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The Poems With Pop

Claudiu Komartin

Claudiu Komartin was born in Romania in 1983 and has published three books of poetry including Domestic Circus (2005), which was awarded the Romanian Academy Poetry Prize. The long sequence ‘The Poems With Pop’ was written in his early twenties and is a poem in fifteen sections, ten of which are published here. It’s a recasting of a particular tradition of Romanian poetry (Tudor Arghezi, Gellu Naum, Ion Caraion, Mircea Ivanescu and Ion Mureşan are probably poetic ‘forefathers’), but is also very much his own vision of harsh life seen through the eyes of a child and the language of an engaged poet. It is a startling and stunning poem, raw, harsh, written in a burst of four nights, pinioned on venom and compassion, worked through sarcasm and hope, and forging a language taken from the stripped necessities of human life. If it was dug out of the last decade of Ceauşescu’s Romania – and it is a deeply Romanian poem – it is equally a vivid response to the realities of any contemporary post-industrial society.

Komartin has taken part in poetry festivals and gatherings throughout Europe and as far afield as South Korea (though what’s ‘far afield’ these days but in the poet’s mind and heart), as a critic and translator as well as a poet. Most recently he read at ‘Poet In The City’ in London in May 2011 to much acclaim. He is also co-founder and editor-in-chief of the poetry quarterly Poeisis International published in Satu Mare as a multi-lingual anthology of poetry and criticism. I first met Claudiu and read his ‘The Poems With Pop’ at a weeklong workshop for poets in Slovenia in 2007 and was immediately struck by the poem’s aching power and authenticity, its synthesis of cultural and social stress and the validity of its reactions to contemporary life. The translation by Rareş Moldovan is very finely attuned to the language, harshness and love of the poem, just a very few editorial adjustments have been made to further tighten it into colloquial usage.

Stephen Watts (May 2011)

The Poems With Pop

      a tale for Ruslan

Translated from the Romanian by Rareş Moldovan

It’s four in the morning and pop can’t stop coughing.

We’ve been listening for hours as he squirms,

gagging for extra mouthfuls of  air.

We’re fed up, though not as you’d think,

but no one says a word.

It’s four in the morning and pop won’t let anybody sleep –

his body’s a coffin of  flesh

in which the worms are already doing their long slow work.

Just that, miss:

pop’s just a corpse of  decomposing cells,

a leather sack in which

little by little

affliction makes its way

and the demon digs ever deeper, from the head to the chest

from the chest to the gut

until you hear a Paleozoic bone crack.

His sons would yell at him just to shut up or somehow to die,

would drive a stake through his big rotted heart,

but pop still brings food to the table so it’d be a waste.

Even though we know he’s a sack full of  puss and shit.

But then, really, mum would have to go &

work in Spain, like her cousin Masha.


* * *


Pop sits on the edge of the bed, he’s almost purple

and he bawls at us to leave him alone. I cup his head in my hands

and a bird flutters around the room looking for a way out.

Pop hits me with his rough, hairy hand

and falls back on the bed moaning again: oh, all of  you, watching

through a dirty window, and giggling, if  you only knew …

The rot in his chest has spread to his head.

Nothing, nothing can save him now.

I watch him in jest

watching me and seeing himself  –

he’d give anything to have some life left

to crack my skull with his big heavy fist.

Pop’s ill, in vain does mum bring him the washbasin.

His guts gurgle and sigh in their sticky-humid tongue :

pop’s a tub in which someone blows air through a plastic

hose at five in the morning.


* * *


Pop knows nothing of nihilism

pop hasn’t read Nietzsche or Gottfried Benn

his chainsaw glints in the darkness

tears run down mum’s pale cheek

drops of  blood on the bathroom linoleum.


Pop knows nothing of  seduction

pop hasn’t read Kierkegaard

when I was a kid

his callousness was the only thing we could be sure of

back then women would speak of  him hornily

as they queued to buy meat

today his loud coughs repel the whole building


His green phlegm, sis, is the damned

river in which we drown our youth.


