Two poems

Artwork for English translation of two Romanian poems

These are the English versions by Gabi Reigh of two poems written in Romanian by Ioana Ileana Ștețco. Get Issue Zero to read the original.

Pay attention, madam

To the mead where you dreamed
Visions of gold and earth
To the river that still holds
The salted shape of your body
And to the rock-moulded song
That gathers itself blindly into words
Pay attention as you lift your eyes
To your birthright sky

To leaden seeds that freeze in the blood
So that our eyes might, once in a while,
peck at them
To the heart that beats
and the heart that will fail in an instant
Pay attention, madam

To the boldness of a barefoot journey
Through the infernal shapes of the future
Shapes of dust and slime
Eyes shimmering with deserts
And the narcotized bourne of my days
Mangled into a benign cell

To longing, that imperial crown
I still bear even as the god of dreaming
Slips further and further away
To the resurrection that grows steadily
On the cross of my mortal body
To the merciless heart that holds out
The cribs of children in front of my eyes
Even though it knows and knows everything

To every solitude
Pay attention, madam
Staring flush in the eyes
Of those that pass by on the edge of a scythe
Unshod

To the vultures’ empty nests
And the poem with its flesh of snow
Pay attention to all, madam,
Now and in every shape you’ll stir centuries on
Through the cleanest light
Or hollowed emptiness

To the earth I pay attention
When my love tastes of earth
And my body’s tear
When it freezes
To the sea in the blood
Draining into quiet days
I pay attention
To the ashes of fires sowed in the wind
Like grain in the autumn
I clench my heart with attention
To the piercing of light
On a bed heaped with what may be each tomorrow

In the empty shop windows
Around the bends and the corners inside
I feel the great master perpetually sketching
The signs of a time never silent.

The treachery of dreams

You
Midwife of my solitudes
Amplifying, driving them back
To sniff out the fatted flocks of the years
Like question marks, hanging,

While for you,
Thoughts wither and shrink in their skins

You
Unmoved
Tallying joys in scratches so faint
That my body’s shadow drowns them
The shadow where you hide

I
Grazed your flocks on the pastures of sleeplessness
Gave succour to your bitter fallow
With my salt waters
Then put on the festive garb of childhood
And turned away

Not far from the noise of all we know
Prisoners of words brawl with each other
Like in a public house
Or den of ill repute
Or the Academy library

You
Wrought out of loss and emptiness
The world, sketched in invisible colours
While your flocks hoist up each yesterday
Out of the heap of days anointed with ash
As if from a stove sighing its last
As it burns and ends them
Before even speaking their names

To you
I raise this cup
Brimful with treachery of dreams
offering my heart
that finest parchment
Where quickened letters line up in rows
Waiting to rise into verse

In the ashes of photographs
My body surrenders to dust

Enduring itself to be dreamed
By those who bear witness to the wounds
of this moment
castaways from the paradise within

The scars of this time
Settle into the scars of my body
The incest of light
Burrows deep  inside the well
To that makeshift memory of living light
The quiet fountain
Where, in shallow pools
The fish of our treachery swim
In pearl darkness.

Gabi Reigh (tr.)

Gabi Reigh moved to the U.K. from Romania at the age of 12 and now teaches A level English. In 2017, she won the Stephen Spender Prize which inspired her to translate more Romanian literature. As part of her ‘Interbellum Series project, she has translated interwar novels, poetry and drama by Lucian Blaga, Mihail Sebastian and Liviu Rebreanu. Her translation of The Town with Acacia Trees by Mihail Sebastian was the first work translated from Romanian to receive a PEN Translates award.

Ioana Ileana Ștețco

Ioana Ileana Ștețco was born in Borșa, Maramureş, in Romania. A member of the Romanian Writers’ Union and labelled as the ‘subtle alchemist of existential melancholy’, she has published
three poetry collections. Her poetry has been described as ‘remarkably vivid, tumultuous, overwhelming and grave’. She has won several national poetry prizes. Her latest collection,
Ai să dai seamă, doamnă, was published in 2016.

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