Trafika Europe 8 - Romanian Holiday

Romanian fiction & poetry from Constantine Severin, Doina Ruşti, Claudiu Komartin, Mircea Cărtărescu, T O Bobe, Elise Wilk, Corina Bernic and Ioana Pârvulescu. plus exciting writing from Russia, Germany and Turkey

1 RomanianHoliday 8_

an online quarterly journal with some of the best new literature from Europe

is a publication of

Trafika Europe ISSN 2472-2138


Editor’s Welcome _______________________________________ vi

Romanian Authors

Constantine Severin - Poems_____________________________ 11

Doina Ruşti ___________________________________________ 23 The Phanariot Manuscript (Excerpt)_ _________________ 25 The Lover (Short Story)_ ___________________________ 49

Claudiu Komartin - Cobolt [Ten Poems]_____________________ 59

Mircea Cărtărescu - Solenoid (Excerpt)_ ____________________ 77

T. O. Bobe - Poems____________________________________ 113

Elise Wilk - The Taxi Driver (Monologue)_ __________________ 133

Corina Bernic - Poems_ ________________________________ 143

Ioana Pârvulescu - Life Begins on Friday (Excerpt)____________ 153


Other Authors from Europe

Inna Kabysh - Poems_ _________________________________ 183 Cat and Mouse__________________________________ 185 Shine On, Shine On, My Star_ ______________________ 196

Christopher Kloeble - Almost Everything Very Fast (Excerpt)_ __ 203

Carl Boon - Poems_ ___________________________________ 219

A Note About the Artist ________________________________ 233 Acknowledgements ___________________________________ 236


Trafika Europe 8 - Romanian Holiday Editor’swelcome Romania straddles two regions, Central- Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and is by far the biggest country in both. So its cultural variety and richness is no surprise. Some of today’s Romanian writers are trying better to come to terms with its traumatic 20 th -century; others are looking forward and outward, or otherwise very far back, for new literary inspiration. Here we’ve got eight current Romanian poets and fiction writers, exemplary all, yet with some wildly different strategies for writing (and living). Conceptual artist and poet Constantine Severin is steeped in our shared 20 th - century inheritance of European literary/


art movements, giving his work a notable artistic grounding and excitement. In addition to poems, he’s also contributed the cover artwork for this issue. Additional poems are by Romanian writers Claudiu Komartin , Corina Bernic , and T. O. Bobe – if you can call the latter poems. These eclectic pieces give an account of Mr. Gică, the world’s greatest barber – and perhaps much else besides. Doina Ruşti is one of the most appreciated women in contemporary Romanian letters. Her latest novel, The Phanariot Manuscript , previewed here, derives inspiration from an actual “nizam”, an order given by Prince Alexandru Moruzi, who wanted a fugitive valet found in the year 1794. This excerpt is followed by a bonus short story from the author. Mircea Cărtărescu is a gem of a novelist,


Editor’s Welcome

and his latest work Solenoid (excerpted here) is a work densely allied with the great modernists, rich with elusive, allusive charm. Ioana Pârvulescu won the European Union Prize for Literature in 2013. In Life Begins on Friday, she explores the intricate web of 19 th -century Bucharest. Our Romanian focus is rounded out with a monologue from a play by Elise Wilk , awarded for its contribution to contemporary Romanian theatre. This is its debut in English language. You can also find a short historical fiction piecebyRomanianauthor andmathematician Bogdan Suceavă in our latest Trafika Europe Corner at Ohio Edit . If you haven’t heard it yet, we also highly recommend our full- length audio interview with this author. As if that weren’t enough, we’ve got two

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poems by grand Russian poet Inna Kabysh . For one of these, “Shine On, Shine On, My Star”, be sure to check out the video for her poem . After that, enjoy the delightful English-language debut of German novelist Christopher Kloeble . This issue closes with work by Carl Boon , an American poet living and teaching long-term in Turkey. This issue is also chock-full of startling artwork by Jörg Wand . Thanks for stopping by; we hope you stay awhile! The Editors


Constantine Severin



Constantine Severin POEMS


Constantine Severin Constantin Severin (born 1952 in Baia de Arama, Romania) is a graduate of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. A renowned poet, has published ten books of poetry, essays and fiction. He is an editor of “Levure littéraire”, an international culture magazine based in Paris. He has also contributed our cover artwork “Text and Time 91” for this issue. As a visual artist he founded the movement Archetypal Expressionism in Bukovina in 2001, and was also a founding member of the 3rd Paradigm International Artists Group. Severin’s conceptual art and artworks have appeared widely in international art and literary magazines, with three solo shows promoted by EuroNews.

