"Knife"
by Ruxandra Cesereanu

from Crusader-Woman (Black Widow, 2008)
Translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Claudia Litvinchievici with the poet with an Introduction by Andrei Codrescu


KNIFE

Descending to halfway through my days,
I learned what it means to caress with a knife.
I sketched a life map on my skin
and the blood cast polished rubies out of me.
The knife is a glittering animal, my silver house,
an angel to slice mirrors, a tamer.
In heaven a knife-tree grows
with serrated leaves redolent of fall,
and when it withers, shedding its leaves,
the saints shuffle their soles and trickle droplets over the fields.
Oh death, you have stainless-steel wings!
I held the knife against my left breast
and it warmed itself from my heart.
My metallic ventricles would suddenly open—
I’d feel myself dazed by a blow of black light.
Once in the holy times of my youth
I intended to cut off my hair with it and become a nun.
The knife was my father.
He taught me chopping devils to pieces,
sang for me on the cold nights when loneliness slapped my face,
even shouted when I would nibble from always-commonplace death,
I am the life, do not fear.
I loved him sweetly-sourly.
The knife stayed alive in frozen regions of the brain,
a pilgrim through lands without a star.
Those who hear this story will pray for a very long time,
they will call me the executioner’s little girl and cry out:
Viper, you have talons like a cross thrust in the ground.
Girl-child, you’re heretical from sunrise to sunset!
A knife was the doll I fed and cared for in the pack of childhood,
my sharp life, my cutting mountain,
the same knife I balanced on my head
when I was a bride with white teeth.
From it I would make candles for the dead.
One night I gave birth to knife and he cried like a haunted son,
Mother? Father? A silver tongue licks your forsaken love.
Those who hear this story will mutter for a very long time
in their midnight rooms.
Wearing a white nightgown I kneel and pray,
knife makes his nest in my delirious vertebrae.
I myself am he, his steel, the shiny god.


Cuţitul*

La jumătatea vieţii coborînd
am aflat ce-nseamnă să mîngîi cu un cuţit,
desenam pe piele o hartă a vieţii
şi sîngele arunca din mine rubine şlefuite.
Cuţitul e un animal strălucitor, e casa mea de-argint,
un înger tăietor de oglinzi şi-mblînzitor.
În cer se află un arbore al cuţitelor
cu frunzele zimţate, mirosind a toamnă,
atunci cînd se va scutura,
sfinţii îşi vor tîrî tălpile picurînd peste cîmpii.
O, moarte, ai aripi de inox!
Ţineam cuţitul lipit de sînul stîng
şi el se încălzea de inima mea,
mi se deschideau dintr-odată ventricolele metalice
şi-atunci mă tulburam lovită de o lumină neagră,
cu el voisem cîndva să-mi tai părul
şi să mă călugăresc în sfintele vremuri ale tinereţii.
Cuţitul era tatăl meu.
El mă-nvăţase sfîrtecarea diavolilor,
îmi cîntase în nopţile reci cînd singurătatea mă izbise peste chip,
tot el îmi strigase cînd muşcam din preaobişnuita moarte,
– eu sînt viaţa, nu te-nspăimînta.
Îl iubeam dulce-acrişor,
cuţitul era viu în zona-ngheţată a creierului,
pelerin prin ţările fără stea.
Cei ce auzi-vor această poveste mult timp se vor ruga,
fetiţa călăului îmi vor spune şi vor striga:
– năpîrcă, ai gheare în formă de cruce, înfipte-n ţărînă,
fetiţă eretică de la răsărit la apus!
Cuţit a fost păpuşa pe care o spălam şi o hrăneam în haita copilăriei,
viaţa mea ascuţită, muntele tăios,
acelaşi cuţit l-am pus la căpătîi
pe cînd eram mireasă cu dinţii albi,
lumînare făceam din el pentru morţi,
apoi, într-o noapte l-am născut şi el ţipa ca un fiu bîntuit,
mamă, tată? limbă de-argint linge dragostea voastră uitată.
Cei ce auzi-vor această poveste mult timp vor bolborosi
la miezul nopţii în odaia lor.
Pe cînd în albă cămaşă de noapte stau în genunchi şi mă rog,
cuţitul îşi face culcuş între vertebrele delirate.
Eu însămi sînt el, dumnezeul lucios, de oţel.

*The original Romanian does not appear in the published book.

• • •

Ruxandra Cesereanu has firmly established herself as one of the most important and exciting Romanian writers of today. Born in 1963 in the city of Cluj-Napoca, the traditional cultural center located at the heart of the region of Transylvania, Cesereanu began publishing poetry in literary reviews in 1981, but her first novel, Voyage through the Looking-Glasses, came out only in 1989, the year Romanian communism was overthrown. She has published nine books of poetry, five books of fiction, and significant essays on the Romanian gulag and political torture. She lives and works in Cluj, where she is an editor at the cultural magazine Steaua (“The Star”) and Professor at the Faculty of Letters (Department of Comparative Literature) at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Cesereanu’s collections of poetry include Garden of Delights, Live Zone, Fall Over the City (which won the Poetry Prize of the Cluj Writers’ Association), Schizoidian Ocean, Crusader-Woman, Venice with Violet Veins, Letter of a Courtesan, Kore-Persephone (which also won the Cluj Writers’ Association Poetry Prize), and Lunacies. Her prose works include Tricephalos, Nebulon, and Birth of Liquid Desires. She recently published The Forgiven Submarine, a book of poetry, written collaboratively with Andrei Codrescu which will be published in English in 2009.

Adam J. Sorkin’s recent volumes of translation include three 2006 books: Magda Cârneci’s Chaosmos, translated with Cârneci (White Pine Press), Mihai Ursachi’s The March to the StarsPaper Children, done with various collaborators (Ugly Duckling Presse). Other books include Daniela Crăsnaru’s short stories translated with the author, The Grand Prize and Other Stories (Northwestern UP, 2004), and Marin Sorescu’s The Bridge, translated with Lidia Vianu (Bloodaxe Books, 2004)—the winner of the 2005 Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation of The Poetry Society, London. Sorkin is Distinguished Professor of English at Penn State University, Delaware County. His work published in Calque can be accessed by clicking [me].




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