NTM continues with new contemporary Romanian poetry in translation. For this post, we picked the dazzling works of three woman poets: Andra Rotaru, Carmen Firan, and Ana Dragu. We hope you like these new translations as much as we did. Enjoy!
—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman
Translated by Florin Bican
he’s awake. with each move of the feet
the asphalt yawns open. he’s been bearing at length
the weight of an oversized body.
the torso is swaying back and forth,
forcing him into a ridiculous posture.
the tremor of his arms and his head,
the perspiration released,
the trickle of milk oozing up at the joints.
he’s collecting the drops in his cupped hands,
then pours the fluid down his esophagus.
yanks with his hands at the ends of a wide-opened mouth,
startled by his jaw suddenly locking.
he’s got the long hair of a woman.
the places he walks through
in between ages, the honey-hued face,
the eyes of a felid.
whenever he’d turn up he was going the same place –
I’d learned move by move
his back’s curvature and shuffle.
the pale skin as it opens and closes
on members, it lifts up like canvas –
he digs holes in the earth,
stuffs the boulders into his pockets, gathers momentum.
in his wake goes the pounding
of stones rattled up in a jerry can.
he spreads out a jacket onto the earth, he compacts it flat. the texture
of rotten leaves. it turns into lignite while he’s
taking a finger
up to his mouth, licks it wet. a new, corpse-like flavor.
(the breath carries away
the unbearable stench)
each morning he wakes up in that state of malaise,
of a bell striding his trunk. sounds of
a trowel filling up and discharging
a surplus around the head
he pours out in vain, makes
for the park with the boulders,
lifting up rocks,
spins on his own in the belfry.
I need to deduct the sum of our days –
year after year, in a dreary routine – from what has been left.
since the day I have met him he keeps calling out at an unvaried pitch,
not exactly coherent at times, but then ready to trigger off
an endless range of female imageries:
I often dream
he’s going on high heels,
all there is to touch
is that bundle of stumps
adorned and summoned
to life by a non-existent body:
a head appended thereon, some sinews
well built, a robust contour.
I want back all that belongs to me
then I let my hands roam all over his stumps,
I encircle his palms (mine),
I encircle his neck (mine),
I watch him from afar.
he continues to wear that odd chunk of body,
that trace of a massacre whose ends he never
finds. in period costume he dresses his extremities:
under their time, in the rancid
odor of those having worn them:
here am I in all my perfection,
here is a perfect simulacrum
soon as he’s got a body
he’d like to be moving, any life form
around yet unformed,
to be breathing along with him.
the power of his stare:
he rotates and retains how he’s stared at
soon as he’s got a voice
an unintelligible tremor out of all chests,
the same exhalations, wrung out of the lungs
he picks me up in his arms
and carries me next to the windows.
we’re high up in the air. here, next to the windows,
there is nothing at all. everything’s been abandoned.
when he says poison, my arms are trickling with
a glutinous liquid.
nerves, muscles, contractions, he says.
he’s feeling my joints with his tongue, then spins
with me through the white light of the hall.
we are feeling the skin of each other’s warm palms.
whenever I want anything, he wants it himself,
whenever I say anything, he has already said it,
whenever I’m sick, he has already seen a concrete wall
allowing no passage.
he comes loose off my body, does the rounds of the others.
from the edge of my bed, I kick off the sheets and cry out.
Translated by by Carla Baricz
on the horizon
every day the ocean brings something new to the shore
coral-eaten brainpans, algae knotted in the ruins
of some cursed wreck longed for and abandoned
white shells susurrating their sadness
and wooden planks blackened by sleep
jellyfish, their skin bloated by their own poison
my young body penned in a bottle with a cracked neck
and sent out a long time ago
to seek its luck on the expanse
on other days, the ocean doesn’t bring back anything
the belly-full ships float warily
on the horizon’s wavering line
as though something were being prepared
in the in the guts of the waters
as though night would fall
before the day could end
before taking our leave
we sit facing each other
and for the first time
we look at each other differently
I see a child in the devil
you don’t know what a devil looks like
and you do not see me
I hold a book in my lap
and in my heart mirrors twist
words on dying lips
you don’t know how to see words
and you do not see me
I tell you that the entire universe exists
in order for me to fall sleep
you think that death is a sleep
and tie me to a bell:
don’t you die, you implore me
don’t you die
my mother caresses you gently:
what have you been doing here for so long?
