transient....And I wanted to be good and
  to listen to the voices of the Autumn....
  After an hour or two of driving, I found
  myself standing in the middle of the graveyard. In
  contrast to the surrounding mountains, this place
  could hardly give you a spiritual uplift at first
  sight. The broken crosses and tombstones around me ,
  reminded me of the battles long since forgotten. The
  graves, like frightened children of the darkness,
  were squeezed together afraid to cry aloud. I noticed
  that only along the freeway the cemetery was
  protected by rusty barbed wire, the rest of it was
  open for the cows and horses to graze freely. The
  nearby grave with "fresh" flowers, plastic roses, that
  is, attracted my attention. Some scrambled letters
  were chiseled into the stone: " OVDE OPOCIVA U MIRU
  1924." There was no year of his birth. I was surprised
  because when I met the old Busija, he'd never told me
  about his dead son. He'd told me in rather a strange language, a mixture
of bad English and bad Croatian, many stories about other Croatian
  miners dead and buried. ''Sure, sure, rankane moj, you go down , see
graveyard down below ...those car ronaju by, and you fajind all Crowts
and bingo". I took me awhile to get straight what he wanted to say,
particularly the bingo business which he used, I finally realized, as his
exclamation point.
From somewhere the wind was blowing . I smelled the earth
blended with the redolence of human bones. I moved around from grave to
grave. Among the miners from Croatia there were those from Ireland, Norway.
Sweden, Germany, Greece and some Jews were buried with them as well.
Apparently, no one thought it extraordinary to be buried all together.
They all found eternal peace in this sticky clay , while they
were alive, they all ''barked'' at each other, as the old Busija had put
it. ''You don't know no English and the Greek starts in Greek , and you at
ponasu and if you could bark better, you won the war. and bingo''.
  The eminent Croatian writer from Lika, Mile Budak, often spoke
with a degree of pride and sadness, that his Lika populated the whole world
and herself never depopulated. It seemed to me indeed that the whole Lika
was buried in this plot of land. In one bunch of graves Pavichichs,
Padjans, Tomjenovichs, and Tomlinovichs were buried. A little distance
from them, the Frkovics and the Frkovichs. The same family with different
spellings. Then there were the Druzenovichs, Stimacs, Brjljachichs,
Umelinovichs, Harvatins, Umiljenovichs, and Rupchichs. Scattered around were
Uzelacs, Jenovichs, Pintars,
  Rukavinas, Surilovichs, Rubicks, Borovacs, Begichs and others. The most
numerous were the Frkovics.
  One could hardly expect to know much about their lives from the
inscriptions left above their graves. Yet from those scrambled letters and
words, someone who promenades through beings and objects could feel an
authentic pain, akin to the pain and frustration of
dying soldiers in the field of battle, asking the questions why ? Why
such a pain, why such a death ? - and no consoling answers were ever heard.
I tried hard to relive in my mind the
days of their lives spent in the bowels of the earth. I saw myself
standing at the entrance of the mine, with a thousand feet of stones
hanging above my head. And then the thought leaped out of my head, like a
burning comet in the thick darkness of a Summer night, telling me that
the stone above my head was not ordinary stone, but rather, petrified
hopes, and angry oaths of those simple souls who left their pastures at the
foot of Velebit Mountain in search for a crust of bread in the New World.
ZLATO MOJE LAKA TI CRNA ZEMLJA'', stands above Frank Tomljenovich
grave. He was dead at thirty-two years of age. And this was not the only
case. Most people buried here died at that age, and even younger. The
number of dead children was staggering. I stumbled upon the grave in
which the dead were buried at at company expense, if they had no money of
their own to meet the burial cost. There were holes of several square
yards, fenced around with pieces of timber, resembling sheep-pens. There
were no names to know who was buried in these company holes. Except for
the remnants of
  decayed wooden crosses, planted in the middle of these sheep-pens, there
was nothing else.
  I sat down on one of the Frkovich's grave, thinking about death
and dying. By pure association of thoughts, all the cemeteries I had seen
along the sea coast of Croatia came to my mind. Looking around me at the
broken crosses and the graves like sheep-pens, I strongly felt that our
dead in Croatia were still alive and amongst the living. They
simply transformed themselves into the symmetry of stone, into the long
rows of harmonious monuments, into the dark and tall and eternal cypresses
above the sea. Into our souls... By comparison, the endless sky of Utah
and Wyoming appeared to me from this graveyard
like the gigantic cruel jaws of some wild beasts, which cracked and
grinded everything into dust ...
I suddenly stood up and walked from grave to grave. T felt that the
words were falling from mouths on the ground like leaves from the trees
and then blown by winds from the ground into the sky. I dawned upon me that
I was whispering something subconsciously like a prayer I once knew. It
took me awhile to realize that I was not whispering a prayer but a old
Tadijanovic's poem about the slaughtered sheep. Once I realized what I was
doing, I didn't know whether to say it loudly in English or Croatian. I
decided to say it in English for the benefit of all buried here. First
words in Croatian would appear in my mind, then
I would translate them into English and recite them as loud as I could for
everyone to hear. While reciting I felt that dead rose from their graves
and listen. I saw the tears glistening in the sockets of their dead eyes.
When I moved, they followed me close behind . When I stopped, they stopped too
and stand still, waiting for me to move again.
. ''A young shepherdess of pale complexion, down the slope, at dawn
was herding
twelve fleecy sheep into a sleepy town to be sold to the fat butcher. They
were lead by the proud ram..'' ,I went on and on. These simple and
uncomplicated words by which the poet described so well the brutality of
human existence, on this occasion and at this place were by far more
appropriate and sublime than all the prayers I knew... ''The butcher's
apprentices, silently, like wolves, took them away. Not a single one
returned. Today is a holiday, the
herd is being slaughtered for the feast...''
The autumnal sun had already dispersed the fog above the valley,
and a few clouds, white like washed fleece hung in the sky above the
mountain. I turned my face towards the sun, with my eyes wide open.
Through my eyes the sun light, like melted silver, poured into my soul,
making me feel well and rejuvenated. I turned around and walked back to
Busija's son grave and ended my 'prayer': ''The dead eyes, the fleece
spilled with blood, the broken legs. Over the slope the sun rose...On the
way home, the shepherdess thought to have heard a mournful bleating, in the
  On the way home, I listened to the voices of the Autumn, though I
wasn't sure whence they were coming from. From the slopes of the mountain or
the graves I had left behind. I remember however the words and their
sound. It was an archaic, centuries old, nasal sound. Mournful and shrilled
like the old lamentations around the extinct Croatian hearths.

Ivan Tasovac 

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