Blesok no. 86, September-October, 2012

Not a Thing about Survival Technique

Mircea Cărtărescu

A Motorcycle Parked Beneath the Stars

I’m a motorcycle parked beneath the stars, by the window of the television repair shop.
a breeze blows from the alley, I’m pale, helpless.
in the shop a bulb’s been left burning, so that something like two cathode tubes
a few flowerpots with asparagus ferns and cactus, shelves in the corners crammed full of housings from TVs, AGFA cassettes and wires
glint obscurely, populate my solitude.
because I feel so lonely.
in my rearview mirror galaxies swim,
stars fog in globular swarms, transmit their panting to radio sources
all of them rushing farther and farther away in desperate flight, like criminals from the scene of the crime
leaving behind a trail of blood.

what silence. sometimes I wonder
what it means to make love. because that’s all they talk about. every Saturday they mount me
and drive me along the highways. I can look at the hills, clouds, the sun
raindrops, the bedraggled trees getting tangled in rainbows…
oh my cylinders throb in such frenzy. then I feel I’m really alive.
they go into the motel and make love.
they are the Masters and feel free.
but how can anyone made of cells be free?
…and in the driveway out back by some dust-covered VW beetle

I thirst for love. If I were at least able to love the plug on the extension cord in this shop window
I’d caress its white plastic skin with my fingers, if it let me
and if I had fingers. If I could at least be alive
in the bioelectric field of the cactus…
soon, soon I’m going to die, and I’ll not have done anything in this world.
they’ll toss me on the scrap heap
they’ll smash my headlight, and its burnt-out bulb will dangle from two flimsy strands of wire.
all my life I’ve helped others to make love
and I’m going to die among induction coils, magnets and thistles.

I’m a motorcycle parked beneath the stars.
in the morning they’ll mount me again, they’ll twist my handlebars, they’ll put me in gear
then once again on the colorful road, among russet hills, among blue mountains
in valleys threaded by meandering rivers
over railroad crossings, through crystalline country towns
racing against the wind through rain showers and exhaust fumes
eating the miles.
is this what they mean by making love?
anyway, this is my consolation, it’s my calling, my love.
for this it’s worth being alone.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Ioana Ieronim

Oh, Natalie …

When I was a lot younger I had a crush on Natalie Wood
(even today I still believe that of all actresses
she’s the most worthy of my love).
I give myself high marks
for not having become infatuated with B.B. or worse, God forbid, with Marilyn –
such shame has never stained me.

But Natalie Wood is really rather respectable.
I was in love with Natalie Wood.
We’d go for a stroll together in the evening in the Arsenal-Infantrymen-Dionisie Lupu neighborhood
I’d drape my arm around her shoulders and she’d hold me by the waist
it was a very beautiful autumn.
She didn’t mind that I was in my high school uniform.
“Mircea,” she’d coo to me, “Mircea,
you’re so wonderful,
everything an intellectual woman could ever want.”
“And you too, my little kitten, you’re wonderful.”
We’d walk on through withered leaves, no one understood us,
we were too sensitive, too different …
“Natalie,” I’d say to her,
“oh, Natalie, Natalie, Natalie
your name’s so beautiful … you know, Natalie,
today I’m nothing,
while you’re famous, you’ve got a whole filmography behind you,
but I’m going to work hard, Natalie, you’ll see,
I’m going to make the big bucks …”

And the autumn evenings were so sad,
the eyes of my sweetheart so deep …
It began to snow a little
and the trams flashed green at the contact with wet wires.

Then I’d already achieved glory, made money and women
I’d been published in Paris and Chicago
Out of habit, I’d still go to “Cantemir” for sentimental reasons.
Every evening Natalie would be waiting
at the high school gates in her little Porsche
and we’d go for a spin down the Street of the Prophet, Corporal Troncea Street,
back on the Street of the Future.
I recall that one night
she parked the car along a sidewalk
lit a cigarette in the dark, and, with her sensual voice
(but hoarse and bitter then)
she confessed she’d cheated with a man. “Mircea, I had to,
I had to tell you,
I couldn’t have continued on, otherwise. You know,
not for a single moment did I want to go to bed with Robert
but he’s so insistent … these blond guys are just awful …
but believe me, Mircea, believe me, you’re still the best …”
I forgave her.
What you can’t forgive a fallen woman
you must forgive a superior one.
“Cheat on me with your deeds, but not with your thoughts,” that’s all I said.

