Chants for Taming the Hedgehog Sow

Doina Ioanid

***

Way too tired, way too myopic. Even my name, a squashed clam, sinks through my skin deep within me, past soft tissues, past organs pulsating like terrified suns, deep down where none of the things on the outside can force their way in any more.

***

Keep me away from this autumn, keep me away from the people, away from the fields bristling with stubble... Take me in your arms and keep me away from myself, lest I get lost among all these hideous heads of old women popping up in the light of the evening.

***

Oh the glamour of being the visceral type, the unaffordable luxury of it all! Viscera aren't meant for display in a showcase. That's where ordure builds up – the meanness, the hatred, the fear. That's where Grandmother's meat grinder is, the proverbial box – Pandora an' all. That's where Mom falls asleep alongside a host of her friends – neurotic women with diabetes, prematurely ailing, hands crisscrossed by jar scars. Everything's complicated down there and extremely mixed up. That's where crucibles crackle, that's where death comes ingloriously. There, oh, there no one lies. Down there in the damp cold we all huddle together, faces caved in on themselves like gloves turned inside out.

***

Heart in hand I've been walking all over the city, treading the first snow of the year under my feet. And my heart, sprinkled with wine and with vinegar, went on rotting away to the beat of my years – all thirty and seven of them – while the magpies assembled on the drummer-boy's shoulder. Bones alone couldn't save me. Nor could your name, Argentina, you, Land of Promise. Only a big yellow dog had mercy on me – humbly walked up to me and ate up my heart, taking his time. Then he left, moving away towards the horizon like an enormous sun flower.

***

Backbiting mouths, metallic grey and greased, snapping open and shut under the summer sky. If you want to grow up you'll just need to be picking your way through the lot, Mika-Lé upped and said from behind the derelict wall. But who wants to be grown up? Save the creeps or the losers, perhaps, who believe that's the only way out. As for me, I don't want to, I don't...

***

There are some you've just got to put up with the way you put up with urban landscapes full of cigarette stubs, tampons and empty plastic bottles. Put up with them the way you put up with the neighbours' blaring music or with tooth aches. Put up with them not to end up like them.

***

My skin is made of fibre glass, my tongue is made of fibre glass, even my eyes are made of fibre glass. And no touch is anymore possible.

***

When the heart shrivels up, shrinks to a raisin like grapes left to dry in the attic, when flesh ebbs away, when the body refuses to allow the world in any more, what's the use of still trying, what's the use of still smiling?

***

Where am I squeezing, squatting in this body? Where am I in this withered flesh that doesn't even belong to me any more? Where do I find myself inside this body no longer to be travelled by your hands? And where do the bodies of all unloved women end up? Their displaced bodies, with their rough, elephant-like skin, earthen bodies that not even the wind will caress. Where do they end up, I wonder, all their tenderness dreams tasting of tiramisu?

***

When I lie on my bed, my body sinks ever so slowly, going down through the mattress, past the floorboards and into the moist earth favoured by grubs. There I run into the derelict bodies of so many women and I merge with their thick paste. And then you come by and you smile. Your smile pries me loose out of there and lays me back on my bed.

***

I've been writing on solitude, poems on solitude. Yet I did not know it in truth way back then. The solitude that scissors at your entrails and bangs you against walls, the solitude of a Bucharest ghetto with Gypsies that call out of containers telling you to back off. The solitude with its stale rancid smell, with its brutish indifference. The solitude gutting your body of all of its organs until all that is left is a carcass roaming the streets late at night. And  lo, solitude, drooling just like a bulldog, is now writing its poems, its very own poems, straight onto my body.

***

Embracing suffering, bathing in it like in fresh water. Yet I'm no saint, nor am I Dostoyevsky. Not that I need to be, really, because suffering dwells within me like some poisoned helpless dog.

***

All that's left is the waiting chewing the world with its black gums, already gangrened. And this waiting does not bear a name.

***

A grating voice above an ashtray full of stubs and a face I can hardly recognize as my own and that only because there's no one else beside me in the cheap hotel room that just waits for the merest earthquake.

***

There was a time I was a cup brimming with cream, a Christmas music box. There was a time sleep would be gentle to me.

***

Paris without you is just another city. I walk past the orderly monumental buildings, past chic cafes, crowded at lunch time. Your smell nestling within the folds of my skin is exploding, suffusing the fragrance of oysters. And nobody knows where the blue light suddenly drowning the city comes from. My body may go on wearing itself thinner and thinner, it can betray me each day, yet it cannot forget.

