Radu Andriescu
Translated from the Romanian by Adam Sorkin

THE CATALAN WITHIN ME

I can no longer find
my equilibrium. When I open the window and
brontosaurs start fluttering on huge moth wings
through the flour of morning, the flaming tincture of spring—
the inevitably postponed promise of remoteness-coagulates
in the stale air of the room where
time, rancid,
oily, oozes on and on
almost against the stream. I can no longer find

my equilibrium. Wattles in bottles, beer in your ear—
a diorama: Radu cornered. I see
a million thistles rolled into a ball
over Joan from Barcelona, the louse-infested
cart he rented to let him
paint at his leisure the wind-ravaged
hide of the country, the salty
derma of the south, the epileptic
spume of drought-the illusory
melon field;
I also see, layered over by oleaginous time,
the long-planned odyssey—
my Quest with Badge—
for something or other through the same desolate
landscape of Dobrogea. Joan—

Joan saw Japanese qualities in the stone arabesques
of the Three Hierarchs Church in Iasi. He alone could distinguish Japan
in the crumbling earthen clods in the Moldavian tableland. There had to be
a Catalan for such a wonder. There had to be
the fiery, stifling rhythm of Catalonia. There had to be impossible sun,
impossible aridity, and, more than anything,
impossible pride. There had to be
quixotic adventures at the outskirts of dusty villages in old Dobrogea
to see Japan across the boulevard from the Iasi city hall. There had to be
a Catalan to see Coanda-plus the Wright brothers—
in the swirling flight of a thistle. Somebody had to
walk on his gums along a knife blade. Somebody had to
let himself be shaved clean of his stupidity. Somebody had to
happen upon the Danube in the dark. Or the muddy flow
of the Bahlui. My car Blanchette—

Blanchette cools her Goodyear paws-second-hand-in the sluggish waters
of the Bahlui. Blanchette catches a distant view of the Danube. In the dead
of night. In Iasi, in the Bahlui. Blanchette
finds a reference point. Slowly, one headlight first,
the radiator next, the grease-fouled spark plugs,
the accessories-the driver, the officially required orange reflecting triangle—
all slip in. Dear reader—

oh, dear reader, how long can I avoid
pain? How long can I go on speaking about
the Catalan and the Hierarchs, about
thistles and brontosaurs, about
lice and equilibrium, about
the Danube and the Bahlui, about
Japan and Blanchette,
without aggravating my chronic suppuration
of soul, without a grotesque full monty
of my feelings, without mooning you with
my weaknesses? The meat market
that I am takes on the luster of the lecture hall. The atrium
purls and hums. The ventricle
gurgles and thrums. One hand
touches the other. The Catalan
is overwhelmed by the blistering Orient. The Balkans
quake. Blanchette falls asleep
in a walnut forest on the ancient Macin Mountains. The game—

yes, game-shifts to another level. Here
it's tranquil. Even the Catalan
can do nothing about it. An existential vortex: I feel
dizzy, lacking
landmarks. What
hierarchs? What curlicue
of what arabesque? What
ostrich egg in what chandelier? What
golden scales decorating the walls of what church? What
crack, what bell? What
sponsor with vinyl cheeks? I can no longer find

my equilibrium; yet, as King Luther
used to say, I have a dream. I dream

of a town forgotten among hills transformed into
rhythm. I dream
of people. I dream of something more than
a coterie. I dream that the thistle is the clean-shaven visage
of a prophet. I hope that my diaphanous Blanchette dispenses happiness
throughout the world. I dream of the almighty Catalan crushing between his fingernails
the louse of soul dryness. I dream of hierarchs.
And equilibrium. I dream of frost as clean as
Blend-a-Med toothpaste. I hope

not to be shot. I hope never to have my driver's license
suspended again. I hope my books will be
circulated. I hope my memories will not
shrivel. I hope my enzymes
will thrive. I hope our helmsman will see many
a future day. I hope the Catalan within me
will not die. I hope to defeat the white louse fat as a dragon,
the winged brontosaur. I hope
to see. I hope
to nourish myself. I hope
to voyage beyond.
To find.