Your name has the hearing of silence Translated from Romanian by Adrian Oproiu


t ouching your shore my hand breathes

through thousands of leaves


Constantine Severin


light up with your green voice the microscopic power

the foam of a strained crossing between one world and another sea where aurorae and roots reassert themselves up to the thirsty skies for our bodies with our bones imprinting streams of the curved forms of language that lie between silence and buds




a tender realm with inhumed children in amphora


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your name has the hearing of silence so I remember the rainbow arched beneath the earth crumbling the forheads of our parents in an evening with no begining or end kingdom of thistles with black musical spheres throwing back to you vegetal words




autumn comes, with pocketsful of tobacco bears doze in the warm raspberry-shrubs of hunting-bullet lead the sea evolves its photography of sand I hear the logarithmic spiral inside its shells the returning of all things in your awake and hospitable blood

the delicate map of white aurora

on which I’ll step with no fear on my black eyelash-bridges


Constantine Severin


a white field and the train is spinning light as in old etchings




with every touch of the shore a throng of birds rises like an explosion with no sound their eye becoming the bullet which I always miss and through this tunnel of wings I don’t know anymore if I’m lived by someone else by someone else by someone else


Constantine Severin


bound by this sky as the leaves themselves I find myself quiet and serene a body of light silence and plant sap of vibrating music and flower I am the shadow between two senses the adjective inside the wind of old stars with letters eroticized by wounds’ petals I love you, thousand-folded blood of ours pollen of my breath being away from you my verse fractures along the rope of return my hand through which the hour’s marrow flows descends into your celestial vowels’ fire like those nests pressing their precise ivy from these lines of thought




tall bell the day falls in birch’s nerves as salt domes on seadivers’ shoulders here you can dream a song with your eyes opened or a city suspended in a cloud made of gold-borne pyrite a lit match over the word melancholy in a white car and you can regard the universe through just the fixed idea of homeland


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The Phanariot Manuscript

DoinaRuSti The Phanariot Manuscript The Lover


Doina Rusti Doina Ruşti (born 1957) is a top female writer in Romania today. Her work has been translated into nine languages, and awards for her many novels have included The Romanian Academy’s Ion Creangă Prize and the Prize of the Romanian Writers Union. In The Phanariot Manuscript , a manuscript from 1796 tells the story of a boy from Thessaloniki who comes to Bucharest to get rich, but falls in love with a slave girl, and has some hard decisions to make. Translated from Romanian by Liana Grama and Andrew K. Davidson. In the short story, “The Lover”, a local religious man maintains a strange hold on the women around him. Translated from Romanian by Andrew K. Davidson, revised by Daniela and Matt Riain.

The Phanariot Manuscript [Excerpt]

Translated by Liana Grama & Andrew K. Davidson

Prologue No story begins on the first page of a book. The Phanariot Manuscript is no exception. A possible beginning could be in Sarai Library, where Sultan Selim III came across some compositions written so cautiously that the musical notes looked like mosquitos drowning in coffee. Selim hummed the tune, as usual. Itwas a cheerful thing. It startedoffwith some short pattering and continued in an ample manner, which made it impossible not to realise how many had put their heart into that song. He felt the paper, ignoring

the tiny signature found in the corners. The same hand had written under the notes in a careful language, as if especially to remind him of the flawless bead-like figure of his first teacher. The tune flowed with the words. There were three stanzas that praised a city of all types of happiness. The song went to his heart and by evening the entire palace had learned it and from there it spread to the streets and, moreover, to the taverns. Firstly, because it came from the great Selim, but also because it was a lively tune, which made your heart flutter


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even from the first bars. The city in the song was like the hidden whisper in the linden flower. Between its walls all suffering melted away, erased from the Book of Destiny or from other books copied after that. And the city, that city of light hearts, was none other than Bucharest. Then the rumours began to spread, supported by the hissed whispers of the Greeks of Fener, the only one who had travelled the roads beyond the Danube, where the Wallachian city lay. For instance, everyone knew that, as soon as you cross the bridge, which is also the only entrance to the city, you realise that your whole life up to that point wasn’t worth two cents. On the streets paved with oak

wood, steam swirls around from the silver stoups in which elixirs, perfumes and ointments boil all the time, for the city doesn’t live off the labour of the earth, nor off its numerous shops, but off a continuously renewed aroma, off that warm breath which invades all the pores and makes any newcomer forget everything they’d lived before as if they were instantly transformed into an Emir with sapphire eyes, into a Nabob with carriages andpalaces, intoaGovernor, a Polkovnik or at least into a scribe of the lordly suite. But there were also many who spoke of the people walking in streets, bemused, drunk with love or stuffed with the sweets that they dreamed of, tortured by their own desires, eating


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through the most fragile part of their flesh, teaching them to enjoy the pains of passion and the poison of a sigh. But no matter the changes they go through, there is no one who can resist falling into a prolonged euphoria. In Bucharest there are no worries, nor any lengthy melancholia, which explains even the name of this happy town, like a bell in the winter snows 1 . TheGreeksofFener,knowing the way well, took out their gold from the cellars, from the foundations of their homes, from under heaps of old things and junk which covered theneighbourhood, trying to convince the Sultan to give them the throne of Bucharest for any 1 n.t. Bucuresti – from bucurie = joy

period of time, no matter how short. The fame of the city spread from one end of the Ottoman Empire to the other, so that there was not a single person who didn’t know that Bucharest was the city where dreams come true. In the coffee houses of Istanbul a true elitist trade developed because it was here that the most stylish merchants auctioned their goods, with greyhounds from Moldova, falcons from Bucharest and Wallachian children reaching very high prices.