***

All the lint in the world has converged on my heart and deep within me whole fields of tobacco have grown. And it's only their rustle that still keeps me walking the streets.

***

As I keep trying to stick myself back together again, I end up as Blu-Tack. Crumbly Blu-Tack smelling of lye. The worst kind of Blu-Tack. It hardens in no time and catches no thing, not even flies. Shoddy Blu-Tack, just like my every-day dramas, which I'm putting in curlers to make them look different. I'm nothing but Blu-Tack. And all I touch changes to Blu-Tack. Blu-Tack over and over again. And Blu-Tack can't cry.

***

My organs are shivering under the thick wool-stuffed quilt Granny has sewn just for me. They shiver and come loose.   They desert me one after another. In vain do I beg them, please do come back, I'm going to take better care of you this time around. In vain do I tell them the hedgehog sow's prowling. They've had enough of me, enough of my much too tight body oozing with ink. And still I am begging them, calling them back as if they were kittens. My liver, my spleen, my kidneys, my lungs, do come back. It's the 24th of December and it is my birthday. Come back and wish me "Many happy returns". But they're far away now, up in the Christmas tree, left untrimmed. They glitter as they are pointing north for me. I'd follow them gladly. If I could but get out from underneath this thick and heavy quilt.

translated from the Romanian by Florin Bican



Read the original in Romanian

Read translator’s note

Doina Ioanid , born December 24, 1968, in Bucharest, has published five volumes of verse to date, consisting without exception of prose poems ranging from one to twenty-five lines. In the nineties she was a member of the legendary writers' workshop "Litere", associated with Bucharest University, where she studied French language and literature. After a spell on the the teaching staff of Brasov University (Romania), Doina Ioanid has been working, since 2005, as senior editor for The Cultural Observer, a leading Romanian cultural weekly. She goes on frequent reading tours both in Romania and abroad (France, Turkey, Sweden, Holland, Italy, UK).

Florin Bican studied English at the University of Bucharest, Romania, where he became a compulsive translator of Romanian literature. The resulting translations have been published in Britain, Ireland, The United States and Romania. His translations from English into Romanian include Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark and T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. When not translating, Florin Bican writes articles for British and American Magazines and works on subversive children literature. His first volume of poetry, Cântice mârlăneşti (A Slob's Treasury of Verse), Bucharest, 2007, is a collection of politically incorrect cautionary rhymes. His work in progress, Tropice tâmpe (Torpid Tropics), is an attempt at cautionary prose, and just as politically incorrect. In 2009 he edited and contributed to Bookătăria de texte și imagini (The Cook-a-Book Pancyclopedia of Texts and Images), an anthology of Romanian children's literature. Since 2006 Florin Bican has been in charge of the Romanian Cultural Institute programme Translators in the Making, training foreign students to translate Romanian literature into their respective languages. So far some fifty translations have been published abroad as a result.

Doina Ioanid or the epiphany of melancholy
In Doina Ioanid's fifth volume of verse, Chants for Taming the Hedgehog Sow ("Ritmuri de imblinzit aricioaica", Cartea Romaneasca, Bucharest, Romania 2010), the poet's earlier universe contracts further still, maintaining nevertheless its epiphanic dimension. Her prose poems are just as many epiphanies, trimming poetic perception – and expression – of all excess baggage. Yet stark they are not. They are, rather, streamlined vehicles (deep-sea vessels spring to mind), and very sophisticated ones at that, meant to take the reader beyond usually unquestioned borders, into an abyss both familiar and scary. While exploring herself, Doina Ioanid seems to trigger off in the reader an irrepressible urge to replicate the process with his/her own personal data. Never was intimacy more discreet – or more universal, for that matter. And that's what makes Doina Ioanid's poetry so substantial: the constant yet delicate delving into a multilayered, multifaceted reality in a redemptive attempt to make sense of things without robbing them of their aura. It's in this inner radiance of things that the epiphany manifests itself, making Doina Ioanid's poems transcend the harshness of personal experience into a realm verging on both James Joyce's epiphanies and Gerard Manley Hopkins' inscapes: Way too tired, way too myopic. Even my name, a squashed clam, sinks through my skin deep within me, past soft tissues, past organs pulsating like terrified suns, deep down where none of the things on the outside can force their way in any more.