ALMOST A MIRACLE: TALKING TO THE TAJ MAHAL

Can you remember, Taj, the days when I used to write you
about gypsies as beautiful as black girls?
They wore glittering green dresses, they were slender
and curvaceous, even the smallest of them;
they would walk down
Vascauteanu Street-you must know the street
with the best sledding in my neighborhood, Copou, especially at night,
when the snow freezes and sleds hiss
straight into the rich carpenter's picket fence—
Foia, the Transylvanian, who fries
the spiciest pork cracklings in town and has a son dressed
in a red BMW, the master carpenter
who makes frames for the painters in Iasi, my high school classmate's father
who poured me my first shot of strong plum brandy, the neighbor
who owns many a haughty house, Taj;

then sorrow embittered their lives, dear Taj, embittered the lives of the girl
in the flashy dresses
and her man with lips like two slices of cake.

That woman, no bigger than a nut, swathed close
in night's gleam, had some problems with this husband of hers, her man
with lips like two hunks of shadow: their house
was too cramped, their money
too little, their luck
rationed in crumbs, happiness
something read of in books. At that time, Taj, I too believed myself
a gypsy. I'm still convinced
that between the layers of my thought ferocity glows like an ember.
A battered old hat on my head, much like yours (a hat
I like to call my little Olney,
though I never wear it, poor thing), with my tousled mustache
and eyes injected with black oil, I often float high above the splendor
of the night, as unyielding
as a gypsy's knife. Taj,

dear Taj,
how much sadness can a blues hold? You seem always to be happy,
that's what I can't understand. And I, too-sometimes I seem happy,
and that I can't understand, either. My skull
is almost paper-thin, I lay too long-a tasteless Raduburger—
between two halves of a toasted bun, and chemicals weakened me, God
forgive them. Atoms
in the semblance of letters, molecules
the counterfeit of words, a green or yellowish paste, or maybe
golden, the pure sparkle of a green skirt, or the savor
of grass in the dead of winter, but only
in dream, Taj, only under the parapets of Foia's stronghold,
only in the red face of a shiny BMW...

Taj, you sing your sadness and joyfully blow
a spiral shell,
deeper and blacker
than the one in which my friends on the terrace squander
the ashes of their frail bodies, the chalky
helix through which loneliness sounds its native cry, a ludicrous solitude
there on the sandy mockery of a beach in a corner of my terrace, the distance
I brought very close to me,
between glittering folds, in the tar
of that dream of yours, Taj, your dream of buying a kind of hybrid fiddle
mated with a trumpet's bell-God knows
what they call it in the north, in our Maramures. I'd call it a marten,
or a blue, Taj.
Wherever could you have heard of this satyr, part brass,
part violin? A Maramures blues? An icy spring
slapping the scrawny phalanges of loneliness? A shout-song
as vast and strident as the horn of some insane wasp? Who knows how.
Or what.
What strategic highway, what concrete steps to the most rarefied north, to
Ultima Thule, did you glimpse on the Internet? Who
invited you to sing in our city, where no one knows about you?
Could it be little George? The French Cultural Center?
The French?
Right here, in the extreme east of our north? Where compass needles
dance the hora to the rhythm of testosterone? Where Foia builds towers
out of picture frames? The greatest carpenter, or craftsman, or
artist, the ever possessive lover of wood, the most expensive whore
of form without content,
the castellan at the foot of frozen Vascauteanu Street... Here, Taj, streets
slip into one another, they have tributaries from high on top of the hill,
from Copou, or is it King Carol now,
the name of the boulevard? Carol the First? The Second?
The Third? Has to be one of them...

The woman in a glittering
green dress
leans against Foia's picket fence, bashed in by sleds . . .
It's almost midnight, Taj-Taj, are you still listening?—
and down below, in the valley,
she can see the lights of the apartments, cold, no doubt
fluorescent; under her shoes,
the sidewalk is gray ice. How do the streets gather
at the bottom of the valley, Taj? How
do they flow into one another...

