The Absolution of the Waters
by Ioan Flora
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Elena Bortă)  

One by one, three girls with plump white calves release on the waters
of the stream an upright candle thrust in the heel of a bread;
their faces brighten, they let their hair down.

For six long weeks, they’ve been carrying water from the same well
in red clay pitchers.
At their task, they’ve never turned their heads aside, at night they never dreamed.
Their bare feet could crush a snake.

The girls take bread and other foods from woven flowered sacks,
they lay them on white linen napkins,
and the first gust of rain at once greets them.
They open a bottle of wine, gossip in their kerchiefs
and imagine how it would be if they bore the whelp of a man
before spring.

by Ioan Flora
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Elena Bortă)  

Huge restless birds
spread their wings and cover
the national highway, the roofs.
Your face muscles freeze; you could chop them with an axe.

The air hangs honeyed, putrid.
Teeth, beak, a bird’s profile,
legs long and ribbed,
the asphalt spongy, white beds halfway
between you and sky.

Four storks burst upward from a bucket of whitewash.
You touch your rib cage with your nose,
you stop along the way, stretch your legs,
look for a well.
You wash your bloody hands
with soap and water.

by Ioan Flora
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Elena Bortă)  

You survey the dining room,
sympathetic, complicit,
resolute, pious.
They move jaws, make use of fingers.
The cupola, the daily canon.
Ceremonious, silent, again complicit.
A meeting place. The perspiration.

Eyes gleam.
Pork collops with mushrooms, baked peppers,
vegetables in cream sauce.
Laughter, the laugh of a lady inflated with a bicycle pump.

No music of the spheres, just whispers,
silk, a smirk, the torch singer,
the ne’er-do-well,
the honest husband, executives, the headwaiter,
Belgians, Swedes,
this autumn that shrieks, the god absconded from
his niche.  History repeats itself,
resolute, pious.

by Ioan Flora
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Elena Bortă)

                                    for Vasko Popa

“I wasn’t at all afraid of life,
so much less of her,”
I kept reading and rereading, syllable by syllable,
in the leaden air of the printing house,
while a transparent worm wriggled across the page,
cutting a line in two,
chopping it, fulfilling its signification.

I watched it grow wings, sprout a horn
from its forehead,
ride the windowsill and, shooting upwards like an arrow,
pierce a hole in the sky.

Evening has fallen and a barbarous moon keeps watch
over the old man who wastes away in a plush armchair,
a kitchen knife in his chest,
emaciating his fingers and his zest for action.

by Ioan Flora
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Elena Bortă)  

On Holy Thursday, at the outdoor Café Europe, six fishermen
carouse at a table.
Beaming, enthusiastic, broad-shouldered, they gnaw stubbornly
at a stringy beefsteak and drink beer by the barrel.
Their table is a fortress,
a fortress assaulted (at their command)
by a brass combo that bleats and wheezes romantic ballads.
They sweat like pigs and
condemn the musicians to hell, sick of the same tunes over and over.
“Play violins, you damn crows!” one or another croaks,
while the café band seeks to placate them,
most of all the humpbacked woman
with two gold front teeth and eye sockets like fists,
singing at the top of her voice about this and that, who makes or mends,
who’s fed up.

“What a wasteland with carp,” one says, “to here,
through White Island,
and from eight, from twenty-eight kilometers below!”
“Death’s a trifle,” another replies after the eternity of
an hour or more, laughing with his mouth gaping open,
“it’s only we humans who
absolutely forget that!”

And again the blare of the band stabbing the eardrums,
floods of beer gurgling down the parched riverbed
of the throat,
slapdash waiters turning chairs upside-down
on the scratched, stained tables,
and the musicians counting their take finally (with curses) brought out into the light
from hats, pockets, wallets. . . .

