iov & vio

Emilian Galaicu-Păun

“He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience”
(T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland)


like champagne kept in a warm place—as if 103º isn’t actually a high fever!—,
                    this body foams with red
spots, from head to toe: “happy new year!” (saying that, you feel your tongue
                    blistered in your mouth,
and your speech, where before it was smooth, now covered in sores), when at
                    the eleventh
hour not the president but the last man (“I only am escaped to tell
thee”), rather than wishing you a new beginning, gives you tidings of the end:
                    “next year and . . .”
(tomorrow’s almost today!) exactly new year’s eve. oh my aching head!
(a cork your strength twists around itself like a corkscrew, to rip it off your
or jams inside with a spoon handle and just as much pain.)
on the morning of the first he awakens in the nightshirt of december 31
and when he tries to take it off, he’s given a hospital gown instead (what can be
                     seen where
the garment gapes doesn’t entice the eye). “sign here (with a check mark) that
                     you’ve refused
hospitalization” V iov. “and you, that he’ll be released into your custody”—
                     vio V


to get a head start on the gravediggers along a shortcut, not the corpse to the
                    grave, but I’d bear the grave to the body—and rid myself of it!
(it’s a forty-plus-year-old grave for a six-foot man, his parents still alive, the
of his family and a loving husband in his own right—neither any man’s life can
                    fill it but now you’ve got to mouth off
right back to it, a grave à fleur de tête that would fit your foot like cinderella’s
if you’d only try it on—nor any man’s death find enough room in it but now you
                    need to try its maw.)
effing bitch! it doesn’t want to slide easily down the gullet and [Requiescat in]
                    pace! So then I divide it, the grave, into smaller graves
like the pills in an empty blister-pack—I take them morning, noon, and night
                    but it’s never-ending.
how might you sift it through a strainer, the common grave, to find those who
                    were yours. How might you screen the little graves
through the silk sieve, may it turn to dust and ashes
because it’s too full, the grave spills over—I’ve put in it all the clay I’m made of.
now a woman with a funnel (a kind of hourglass but irreversible—not the
                    character but her object), by
the way it drags me down, and in my final hours I’ll raise it up to my mouth like
                    a megaphone: “de profundis clamavit!”
(detonating with your prior dead laid in the earth—beware! you can’t begin to
                    imagine how the shock wave will scatter you.)
welcoming as only death can be. if only it wouldn’t sit itself down on my body
                    as on a nest to brood over the little graves,
if it wouldn’t caw so much, scratch for earthworms, take dust baths!
like a winnow with grain—this body, turned out into the dust together with the
                    chaff, for the young wives
to sort the good seeds from the barren. earthworm-sifter, that mothers may
                    [. . .] the grain
for flour from the grain for funeral sweets


could the body be so fragile that it must be wrapped as in a sheet of bubble
before it’s mailed—poste restante—from this world to the next?
and the recipient whose name’s written on the parcel, when he finally receives
                    it, could he be so blind that he’ll have need of the blisters’ braille to
                    read in its soul? and the soul,
so fragile that it must be worn under a covering of skin and bones sprinkled
                    with soft pearls
that will ripen and hatch? or will he, precisely as in Dante’s Inferno, arrive de
                    son vivant
in the cast-iron cauldrons of tar and when he reaches the boiling point blow—
                    SOS—air bubbles?
if the spirit goes to heaven and spirits go to the head,—a pox on that!—why 
                    does the body turn topsy-turvy
like a strong țuică that swirls and makes bubbles?
                                                                                           the answer: “let us live—
to remember”


to each disease there should correspond, if not a band that plays at weddings
                    and funerals, then one musical instrument.
a different one, that is, from person to person. god—you’ve just discovered—
                    doesn’t beat you with a stick, he quietly taps on your body
as on his stand with a baton (exactly like, in the silence between the
                    movements, fear of death: “and what if there’s no conductor
at his desk?”) iov’s quartet was a trio: iov & vio. listen for yourself
how affliction transforms the bodily organs into instruments of grief without
                    removing them from their sheaths of skin, with closed eyes.
even you can see that, struck by grace, the flesh gets dotted with sores like a
                    musical score with notes. you realize
that finally, touched to the marrow of your bones, this ever hollower body
                    becomes one with the magic
flute when it laments: “o remember that my life is a breath of wind!
you took forty-plus years to master it; from your workshops arose
strings, keyboards, brass, percussion, woodwinds et cetera (and the proud
                    man!), as many as needed to fill the pit
of an orchestra-la-la / to escort an entire village to the grave in this rhythm: do
                    do doo-be doo-be do-ay!

until it returns for you, now in third-person singular: doo-be doo-be away! /
                    he’s lived his day


can you be vaccinated against the brass? against the cymbals?—when they call
                   you by name as sounding
brass / clanging cymbal. after which, year after year, you have fed from the
                   palm of your hand
the singing bird that alights in a row, like a flock of swallows along telegraph
                   wires, from the keys to the chords,
can you divine your future—while you know neither your past nor . . . —in its
does the holy spirit, who takes shelter in wood, fear maggots the same way
                   other breathing things fear worms?
with eight holes and passed through fire, the ocarina is a miniature replica of
                   the body sitting among the ashes—is it
bringing fire upon itself, said to be the end? have you heard what the potsherd
                   says to the broken pot when they meet?
          the answer: “curse God and die!


