BRÂNCUŞI Poems

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,

sculpteur,                                            where are

you going,                                           cu faţa

ta pictată?

 

Bleu, blanc,

et rouge                                              face divided

tricolor,                                                mirosul ascuţit

de vopsea.

 

Rassemblés comme

les pigeons                                          in the streets

and squares                                        zgomotoase cu

poporul francez.

 

Quel

pays                                                    will you

choose                                                astăzi, mâine,

ieri?

 

Quel

patriotisme                                          do you

choose                                                 azi dimineaţă,

după-amiază, seară?

 

La France

or

românia?

 

Or—is it

not so simple                                      chiar o problemă

mai complicată                                    plus compliqué que

choisir un camp?

Author’s Note

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.

Ilinca PopescuIlinca Popescu is a femme Romanian immigrant living in Oakland, CA. She studied creative writing at Warren Wilson College and believes in hot pink dinosaur earrings and feminist solidarity politics. Ilinca can be contacted at