 

HAMBURGER, OR THE WAY BACK HOME TO HIS DIGS

Two are the planes I insert myself between, like a hamburger in a toasted bun: the ludicrous bottom one, which I glide above, dangerously low, always about to scrape my oversize stomach upon its scaly-gelatinous surface like a carp's back; and the other one, without any doubt too high, too difficult to decipher, which so much space separates me from that often I cannot help but wonder whether any point of contact is still conceivable between me, the hamburger, and it, the top half of the bun, like a stellar vault speckled with sesame constellations.

Flight as an image seems to have haunted me for more than ten years, in fact nearly fifteen, proceeding from the primitive ingenuity that made it, flight, seem like an Edenic floating among the gardens-or fortunate isles-of the blessed, and ending in a kind of swimming in a thicket of events, things, remembrances, frustrations, olfactory and tactile sensations rather than visual, a clumsy swimming that went beyond any known style or system. And I, as well as the other swimmers, men and women, could change the way we appear, from perfect bodies, nude, translatable in a core vocabulary of simple words, to squamous monsters, just like the carp I mentioned before, resembling more and more the mutants of Nimigean's book, slobbering, vibrant with colors, raging with hormones, swollen with excrescences of every shape and kind, sharp blunt, dry, calcareous, slimy, elastic, rigid. In other words, the hamburger in the bun more or less detaches itself and falls away from the sesame vault, smacking its meaty belly against the ground, and even worse, plowing underneath its surface in a most sticky and pitiful exit from the bun, toward the rusty fundament of a foul trash bin, sandwiched between wilted salad and spoiled mayonnaise, then into the metal viscera of the city, through underground tunnels stretching their tongues as far as the street in front of my house. In practice, somewhere at the intersection of these two underground worlds, the liquid and the empty dark, my navel attaches and sprouts roots (or is it possibly not the navel, in fact? I've got to check this out).

Among kinds of histories, I prefer stories of a quest, rather than stories of a place. In my most ambitious dreams, I feel a brotherhood with the poplar seed, which never wonders about where it might happen to land, indeed never wonders about anything at all. The only thing that alarms me, however, is the fact that the sperm of this tree is in quest of somewhere to take root, is, in short, in quest of a place. The flight of poplar fluff always results in a necessary landing, a denouement that is a comedown on the greasy bottom half of the bun. It's like an eternal hop-skip-and-jump of the species from one niche to another, along a road sprinkled with motels, but ending in exhaustion and the obsession to find a place, one's own digs, a personal space to appease the urge for property, for security, a particular place which you are to be found in, which you can invite your friends to, can boast of, can take firm root in, so as to have a locus where you can disseminate your seeds from, later on. My most ambitious dream, finally, seems to be sensible, modest, quiet and dull, once you sift through its most secret entrails.

 

THE STALINSKAYA BRIDGES

Life has become more joyous,
life has become more beautiful!
-Joseph V. Stalin

Badge, the bridges between self-locked people
are often built purely of arches of
suspension points fastened by bolts made of vodka.
Which doesn't keep them from lasting.
Both Oti and Musa, as well as assorted cultural officials
who now and then offer us a job,
manage to cross such a bridge. The bridges might seem too elastic,
so the swaying of these signs of hesitation
cause our shoes' balls to shrink in terror and
shriveled ovaries to burst over the virtual abyss
like umpteen bags of Hollywood-brand popcorn.
But it is weakness that makes the spans dependable.

You're sure getting around, Badge. South, east, west,
all these trips have disclosed the muck
in which bacteria of talent could cluck, cackle, hatch.
They discovered it there in Timioara, too, on Mussorgsky Street,
where the monsoon would forswear
its beneficent Southern cyclicity
in order to bite your butt, Badge, and awaken you
to extra-uterine life.
I can visualize your familiar head emerging from a cigarette box,
slightly dizzy with sleep, high on overdoses of hormones,
indifferent to the doctoral spasms of an entire generation
or the subtle amalgamation of Korund ceramics
and weak cappuccino in a text that,
as you may imagine, had to be aborted. Your amiable skull
in the kitchen steamed up by the rapid boil of spaghetti, adorned
with illusory blond ringlets of the bologna
in the refrigerator door.

