Who was I?
by Svetlana Cârstean
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Claudia Serea)  

I was a lonely little boy whose hair they braided into pigtails one day and
placed blue bows and an elastic headband.
His ears were red and painful from the too-tight elastic squeezing his head
and from the punishments given him by his father.  He’d rub the boy’s ears
between his thumb and forefinger the way you’d rub a dry leaf of mint or
basil or a rose petal to crush it into a powder so you could keep it in a small,
brown paper bag.  The boy’s ears burned and glowed red like two rose
petals, and the boy could hear very acutely, better and better, the faraway
sounds.  His hearing has become a tunnel in which sounds and pain become
one and roll down like heavy lead balls.
I was a little boy who one day began to grow breasts.
And today the little boy has to write a composition. His hands, smelling of
play-doh, have large ink stains along the delicate bones covered in a
transparent skin; his soul shrinks more and more, until it’s the size of a
poppy seed, that then rolls slowly to the teacher’s feet unconsciously
beating a rhythm in the unknown darkness under the desk. There it begs
for mercy. Calls for help.
I cannot write this composition. Nonetheless I can give you news: since
this morning, my breasts have been growing.

by Svetlana Cârstean
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Claudia Serea)  

In those days,
little girls had to be obedient,
as though they were little boys
who didn’t want to paint their nails,
or dress their dolls over and over again
and who weren’t gullible enough to be the mama
whenever they played mama and papa.

And the boys were obedient,
like little girls
they stayed close to their mamas
and didn’t run too far away,
and in that game they weren’t either mama or papa,
they were always the children.
On the playground,
they’d line up neatly in summer,
the girls with unpainted nails
and the boys who always rolled
their miniature plastic cars
around their
never too far away.
They’d line up and each of them
would get a prize.
The girls like boys,
the boys like girls.
But always different.

by Svetlana Cârstean
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Claudia Serea)  

And you know what will happen when my unpainted nails break and
darken?  I’ll worry in the usual way about the well-being of my body,
and for a while I’ll take care of my nails.  First, I’ll cut them very short,
down to the quick, to feel the change, to feel like I’m healing.  Then I’ll
let them grow pretty and I’ll color them a while in all sorts of different
hues, I’ll look at them often and show them off to others.  I’ll become
an organized woman, self-confident, someone who takes off her makeup
twice a day, drinks noncarbonated water, hides her slightly sagging
breasts in impeccable bras and walks with small, even, purposeful steps
toward a waiting taxi.  But it won’t last long.  In my case, the polished
nails didn’t last long.
Mama almost always had beautiful nails.  And because she didn’t dare
hit me with an open hand, she punished me with her nails.  I didn’t feel
the pain on bright summer mornings, I could only hear her voice and
see her sparkling nails flying through the air.
Mama had long hair in the breeze, glossy handbags, short skirts and
the scent of makeup remover with cucumber extract.  I was a thin strip
the color of blood.

Do you think my beautiful polished nails could one day manage to do harm?

by Svetlana Cârstean
(translated from the Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin
and Claudia Serea)

I’m a woman,
for a long time my body’s been floating
above an expanse of water, as white as moonlight,
indecent and silent.
I’m a cruel mother
who hugs her child
to the point of suffocation,
makes him one with herself
as once it had been,
when the big bellies were shady rooms to rest in,
were the good spaces along the street,
the rooms of unending vacations
without pain, without tears,
were the place in which no one gets separated from anyone else.
I’m a woman, often ugly.
Yesterday, my body was a paper boat
that I threw playfully on the surface of this water,
hoping it would carry me away.
Today, I’m the killer whale,
often beautiful,
waiting for the fisherman.



Svetlana Cârstean (b. 1969) published The Vise-Flower (Floarea
de menghină
) in 2008 to wide acclaim from Romanian critics; the
book was awarded four major literary prizes, among them the
Romanian Writers’ Union Prize for a first volume of poetry.  A poem
from this book appeared in Adam J. Sorkin’s
Speaking the Silence:
Prose Poets of Contemporary Romania
, which was edited and
translated with Bogdan Ștefănescu (Bucharest: Paralela 45, 2001).  
Other poems are appearing in

Claudia Serea, a Romanian-born poet who immigrated to the United
States in 1995, has published translations of Romanian poets in
magazines such as
Exquisite Corpse, Ozone Park, International
Poetry Review
, Ezra, Zoland Poetry, and Oberon. Her own poems
have appeared in the United States and Australia in numerous
magazines, among them
5 a.m., Ascent, Connotation Press,
Cutthroat, Meridian, Mudfish, The Dirty Goat, Harpur Palate,
The Fourth River, The Istanbul Review, poetrybay, and poetryfish.
Her collection,
To Part Is to Die a Little, is forthcoming from
Červená Barva Press.

Adam J. Sorkin recently published two books from the University of
Plymouth Press, Ioan Es. Pop’s
No Way Out of Hadesburg (2010)
and Mircea Ivănescu’s
lines poems poetry (2009), both translated
with Lidia Vianu.  Sorkin is the main translator (with the poet) of
Carmen Firan’s
Rock and Dew (Sheep Meadow Press, 2010) as well
as of the forthcoming anthology of Romanian poets of the 1990s and
The Vanishing Point That Whistles (Talisman House).

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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 6, Number 1
(Spring 2011)

Copyright © 2011
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.

With unpainted nails