Poems by Gellu Naum

From “the animal tree”

without nothing and without nowhere I loved ludicrous things
when I was born this Apollonius of Tyana put his hand
on my forehead and we went together
through concrete abysses They gave us a receipt
stamping the name and date Not a word
of those echoes Everybody knew and forgot
I wanted to be a popular astronomer with long hair
out on the boulevard charging people to look through my telescope
to show them something ludicrous a button a fly a cigarette butt
to lay them out in the ocean paying to see a drop of water
one could hear the honking of the Great Ludicrous echoes of rubble
I would be born four times in a row five times
the sixth time I would have liked to chat with you about mending
…………my winter coat
(the tailor said a dyed winter coat cannot be returned as it shows
…………around the buttons)
everybody knew and forgot the little girls rocked their cloth babies
making gestures like they would as mothers
we made love hanging by our teeth from the trapeze
still the problem of technical shivering must be addressed
still the hermitage of bones the sedimentary review of errors
lizards woven together around the gutter
still the frozen celebration

but you my Cinderella went home
and the Animal-Tree was born a seventh time

The lance bearer


As we entered the arena the referees were warming up they knew us from a distance
by our muscular necks
they played around us butting the electric score tables wearing
…………billy goat horns
they were singing with ribbons round their foreheads with eyes worn from sleep
they were shaking in their sockets
we passed them heading under the bleachers for sex
a meticulous arrangement
then a group of girls approached us in their own style
they could have led us anywhere to the orange end of the earth could bequeath
…………us bonbons
science ends as happiness begins
just marble busts so many unknown
(I throw my lance yelping)
the referees tossed their long manes in equivocal impartiality
but we wanted to go on we fell into the void
indistinct from maternal waters
mindful broad-shouldered id cards in our pockets
we wanted to go on to a place with dead horses shot on the spot a vast memory exiled
…………everything that could be named this way
…………amounting to a single image of indefinite shape
there existed a woman named Eliza who cut wood with an ancient machine
we looked at her suspiciously
and together all our heads formed a sad hydrocephalic leaning
…………on his lance at the end of the earth


When the southerner approaches me
I besiege her with questions with words
don’t look at my ashy shirt full of grape stains my mercenary’s
…………jacket I tell her
there’s no more time my mother’s in agony
and someone next door watches me through the window with field glasses

she approaches zigzagging
with moves based on completely unknown equations
the mist would part in the distance a miniature blackbird
I filled the jukebox to express my feelings
everything was visible as through a badly frayed stocking
(I hold that everything is something else too obvious to have any shade of clarity
I hold that the lady who goes by Esperanza is a simple wax casting
and that her brow bone is an arc de triomphe for the most glorious deserters
I hold that night represents a small portion of iron’s memory
I hold all the above as I’m moved to and fro by the fact of my holding)

She approaches me moving me as I did her
we looked with fingers to see each other better how are you getting along
…………she asked
by the zeppelin she motions for me
pointing at her tiara throwing off the last deadweight and leaving
while I remained behind to sleep peacefully
in a round tomb with a golden mask on my face.

Ascetic in the shooting gallery

Morning and evening I stayed at the shooting gallery winning prizes
white lions that I generously gave away
one time a person with painted eyebrows came along
I loved her adamantly waited for her to address me
she wore black mesh on her legs
I wore it myself around town
and the others stayed calm what does one person matter
they pulled night over their heads like a warm blanket
some of them joked around on Flower Street she placed her small hand
on my shoulder
there was a horse track somewhere sometime at night one can hear
…………the hooves clopping
a passing jockey cry furiously in the middle of the street
I didn’t say a word she held my shoulder
the others smoked elbows propped up on tables enjoying each drag

After all

After all I remember perfectly the day
when my seven mothers birthed me

(among them one, uniquely primordial,
knew the joys of conception
one who no longer knew how to read or write
her octogenarian arms rocking me
as the four-eyed cat of death
nestled on her shoulders
I worked hard to be lighter

The other six mothers sang
transfigured by labor pains
I slept serenely in each of them
slept cowering in their thighs their knees
slept purely in their maternal purity
bread, milk and honey close by
and memories of Amsterdam
the world fashioned peacefully all around

on the fourth day waters a world with fish and reeds
with the man from the Hotel Alger who lost his mouth on the sixth day

a world of suns and snows on the ninth day

but my octogenarian mother’s arms were tired
(the cat around her shoulders purring scarcely audible)
and I wanted to be lighter

Then I sat by the fire
sitting in my geomantic suit
slowly shaking a hazelnut switch
right there by the fire trying to be lighter

The other five mothers fell silent
aggrieved by my unexpected gesture
Why–I asked them–do you look at me so
My old mother’s arms exhausted
and I wanted to be lighter
would have gone to sleep in an apple
but I didn’t want to complicate your perpetual maternity

They shook their heads in remonstrance
and closed themselves off to me

Then on the tenth day
dogs started to bark
and witnesses crept into the room.

