Marin Sorescu: Two Poems
A Ladder to the Sky | Ancestors
(New translations by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu)
A Ladder to the Sky
A spider's thread
Hangs from the ceiling,
Directly over my bed.
Every day I keep track of
How much closer it descends.
"Look," I say to myself,
"I'm being sent a ladder to the sky,
Lowered from above."
I've grown dreadfully thin,
A mere ghost of what I used to be,
Yet I think my body
Is too heavy still
For this delicate ladder.
"Soul, you go ahead.
[5 November 1996]
translated by Adam J. Sorkin
I've been aging unspeakably fast
In recent months, as others over several years.
Within one short year, from a man in his prime,
I've turned into an old man, an ancestor.
I understand now why your feet trip on the carpet,
Why you must walk humped over,
Why objects all come at you
And pester you,
Why you're reluctant to get out of bed,
Why more and more often you experience
A faltering and a forgetfulness
(As my poor mother used to say,
May she rest in peace:
"Lordy, I don't know what I've got,
I feel a vague faltering, an odd forgetfulness").
And why food loses its taste
As if you were chewing straw.
Why your wishes grow dim,
Your ambitions burn out,
Your senses always seem dozing...
I believe there's a standard that must be met there,
For everyone who arrives to have
An identical physiognomy
And be equally old.
Even a child, if he lies ill for a year,
Departs humped over and wearing the mask
Of a seventy-year-old.
I've exchanged my pen for a staff.
I stumble. All the things in the house
Have turned threatening
And waylay me.
[27 November 1996]
translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu
Marin Sorescu (1936-96), Romania's Nobel Prize nominee the year of his untimely death, was his country's most widely celebrated and frequently translated contemporary writer, particularly well known throughout Europe. More than a dozen books of poetry and plays have appeared in English, mainly in the U.K. and Ireland, and Sorescu's translators include Seamus Heaney, W. D. Snodgrass, Michael Hamburger, Ted Hughes, and Paul Muldoon. He authored more than twenty collections of poetry, among them Poems (1965), The Youth of Don Quixote (1968), Cough (1970), Fountains in the Sea (1982), Water of Life, Water of Death (1987), Poems Selected by Censorship (1991), and The Crossing (1994). His valedictory volume, The Bridge, published posthumously in 1997, was composed during the final two months of his life, while he knew he was dying of liver cancer, with Sorescu often dictating the poems to his wife, Virginia, because he was too weak to write them down himself. Adam Sorkin's version, with Lidia Vianu, will be published by Bloodaxe Books in 2003; other poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Diner, The Mochila Review, The Twelfth Street Review, Terminus, Beacons, Branches Quarterly, and (reprinted) The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Fifteenth Annual Collection.
Adam J. Sorkin has published 16 books of translation, most recently Medea and Her War Machines by Ioan Flora (2002) and Speaking the Silence: Prose Poets of Contemporary Romania (2001). Other recent books are, from BOA Editions, Sea-Level Zero, poems by Daniela Crasnaru (1999); and from Bloodaxe, The Triumph of the Water Witch, prose poems by Ioana Ieronim (2000), which was shortlisted for the Weidenfeld Prize. Sorkin's translations have appeared widely in American literary magazines.
Lidia Vianu is a poet, novelist, critic, and translator. A Professor of English at the University of Bucharest, she has been Fulbright lecturer at U-Cal Berkeley and SUNY Binghamton. Vianu has published four books of literary criticism, the most recent, British Desperadoes at the Turn of the Millennium (1999); a book of interviews, Censorship in Romania (1997); one novel, Prisoner in the Mirror (1993); and three poetry collections, 1, 2, 3 (1997), Moderato 7 (1998), and Very (2001).