Three Romanian Poems
by Ruxandra Cesereanu
Just like that, we used to talk together in the café, not sitting down
Standing instead so that the stories could trickle from us
We propped our elbows on the bar
While the coffee in our cups willed us to pry open its secrets
And read the world in its dregs
And peer down at stories through its monocle,
Wherever we might find ourselves, hungry for more,
Out-talking even death and its machinery.
You were the storyteller curling smoke from your pipe
While in the café I could see the burning timbers
Of childhood winters with cakes at my grandparents’ home,
With wolves outside and the moon covering her eyes lest she should be blinded by ice.
You talked with a small candle planted in your teeth
A sun in your mouth
To warm the words so that the stories would grow and multiply,
Women and men and children swarmed the stories like an orderly hive,
Even when the words about them filled with a fear and loss
We couldn’t swat away.
And then you would say – stories are ever shifting shapes,
Benign predators adored and cherished and then released into the wilderness,
And I would say – stories are the tremors of our bodies,
They are orange coloured and they have that we can’t possess,
The power of life and death.
While we talked like this, between interruptions and waiting,
I drained the coffee to its dregs, its cuneiform remnants
A dead end in a road where no-one travelled.
You see, you said at last, stories are objects
We avoid not to disturb and turn in our hands
And do not caress like we ought,
Maybe because they cannot transcribe that something received at birth,
But only pass, ash-grey, into corners, where they will be left alone,
Without anyone haranguing them for being stories and saying nothing needed to be said.
Strindberg’s Last Walk in the Snow
by Gabriela Melinescu
After days of sleep and sunlit nights,
Clad in a morning suit and top hat,
He wandered out of prison.
He wore a gallant smile,
Ready to exchange
Light pleasantries with passersby,
Words that could fill the vacuum of the hours,
Like water shifting in a jar.
Rock grey April sky
cracked with white fissures.
Rain swollen sky
Jolting with lightning.
Greetings crossed through him,
Raised hats and mirrored hands
Passed, unseeing, through his body,
As if tearing back a shapeless fog.
Orphan spectre at the corner of Queen’s Street,
Custodian of lives unravelling on,
Caught, in a photograph, winter-still,
In snow-stained Sunday best,
In that last snow of 1912.
by Ioana Ileana Șteţco
I watch them closely,
from a height, as if tracing on a map
joys snuffed out like distant things in the horizon
and that horizon, pillowed with cloud,
slipping still away
my friends hang on the rim of my being
their eyes aglow
with bare deserts
The map is the map of a smile
where they write and hawk geographies
Insurgent like fish in a fountain
I put out my hand
Till it touches a falling star
Wearing a familiar face confessing to be my mother
Tenderer still than the thread of light at the trim of a shadow
While leaves veined with silence rain through my thoughts
Her face draws citadels
And ignites every gateway
She lets me play with a shadow
Until I become shadow
Until my friends
Hanging on the rim of my wasteland
Glow with their hearts
The time we squandered
Wears the face of counterfeit coins
It stormed past us, tumultuously,
And now turns back,
Sweeping the creases of valleys,
The time we squandered
Is the colour of earth and of the grass
Where my friends, vagrant through unutterable truths,
Heritors of glass empires,
Peddlers of wood,
Hanging on the rim of death
Glow from their graves.
Translations from the Romanian