Describing the tower

Drawing a circle in the air
I go through the motion of throwing it in the void

but don’t make me recount my ugliest dreams
don’t make me say how Miss Lola loved me with conviction
how she took me to the universities when I’d rather have been buried
in desert sand to prove that theory loses humanity
don’t make me recall that I’d rather have been a one eyed man
…………out there in free waters
a refugee from the five great forms of fear
claws stuck in tree bark
nor how brutal I had been to avoid temptation
let me not begin to describe everything I saw on my long pilgrimage
let me not congratulate you for birthing me on time

nearby some relentless ceremonies As back then existed
…………very few joys each of us lasted only a week


………………………………….from an ancient gesture burnt
………………………………….four thousand years ago

The flutter of ashes extinguished memories of fire
over limestone tattoos
among the shoals shirts of clear water
vegetal worms squirming around pebbles
the whooshing of buckets dropped into wells

But all this happens in the shade of a green tomato
and one good day he came out to see

We sat above by the tomato cages
our twisting locks creeping out

The lime pit fallen into disuse
menacing birds of sleep rambled in the fog
as we tried to fend them off
and he held us up with his eyes.

The fourteenth

Our people forgot buried us in the corn stalks
on the waters a pelican passed by nearly red what a pleasure
we admired the city gates bought provisions
then entered a hall walking like hunchbacks we grew a bit bored
what else singing and music it was super cool

around here swore the tour guide comrade Alexander the Great once passed
this canal was built by his own hand by his people
he passed one summer in his golden boat reading aloud and making small comments
he worked miracles of bravery had a lantern in the water
the corn grew on the banks comrade Alexander pointed with his finger
…………I bequeath this to my descendents for them to make love
we hid among the willows and listened
the water lukewarm in our solitude
he moved on moving on became him some fist sized stars
hey there comrade Alexander the Great a woman called come spend the night
I have some cured fish we can make love
(now she spoke under her breath though we heard her well so very well-read)
we pounded our heads on the mast stuck our eyes in the water better for
…………the fish to eat them alive than for him to see us in his bed in the fields
hey there comrade Alexander the Great she would tell us don’t pretend you can’t hear
hey there argonaut I’ll give you my golden fleece that is the law I’ll issue a receipt

It was a common epoch Night fell


Gellu Naum

Gellu Naum (1915-2001) remains one of the major European poets of the twentieth century. He started as an orthodox Surrealist, together with Andre Breton and Victor Brauner in the Paris of the 1930s (where he pursued a PhD in philosophy from the Sorbonne). After returning home to Romania, in the early 1940s, he embarked on a solitary and prolific career that kept his verse inexpugnable to the Communist regime's political agenda while continuously reshaping surrealism into a chameleonic complex oeuvre that absorbed popular culture and managed to fuse a wide range of styles and dictions. His highly influential work both encompassed and veiled political critique, Eastern and Western spirituality, occultism, literary tradition, and mordant oneiric ironies.

Martin Woodside and Chris Tanasescu

Martin Woodside is a writer and translator whose chapbook of poems, Stationary Landscapes, came out in 2009 (Pudding House Press). His translations of contemporary Romanian poets will be featured in a forthcoming feature section from Poetry International and in an anthology from Calypso Editions. He spent 2009-10 on a Fulbright Fellowship in Romania, researching/translating contemporary Romanian poets.


Chris Tanasescu is a Romanian poet, academic, critic, and translator whose work has appeared in Romanian and international anthologies and publications. He is the author of four collections of poetry, recipient of a number of international awards, and leader of the acclaimed poetry performance/action painting/rock band MARGENTO. He is spending 2010-11 as a Fulbright visiting professor at San Diego State University, researching poetries and communities.

Copyright (c) Sebastian Reichmann and Oana Lungescu, 2005. English translation copyright (c) Martin Woodside and Chris Tanasescu, 2011.