The Romanian Riveter: POEMS from FIVE BOOKS by Ana Blandiana, translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea

From October, November, December (1972)


Oh I still see your body through the ink, 
Ink that stains us even in our dreams
Like bitter animal sweat.
I want to reach you
And my fingers slide,
I can hardly see you,
I can hardly hear you,
Tell me, tell me once more that
The whirlpool I plunge into
Darkens us both the same.
I call to you,
But the ink runs violently out
Between us, as though from a wound
Do you still know me? Still wait for me?
Will you still let me go back,
Will you still receive me
From the purple mud?
Will you still come back to
These blue fields,
The desert seas,
Speechless and in tears
So I can offer my trembling mouth
And lips, bruised with words,
To your kiss?

From Predator Star (1985)


You move through the mist
And I know you do,
And therefore the clouds
Don’t seem to be cold
Insatiable coffins
That grow and grow to swallow up
All humankind
In a powdery fog,
Shifting and bitter,
That thickens the air.
You move through the mist:
Lucid and tall, a spirit that
Metes out meanings,
That garners worlds from death –
They tremble in amazement
As you effortlessly guide them,
Your hands on their shoulders
To calm their fears:
You move through the mist
And your eye splits open
Logical pathways
Through the chaos of life:
You move, love,
And I know you do...


Enormous moments, floating in shreds through the air,
And moving shadows on barely tinted snow,
I watched them form, and row across the land
And vanish in the light that brought them there.

Guilty of impermanence, multiplied reflections
Of chimeras on complicit snow, arranged
As though such fragile beings had to have a reason
To exist. Or, bewildered, wanted to explain

To eternity the peaceful, intense thrill of
Living as ragged bodies of cloud. Tall and austere,
Exterior to history, innocent of meaning and sense.
Enormous moments, floating in shreds through the air.


If I had been created
To stroll among the leaves of mint
On narrow banks of streams
That flow through grasses
With ancient scents;

If I hadn’t been made
With a bell in my skull
Whose constant chiming
Fractures the bone and
Makes up fears connected by rhyme;

If I weren’t always given
The same maddening proof
That stars flow away and mountains soften
Beneath the great commandment
That echoes in my ears so often ...


A comma, a few pebbles,
A smattering of snow,
A tenuous ray of light,
Some houses and leaves –
What modest props
To set off a scream!
The scream
Is straining to cling on with its nails
And always slips back down
Glass walls,
Broken pieces
In a pile,
Balance unsteady,
Up to the teeth
Savagely clenched
In endless silence.

From Architecture of Waves (1990)


There are six or seven
With their snouts stuck
Into the same dead prey,
Their bodies made longer
By those terrifying slithering tails
Like the spokes of a wheel
On the asphalt,
Forming a sun
With fat, quivering rays,
Risen from the canal.
A sun of rats
In the asphalt sky,
Apollo of garbage, a future
Star with fur for
A different age of sewers and drains
Trickling toward the day of hereafter,
A rodent god
That gobbles up the years
With a halo
Of garbage.


A stone is a god that
Moves so slowly
My swiftly dying eye
Cannot perceive the motion,
As we cannot ask
A wave,
A cloud
To understand the ocean.
When everything collapses
And afterwards dissolves
Into a poisonous mixture
Of yesterday and tomorrow,
A stone is a seed of the world
Still alive,
The shrivelled sense that remains,
Omphalos and bud, from which the whole
Murdered universe
Will grow again,
When the god that was shattered
Into equal stones
Will rise up as a barricade.


Come, moon, and wake us from our sleep,
Cast your nets into our waters
And bring us out,
Pour us
Into the insomnia of air!
We may not survive,
Our lungs have turned to gills from so much sleep,
In spite of the risk, wake us
And leave us, alone and free, at sea:
So we can slowly move,
With infinite care,
Forward across the waters,
On the shifting architecture of waves
A horizon stretched like a rope
Between two hells,
Staring into your lunatic eye, crazed with hope.

From Clock without Hours (2016)


I only dream about myself.
Though I’m several other characters
Who terrify each other,
I know that I am always I,
Always willing to dream of this same self.

And even if I wake up
I know it’s only a dream
Of waking up
And I can hardly wait to dream that I’m asleep
To be able to dream that I’m dreaming.

How marvellous it is, this game of being myself!
A game without an end!
Because the end
Will also be something I dream and
So on and so on and so on...


We live in a wound
And do not know
Whose body it belongs to,
Nor why.
The only certain thing is the pain
That surrounds us,
That our presence
When the wound tries to heal ...


They say the snow gives warmth.
Gives warmth?
Are you content beneath the walnut tree
You used to climb?
Do you recognise the town?
As everyone has gone
To harvest strawberries in Spain,
The empty town looks almost like it did
When you were a child,
Except that the dome of the church,
Covered in tin,
Is uglier now.
In spring
The grass will be the same –
You’ll see!
I’ll come back then to ask you
If it’s true that you can hear it grow ...


Indecipherable message.
I can only understand
That it’s a message
Or a creed.
I try to decipher it
Without even knowing
If it’s meant for me
Or, conversely,
It’s a line
From my childhood,
A halo
Wiped out between then
And now
Without being read.


They plucked the hours from the clock
The way you’d pluck
Out an animal’s eyes
To make it blind.
Instead of 12 numerals
There were now only
12 black holes of the universe
Through which
Could be seen the great
Inferno of machinery,
The cog wheels
Kept on turning
The hands
Groping blindly around the dial
From one hole to another,
Not knowing what they pointed to.

Not knowing that they pointed to
A time without time –
A time named Never.

By Ana Blandiana

Translated by Paul Scott Derrick and Viorica Patea

This selection of poems is part of a larger volume, Five Books, soon to be published by Bloodaxe Books. Our thanks to the publisher for permission to publish these poems.

Read The Romanian Riveter in its entirety here.

Ana Blandiana was born in 1942 in Timişoara, Romania. She is an almost legendary figure who holds a position in Romanian culture comparable to that of Anna Akhmatova and Vaclav Havel in Russian and Czech literature. She has published fourteen books of poetry, two of short stories, nine books of essays and one novel. Her work has been translated into twenty-four languages. She has won numerous international literary awards and was awarded the highest distinction of the French Republic, the Légion d’Honneur, in 2009.

Paul Scott Derrick is a Senior Lecturer in American literature at the University of Valencia. He has edited and co-translated into Spanish a number of critical editions of American works. He and Viorica Patea have translated all of Ana Blandiana’s poetry into English.

Viorica Patea is Associate Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Salamanca. She has published critical studies of Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (2000), and studies in the area of witness literature in East European countries. She has edited, translated and analysed the work of Nicolae Steinhardt (2007) and Ana Blandiana (2008, 2011).

Category: The Romanian RiveterTranslationsSeptember 2020 – The Romanian Riveter


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