Blesok no. 28, September-October, 2002

Medea and Her War Machines
Translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Alina Carac

Ioan Flora

The Mare Danube
To Gellu Naum

Contractions, convulsions, solitary confinement in broad daylight,
Free – fall as a form of survival, effigies
of an Alexandrian age.
Oh, I itched for cleansing rain, a raging flood,
a cloudburst on the map of Romanian poetry, rivers
rampaging out of their beds,
with bridges of ice collapsed in rye fields.

Look, Epimenides, I've come! says Gellu Naum
(in the meantime Victor Brauner had disappeared from the walls,
and the surrealist seem to have acceded to power);
I was wandering through Siberias of the future, I'd already halted on the Bug,
but by sheer happenstance I traveled the road back home
astride a mangy mare cut in two,
the Appaloosa mare called Danube.

Another moment gone by, another century past, Medea
(certain the rickety mare was lame) ordered me to stab it, to shoot it.
My bowels were in knots, my tongue staggered on my thoughts,
I developed a limp in my writing hand,
I couldn't live with myself any longer, or others.
What's more, the cauldron of the sky slipped and fell, sticking halfway
into the soil of their mute, tricolor homeland.
Then a couple of slick boys showed up, from Valcea,
from Teleorman, and in less than no time took her crippled life and skinned her;
her hide they draped over the withers of a white horse beating a retreat,
and my march to the tail of my homeland became
a forced and singularly glorious one.
By now, the Bug was far behind, to say nothing of the Kurils
or Vladivistok.

Look, Epimenides, I've come! says Gellu Naum
(Epimenides of Crete sleeps during stormy weather
in the hollow of an oak and stays there
the space of half a century),
my mare Danube
is now a glove or a boot, my war -
a forest of wolves.

Epimenides! Epimenides!
(Here intrudes an image, the story of Father Cleopa
one autumn some years ago,
with the steward Haralampie following on his knees, step by step,
and an eagle that issued forth from the pulpit, then into the churchyard,
then into the wide world of the monastery,
taking flight high into an elm and singing.
O Lord, how it sang!

Father Cleopa became convinced that this steward Haralampie
had beheld Heaven while listening to
the eagle singing and that he had returned
to the holy edifice after an hour and something rather more, which
in our rustic measurement means at least a century
and a half.)

Epimenides, Epimenides!
Look, Epimenides, I've come! says Gellu Naum.
Your skin is speckled with letters.
My mare Danube is lost now,
lost in its skin
in steppes and railways stations;
the grande dame, the creature, the ghost called Medea, confesses to the four corners
of the earth that man is a sample broth of herbs.

Epimenides, I've come!
Here are the morphological limbs of my mare by the name Danube,
here is my commune, here is Comana
where I learned to fish for bream, barbell, words, words, words,
here is the hide of the mare called Danube,
dressed with sand, with salt, hanging from the back
of the white horse beating a retreat.
Epimenides, I should go away, your oak hollow
is no longer a hollow and no longer shelters the sleep of the dream
after so many decades on end.
(For three years in a row I didn't utter a word, I'd go to the pond -
I'd fish, ever silent.
Silent like the fish, you might say, but that's not so.
In breathing, I spoke, though making no sound.)

I've sunk deep in an armchair.
Semidarkness, thunder outside,
Nigredo and C.G.Jung, the quatrain of immemorial signs,
gamma, yin and yang,
automatic writing as patriarchal staff, the clock that chimes the hours
lost somewhere in the house.

(I'm writing this poem on the border af a catalogue of the painter maxim D.
bearing the title Garment, dwelling – cuckoo. That is, I dress my poem
in the trappings of twigs, in clay, in chart, the poem is that cuckoo;
, 190x60x80 cm;
technique: twigs, clay, chart, gold leaf;
material – woven wattles, clay, manure, synthetic resins, pigment;
as the capacity of lodging both cuckoo and poem;
the cuckoo
which by definition denies location,
the cuckoo of feathers and flight, the cuckoo
of clay, of enamel,
Garment, dwelling – cuckoo,

the poem of woven wattles, clay, manure
and synthetic resins, the poem collapsed into cuckoo,
clay, enamel.)

