Grandma’s Poems: Sex in an Apartment Building

Grandma’s Poems: 5. Sex in an Apartment Building

“My neighbours make love every night!”
I complain, itching to give her all the juicy details.
The woman’s moans and the man’s grunts
sneak under my quilt stitched with maple leaves
of every colour,
hop along my penguin and iceberg-adorned pyjamas,
wet my skin intoxicated by cheap perfumes
bottled on ships and sold at a lower price in
convenience stores on Yonge street,
until my nipples harden, my marrow surges in my bones,
hotter and hotter.
“Good for them!” My grandma cuts me off, glancing at me
without a trace of sympathy
as if it were all my fault!

Maybe she didn’t understand me, but if I explain,
she’ll stroke my hair
full of pity
“My neighbours…”
Grandma shrugs and begins to rock
left to right, right to left,
a pendulum that measures how long we thirst for life
in a calendar year.
“Maybe they’re Asian, because the woman…”
Every night, I imagine that in the sixteen bedrooms
on the sixteen floors above
men and women go about making love
in every language on Earth.

“Building full of immigrants!” grandma shouts exasperated
but I still hurry to answer her.
“And what’s wrong with…” but the moment has passed
because suddenly she begins playing her harmonica
ignoring me.
My neighbours get louder and louder
and my breasts get harder and harder
until the man starts to cry,
maybe they’re both crying, maybe I’m fantasizing it.
Grandma has zoned out, staring at nothing
as if she’s remembering something important.
++++++Did you ever laugh the choked-off laughter of your dead?
Finally silence and a familiar feeling
like the memory of a hug from old times.


Poemele bunicii: 5. Sex la bloc

-Vecinii mei fac dragoste în fiecare noapte!
mă lamentez, dornică să-i dau toate detaliile.
Gemetele femeii şi icnetele bărbatului
se strecoară sub plăpumioara mea inocentă
garnisită cu frunze de arţar în toate culorile,
alunecă lasciv de-a lungul pijamalei cu pinguini şi gheţari,
umezindu-mi pielea intoxicată cu parfumuri
îmbuteliate pe vapor şi vândute cu preţ redus în magazinele
de mărunţişuri de pe Yonge
până când sfârcurile se întăresc, iar măduva
începe să tremure în oasele din ce în ce mai fierbinţi.
-Bravo lor! mi-o retează bunica, uitându-se la mine
fără nici o urmă de simpatie
ca şi cum ar fi numai şi numai vina mea!

Poate nu m-a înţeles, dar dacă îi explic,
o să mă mângâie pe creştet
plină de milă–
-Vecinii mei…
Bunica dă din umeri şi începe să se legene
stânga-dreapta, dreapta-stânga,
o pendulă care măsoară durata poftei de viaţă într-un an
-Poate sunt asiatici, pentru că femeia…
In fiecare noapte, îmi imaginez bărbaţi şi femei
care fac dragoste
în cele şaisprezece dormitoare de la etajele superioare
exact deasupra dormitorului meu
în toate limbile pământului.

-Bloc de imigranţi!, se răsteşte bunica exasperată
şi totuşi mă grăbesc să-i răspund.
-Şi ce e rău în…, dar am pierdut momentul pentru că
începe să cânte la muzicuţă ignorându-mă.
Vecinii mei sunt din ce în ce mai zgomotoşi,
iar sânii mei din ce în ce mai pofticioşi
pănă când bărbatul începe să plângă,
poate plâng amândoi, poate mi se pare.
Bunica a rămas cu privirea pierdută în zare ca şi cum
şi-ar fi amintit ceva important.
++++++-Te-ai auzit vreodată râzând cu râsul morţilor din tine?
In sfârşit linişte şi o senzaţie familiară
ca amintirea unei îmbrăţişări de pe vremuri.