Badge, it happened again yesterday evening, a mouse ran from the shoulder
bag I left in the hall and into the sewer via the john.
I meant him no harm. Like you, I felt the need
for someone to communicate with. The lousy son of a rodent bitch
turned his skinny-tailed ass to me and scurried away through a big gap,
really a much too large hole I'd cut in the bathroom
door so as not to strangle the volts and watts
of the washing machine's umbilical cord. What could I say to him? Hey,
uncle rat, my man badger, come, let's have a friendly chat—
you cheese-for-brains lout
of a Ukrainian train conductor (you remember
the story, right?). I took the stick I've been leaning on
for the past week, since I sprained my leg—
you haven't heard this story—
and I went looking for my good buddy,
my furry confidant. I poked around with the tip of the fir stick—
the tail of a broom, if truth be told-but my little friend
had vanished, persuaded that I wanted to do him in. (Ovid has
a witty poem with cats and
rats; me, I just write about what I find in the sewer).
My neighbor, one of Bivolaru's illuminati,
though more introverted
than a pear no one wants to eat,
pulled from the sewer a rat that was earnestly decomposing
while in the same breath composing many wise olfactory things
about crossing bridges. Where he made his way over
(we wound him tight in two plastic sacks and launched him forth
on another quest), the bridges are sealed by layers of cement
and mud. The sad, furry miss mousie, the beautiful
and wise Musa of the rats,
must have waited for him a long time
at the crossroads of pipes gurgling with raw sewage.
A Stalin of alcohol molded from urban sludge,
eyes injected with cheap Oriental gadgets, claws
ingrown into an insignia or logo, thrusting
a notched, forked tongue into the tattoo parlor.
Maybe tens and tens and
tens of years ago-but no more than that-all creatures
spoke one and the same language. Catastrophe was wrought
upon them in the tattoo parlor.
The good half and the waterweed half of the
the cloven viscount started
speaking different languages. The thin Italian—
the cosmicomic postmodern, the meridional swallowed by
the cement-mixer whale of millennial sizzle—
was ascendant. Since then, with the coming of fall, a vast field
of fermented cabbage has usurped the bridges of communication
in the Orient.
The cast iron and brick sections
of the bridge float above the face of the abyss
supported by pickled cucumbers. The telephone
circuits get shorted out by the cats that
drop their litters in the yard, very close
to the sewer system in rat-town. Timisoara,
a plasticized cardboard mask
stuck on the pointy noses of the Carpathian peaks. The edges
crimp into dots, collapse to a central point, a silent
louse lost in a butterfly's bed sheets. The black horns
of the cocoon hide phosphorescent pulsations. Protean
stripes of protein that differentiate the disparate parts (Cristina-hedgehog
of nerves and sensibilities; a permanent gasp
oxygen; a molecule bristling
with scribbled words-more than enough even for a prose poem.)

Badge, this world-built of molecules that
chemists systematically ignore-has the circumference
of the Sicilian woman who gave birth to eight human
kittens, roughly a pound
a piece. Technology, the alpha
molecules, redimensioned, the speaking
structures, the bridges suspended
over uncertainties, liquid sutures
stitching estuaries clogged with desiccated, doctrinaire numskulls—
the semidarkness of days of drought; I'm too far away
from the froth on the daydream (I pluck the still intact
epos of the housefly from the soluble armor of adolescence, I pass
beyond hexagonal chrysalides of ice, and I retain a tension
identical to that of my cardboard
extremities-maybe
stronger, but in no way overwhelming-the tendons
grow weaker-"immaterial"
is a euphemism for a body that-though almost
obese-weighs as little as
a fir bracelet; the warm-blooded, acronymic rat that slinks in
through the pipe from the "Regia Autonoma de Termoficare,"
the city heat utility; the old fogy possessively
licking my lips; the fleshy cabbage
and the Christmas wreaths; the heads of cabbage among which,
to my disgust, I recognize my own).