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1. His best day was that of the meeting in the bakery. Many things had happened in the meantime and he was now already in the period of wanting to forget her. It was the summer of the tunic from fustian ochre, one of his beloved coats. A bakery with a bell had opened alongside the Red Inn, where people went primarily to listen to the clinking of the door. A smell of baked bread and sesame was coming from the open window. He had only gone in to look around and had remained transfixed. Five people filled in next to the counter. His lungs made a long pause. In front of him, not even at a finger’s distance, Maiorca breathed quietly. He could have

touched her, but his blood, still unrefined by living, had transformed him into a boiled crayfish. Time with its three hundred wings beat in his eardrums and Maiorca’s napewas steaming. He could openly look to her straight shoulders, her tens of braids twisted up in rags and her ears with earrings made of red thread, on which three little nacre buttons shivered. Maiorca saw him only after filling her basket with bread rolls. At first, they looked at each other as two strangers. Maiorca lowered her lip, letting out the sigh he had almost forgotten. While the baker wrote in his register, he threw two coins onto the counter and confidently grasped the bun


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he had his eyes on. Back on the street, he had come to life. Maiorca wanted to go home but, in an impulsive moment, he grabbed her by the arm that was holding the basket without letting her out of his sight, even though he couldn’t see her. Through his retina he could see all her faces which had tortured him in fast-forward. His first words came out thoughtlessly. When the soul is simmering, the mouth speaks the fakest words, songs without fire, without value. That’s why it is said that only people of lukewarm emotions are capable of forging speeches of great emotion. Although a robust declaration was stirring in his soul, his lips asked her how she was,

as if they had only parted yesterday. The girl smiled and the noise of the street sunk into ground. From the bread basket spilled a subtle calling. Maiorca said something, a short phrase and his nostrils swelled. Through the crowd that was swarming the bridges, the two silhouettes shown like torches. She walked in front of him, with her arm around the basket and he was hitting the cobblestone with the tip of his walking stick, three steps behind her skirts. Beyond the bridge lay Bozăria and above them the sun was burning, raising waves of poisoned raw foods. No Greek had ever entered Bozăria. Just like him, any southerner who made it to the city learned immediately


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that Bozăria must be avoided. It and Bucharest’s elderly women were the two dangers. Moreover, he had also heard the story of a valet eaten alive by Bozăria. And before the valet lay the bridge,thecityandMustafa’s shop where is believed to be the beginning, although no beginning can be discerned. Until the day of the meeting in the bakery there remain lots more to be said and all are about her eyes like two otters coming out from under the snow. He first saw her in the yard of the Metropolitan church, where he had was taken by surprise on the very day he had entered the city where he would dream like a madman. And how he had dreamed!

2. He had first heard of Bucharest in his friend’s shop, Mustafa’s, and just by listening to its music he felt it like a feather duster passing over his teeth. Inexplicably, all through the day he couldn’t get it out of his head. Aword is like a little worm, made to multiply relentlessly. It goes into the labyrinth of the ear, map in tote, inattentive to any interruptions or alliances and, in this case, it stopped only in the thalamus, in a dark place, the kind of place said to be haunted by ghosts. But Ioanis did not know this perverse side of words. He was 16 and he had spent all these years at the edge of the Căţol neighbourhood, among baskets of fish, first next to his mother’s stand, then


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constantly carrying all sorts of bags with blue herring, silver mullet, grumpy goby and turbot all lined up piece by piece in wicker baskets. All this remained forever engraved in his memory alongside his father’s face, embossed against the sky as a big sunflower hat, dried and blackened by rain. His parent’s namewas Bradu Milikopu, an honourable name, well-known in the whole neighbourhood, not necessarily for some heroic deeds, but for his pocked face and his blazing eyes that hid a single burning desire by the name of Lambros Katsonis. On that April morning, after the last basket was laid under the stall, Ioanis ran off as usual. Mustafa’s shop was in the other part

of town, a small business, crammed into one room with a wooden ceiling. Into this room lined with fabrics and shawls, Ioanis would go everyday only to touch the huge ballots of cloth, to weigh the rolls of Indian satin and feel the Mosul silk because few things can compare to the softness of textiles that slip between the index finger and the thumb like a drop of warm tea. Sometimes, he would go by Mustafa’s just to feel under the palm of his hand a pack of brocade or to absorb the pastel colours of muslin with his eyes. And when he had some money, he would buy scraps, leftovers from others, even small patches of cloth that no one wanted. He would make adornments for turbans, gloves, bags


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embellished with beads, belts with tens of small patches, handkerchiefs or the tops of slippers, trinkets for his sisters or his aunts. Just as he went in, a piece of silk wool caught his eye, almost hidden between the waves of fabrics. It was a soft little cloth, in which the silk seemed to have risen like a mirror to the forefront while the rest, a mixture of cotton and wool, had remained towards the back. It had the colour of silver turned green. Mustafa’s moustache went to one side: the fabric wasn’t cheap and you couldn’t even make much from it, not a pair of shalwars, anyway. It would work for insets or for some watery shirt tails. Perhaps for cuffs. But for pants...!