don’t wait anymore
I can’t anymore
I won’t give birth to her again
wall-up the window
you if you’ve chosen me
make it so the winter will never end
I can’t stand the indecency of nature
each cracked bud hurts me
it blackens the sun
with the shadows under my eyes
stop the grass
growing young is humiliating
do you hear me, the birds haven’t been chocked to death yet
the colors do as they please
my gray life is like a made-up thing
as though the same death didn’t haunt us both
you, if you’ve chosen me
wall-up the window facing the boulevard
so that we may keep being sad loving each other
in the icebound white
I am the same every day –
neither man nor fish
bigger than I think –
I don’t wear tall heels
smaller than I would like –
I don’t point out people
whom I let swallow me
I have no debts –
only a book with glass pages
from which day by day
I gather shards of guilt
my children are all at school –
I suppose that I’ve lost them
and now I will have to live with an additional fear
the same day the same
and more and more invisible
Something remains to be
the true loneliness
only occurs when you are alone
for the first time you come to discover the city
in which you have lived for years
without noticing the tops of the buildings
the red trees, the bullet-ridden church bell-tower
the sadder you are
the higher up you will look
when no one is left
you end up writing
the word that pains you
up there nothing happens
though something always remains to be
at last the powerlessness
the fallen arms
the salt body
watching the drifters
sweep your existence
from triumphal chariots
the true loneliness
occurs when you button the last winter coat button
without having felt death sneak in
across the left shoulder
widening the boutonnière
with your fingers
Translated by Claudia Serea
today is the terrible day of Monday,
gaping at your feet like the beginning of an avalanche
the day when you open your eyes terrified
your life can disappear at any point from your life
together with your father grandma brother sister
your best friend
today is the terrible day of Monday
when you don’t think your love has another chance
and you do everything you can to make sure
it doesn’t have any chance
the day after the night when you dreamed
your child was burning alive
in his bed
the day after the day you robbed
when you’re caught
and everything seems unreal
and no one shows upholding an orange in his left hand
which he throws at you clumsily
with a gesture both
retarded and sweet
let’s see what can we spot in the morning on the waters:
our love is the chocolate filling that spreads
and, once spread, it sweetens any surface
we keep it in a jar.
here is a cherry tree,
a good place for love.
we can stop being quiet for a while and say words that don’t damage
we make every effort for my clothes to not come out and look for your body
and hang in the air frozen to death.
(to avoid chaos, we squeeze all the cold from the room
in the jar)
then we congratulate ourselves for being organized,
give ourselves kudos for being cunning.
night covers us like a torn rag
let’s see what can we spot in the morning on waters:
he lies on the sand
and warms the sea with a Russian boiler
he’s waiting for his lover.
she is young, beautiful, and dying,
and, because we don’t want to see her die,
we squeeze her next to the cold
in the jar.
an animal replaces me at night and for a few nights
no one can talk.
In the morning,
the Russian boiler disappears
swallowed by a huge fresh water fish
that sinks my body in the jar.
I stop trying to understand what happens with the tools
used to get out of what is happening
because, since the very beginning,
I was afraid of this silence.
It doesn’t start with a bang
or a whimper,
but, before them, a vibration, a small buzz,
an awakened molecule
stirring storms in the knees
nothing wonderful could start otherwise.
on each fingertip,
fragments of eyes,
tens of mirrors turned to the world
a kiss like a strong drink blows up the spine
from my sky, I can see the whole bed
and two beautiful cripples
stretched under the covers, silent,
braided and still.
they search for words
to fuse them the way only their bodies did
they smile, breathe,
and huge aquatic plants grow from the exhaled air
and tangle above the bed.
today, the words seem as terrible
wasted on ignorant people
because who has the strength to make us shiver now
when the awful twins have awakened
in need of quiet times
and high ceilings
which way inside you?
what can we do now with our fever,
with anyone’s fever,
with the eyes that have seen the unseen
then splattered the future
into pitch black darkness
I am the silence of this woman
The bridge towards the sad smile she places on her face only at night
in the water
we break our body in two
and each of us needs only one hand to pray
I can hear her from very far away
I hit the air with my boot
I hit the air with one shoulder
I hit the air with my mouth
and fall silent
because her fingers make the sky
and my mouth, speaking, would undo it.
my love places silence in all the worlds at the same time
who loves me, you say, gets nothing in return
but a door toward another world.