 

BLOODY BAD SHIT

I've never lived as if I could taste blood, even when
I got kicked in the kisser. Only swarms of mosquitoes hung around
to applaud my ecarte over the muddy Bahlui. And what the hell's the point
of living like that. At night in the industrial zone of the city, not a
soul anywhere the whole long way to the city limits. An electric hum
above your head for miles and miles, potholes in the road, eyes of neon and
Freon. Hunchbacked tram rails in the middle of
the highway. Not a trace of Cosovei's electric snow in the industrial
zone. You walk to the edge of town, and if you feel like it, you walk on and
on, through the marshes and over the hill until you reach Bessarabia.

I'm standing in the gas station listening to the streetlight above
my head. I swat mosquitoes on my face. If they've already
bitten me, blood spurts out. No way does this
mean I've come close to living as if I could taste blood. I've read
two famous texts written in Iasi about
blood buzzing around a room inside a mosquito's
guts. Usually it's bitter cold here. The Russians shove Siberian
ice cubes against your prostate. Half the year you have to wear boots,
wrapped in a warm muffler. The faint light of the bulbs
sprinkles tiny needles of orange ice over the belt of the city. Iasi
is made mainly of belts. Slender, on the point of
breaking apart, it hangs in a sado-maso harness
of poorly lit belts. With train-station buckles.
Nicolina Station, International Station, Central Station, North Station:
a Monopoly city. Whores
in every belt hole. Hoarfrost
glittering on their silver blouses, but no mosquitoes. Blood,
whirlpools of blood and cream, but no mosquitoes. Gasoline
fumes, a mirage shimmering far down the road. When
it's cold, not even that.

I once became mired
in the marshes just past the industrial zone.
I was going fishing with friends. We knew nothing
about fishing, but it was summer. The day was hot. They pushed
old Blanchette. With her varicose tires, nervously, she
spattered them with mud. Soft and warm. Two
months each year, the belts of Iasi melt into the city's flesh. The mosquito
larvae grow fragile antennas. I wanted to compare
these antennas to something, but it turned out stupid. "Antenna"
in itself sounds dumb. You can feel how the image gets suffocated
by trash in an apartment building stairwell. "Cable"
is just about as bad. Moreover,
you can't say, "the mosquito larvae grow monaxial
cables." Well, in truth, you can. And with toenail clippers
you can cut the
cables. The antennas. You can torment the mosquitoes
along the banks of the Bahlui. You can create discomfort.

I told several groups of my students
about the boiled rat in the washing machine, pulverized
between the steel of the drum and my family's linens. "That's
sickening," they told me. An incorrect image. Politically. (Not all
of them would lose the color from their cheeks. But they weren't
living as if they could taste blood, either. Their eyeballs, like their blood
cells, are the colorless color of barely lit asphalt in fall. Their
existential varix is as black as a prune. They seem
extra-sensitive to cold and to the future. They float
on the other half of the biscuit, by the Nicolina
Market, on the opposite side of the bridge near the packing plant
where meat is sold at half price,
though not many people know about it, so there won't be a mass pilgrimage
to the frozen relics of the animals. In fact,
my students' cheeks are bright
even though they rarely eat meat. With faces
of a deep purple, they would sing, I've been mistreated.
Man, they treated me like shit here in Iasi.)

From underneath the dining hall on the Maiorescu (formerly Pushkin)
campus there comes a smell of methane. On the terrace, the loud,
crude Turkish beat
of the manele. October. October in the navel.
A universal navel, a boundless navel. Only a moron
would say you should live as if you could taste blood and you should leap
over the lips of the navel. You can dump truckloads
of cannonballs into the navel, you can spit into it. Bubbles
of saliva, like fish eggs without dna. No, with DNA, Eugene
corrects me. You spit DNA. A salmon neglecting to
sacrifice himself upstream. A kick in the kisser, guts and gore, never
living as if you could taste blood. I haven't any idea where the others went.

Badge, last night ate shit. I danced the manele
with the gypsies in my neighborhood at an Internet cafe, a huge
black wolf almost bit off my balls, and
I sprained my other ankle. Today I've got to attend a memorial service.
Really bad shit, couldn't be worse, you can just about taste it.)