“No way”, young Milikopu opinedMustafa just as there appeared on the doorstep of the shop the shalim fez of the teacher Okimon. You could see by the light under the arches of his eye that he had obviously been by the post office at the port. “It appears that the very generous Selim has turned his eye upon our poor Thessaloniki ”, said the teacher with some emphasis and although poor Thessaloniki went by Eyālet-i Selānīk to Mustafa and Săruna to the Wallachians, neither had problems in understanding. In town everybody spoke Greek from dawn to dusk. Only in the white houses, under the bristly crowns of pines or in the market would groups of Turks argue


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amongst themselves in Turkish, Jews whispered in their own language, which no one understood, and, as soon as you entered the Căţol neighbourhood, you could hear the words stuck in honey whose core only the Wallachians knew. For a few minutes the teacher praised Sultan Selim, who was celebrating exactly one year since coming to the throne. “A Greek, a friend of mine,” Mustafa felt the need to add, “told me that wages have gone up twice for sailors. My friend’s brother worked for Gazi Hasan.” As the teacher continued to stare at him intently, Mustafa added: “Some even climbed into the ranks!”

Through the shop’s window you could see the grey roofs and further away the sea was sparkling, which made Ioanis suddenly feel a close bond to the place, to the shop lined with silks and to the two men who were the most dear to him in all of Săruna. And then, in that moment, warm like a crayfish fit to be laid on the table, the blade of the word Bucharest crept into Ioanis’ life, into his young brain and his lustful heart. “My friend’s brother”, boasted Mustafa, “has become master over a city in which everyone dances!” The teacher doubted such a place existed, but the Turk kept chatting on, while Ioanis continued to caress the piece of fabric.


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The dancers that Mustafa toldof spokeneither Turkish, nor Greek. “You won’t believe me,” he said while rolling his eyes, “but these people speak Wallachian!” “Aha,” the teacher lightened up.“Perhapsyou’respeaking of Bucharest!” The city’s name brought about a moment of silence. “One of my grandparents went to Bucharest,” Okimon went on. The mere thought that in the vastness of the Empire there were other people who spoke his language made Ioanis feel warm. He didn’t even realise that this ordinary finding brought along with it the invading breeze of the word Bucharest, that hadn’t quite

sounded exotic. This was the beginning which opened with the passing of time. Mustafa’s mouth moving under his moustache, the teacher clarifying things with bright eyes. “My friend’s brother,” Mustafa said. “One of my grandparents,” Okimon had added. Thesedarershadopenedthe gate. The friend’s brother was a sailor with a tobacco- matted beard. The teacher’s grandparent sold olives and smoked mullet. Still caressing the cloth, Ioanis remained still. His profile reflected against the shop window, with his nose protruding as the back of a carp. Okimon thought that the


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Wallachians from Săruna themselves had come from there. Without any particular reason, his father’s face appeared Ioanis’s eyes with its pockmarks resembling a patch of sand spattered with rain drops. “Anyway,” theTurk specified, “these Wallachians aren’t too bright! My Greek friend’s brother became a sailor because he couldn’t sell a cloth square if his life depended on it! His brain is smaller than that of a Persian hen! However, he is now the governor of the dancing Wallachians!” The teacher talked about a few more simpletons from Săruna who had similarly settled down, ending his speech with an adage on the subject that, from some

reason known only to him, he said in Wallachian. The teacher’s glasses sent out a streak of light and Mustafa’smoustachemoved benevolently. Suddenly engulfed by euphoria, Ioanis decided to buy the silk wool with the money for the butcher, thus totally ignoring the lunch which was only a few hours away. 3. A meal without meat wasn’t a catastrophe, but the entire family scolded him anyway. Of course, he couldn’t say that he had spent the money. Lost sounded better, but only a little bit, so he decided to go with stolen. “By whom?” asked the father, rapidly going through


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jizya because he had to pay annual taxes for these 11 people. One of these was Ioanis who always felt small and stupid when looking at his father. And when such sadness descended upon him, his nose would swell, transforming into an old crow’s beak. Neither the knowledge he’d gained from the teacher Okimon nor the fact that he slaved about carrying baskets of fish mattered to his father. As for his passion for tailoring, he wouldn’t evenhear of it. Canyoumake a decent set of clothes?! No! So what kind of tailor are you? The clothes he dreamed of weren’t for the honourable neighbourhood of Căţol, nor for the city of Săruna. He liked pockets, as many as possible, disguised

the list of all the Milikopu cousins, armed with daggers and brass knuckles which quickly deterred him from wanting further details. The table was set with spinach cakes and silence fell over the 11 people present. His father’s sunburnt cheek always gave him chills. Traditionally, there are considerably numerous fathers who are unhappy with their children, but in this case the discontent was like a wound. Bradu Milikopu was a martyr and there are no substitutions for martyrs. He would wake up in the middle of the night and head straight for the pier. He’d fish until his eyes started itching, his jaw started trembling, his knees started failing him and all his money went to the


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with buttons and elaborate embroidery which few could appreciate. And besides this, he also cherished hair oils that made his black curls look heavy and supple like Bursa silk. Nevertheless, all these were balderdash. The only worthy action for a fisherman’s son from Săruna would have been to go straight out to sea and enroll in Lambros Katsonis’ fleet. For 20 years, his ships had relentlessly attacked the army of the great Gazi Hasan, weakening the Empire and giving hope to the Greeks and all the other people, the Wallachians of Săruna city included. Two things would have been solved if he had behaved like a decent son: the jizya would have decreased by

one head and the day of liberation from under the Turks would be closer. Ioanis loved freedom and hated the Turks like any normal man in Săruna, but life under somebody’s command on a ship threatened by cannons made him lose all interest in patriotism. He wanted all Greeks to be free but he loved his freedom more, which at that time meant perfumes and beautiful clothes. 4. Around Easter, things in the Bradu Milikopu family got really bad. After the mother put the vegetable soup on the table, Bradu gave her the news she feared most; his time had


