A sort of life

Exile on a peppercorn

RICHMOND, Va. — Here’s the picture: I’m sitting on the leather wearing nothing but boxers and a single sweat sock. The other is lost in the mattress and wont be found for sometime. My hair is a rat’s nest, tangled and smelling of tobacco smoke. I ride shotgun with a Newcastle Brown. WTOP news time: 12:54.

The the wind is whipping the trees outside. It’s cold. My window is open.

The television does the spaghetti. Charles Bronson. Jack Palance.

As I sit here, shivering and thinking about putting on some pants, my thoughts go to a coffee thing I may or may not drag myself to tonight. Between you and me: I’m just not feeling it. But the girl is pretty insistent that I attend. So I’ll probably go and I’m sure it’ll be fine. But I’ve got a nasty cough — being wet too long from too many smokes in the rain. This is shaping up to be quite a weekend.

Let’s change things up here for a minute. I’ve never been a fan of poetry. I’m a verbose kind of guy, and have always thought poetry severely limited my ability to speak. Why would I want to say something in ten words, work to wrap those words around a tangent that needs further explaining, analysis, when I could use a few hundred words. I do just fine without it.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I spent some time in Romania. I lived there, went to school there, spent my pre-adolescent years there. This was the early nineties, and a lot of shit was airborne in those days. We’re talking about post-communist Romania here, and so of course there were all kinds of crazy things happening behind the scenes.

So to connect Romania back to the poetry: I was talking to my sister’s friend about written accounts of the Revolution. Apparently she was going to a lecture about the Securitate (Securităţii). I asked her whether she read any Andrei Codrescu, or Ion Mihai Pacepa. This got me thinking about a book sitting neglected on my shelf for quite some time: Exile on a Peppercorn (exil pe o boabă de piper). So I picked it up and started reading.

Now Mircea Dinescu published Exile in 1983, the year of my birth, and a full six years before the Revolution. I arrived in Romania shortly after. I wanted to find some of Dinescu’s work that was published a little closer to the Revolution.

I found an interesting piece called “Altă beţie cu Marx” in a volume called Poems and published in 1989. I couldn’t find an English translation I liked, so I attempted to clean up one originally translated by Constantin Roman. I’m not sure what the rules are, when translating poetry (especially when retranslating a translation), but I’ll say I took a few liberties with punctuation and with a few of the words.

What follows is my version of Roman’s translation, followed by the original poem in Romanian:

Another drink with Marx
Venerable Marx, had you lived in these lands
you would soon have been shaved clean and sent to a school for reeducation.
Even cows from the East
which graze near the railway line think they are locomotives
and have stopped giving milk:
The blame is laid at your door.
It would be good if the cities were ruled by merchants
so that the marketplace should not stink of rhetoric.
Free the brewers, the pastrami makers, the milkmen
full of the dialect of fermented hops
and of hardened cheese.

Many a farmer would now gladly take his scythe
to the green sepia of the punk heads.
Now, believing you dead,
the new philosophers get drunk knowing that they challenge you.
but they lack the will to smell the fermenting yeast
and throw society into disarray,
or start the distillation
which soon made revolutionary Cohn Bendit
an affable mayor.
I myself, am an ordinary soul,
emerging like a slug from the syntax and the logic
to dream up a stomach virus
which make men drunk on a piece of bread.
Come and taste it.
We are on the right course:
In Berlin the clocks are going haywire.
Altă beţie cu Marx
Bătrâne Marx, tu pe aceste meleaguri
vei fi degrabă bărbierit şi trimis la reeducare.
Până şi faptul că vacile estice
care au păscut pe lângă calea ferată
se cred vagoane de locomotivă şi nu mai dau lapte,
ţi se pune tot ţie în cârcă.
Bine-ar fi să cada orasul pe mâna negustorilor,
să nu mai puta piata atât a retorica,
să vina berarii, pastramagiii, laptarii
cu dialectica orzului fermentat
şi a brinzei inchegate.
Deocamdata taranul ar cam iesi la cosit
sepia verde din parul punkistilor,
deocamdata, banuind că esti mort,
noii filosofi se imbata cu ideea că polemizeaza cu tine.
N-au nas să simta cum colcaie drojdia
ce umfla societatea
şi pune în functiune alambicul
prin care razvratitul Con Bendit
s-a condensat intr-un primar cumsecade.
In fond chiar şi eu care sint un ins banal
ies că limaxul din sintaxa şi logica
şi visez acea boala ciudata de stomac
din pricina careia te poti imbata cu o bucata de piine.
Ia şi gusta.
Sintem pe drumul cel bun:
la Berlin ceasurile au inceput să meargă anapoda.

“Exile on a peppercorn” is from Volume One: Frank’s Wild Years (1983–2009). Written between 2003 and 2009, Volume One was this author’s attempt to find meaning from life as a young twenty-something. While this endeavor would ultimately fail, what remains is a comical tale of loneliness and debauchery.

It sort of spooks you walking into an empty apartment

It sort of spooks you walking into an empty apartment

This writer's empty flat on Floyd Avenue in Richmond, Va. on June 15, 2006. It remained sparsely furnished for several weeks.

I'm sitting on the leather wearing nothing but boxers and a single sweat sock.