 

BEEP

I
raised the delexified
Stalinskaya bridges more than two weeks
ago. Like the kid at No. 14 who's got a wardrobe
jam-packed with machine parts, I
deconstructed a
state
of mind (I dismantled
it!) and torqued its screws tight
in a sonnet's pentameters. When its breathing blew
into a monsoon, more broadband than
a transoceanic howl, I
bit
my tongue.
When it turned dry and tortured
like a bonsai of words, I rapped for days nonstop
through immaterial correspondence—
systole and diastole.
I
subscribed
to the Morse code of my friends,
who have cell phones they can't afford. One beep, the last
stronghold of communication, means "Hi,
old friend, what's
up?"
Two beeps—
I never got to learn what two beeps
means. You can't pick a fight in beeps, you can't harbor
doubts-that is, if you know the code. Close
Encounters of the Third
Kind.
Literally (in the
spirit of the letter), "encounters
in the altogether." Beep-beep, the Martians hail
you on Chisinau Avenue.
Bebop, a black
vinyl
response spins
through the air. The chatter of
ebonite. The twittering of aged tykes. A tiny Tico
taxicab, three thousand lei per kilometer,
dashing in its synthetic
leather
jacket ("I'm no
tycoon, sorry, take this jacket and
let's call it square"), blinks its headlights three times
and vanishes on the belt, down
Silvestru Alleyway.
Beep,
dear Tico, beep!
A flaccid beep as commodious
as the Little Mall-the Central Market Hall; a beep
with outspread wings of bridges,
one arching across the
railroad
tracks toward Bucium
and the other arching toward
Galata Monastery. The beep bird. The bleeping
beep bird. She hatches eggs of
loneliness with feeble
croaks,
beep-beep-I've no
idea what beep-beep means, I never
got to learn what two beeps means. Could it possibly
mean, "Are you around? I've really got
something to tell
you"?
I don't know. I raised
my Stalinskaya bridges and found myself
decked out in the plumage of the ridiculous beep bird.
I researched about poets and taught my
students about their crackpot
antics.
Beep-beep, I'd urge
them tentatively. The lecture hall was
huge, it used to be a dorm room crammed full with more
than forty beds. The planks of the floor
pulsed with their own
code.
Systole and diastole.
(I'd like to elaborate this metaphor
and say "their own heart," book a return trip from rhetoric
to semantics, but I'd become the victim of
an insufficiently developed
poetics.)
There's no way to know
what the floor boards beep to one another
when I tread on their tails and bleat "non-linear" beats
to these young listeners. Nor can I feel a tingle
when I transmute into
a field—
a magnetic one, perhaps,
for pleasure, or bright white to look
sharp, or possibly black so people won't ruin their eyes-
a field of pixels, phosphor dots, molecules
of flat light that forms
signs
out of zero and one, beep,
beep, beep-beep... Two weeks means
a great deal. Two weeks without bridges. Watch me, Badge,
I'm coming out of phosphor dots and
beeps. Without Saligny's
craftsmanship—
I saw his bridges in August—
I can arch only smiles. The kid at No. 14
will build the machine. The machine to arch bridges
longer than a timid row of beeps. The kid
got a lot of machine
parts
from Mr. Popescu.
Car parts, refrigerator parts, stove parts,
all sorts, I couldn't make out the different kinds and how
many. A whole packed wardrobe. One day
this kid went to Mr. Popescu and
said
to him (he went with his
favorite book of stories under his arm):
"Mr. Popescu, I brought you a book, so you'll have something
to read." Machine parts for stories.
His favorite
stories.
The kid at No. 14
gave away his most precious treasures—
except for those machine parts. He gave away his favorite
stories. Watch me, Badge, I'm coming out of
an alkaline chrysalis of phosphor
dots.
I hope the kid will
also eat the luminous mulberries
in the schoolyard, the berries I tasted with Tudor
on our way to the moon. In each mulberry
in the schoolyard,
in each
seed
of each mulberry—
a story. A wide smile arches outward
from the mulberry stories, so wide there's no more
room anywhere in the city for pale
beeps. Beep, Radu.
Beep.

back