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come to leave. With two of his cousins, his father bought a second-hand boat. A wreck. Anyone could tell that they wouldn’t be able to catch fish in it. This ruin of a boat would crash into the rocks one kilometre off the port. That was it. That was its role. Ioanis and his second cousins would already be aboard Lambros’s galleon, dressed in fustanellas and wearing tsarouhia on their feet. All three in a row, nose to nose, that unmistakable nose of Milikopus, sometimes broad like the blade of a scimitar and at other times suddenly swollen like an ocarina. Of the heirlooms that he didn’t like, this nose was the very first. Especially when he was upset, all his anger went into his nose, making him

look like a raven. The of becoming a warrior was dire, clouding his future, which up to that point was all milk and honey. Careworn by the upcoming departure, he went to his teacher’s doorstep. Okimon had taught him to write. He had given him The Balavarani, with the story of Barlaam and Josaphat. He wasn’t a true Greek, but half Sephardi, and this helped him greatly. He knew lines by heart from the Iliad but he also read parables from Me’am Lo’ez . Ioanis expected the best advice from this man. Okimon believed that the father’s decision should be respected. No other action would have been better perspective


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resonance of Bucharest . The music didn’t count at all for him right then, it was all about the glamour of a city of great dancers. “Don’t believe all of Mustafa’s nonsense,” Okimon said, agitated. “Firstly, Wallachia is at the end of the world! With the money spent on a journey there, you could build a house in the middle of the Căţol neighbourhood!” Okimon’s advice seemed right. After all, Ioanis would soon turn 17, the set age for men of the Milikopu can to take up weapons. AshebroodedoverOkimon’s words, he began sewing. The silk wool which had cost his family’s lunch began to take the shape of some trousers, somewhat short even after

or more dignified than enrolling in Lambros’s fleet. As disappointment was already beginning to swell in his nose, the teacher openly confessed that he didn’t have the least bit of confidence is his civic potential. “What will you do, young Milikopu? Will you take the road to Istanbul?” “Why not? Was it not you who said that beyond Istanbul there are some Wallachians led by a Greek sailor?” Although it was only a standard question, a think cord in his blood vibrated subtly. The word, that treacherous word similar to a razor, grew in number. Of course, he didn’t reflect for one moment upon the acute


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being extended with some cotton of the same watery green. Instead he made them pockets, some big visible ones, others hidden in the lining, small pockets for single coins, one on top of the other, small slits in the pleats next to the fly, pockets for the waistband and the hem, pockets within pockets, sealed by buttons or ornaments, embroidered with silk, a total of 18 pockets. And as he twisted the thread and sucked in his lips, through the open window between the painted bars, the sly April breeze brought in the Song of Selim . And suddenly his mind whirled with dancers hopping, led by a Greek, a friend of the merchant Mustafa, dancers

with interwoven fingers standing tiptoes, ready to take flight. The name of Bucharest was vibrating, making his nostrils tremble. Ioanis dropped the needle and ran after the singer who was minding his own business, raising his thin flute-like voice anytime he mentioned the dream city’s name – Bucharest. Ioanis’s mouth dropped when he heard that Macariotatos Selim himself had composed this song and he sung it so many time that evening and during the following days that every last member of the Milikopu family knew the lyrics. Mustafa was the first person to see the new trousers. Unlike the teacher, he was pretty optimistic about the


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departure. He offered to get Ioanis a recommendation directly from the merchant who was the brother of the governor of those dancing Wallachians. And he kept his word. One day later, Ioanis brought him a silver coin which he had from his grandmother and Mustafa gave him the letter written in Greek: “Dear brother, take care of this young man. He is a friend of Mustafa, the merchant from Thessaloniki.” A wave of gratitude shook in his cheek, then another concern made him wonder if he knew the name of that simpleton brother who had become king of the dancing Wallachians. “Of course”, answered Mustafa, “his name is Nikos Mavros and another name.”

As soon as he stepped out of Mustafa’s shop, the earth shook under his feet and, as he later learned, the entire Empire was shaken by an earthquake. Houses and even imperial baths crumbled in Instabul and the shops in the Easter Market of Thessaloniki collapsed. In the general confusion after the earthquake, Ioanis packed a few clothes and other useful thing and took, not without remorse, the 10 drachmas from his mother’s chest. The teacher gave him a ream of Venetian paper and the address of someone in Istanbul. “You can’t get lost”, he said, “for he is the very head of the Eiub mahala!” Andindeed,hedidn’tgetlost. After almost two months he


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reached Bucharest, where two people were waiting for him: Maiorca and Doicescu, two people who had changed his life.