Then I had to leave for the army.
Daniela came to Cristi Teodorescu almost every week.
The very girl he’s now married to would come see Mera.
Somebody even visited Romulus once.
Natalie never showed up for me.
On Sundays I stood like a dumb jerk at the guardhouse
and ogled the others kissing their sweethearts
and squeezing hands across the table …
When we cleaned the weapons I furtively read “Cinema” magazine,
I clipped out everything about her. About Her.

For ten years I hadn’t heard a thing of her. Life kept us apart.
Then, about a week or so ago, as I was looking for blank tapes,
whom should I see at The Crystal Disk, near Lipscani Street?
Natalie! Natalie was back in Romania!
But she’d aged so much … I didn’t want to talk to her
so I left before she might notice me (outside waiting for her
was that straw-haired Redford with his Cadillac).
Broth tastes dull heated a second time.
No, Natalie,
you made your choice, go your own way.

And yet, when I got back to my villa,
why did the seventeen rooms seem so empty?
For a long time I stared through the frost-covered window at my pool
in which a dead leaf floated …

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Daniel Mangu

Not a Thing about Survival Technique

compared to you, the constellations are a frump
the city lights are a dumb joke, dead on delivery,
the breezes in the air
sailing by you like liquid consignments
wolf down the birds and crush plant spores
between their teeth, spreading only the stench of rotten luck and guano
to new volcanic earths in melanasia.
your femininity colors in my crises of pavor nocturnus with a demented hue
my memories of you in the garden of the icons park, when you used to put on your makeup shamelessly
in the convex mirror of the anglican church or a setter
yes, our love was upping the district record another centimeter…
you, redemptress, tender confederacy of systems and apparatuses
who’d gamble his small allotment of precocity
on your pink and sinuous hierarchy
and who’d intuit your sweet duplicity
selvaged with snack bars and a breughel of velvet
in this tangle of no one, nothing, nowhere, nevermore?

beyond everything, half-hearted moral beauty,
a brilliant diminishment
and a reality of discussions and mutterings over crystal cups
at the negoiu restaurant
beyond everything, that grumpy jubilation of the sole survivor
of an ocean liner of feelings.

Translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Ileana Ciocârlie

Our Love Has Gone…

’80-’81, what a winter!
a cloying swamp of coffees, cigarette lighters, “dire straits,” literary circles, glasses
and at night a quagmire of painful jelly: faces, calves and petty gossip
sometimes a glance out the window, at the traffic hardly making its way through the snow.
but here’s the sun! has spring understood us at last?
the windows in the obor market are gleaming, and the colentina highway looks yellow
the asphalt stinks of tadpoles more seductively than ever, there are gasoline rainbows,
there are albanian sardines in oil, and women and schoolgirls
stare contemptuously at the shop window with kitchen appliances.
further on, the trees in the courtyards have burst forth into bud
the traffic signs now appear like folded newspapers
like doves of rust. yes, the powerful sun lighting up
all these factories, water towers, schools, the cemetery…

—and me? I’m playing my part in the general happiness.
here’s how: I got off the 109 bus one stop early
and I devoted myself to mindless wandering in the grass along the highway’s shoulder.
the dump trucks, the TIR international transports, the semis roaring back and forth
in their steel armor, carrying pipes, sacks, mortar
the trams gliding past as in dream…
such that I had to sit down on the curb and study the sparkling grass.
here, take a look, a bee defiled with dust
a cellophane candy wrapper
a beetle with a crushed elytron, fleeing lopsidedly, these things happen
at the root of a blade of grass, trembling
in the balmy breeze blowing out from the window of the wire factory.
a blue sky, the sun, shadows interwoven, engine-exhaust sounds
golden tram-rails, green grassblades, earthworms, beetles…
could Tao and Bodhisattva have yearned for more?

The Hill was rising up softly with pillars, houses, limousines, the highway, I no longer loved anyone…
I finally had to stand up, because some guys wanted to park a truck
I stayed and watched them:
“let it out!
go on, go on, go on, go on…
a little more…more, more, more, more, more, more, more…
hold it! some more to the left…yo!
go on, yeah…keep on, keep on, just a little more…
that’s it!”

the sun was afloat in the arch of heaven.

translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Ileana Ciocârlie

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