It gets dark on earth and, with the twilight,
your breath falls behind
keeping me warm
farther and farther away, the people
because no one knows how to dance in the desert
left by your body exiting our bodies.
Carla Baricz is a poet and a translator. She graduated Yale University; she edited and translated the Trinity Press anthology Romanian Writers on Writing. Baricz is a contributor for Words without Border. She translated several Romanian authors, and is the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship (Romania, 2014-2015).
Florin Bican studied English at the University of Bucharest, Romania, where he became a compulsive translator of Romanian literature. The resulting translations have been published in Britain, Ireland, The United States, Singapore and Romania. His translations from English into Romanian include Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark and T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. When not translating, Florin Bican writes articles for British and American magazines and works on subversive children literature. His first volume of poetry, A Slob’s Treasury of Verse, Bucharest, 2007, is a collection of politically incorrect cautionary rhymes. His work in progress, Torpid Tropics, is an attempt at cautionary prose, and just as politically incorrect. In 2009 he edited and contributed to The Cook-a-Book Pancyclopedia of Texts and Images, an anthology of Romanian children’s literature. Since 2006 Florin Bican has been in charge of the Romanian Cultural Institute program Translators in the Making, training foreign students to translate Romanian literature into their respective languages, until the program collapsed under government pressure. In May 2013, he published his second volume of unorthodox children’s poetry The Recyclopedia of Rhyming Nonsense.
Ana Dragu was born in Bistriţa on November 13, 1976. She published the poetry collections Grass for Beasts/Iarbă pentru fiare (Charmides, 2004), The Wax Doll/Păpuşa de ceară (Charmides, 2008), and The Guardian Woman/Păzitoarea (Charmides, 2012). She is the founder and director of “The Little Prince Center of Resources and Reference for Autism” in Bistrita.
Carmen Firan, Romanian born, has published twenty books in Europe and in the US, including poetry, novels, essays and short stories. Among her recent books are Inferno (Spuyten Duyvil), Rock and Dew (Sheep Meadow Press), Words&Flesh (Talisman Publishers), The Second Life (Columbia University Press) http://www.amazon.com/Carmen-Firan/e/B001JOD2K6/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419825839&sr=8-1. Firan is a member of the Pen American Center and the Poetry Society of America. www.carmenfiran.com
Andra Rotaru initiated several collaborations at the intersection of poetry and choreography (the dance performance Lemur, presented in US and across Europe), poetry and fiction and video (the documentary All together, about the International Writing Program 2014, funded by IWP and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State), photography (Photo-letter pairing, involving community from Iowa and IWP writers). Rotaru’s published books include Într-un pat sub cearșaful alb/In a bed under the white sheets, Vinea Publishing House, 2005 – awarded The National Prize Mihai Eminescu, Opera Prima (the most important award for debut); Ținuturile sudului/Southern Lands, Paralela 45 Publishing House, 2010 and Lemur, Cartea Românească Publishing House, 2012, awarded The best young poetry book at Writers’ Gala, Bucharest, 2013. She currently studies in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
Claudia Serea immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. Her poems and translations have appeared in New Letters, 5 a.m., Meridian, Word Riot, Apple Valley Review, and many others. A four-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012,) The System (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand, 2012,) A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013,) To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervena Barva Press,) and Nothing Important Happened Today (Broadstone Books, forthcoming.) Serea co-edited and co-translated poems for the anthology The Vanishing Point That Whistles (Talisman House, 2011). She translated Adina Dabija’s Beautybeast (North Shore Press, Alaska, 2012). Serea is the co-founder and translations editor of The National Translation Month blog and poetry editor for City Lit Rag. She co-hosts The Williams Readings poetry series in Rutherford, NJ. More at cserea.tumblr.com.