George Vulturescu

 

 

 

(Romania)

 

 

Writing Is a Swamp

 

A reptile whose face I cannot see

drags me to the page. As if it had

pulled me from the mud of a swamp

and dropped me here: “At Midday it is Mid-

night and this is what you are writing?”

 

The page is a gold tray on which I can see

a bird. Must I wring its neck

or should I bear it to someone else as a gift?

I can see you, reader, starving:

it is Midnight at Midday and you, too,

must watch me: I tear at

the bird’s flesh and eat. Blood remains

on the tray, or is my writing

frozen blood?

 

I can still see the river in the village and Ioan

submerging under ice floes. I write, Ioan grasps

the letters, climbs to the riverbank where he

makes signs to me: “Brother of truth

at Midday, do you stand on Night’s bank

without reaching out your hand? Do you think you need

make no effort for the letters

to become a name?…”

 

 

The Grave and the Brain Can Be Shared With No One

 

1.

At night your brain is black clay

a black plow furrows it

a black man guides its handles:

from the sky black seeds fall

 

in the morning your eyes are sown

with the letters of the first line

 

2.

Nothing but the brain – a stage

you can share with no one.

Theater troupes have massacred one another

with swords of cold

 

Nothing but the brain

with its branches of the void

from which you will fall like a rotten

apple

 

the grave and the brain can be shared

with no one

 

3.

When I want to look at the sky I draw

on the brain’s walls, on the mud of its striations

I draw lines with a stone, with a knife,

with my finger, with my nails

 

Like a spider I secrete lines

I try to emerge from their black ground coat

 

4.

Some of us know that the stage boards

become a frozen place you can cross

if you meet the gaze of the other

 

On the boards inside my skull

I scream,

I crouch,

I spring up in a grand jeté,

I speak words I cannot understand

 

beyond the boards inside my skull

are the boards of another stage,

the skull of someone else who screams,

crouches, springs up in a grand jeté,

and speaks words he cannot understand

 

his gaze is nearly tangible

 

5.

(Last night a grass blade pierced my eye

but my brain is burnt

and the grass blade stabs deeper,

dislodging the minerals of the skull until

it finds the clay of letters)

 

6.

Letters, letters rising from the brain in flight

like birds from the mirror of a lake

their plumage shreds the fog of my drunken eye

as if a shroud lifted from a dead man’s face

 

 

The Stones of the Wolves

 

Beside the stones my eye becomes

ancient

 

               *

 

The memory of that stone in the North

a trace incised into it

like a raped sex

that can no longer give birth

 

               *

 

Lightning is a requiem above

the stones

you pass through its sound

 

               *

 

Man among stones –

parent embracing his mute child

 

               *

 

I keep watch over the vineyard of stones in the North,

I press their grapes

I drink their wine

 

               *

 

To what within us do stones appeal

when we stop beside them?

 

               *

 

The most savage stones are not high

on the mountain but in your depths

 

               *

 

What many people do not know

is that above the parched stones in the North

skies of waters flow

 

               *

 

To stand before a stone

is “an apprenticeship in death”:

it asks nothing

but it drills deep, enters inside you,

swims in your blood

 

               *

 

With my shepherd’s eye

I keep watch over the stones’ perfection

 

               *

 

I see hypnotic stones take leave of the clay,

rebellious, setting out for the valley. “What’s wrong with you,” I ask,

“stones cannot abandon their mountain…”

“We do not belong to the Mountain,” they reply. “We are

dust in the wind…”

 

               *

 

The stone cannot be fruitful,

it bears no sons,

it is time’s vessel

 

               *

 

If I could ask you, Heraclitus,

I would say that the Stones of the North, like the gods

at Delphi, neither reveal nor conceal:

they give a sign

 

               *

 

I hear the movement of ashes in the stone

begging the mountain for forgiveness

 

               *

 

The stone is my ritual

to tame the ephemeral

 

               *

 

The barren cliffs in the torrid sun

like a prayer to no one

 

               *

 

The stars in the sky light our nights

the stones on earth are

light-giving experiences

 

               *

 

What happens to stones

may also happen to me

 

               *

 

When you look at a stone, it gains

freedom

 

               *

 

Stones, what will become of you

without me, long centuries on end? Too much.

Too little beside the stones.

 

               *

 

One stone, below, at the foot

of the Mountain.

Does this mean the end

of Sisyphus’s curse?

 

               *

 

I belong to the stone tribe…

The Lord put in man

a yearning for minerals

 

               *

 

Sometimes I believe that stars arose

straight from the stones’ brain

they are so ignorant

of the sky’s swamp

 

               *

 

Ever troubling,

this strangeness of stones

that watch over

our birth and death

 

               *

 

Stones seem to follow you

like disciples.

I believe the earliest religions

were born on the stones.

 

               *

 

The heads of kings, the stones of the

Lord have struck my eyes

with an executioner’s axe

 

 

Translated from Romanian

by Adam J. Sorkin and Olimpia Iacob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

George Vulturescu is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry, among them The North and Beyond the North (2001),

Monograms on the Stones of the North (2005), Other Poems from the North (2007;The Blind Man from the North (2009); and Gold and Ivy (2011). Not surprisingly, he was born, and lives, in the north of Romania in the province of Satu Mare, where he works for the cultural administration. Among Vulturescu’s many prizes is the Romanian Cultural Order of Merit for Literature granting him the title of “Cavaler”—that is, “Knight.” In 2011, the dual-language Alte Poeme din Nord / Other Poems from the North, with English translations by Adam J. Sorkin with Olimpia Iacob, appeared in Iași, Romania, from Editura Fundației Culturale Poezia (The Poetry Cultural Foundation Publishing House).

 

 

 

 

Olimpia Iacob is an active translator of contemporary Romanian literature, with a dozen volumes of prose and poetry rendered into English, including works by Cassian Maria Spiridon, Gabriel Stănescu, Gheorghe Grigurcu, Petre Got, Mircea Petean, and Magdalena Dorina Suciu, as well as George Vulturescu’s Nord şi dincolo de Nord / North and Beyond the North. She is the author of more than twenty book-length guides and studies on learning and teaching the English language and writing and well more than a hundred articles on Romanian literature and on English-language learning. Iacob is Associate Professor in the Department of Modern Languages at “Vasile Goldiş” West University of Arad, Romania.

 

 

 

 

Adam J. Sorkin has translated more than forty-five books of contemporary Romanian literature, and his work has won the Poetry Society (U.K.) Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation for 2005, as well as the International QuarterlyCrossing Boundaries Award, the Kenneth Rexroth Memorial Translation Prize, and the Ioan Flora Prize for Poetry Translation, among others. His recent books include three collections from the University of Plymouth Press, all translated with Lidia Vianu: Ion Mureșan’s The Book of Winter and Other Poems (2011), Ioan Es. Pop’s No Way Out of Hadesburg (2010), and Mircea Ivănescu’s lines poems poetry (2009). The Ivănescu volume was shortlisted for the 2011 Poetry Society prize. He is the main translator of Carmen Firan’s Rock and Dew (Sheep Meadow Press, 2010), in collaboration with Firan. In 2011, he also published A Path to the Seaby Liliana Ursu, translated with Ursu and Tess Gallagher (Pleasure Boat Studios) and Medea and Her War Machines by Ioan Flora, translated with Alina Cârâc (University of New Orleans Press), as well asThe Vanishing Point That Whistles: An Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (Talisman House). His translations of Carmen Firan, Emilian Galaicu-Păun, Mihail Gălățanu, and Liliana Ursu previously appeared in Connotation Press.

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