p o e m s  

m i h a i  u r s a c h i


We shall live in the middle of a leaf, my love,

the green serenity in the middle of a leaf.

Lightning-swift our life will be, our awareness

of the all and the anything; the comforting

remembrance of those

who never were. We shall remember

a hill, a hill we loved so much,

the well filling from deep in its heart;

and the twilight through which,

flung helter-skelter about its skirt, the slum

appeared the neglected toy of an infant god . . .


What crazy words I used to speak, oh, I wanted

to be sure that we existed, that truly we are: that here,

here is a tree, or a pillar, and we’re standing beside it, alive.

That this, in your hand, is the leaf

on which we were destined to live. On which we remember

we once lived in great peace,

serene with deep knowledge. No, we weren’t mistaken,

we didn’t tell lies: this is the hill, beside the well

is a tree, among its leaves

is a leaf. I tell you again,


surely we lived on this very leaf

where you are reading now, if it please you.



Because of a fierce headache

we went for cold drinks to the grove

named, rather romantically, it can’t be denied, Poetry.

Such a crowd I’d never seen there, not even for halvah

(which hasn’t been known to exist

since ancient times, even prehistoric).

When our abulic band showed up, thirsty for lemonade,

I could see that they’d torn someone in tatters

which then they’d hung from the gilded iron spikes of the fence,

while others, probably Achaeans, kept screaming in Greek

something exciting, of which we could understand only the word “hymen”

and a few euphonic vowels before and after that word.

“Good,” we yelled in chorus, cheek to cheek,

“we’ll be satisfied with dry sesame seeds,”

while the tallest and skinniest among that multitude,

a guy I seemed to know by sight

or from some photograph, rambled on in Esperanto,

or Aramaic, something comprehensible in any case,

but we didn’t have the courage to decipher it.

Instead we retorted with “The Declaration of the Rights of Man,”

to widespread hilarity. And this whole story,

meaningless from the start, lasted an epopean age,

though we have no idea how. Thus we grew old and we died

and never succeeded in signing our names

in the guest book.



This blizzard of spring utters

ecstatic sophisms. An orgy of petals, the spring’s lovers

in white mourning, the apricot trees now groan, now exult,

under the severe idea of heaven. Hosanna,


a demon of rapine, of withdrawing far into the distance,

the fatalistic joy when everything comes spilling

out of the self, like milk filling milk pails: three huge butterflies,

bigger than cherubim, glide through the balsam-sweet air.


Boundless power, the universal howl, the sob of life. Among the spheres

a rumor, or a fever, steals abroad; ethereal

faces take shape in astral mud. “Never shall we forget

life’s moment.” So they greeted one another in the blossoming forest.


“Why not, Socrates, why not? . . . ” Spring’s

loony wisdom. Scorching heat waves have to follow,

never-ending rains, harsh ice. Without fear, those summoned

bid adieu to everything. Multitudinous

are the Plutonian proofs. “This call proves stronger than Fate itself.”


There are valleys in the abyss, illuminated by dead waters; and your brothers,

those without being, in flocks and swarms, invoke long-forgotten hymns,

feeble, faint . . . Their voices, the forsaken—

never will they fade from your hearing. “Why not, Socrates, why not? . . .”



A ball of clay launched in violence from a blind slingshot,

this globe of pain hurtles far into chaos,

bearing my love: What good,

elaborate lute songs? What good,

magniloquent twilight of violet hues?

The voice on the face of the waters

you don’t hear, don’t believe, don’t speak about.


Behold my ancestors’ patch of earth; here they plowed

ten thousand years; here their gentle oxen drowned in clay

at the foot of the skies. May they rest in peace,

the gentle ones, may the eternally restless find their rest.

Their field is the azure, stars their grain:

but a crown of straw, a wreath of nonredemption, adorns my brow.


A restless plummeting into the unplumbed precipice

of the sky . . . What good,

the dizzy drunkenness of the forest in bloom? What good,

the fiery madness of an impossible thought?

Oh, won’t these eyes ever open upon

their salvation? Never

will I cease to love the impossible.

A crown of straw adorns my head.


With boundless love, the abyss

swallows me, the abyss embraces

this sphere, which is

His tear.


The weeping on the face of the waters

you don’t hear, don’t believe, don’t speak about.



A huge clockwork, in the wilderness of stones,

like an immense basilica-mosque. None

among you, travelers, has traversed that realm

known as “The Great Stone Clock.” Some say its melancholy sound

can be heard absolutely everywhere on earth,

but it’s much likelier for it never to be heard anywhere

(or, since we hear it continuously, habit makes us hear it not at all).

What seems strange to me is that the watchman, blind and poor,

always is counting something, using for this purpose

the small mummy bones of his hands. He counts in haste,

and sometimes his blind face, as parched as an old palimpsest,

appears to glow with hope and joy. Then he stares with his

empty eye sockets at the Great Clock.

Soon he is absorbed again in his wretched calculus,

and no one disturbs the great silence all around.


This, worthy travelers, is the history

of the Great Clock and the Blind Man,

Now I’ve told you, so I’ll keep still.



Hey, hey, my pretty, the Mississippi flows to the Gulf of Mexico

but the Bahlui creeps toward the Siret.

No new song seems possible on our planet,

so let’s take our rucksack and shove off for the Sun.


Hey, hey, my pretty, the mighty Volga pours into the Caspian Sea

but the Bahlui creeps toward the Siret.

Words of love will no longer do the trick in this world,

so let’s take our rucksack and shove off for the stars.


Hey, hey, my pretty, the Yellow River rushes to the China Sea

but the Bahlui creeps toward the Siret.

Birth-pain, life-torment, beggarly love,

the Sun of life—ten thousand bombs.


Hey, hey, my pretty, the ancient Nile empties into the Mediterranean

but the Bahlui creeps toward the Siret.

Don’t you hear crude oil glugging in clogged veins, evohë Uranos!

And the stars—corpuscles clotted in a cosmic heart attack.


Hey, hey, my pretty, the deep blue Amur is thawing

but the Bahlui creeps toward the Siret.

This song isn’t some happy-go-lucky sing-along,

today’s the day you’re going to leave me.


But the Bahlui creeps toward the Siret.

©translations, Adam J. Sorkin and co-translators. “A Short Stroll to the Grove” and “New Song” 
were translated by Adam J. Sorkin. “The Crown of Straw” was translated by Adam J. Sorkin 
with Georgiana Farnoaga. “The History of the Great Clock and the Blind Man” was translated
 by Adam J. Sorkin with Ileana Orlich. “Socratic Spring” and “Epistle on a Leaf” were translated
 by Adam J. Sorkin with Doru Motz.


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