Ruxandra Cesereanu
from California (on the Someș)

The riverbanks were terracotta.
In the grass, lost ping-pong balls.
My grandfathers’ well from former times had been moved,
and the bucket that every summer I stared into at my own image: I wanted to be a superstar.
The Someș chewed tobacco like a tall goldsmith, his belly hanging over his belt.

Green clings between the rocks.
Someone is slitting a hen’s throat near the river,
Her head jumps at me and chases me far from the pack.
Summer is a basin for hundreds of apartments.

I finger the river on the kitchen apron and imagine I’m immersed in the Ganges.
Here I shall be baptized, here I shall give my death rattle.
In the last end, everything is liturgy or gruel.

The greenish water around the monastery
swirled near the hut where a cat had her kittens.
The small mews of the kittens kept us awake all night,
even the thieves on the hill fled to escape the crying.
In the morning, I bathe in the river in my shirt, angering the fishermen.
Nuns were closed in between the smoke-covered walls.
I was twenty-seven years old and had an emerald ring in my ear.

At the time when Anti-California could be found on the Someș,
people ingested drugs to forget the schism.
After the internal wars, California arrived at the river
and the shores were hung with tapestries and lullabies.
This was when I first started to believe in the little peace of God.

The cold rain punished the earth like a feral cat.
On the riverbank, two bodies were rubbing against each other.
Clothes were almost open, but love didn’t emerge from there.
Little wet moans on the reddened skin.
Those bodies transformed into broken objects.
Then the squeaks of the two collapsed skins were heard faintly.
I felt my own carotid like a button on my dress.

First of all search for love in yourself, you told me.
Search for what poetry is, follow to the end.

A red telephone booth
made for London on the Someș, like a museum in miniature,
bushes of rapeseed and wild roses together,
a little girl, a ball in her hand, stops and asks me,
Were you born here, on the Someș?
Garbage cans like at a subway entrance,
distributed by a green van,
while elderly people draw a chalk circle.
Were you born here, on the Someș? the little girl asks again.
Mister Caterpillar, a mushroom-man sketched by graffitists under the bridge,
stares at my bicycle,
his lips are of dry ketamine.

What is self-extinction for the good of poetry and the salvation of mankind?
Does suicide exist only so that after you something will remain (un)readable?

A cross made of aluminum cups.
Someone died on the Aegean shore,
the boulders seemed like Siamese-twin dolphins,
a sunset that moved me to remember soldiers, poets and friends,
jumbled in a heap and covered by sand.

A California with barges built on battered pontoons,
but so alive in my memory,
which is the memory of all who want to remember.
Street lamps with dead insects, mini-carriages for tourists.

California is a body of water with a spreading sun.

On the split planks of the floating docks, a snow of linden flowers.
Under the pipes of the hut where the watchman lives – a floating tree, snagged.
A green bridge reaching toward the shore, toward people.
We sat there writing,
we were joyous coffins, dismembered,
oars struggling against metaphors, banished briefly from the city.
Life-buoys lettered in white that has worn away over many summers
stank of plasticized fish.
A little flag, lacking glory, at the mouth of the estuary,
where thick ropes slept in chests.

Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and the poet.

Ruxandra Cesereanu is an important and prolific Romanian poet and prose writer who has published eight books of poetry, most recently Coma, awarded the Prize for Poetry of the Writers Association in Cluj, and California (on the Someș) (2014). She has published two experimental co-authored books: Forgiven Submarine with Andrei Codrescu, and The Otherland with the young Romanian poet Marius Conkan. Two books of her poetry translated with Sorkin, Lunacies and Crusader-Woman, have been published in the U.S. Cesereanu has also published books of fiction, including Angelus which was published in English translation by Diálogos Books in 2015.

Adam J. Sorkin has published 60 books of Romanian poetry in English translation and won translation awards, including the Poetry Society Prize (U.K.), Kenneth Rexroth Memorial Prize, Ioan Flora Prize, and Poesis Prize, among others. His recent books include The Hunchbacks’ Bus by Nora Iuga, translated with Diana Manole (Bitter Oleander Press, 2016), which was longlisted for the 2017 National Translation Award in Poetry, Syllables of Flesh by Floarea Țuțuianu, translated with Irma Giannetti (Plamen Press, 2017), and A Deafening Silence by Magda Cârneci, translated with Mădălina Bănucu and Cârneci (Shearsman Books, 2017). His translation, with Lidia Vianu, of Mircea Dinescu’s The Barbarians’ Return, is scheduled for April 2018 publication from Bloodaxe Books. Sorkin is Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Penn State Brandywine.