wriggling in my skin as on hospital bed sheets unchanged on schedule—
                    because they expected
the patient would give up the ghost—so that upon awakening I can’t remember
                    my own features, as if you’d transcribed by hand
in the latin alphabet a text printed in cyrillic: kak mne huiovo! and instead of
                    praising the lord
day and night, my tongue outdoes itself with filth: “go fuck the day I was
born!”, “ieba io ti mrtvu matku pod levim sisom na hladnom grobe!”—an
                    aristo-croat lady
among a gang of lowlifes—“suck night’s cock when it was said: there is
a man-child conceived!
          (inscribe in the flesh, the mistake to have been made from birth is
                    the letter of the law;
there’s no more eagle-eyed proofreader on the face of the earth than death! 5 
                    liters of blood, ever renewed—
to last a lifetime!—are at your disposal for you to make the correction: “I’ll be
                    as if I’ve never been!

and then—for 24 years now, yet still the same—vio comes, with her blood
                    refreshed month after month, and writes to me
life с красной строки
          (see kaligraphic poem)


as if you planted a hundred-pound sack of potatoes in holes and behind you
                    molehills kept mounding up—such blindness!
on the earth, I looked like a garden plot after a meteor shower, before it
                    changed its name, from
the potter’s—the blood garden, as I keep scraping myself with a shard of clay.
                    under my skin there moves about
a still-young grave, filled up to here with picture postcards of the other world,
                    which I raise like a pedigreed boar,
waiting for resurrection from the dead. (and the same thought always scraping
                    inside my brain like a butcher’s
knife: if life’s merely a mire of pigshit, much better had it not been given to the
                    boar; life eternal, give that
to us today, like a piggybank as fat as a sow—for us to smash again and again,
                    day and night!
now I know: “the wisdom of the earth” giving herself in love to a man gone
                    crazy with
sores on his sore head is the most eloquent proof that, among all things, not the
                    most beautiful,
but the only impossible one is the best choice, just as the year in which you die
                    is your good year
not quite an itching of the tongue but rather a tingling of desire, my words
the roof of my mouth, to the same extent as your lips turn moist (I’ll be discreet
                    and keep private which lips),
and I didn’t say everything yet, I didn’t say anything.

or: how would you dig up a treasure so its flames pass into you—in the form of
                    a burn? an illumination?
in a country (mini) like a suffix, a diminutive, I lived forty-plus years . . . like
                    a footnote
in small print, without knowing how many lines of text separate me from the
                    word which
I make reference to—the thought of this kept me going all these years; one time
he remembered me but then he lost me on a simple bet!
as long as one man’s life (1879–1953), that country (1917–1991) composed
                    through a perpetual suffixation—set its candle among the dead;
on its account, charge it with more than 60,000,000 human lives lost. no
                    man’s land
whoever makes babies in such a country at the same time digs them—locus
                    pessimus atque profundus
—their grave.
now I see: “the wisdom of the earth” takes as her husband a man too dumb to
                    come out of the rain, making the ideal
couple, hence life expectancy proves favorable to women, ’cause love’s like
about the way words couple, ask what the first hundred—men and women—
                    who were hotshots
at tree felling in the gulag, and allowed in the same barracks overnight together
                    —promised to each other.
and I didn’t say everything yet, I didn’t say anything.

maybe neither one thing nor another: as if you transplanted a cemetery, trees
                    and all, and only the crosses took root (INRI)—a poor excuse for a
thank god, I wasn’t subservient or innocent—on the lawn of books grazes
                    “VAccA~”; in diverse languages; my own child,
quite alive, and to me, too, childhood returned, at an age when disease doesn’t
                    air the rooms
, like chickenpox
(as if the weather were howling out of ecclesiastes: “the wind goes toward the
                    south and turns about . . .”). owing one death,
I don’t run away from my eternal creditor at the world’s end—lest sarmatian
                    soil should cover my bones!
—, I don’t hold a symposium on
my sickbed. rather I ask myself: what if, instead of saying what they thought, as
                    witnesses for the prosecution, although they believed
themselves on the side of the defense, the three of them—eliphaz the temanite,
                    and bildad the shuhite, and zophar the naamathite—
had been more openhanded and paid for job’s treatment, the way mircea
                    nedelciu’s friends,
with money they raised at an auction at the literature museum, kept him alive
                    for five more years?
(as if, plighted to perdition, life gets ransomed in small change. though
my hide—put through the mill until it has turned into a strainer for worms—
                    isn’t even worth tanning.)
epidermal, my complete poetry is in vio’s hands—on her lifeline.
I said everything. I didn’t say anything.

Ch-ău, 9 mai–5 august, 2010

translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Diana Manole