boyar had awoken as his young voice carried over all the surrounding houses. Ali the lemonade seller, with his little tray hanging from his neck and the lemonade cauldron on his back, was the first to know. He was the one who let the grocers of Cucului Market know, who then ran for the back door, burdened by first fruits for breakfast. The middleman from Colţea Tower saw them thumping about like a squad of bugs to spread the word over the yards of St. George Inn, where the shop keepers sprang with groceries, never missing out on red olives, whey cheese and roasted coffee on a bed of sesame. Only afterwards did the fishermen start off with cod roe, followedby the butchers and the rest of the

5. As the Wallachian set off on his journey to the promised land of Bucharest, Dan Braşoveanu Doicescu was just getting out of bed. And in the Colţea mahala where Doicescu was ruler, everyone knew that the


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nobodies who gave colour to the Colţea mahala with taklits, fezzes and scarves of a brilliant green. On that quiet morning, Doicescu was turning 27 and his main gift which Manda Doicescu had carefully placed within reach while he was still sleeping could be found in a silver case. One of the great joys inherited from the earliest Doicescus was to buy extremely rare things. Cigarette boxes, big mechanical dolls or fruit that nobody had heard of. Everything unusual made his soul tingle. His newest acquisition was a gas lamp in the shape of a naked man with a big nose and a small yellowhat, andadick thesize of a normal finger that had written on it in golden letters Ami Argand . Therefore, he

expected the object in the case to completely surprise him. The previous evening, the postman had brought a chest from Braşov with his bottles of Frontignac and some silk gloves. But the silver case surely hadn’t been there. He heard some light steps to his right and Doicescu reached out without even looking to the woman who had brought his hookah. After his first smoke he opened the case. A lock of hair lay on a bed of velvet. In the Bucharest as sung by Selim, in that Bucharest on which the Greeks of Fener had placed their bets, pleasures of the hair took precedent. Included in this, small extensions were sought after accompanied by luxurious hair pins and


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clips. Bucharest was full of hairpieces. Even men who hadn’t yet gone bald preferred to wear them. Wherever you looked, you would only see shaved napes, but under fezzes, fur hats or striped shawls there were always the hairpieces that had driven men mad and had changed the tastes of women. The merchants and the common folk bought them from Turkish shops and the wealthy ordered them in from Braşov. Doicescu, however, had fine tastes, those of a picky man. His were made by Fabio the Florentine himself who went down in history only for Doicescu’s hairpieces. Manda had ordered this headpiece just in time. He left the hookah aside

and sipped from the coffee which had cooled down, just as he liked it. He casually went back to his scalp and felt it with his fingers to notice, as he did every day, how feeble it was. Then he fixed his hairpiece with special care to cover the hairpin properly. The skin on his head was almost white, a oneday shave tobetter show the lock of hair positioned between the crown and forehead like a leech made of tar. You couldn’t say they were real bangs, but rather a thin band, as if a painter’s paintbrush had passed over once. The hairs stood aligned over the two stripes that crossed his forehead. If you looked at it from the side, the small lock seemed like a snake’s head resting on the snowy bald head.


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Doicescu with pleasure. He signaled to the usher that he wished to get dressed who turned his hoarse voice toward someone else so that the initial cry quickly made its way to the back of the house, from one mouth to the other. Through the curtain, the usher’s profile looked like a jagged wheel. After changing his mind several times, he picked some yellow shalwars which seemed refreshing, although they were of the new sort that get tighter near the ankle. Thewoman’s hands touched his thigh while pulling up his pants and Doicescu felt obliged to look at her. She was one of his regular chambermaids whom he had chosen for her ample sighed

breasts. On the divan lay five surplices, but he didn’t ponder them much. Instead he pointed with his chin towards the one with green stripes of a fine cotton with two soft and spacious pockets. Then he asked for a shawl and the word went through the house, fromone mouth to the other so that all the windows trembled under its resonance, making the lemonade vendor from Colţea strain his ear and the butchers across the street close their mouths in bewilderment. From the Doicescu house, the boyar’s order could be heard repeated by several voices: “The Alep satin shawl”, announced the usher with his 70-year-old voice, so rusty that it sounded like a


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thick chain. “The Alep satin shawl”, barked the cellar woman who just happened to be in the area. Then a few younger voices cooed: The Alep satin shawl . Finally, the order had reached the woman in charge of the laundry, with her pursed lips like the beak of a rooster and she blared like a royal trumpet back into the ear of the usher: “The Alep satin shawl was burned when ironing!” All voices repeated the story that sounded like a catastrophe once it arrived backinthesleepingquarters. Doicescu grumbled, evoked his manhood two or three times then sent a new order that reached the sharp- nosed woman in charge of

the laundry: “The Malta shawl!”

