BRÂNCUŞI AND THE BIRD
the sculptor puts his hands on the red
oak block before him,
meant to be woman, eve,
but jumps back, acrid scent
infusing the plaster workbench
ars—dalta-ţi cade din mînă
burnt the moment his calloused palms
meet the wood. the oak, scarlet feathers
tipped gold, wants to be carved expansive—
she flies to touch the studio ceiling, says
sculptorule, nu te opreşte, vreau fiecare pană
din fiecare aripă şi fiecare gheară de la fiecare picior
each in its place, don’t you stop—weary,
the chisel slips, he hammers a finger, his blood
stains the red wood. now she wants her eyes, so
rupeţi ia albă şi rasuceşte
bumbacul subţire, contură-mi
ochii întinsi şi iuţi
he gouges out sockets deep as moons, whittles
beans to tip her claws, points hard as marble
te văd în bucătărie—mititei, cartofi, varză
laptele ce să acreşte înspre iaurt
te văd privind fasolea—nu, ghearele
mele vor fi mult mai ascuţite
—obedient, he steadies the knife against his thigh
însfărşit, voi mînca. îaţi cuţitul
ascuţit fiecare seară cu piatra de tocilă
şi taiem, te rog, dragule, nu prea mult,
o secţiune mică dreptunghiulară,
de carne din coapsa ta.
BRÂNCUŞI AND BASTILLE DAY
sculpteur, where are
you going, cu faţa
et rouge face divided
tricolor, mirosul ascuţit
les pigeons in the streets
and squares zgomotoase cu
pays will you
choose astăzi, mâine,
patriotisme do you
choose azi dimineaţă,
not so simple chiar o problemă
mai complicată plus compliqué que
choisir un camp?
I have lived over two decades outside of Romania, where I was born, but the country still frames and shadows my life. Romanian is the language of my family, of our history, and of our home. But that identity is an isolated one—I have never met another Romanian in my schools or workplaces, and my nearest relatives are now a continent away.
This compartmentalized living makes it difficult for me to write about my experiences with immigration and assimilation. Brâncuşi, one of the few Romanians well known outside Romania, has been a convenient vehicle for these conversations. Born in Romania, he lived and sculpted for most of his life in France. And he didn’t write about his experiences as an immigrant, so my interpretations of his emotional life (these two poems are part of a 35-page project) are based heavily in my own struggles.
“Brâncuşi and the Bird” was my first attempt at writing poetry in Romanian. The poem’s two halves are not translations of each other, but the text is meant to work for English, Romanian, and English- Romanian readers. The form was scribbled on the back of an envelope at 3am; I was struck with a compulsion to craft a poem that doesn’t prioritize English and that does treat a non-English language as an equal, not as quaint decoration to the main fare.
A collage of source materials influenced “Brâncuşi and the Bird”—I drew from Brâncuşi’s “Adam and Eve,” his numerous bird sculptures, photographs of his Paris studio, and accounts of his home from his contemporaries. The do-it-yourself aspect of the poem’s bird—beans for claws, fabric from a torn shirt for eyes—is influenced by traditional Romanian folk masks, which are crafted out of household items into celebratory animal heads. Finally, the poem’s ending references a Romanian fairy tale in which the hero-prince cuts a strip of meat from his thigh in order to satisfy the demands of a hungry magical bird.
The form of “Brâncuşi and Bastille Day” came out of a desire to illustrate cultural and lingual disconnects and the breakdown of these boundaries. In terms of languages, this poem is an overlap of mine and Brâncuşi’s—the French and Romanian are his, and the English and Romanian are mine. I don’t speak French, despite studying it for nine years in Canada. But luckily, French and Romanian are similar enough that I can stumble through a few phrases.
Writing in Romanian is also a struggle. My Romanian is conversational and heavily English-influenced. And though I do read and write in Romanian, it is a slow process: it can take as many as nine out-loud rereadings to catch a grammatical error. I go through this effort because writing in only English is a rejection of the complexity of my experiences. For me, to not write in Romanian is akin to forgetting the language or changing my Romanian surname—it is immoral and inauthentic. Had I not written these multilingual poems, I would be a liar.