“We writers are grave-robbers.”

                                   (Gunter Grass)

 

trans. from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Olimpia Iacob

 

 

If on a winter night a traveler tells you

that in Castrum Zathmar there are as many people

as there are galleries under the walls

it means that the time has come:

poetry is a mole crept out from the clay

“Does it undermine the reality of the mortar between the stones of the fortress?

did it come out for the twilight above the poplars?

for the crow-silk on the skin of the lakes?

do I alone hear it laugh uproariously between the clays and molasses

of Dali: ‘I look at the sky through flesh’?”

 

Under the barracks on the bank of the SomeRiver 

those who escape cross paths with those who plunder the crypts

of the counts of Károly. There are knives thrust into Rákóczi’s portrait

from the Episcopal convictus. In the sacristy blackened hands

snatch calfskin parchments out of which fire-bright spiders emerge

from beneath the letters: opus igne, auctor patibula dignis. 

 

I can leave, I can return to the city any time

through the galleries of my blind eye:

sometimes I go out through their thick fog to the beehives of Nicodim

in the beech groves of Chioaru: or as far as the cellars 

with the golden wine of Vartolomei in Tireac;

other times I lead the wolves here from the thickets of Solduba,

I accompany them through the city to Vasile Lucaciu Square

where Row, the blind man who plays the oat-reed flute,

sits near the dry fountain. Today no one has thrown him a coin

or a crust of bread. Now they stand petrified

behind the windows of their houses and watch the wolves

leave on the doormats joints of meat, deer 

and quail, then they lick his hands and return to the Stones

of the North.

 

There are more and more galleries in town

only those with a blind eye know the shades of the dead

as if in an ossuary where they come to lay their irises

like poppy seeds on the threshing floor. “With the safes

of your eye you will influence the stock exchange of ashes,”

the poet Alexandru Pintescu laughs at me. In the archeology

of faces that my memory relies on,

his shade arrives first; then come the shades of the fiction writers

Ion Bledea and Tudor Daneş, then of the poets Dorin Sălăjan

and Emil Matei. Nearby is also the shade

of the poet Ion Codreanu who goes everywhere with rats

dangling from his chest: he neither drops them nor abandons them

but he carries them as if his young

put to suck at his breast. Last 

comes the shade of the poet Ion Baias, violet through and through. 

“Today Saint Augustine said to us, ‘What is a man? Eyes

and ghosts.’ I whispered back to him, ‘I am sorry about

the thirty pieces of silver / How greatly I crave some booze now!

With that dirty money of purest silver

 

Even today we follow after Alexandru’s shade

who leads us through the corridors under the Swabian Church,

Calvaria, to the tunnel dug de manibus valachorum,

Count Rákóczi’s serfs, beneath the waters of the Someş

and onwards, up to the fortress of Ardud. 

We meet shades everywhere:

of the rebellious peasants of Giorocuta and Babţa, of the horse thieves

of Mara Borşii, of the Teutonic colonizers

brought here about 1006 by Queen Ghizela, of the Jews come

from Galicia. (The truth is, I have never known

how to distinguish a she-wolf’s shadow from a she-wolf’s howl;

I have never known how to discern the shadow of the knife as it strikes 

from the blood drained into the clay.) We walk amidst them

and go straight to the bistro by the bridge laughing

and singing after Ion:

“Here we’ll wait for the Tatars…”

Tra-la-la! 

“I wait for you, my king

King of salt, crazy king…”

Tra-la-la!

“You who’ve stood firm against a barn swallow…”

Tra-la-la!

 

 

…Now nothing more can be heard. My other eye

has opened, the living one (through the galleries of my blind eye

I can hear the footsteps of my friends withdrawing among the ashes.

But I had to stay and pay with silver coins) and I can see glasses

on the table and this empty terrace along the Someş.

On the water, the black rafts drift up and down (like the monoxila

discovered at Berindan, hollowed out from a single

oak trunk of 33 square meters and kept under glass in the courtyard

of the County Museum). From one, A traveler disembarks

(no, it isn’t winter, no, it isn’t yet night, as in Italo Calvino),

dressed in an Austro-Hungarian uniform, and he makes straight for me

and sits down at the table. Jaska Bácsi, the innkeeper, comes as well.

The stranger lays a purse of silver coins on the table and orders wine.

“I too want to have a part in this business with ashes

from under the hooves of the horses ridden by Count Rákóczi

on his return beneath the waters of the Someş to the fortress of Ardud…”

“It is a great deal to pay at this table,” I laugh. “Let us clink

our glasses. Friend Alexandru Pintescu is still writing

his poem, Calvaria…

 

 

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