After the chambermaid tied his shawl close to his hip, Doicescu slipped in his emerald-encrusted dagger and the leather bag with golden string. Through the side slits, his calf could be seenwrappedintheshalwars from where his small feet protruded. The woman’s able hands rolled up the stockings. They seemed made of silk, although they were only made of cotton, a new cotton which had just come out, silky and fluid like a grub. Although it was hot, he couldn’t just go out in his surplice. After several attempts he took a short silk mantle which seemed elegant and, as he also had


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a kalimavkion of the same fabric which he insisted on havinguntil itwasdiscovered and passed from hand to hand from the clothes room, through two hallways and, finally, through the small room where the old usher lived out his days. It was a light green kalimavkion, not too tall, but its elegance was in the brick-coloured edge, slightly risen like a royal crown. Doicescu looked into the mirror to watch as the hairpiece disappeared under the small hat and he checked his nape that looked like a peeled potato. A thin scarf placed around his neck, white like the fluff of a gander – and he was ready. Out the window one could see the branches of the

apricot tree. A leaf of ice entered his arteries. There was but one sadness in the life of Dan Braşoveanu Doicescu at that point. And it was quickly approaching from the Şerban Vodă mahala to halt alongside the Colţea Church, at his bedroom window. _____


The Lover [Short Story] Translated by Andrew K. Davidson Revised translation by Daniela & Matt Riain

The history of Eugen the monk is made up of 200 events, both dramatic and memorable. He was never a handsome man. Nor capable. Nor was he stately. Nor was he even likeable. His power was rooted solely in desire, both subtle and firm. Some may still remember him: passing through the monastery gates in the mornings, his silhouette floating like a feather following behind a covered wagon. Without rushing in the slightest, he would go down the gray street where he would always stop in the shade of the grapevine canopy on the outskirts of

the Flower Market. Back then, the place was so crowded that people’s faces brushed together in passing, while the monk’s eyes would close, unable to grasp all the details of the rustling movements. In fact, he let himself get (become) drowsy on the aroma of the market, breathing in the heated oil of lily-of-the-valley or listening to the sighing of hundreds of underarms. It was not important to him where the scents came from, and if someone asked him - he only knew the names of three flowers. Usually, the monk thought of nothing. He was a languid man under


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the cover of the green hat of a small stand. On the painted plank there was a string of honey jars, wax and honeycombs - out of which sometimes popped out the tuft of a bee’s head. However, despite his sitting motionless on the chair of spruce wood, beyond his gentle face, there was a commotion as great as that within the heart of a hive, as he feverishly took in the rustling of silk hems, thighs moistened with all the moving about, reddened ears and the distant clamor from coral lips. He seemed to be nailed to the chair with the backrest, but his whole being was part of the thick lifeof themarket. And in the siege of reaching arms, among their agitated temples, their waving curls,

there was always someone, a woman like acacia syrup, for whom Eugen the monk would give up his life. And it was not only an impulse, but an engagement he so thoroughly lived that if someone entered under his canopy, even the abbot himself or Saint Michael in the flesh, they would not have been able to wake him up. Not even the side of an eyebrow would have moved on his face. When Eugen detected a woman to his taste, he summoned his forces. It was never a question of a particular woman. There was no typology of the victim. On the contrary, Eugen’s women were each quite different – young and old, happy and eroded by discontent, there were


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godly women and well known whores, gentle ones and fiery, vindictive ones, chatterboxes, quiet ones, amorous ones, the naïve and the downright criminal. Eugen the monk, nearly asleep in the shade, felt in the distance the misty breath of a beloved to be. It was a vibration wetting the air around his ears, a slight pulse of begging blood. And in this gentle breeze, from within the narrow passageways of arteries and cartilage, his entire, lifeless population would awaken. Billions of invisible beings went to war, the meek and the brave, as one army, like a river of fire. Eugen was leaning on the chair’s long back, with his chin to a shoulder, but his real life was gushing like a

swollen tongue among jars of honey, next to potted daisies, among colorful sleeves under the insatiable, summer sun. He was like a starved reptile, like a hot chocolate sperm whale in a crazy dash, among the mindless heads in the Flower Market. And this passive man’s desire, strong and swift, could penetrate all human flesh. When the desire reached the rising mist of the chosen woman, the small market shuddered discreetly, while the distant rustling of crimped linens was heard under flowerpots. Eugen’s desire would break through, melting the flowers and withering the buds of the innocent


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The monk knew very well what was happening. He knew the sadness of defeated flesh and he felt the helplessness of enslaved blood. Still, with each new conquest, the more he liked it in his skin, in the gurgling darkness, where a thousand heroes were running. Meanwhile, life was moving forward. In the Flower Market, under the leafy umbrella, Eugen the monk appeared to be sleeping, while hundreds of women were slowly withering of sadness. Throughawindowof ahouse someone was looking at the monk’s crouched body, seeing the hardened hands in his lap, examined the holy man’s eyelids. However, she did not dare approach the reticent monk, no matter

women’s flesh, arresting her next to a pot of oleanders, hanging her in a windowsill, perching her on a chair but with arms reaching out towards packed shelves of begonias. Touched by the placid monk’s tongue, any woman was transformed into a larva, incomplete and shrouded in heavy flames.