“What a wasteland with carp!” the chief fisherman
exclaims out of the blue, and as if at his command, they all stand
and cross beneath the flowering linden trees on their way to the Timiș River—
which is not the same as they,
which for a moment forgets that
it is.

by Ioan Flora
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin)  

September 20th.  On the balcony, over a coffee.  E-mail, Adam J. Sorkin.
Medea and Her War Machines, the whole book in English.  A nasty rain,
cats and dogs.

September 20th, in the morning (before or after the war?).
A chicken in a glass container.
A photograph of the chicken like a dandelion, in a jar: black
eyes, golden beak, or rather, orange, wings transparent, pressing
on the metal lid.

September 20th, 2001.  I don’t see.  Don’t hear.  Don’t know
whether (and what) I should still believe.



Romanian poet
Ioan Flora was the author of fifteen books of poetry,
among them
Lecture on the Ostrich-Camel (1995), The Swedish
(1998), and Medea and Her War Machines (2000).  Flora
died in February 2005 only a few days after the publication of his
final book of poems, whose title, ironically, was a black-humor
variation on Manet’s
Déjeuner sur l’herbe—in Romanian, Dejun
sub iarba
or Luncheon Under the Grass.  Born in Yugoslavia in
the Romanian-speaking region of the Serbian Banat across the border
from Romania, Flora lived in Bucharest from the 1990s on.  His
poems have appeared in Adam J. Sorkin’s collaborative versions in
Natural Bridge, Chase Park, River City, Hunger Mountain,
Archipelago, Rhino, Tar Wolf Review, New Orleans Review,
Philadelphia Poets, Words Without Borders, Saranac Review,
Divide, Zoland Poetry, and The Spoon River Poetry Review.

Adam J. Sorkin’s recent books of translation include Memory Glyphs,
a collection of three Romanian prose poets, Cristian Popescu, Iustin
Panța, and Radu Andriescu (Twisted Spoon, 2009), and two volumes
forthcoming later this year:
Rock and Dew, poems by Carmen Firan
(The Sheep Meadow Press), and
lines poems poetry, poems by
Mircea Ivanescu (University of Plymouth Press, UK).

Sorkin’s co-translator,
Elena Bortă, is a freelance literary researcher
and translator who has contributed translations from English and
Scandinavian languages to various literary and cultural periodicals.  She
is currently working on a book-length manuscript, “The Poetics of
Fantasy Narrative in Mircea Eliade’s Fiction,” parts of which have been
published in Romania, the United States, and the United Kingdom.  
Bortă has received a travel grant from the Soros Foundation.

On “The Absolution of the Waters,” “The Sudden Metamorphosis of
the Birds,” “Dining Room,” “The Real, Besieged,” “Wasteland with
Carp,” and “Chicken in a Jar”:
 These are not the author’s own remarks, but I’ll give it a try.  
A translator, in a sense, is always putting words in an author’s
mouth, anyway, just using a different tongue.  In two
conversations in 2000 and 2001, Ioan Flora spoke to me of his
attitude toward writing.  His own poetry, he said, was based on,
or triggered by, his eclectic reading of nonfiction, history, politics,
newspapers, philosophy, but not usually the work of other poets
(though he did translate into Romanian the poetry of Vasko Popa).  
Flora also insisted that poetry should be based on concrete facts:
“I decided early that poetry is made of exact details”—almost a
credo.  These details should give rise to ideas, impressions,
emotions—although Flora’s facts didn’t have to inhere in the real
but could evoke, create, the unreal, the surreal.
 As the English-language expert of the translation team, I
tried to pay close attention to the precision of Ioan Flora’s diction
and likewise its connotative range.  The poet, like the tight-rope
walker, has to be the master of control; Flora said to me, “Poetry
is like on a rope in the air.  The problem is to balance—or fall. . . .”
                                                                        —Adam J. Sorkin

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 4, Number 2
(Fall 2009)

Copyright © 2009
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.
The Sudden Metamorphosis
of the Birds
Dining Room
The Real, Besieged
Chicken in a Jar
Wasteland with Carp