Look, Epimenides, I've come!
The hide of the mare Danube hangs sideways on the nightstand,
the poet stubbornly refuses the alphabet's letter;
Medea and her broth of herbs, Medea and her war machines -
gesturing in the air, the surrealist patriarch goes on writing
his quatrain of immemorial signs,
in clay, in enamel.

Medea and Her War Machines

Thunder, an eclipse of the sun, the trunks of beech trees, pots
of pitch and sulfur, iron-tipped battering rams, hung from towers,
to breach walls.
Inside, armed men talking about the bridge built on the bridge,
about platforms carrying buckets of flame, about
the horseman spurring his horse and swimming the river.
A horse bearing lanterns, shod with hot embers against the enemy.
A fagot of dry wood, burning the gates, firing up the cauldrons,
scaling ladders and mobile lanterns.
raising the waters to the heights.

Mud, wind, the blackness of darkness, I strain to see high above me, on the mountain.
I hear the crackle of frozen branches under the horse's hooves.
I climb, we climb, with leaden legs; I stop, bend, tighten
my bootlaces, put a match to a cigarette;
the slope that must be climbed, the fir tree that must be cut and then decorated,
a few hundred meters more, a trail of smoke
snaking over my head.
At last, the forest; at last, the fir tree. The flash of the silver axe
in the night, the fall of the tree at the edge of the precipice, the tree
in the cart secured by chains,
the gravel, voices from not far away, the downward rush of water, boulders,
sand scrunching under firm footsteps, triumphal entrance in the yard.
Stiff with cold, I sit near the stove.

Greek fire borne by asses,
alcohol, gas, vinegar, torches in the hand of man or ghost,
mules, bison, dogs, cats, rats as big as mountains,
bombards, trebuchets, cannons,
assault ships,
ships with catapults for pellets and bolts, breakers of ships and of citadels,
pitch, sulfur, thistles and tow, incendiary mice,
wine, tar, oil,
boiling-hot weapons emptied in the foe's viscera.

Her cheeks ablaze, she gathers her hair behind her; she whispers softly,
surely, it won't be long until daybreak.
he fir tree in the yard, Christmas on its way, the fixed stars, there, high overhead,
the silver axe embedded in the stump.
She pours warm water into basin, bends forward and kisses me, it's warm,
there's a glow of light on the house, your feet must be freezing,
sip this hot mulled tuica.
Take my arm, the skin around your nose wrinkles when you laugh.

”Powdered sulfur and charcoal should be thoroughly mixed with saltpeter
and then, when you want to touch it off, add
brandy to the resulting powder – four ounces to a liter;
let it dry well…”
If you don't have any brandy, then
”take vinegar and mix it well, then let the powder dry.
Even better than vinegar is camphor.
Arsenic mixed in the powder will propel the stone further.”

A horse bearing a lantern, onion, cheese, fish, lamb pate,
viscera, feces and human corpses in an advanced state of putrefaction,
the impossibility of raising the eaters to the heights,
the state of siege, plague the enslaver,
galleys with battering rams, ships with stars,
15 ounces of saltpeter, 4 ounces of sulfur, 3 ounces of willow charcoal.
Ladders, levers, pulleys, winches,
the removal, conveyance and storage of air under the winter sky,
transport ships, fishing boats,
churches sacked, huts abandoned,
lookouts, assault towers, battle animals, lances, pikes,
scythes, rams, catapults for stones, catapults for feces at full boil.

At last, the forest; at last, the fir tree. The flash of the silver axe
in the night, the fall of the tree at the edge of the precipice…

Mills turned by asses, mills grinding in the void that gapes open
between he arm raising a weapon and the eye ready to awaken
death frozen in the pupil of an enemy soldier,
turpentine, aqua ardente and aqua vitis,
the camp with its crush of souls,
the chitchat between two soldiers carrying torches and halberds
in heated argument about the (im)possibility of building
bridges on bridges,
about the horseman drowned in the river and the infantryman carrying a firebrand;
meanwhile, the low, hurried chortle of a peasant loitering near noon
in the Town Hall Square, a murmur responding
to the infectious, sparkling laugh of a young townsman,
an emphatic laugh like summer rain, with bubbles.

When you kiss me, the skin around my nose wrinkles.

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