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how her tear ducts burned. For nights she would dream of him, and for hours would allow herself to be guided by an invisible, whip-like tongue tip. But, once in the Flower Market, when approaching the sleepy Don Juan, she would hit an invisible wall like a thin barrier that protected his adolescent-like figure. No one had known the small monk to make a sound, no one had seen the color of his eyes. Nobody had ever been able to ask him anything. In short, Eugen was a sleeping, anesthetic man, and the market was under the spell of his desire. In love with the quiet monk, many women wept in silence. Some committed suicide. Some still stay within monastery walls, and

others allow themselves to be consumed by social activities. Even the very beautiful Elena Razelta, who had fainted several times near the booth with honey, ended up married to a rude merchant, seeking peace in a story of self-flagellation. Evidently, Eugen the monk was aware of all these pains. Under the canopy at the out- skirts of the market, from time to time, a smoke signal reachedhim. And among the many affairs of this taciturn monk, one April day when the market was filled with lilac, the expected woman crept in. Alisa. That was her name. The daughter of a pastry chef, famous for his walnut cookies – whose fame


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reflected on Alisa – she roamed the streets with the pride of provenance feathering her shoulders. Her hair was black and so shiny that in the satin fabric of the day, from a distance, it looked like a house martin in flight. It was just before noon when the silk shoe of Alisa passed hastily by the canopy almost drained by the winter’s tongues. A wasp was buzzing above the jars, and the sun’s feathery light was breathing through the roof slats. The black hair fluttered by a tulip’s cup-shaped bloom, and the pride of the caste, the crackling of burning wood and the aroma of walnut cake spread in the market air. The mist, as spicy as a

mustard seed, smacked Eugen. And, as in so many other occasions, the small beings invaded all-out, the maniacal tongue and the compulsive desire acting like swords, plunged mercilessly into Alisa’s flesh, yet unknown. The market sighed, and several pairs of eyes strained through bouquets of lilac, up to the stand where the little man rested sleepily covered up in the old habit. Alisa received the message like the prick of a thorn. Around her, the world swarmed, bouquets of flowers swayed, and she remained in the centre, like a drugged cat. A scalding and perverse stream was rolling in her muscle fibers, her swelling glands and the walls of her throat.


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The rape was being staged from close proximity by a mind that made no effort to be discrete. On the contrary, it exuded emotion, proud and confident in its power. Alisa rolledher eyes, casually observing the piles of white flowers, the moving heads, the wicker baskets and the cageswithgoldfinches, until, between two perplexed shoulders, she laid eyes on the barren stand, under which Eugen the monk slumbered. Watching his lowered eyelids, relaxed face and ears reddened with exertion, she was struck with the same desperate passion that had struck half the women in the Flower Market. Hesitating, she went over to the honey stand, from where the impatient, snake-like desire

was emanating. Alisa walked alongside the rows of jars, up to the white chair. The monk was bent like a currant branch. He knew very well that Alisa was looking at him. He had heard her steps, had felt her pulse and had tasted her cloud-like soul. However, he remained frozen. The April sun warmed the top of his head, and in the darkness of his being, the millions of warriors fed him with the joy of victory. Another woman had become attached to him. But Alisa did not see it that way. She was disturbed and was almost overwhelmed by panic, but not enough to not feel the light tremors of the invading soul. The monk’s


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fingers, white and delicate, were throbbing as if theyhad been strumming a guitar for hours on end, and under his eyelids, through his opaque skin, a distressed anthill was moving. To her, the sleeping man was only the interlocutor of this most complicated and dangerous apparatus. Alisa’s ears perked up instinctively. The market stirred slowly, and the blood of hundreds of seduced women let out a unified sigh. Bewildered, she took a step, that last step, which no woman had dared to make, and when the treacherous April breeze passed by her ears, Alisa thrust her teeth into the pouting lips of Eugen the monk.

At first, the vast army went numb like tongue burnt by fire, and then, in cutting silence, one after another, the bodies of his unbeaten soldiers fell. And, grieving for the darkness left over him, Eugen finally raised his eyelids. Alisa was watching with a single eye, unflinching and severe. The market fell silent, and of the formerly fervent army, not a trace remained. The disturbance of Alisa’s teeth, or her unwavering stare, was not as great as the pain of his inner peace. The great, thirsty tongue became a dry leaf, and he grew very weak. All his desire melted, all its hubris, and sticky birds flew from 200 hearts. The women breathed the


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freedom air again, those who had yearned for the little monk for so long. Some fled from monasteries, others finally looked into mirrors and rushed to stores for earrings and silks. Obviously, Elena Razelta got a hasty divorce, leaving the merchant in a long depression. Even the ones on their deathbeds stirred to their senses. The most determined to commit suicide before and those who were sighing among the flowers, the women wounded, those whom even the Good Lord came to discard, all the women who were mercilessly raped by Eugen the monk’s impetuous desire left their shells, which had become soft as jelly. Under the April sun, a breath

of life rustled in the Flower Market. Alisa delicately licked the string of blood that seeped from Eugen’s bewildered lips. Impassive dragonflies hovered in his eyes, open for the first time. And standing face to face, both understood, each in their own way, that a happiness, previously restrained, filled the square. In fragile flower petals with mauve inflorescence, thousands of fiery beads exploded, while vine shoots stretched inconspicuously over the stand’s old roof.



Claudiu Komartin


Cobolt [Ten Poems] cobolt ClaudiuKomartin -- 10 Poems --



Claudiu Komartin (born 1983 in Bucharest, Romania) is an award-winning poet, and co- author of two plays and three anthologies of contemporary Romanian poetry. Cobolt is his third poetry collection. His work has been translated into 20 languages. He is chief editor of “Poesis international” literary journal and of the Max Blecher Publishing House, and has translated literature from French, English and Italian, including Matthew Sweeney, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Valéry Larbaud, JMG Le Clézio, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and Philippe Claudel.

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