Translator’s Note:

Traditionally, translators are said to be a writer’s closest readers, the sensitives who try to be in tune with in (though not necessarily to process intellectually, analytically) every word, root meaning, register of vocabulary and labyrinth of connotations, every figure of speech, the sounds and rhythms of the original, its stylistic texture, and so on. Then, impossibly, they aim to reproduce, evoke, approximate, create a parallel verbal universe, often in a disparate language family as in the case of English (Germanic) versus Romanian (Romance). These are heady goals, although to the translator of poetry, it would be an admission of defeat to aim for less. Worse, the translation process would be a lot less stimulating, challenging, enticing…fun.

I began translating blissfully unaware of any of this. In the spring of 1981, when I was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Bucharest early in the last, worst decade of Romania’s communist dictatorship, a colleague there asked me to look at her versions of work by a poet from the city of Timișoara. What immediately struck me was how enjoyable the translation of poetry is, how creativeco-creative, or re-creative, if you will. Trans-creative? It brought back a younger self, a wannabe Beatnik undergrad who yearned to be a poet. As I reworked my colleague’s initial versions to improve and polish them, after we’d first gone over them together, I began to understand what it means to serve as the substitute voice, the living mask or performer in English of another person’s words. I became fascinated by not only the obligation to fidelity (fidelity to what? the words? the inner poem?) but also the wide range of possible interpretive solutions that reach inward so as to involve the translator’s imaginative resources and outward in contrary directions, ahead to the reader, of course, and simultaneously back somehow to the initial impetus, impossible to know yet seemingly near at hand—that is, hidden right there in the original text. I have been known to say that a translator of poetry is likely the last writer who truly believes in the Muse, because He or She is no ancient wispy figment but embodied on the page in black and white.

For a collaborative translator, this process, in everyday practice an isolated one, the translator alone at a desk, is also social. Unless writer and translator think, and email, poison darts at each other (that happens, and that’s social too, I guess), it’s a personal connection with a co-translator who, in my experience, frequently is the author as well. With Diana Manole, our relationship began a decade ago when she contacted me at the suggestion of a mutual friend. By now, there’s a freedom and intimacy in our exchanges. Though we’ve never met in person, I feel we’re close friends.

I asked Diana Manole for her perspective, and I’ll let her voice conclude these comments, just as it is her voice that ought in some way to come across in her poems that we have translated:

“For over 12 years after immigrating to Canada, despite many academic papers written in English, I’ve only been able to write poems in my mother tongue. Then, suddenly, in March 2013 poems began to ‘come’ to me in English. Two of them have already been published. Yet, trying to render in English the poems written in Romanian has remained more of a burden than a joy. After translating two of my collections of poems, I learnt one thing: I can’t do it alone!

Without Adam J. Sorkin’s help, my Romanian poems would have never found their way into English. He was the one who made my first rough translation drafts ‘sound’ like poems. He worked his magic and the lines started regaining the flavour, often the humour, the indefinable mystery I knew they had in Romanian. With slightly different words. A comma. A metaphor that was literally distant from the original but close in feeling. Sometimes, with words and idioms I didn’t yet know. With an in-depth understanding of what I wanted to say when I was paradoxically unable to see it for myself. Over countless emails and even more hours. For all of this, I can only be grateful. And hope that I’ll be able to publish and share with the English-speaking readers more and more of my poems. ”

Diana ManolePoet and playwright Diana Manole’s books include Angel with a Canadian Visa (2011); Oh, That’s Too Much! (2000); Evening Habits (1998); and Love on the Elevator (1997). Her work has appeared in English in The Nashwaak Review and Maple Tree Literary Supplement in Canada, Third Wednesday, and Poem (U.K.).




Adam SorkinAdam J. Sorkin’s most recent books of translation include, in 2012, Mouths Dry with Hatred by Dan Sociu, translated with Sociu (Longleaf Press), and The Flying Head by Ioan Flora (Toad Press), and in 2014, A Sharp Double-Edged Luxury Object by Rodica Draghincescu (Červená Barva Press).