* * *


I too was in Sîngerei

as trusted friend to a dead man


though we’d been together in school

I’d hardly hung around with Vitalie, say ten times,

but someone had to do it

someone had to care for the body of  this young man

such a nice young man

and dumb as a post


from Balti

where Vitalie’d been beaten to death

the road is bumpy

you gotta take care, they told me,

or his guts’ll spill all over the place

his skin fly off  the side of  the road, into a field

that skin

which the doctors had hurriedly sewn together as a putrid cloth

with a couple of  strings just

right for a sack of  meat

that weighed 88 kilos


Vitalie, Vitalie, your soul had flown far away

little did you care I held your congested liver and your heart

covered by several thick layers of  fat

close to my chest

like a couple of  bloody clods

so that you could go home

where your old mother waited


Vitalie, Vitalie, what did you care

that your heart slowly cooled

and I became a man, something

just as raw

and monstrous

as pop?


Oleg knew what he was talking about when he told me

to leave your stinking corpse

by the side of  the road.

Vitalie, Vitalie, you got out easy from this mess, you poor bastard.


* * *


Pop raided the pigsty, stumbling all over the place

and cursing God. Nothing enrages him

more than the feebleness of  his arms

which once carved up 946 pigs and a few huge bulls

each as heavy as a truck.

Some winter nights in his old parents’s sty in Chircani

pop goes at the swine full of  hatred

heaving from his coughs

and his rough words reek of  dialysis

and alcohol.


Thick snot and drool mixed with puke

trickle down his chin

and still he won’t leave the boars alone.

This is how we found him one night: lying in the mud

among the greedy, blooded snouts.

He’d passed out and dropped the knife,

overcome with the smell and the ceaseless stir of  bodies –

and the starving animals

did not go easy on him.

Until I managed to pick him up they’d gobbled an ear.


* * *


Who writhes harder than you?

Who suffers,

who in the hour of  his death

is blinder, prouder, as insane?

Ruin works in your bones and there’s not a soul in the world

can help you.


When the coughing eases, you belch and fart with relish, maybe

you think this way your body can free itself  of  sickness and

move away from death.

Who loves himself  more than you’ve loved yourself

your whole life through, pop ?

It’s our distress keeps you alive.


When you were nowhere to be found, I loved you. For six days

they looked for you around F

alesti, Glinceni and Egorovca

until they found you somewhere in a ditch.

On the seventh, when they brought you back, you were almost awake.

You swore at us and beat up Olga, who’d turned four in your absence –

all my love crumbled and went down the drain.


You feel by now how lively are the larvae of  death dancing in your lungs

but still I catch you smoking in your quieter moments

and the bitter smell of  crust, puss and tar

that your flesh forever exudes

is for me the scent of  sadness

and slow decay.


* * *


Waiting for your end, we resemble

a family of  mice

in a house engulfed in flames.

When we don’t pray or weep, we pound the plaster walls

maddened by impatience and horror.

Know this, though: when death comes and sniffs your body

we drive it away banging the pots, the skillets, the stove.


You rejected our eager love, it displeased you

our love and our fanaticism like that of  terrorists in black.

You were a cruel and jealous swine herder, a gardener of  sorrow.

Know this, though: when death comes and sniffs your body,

we drive it away banging the washbasin, banging into each other,

destroying ourselves with ever more precision and certainty.


* * *


Why would you care for humility, you ask yourself, you who

were always so brutal and strong?

You kicked the priest out when we called him

thinking you wanted to make peace with it all,

and you spat in his face.


The grass will grow freely on your grave,

no one will pluck the weeds, whether you now humble yourself  or not.

Your belongings will be given away or burned

and we’ll be kept busy for a long time erasing

any trace of  your passage through life. We truly love you,



it matters not that you don’t regret a thing

and couldn’t care less for

the comfort I wish to bring to you

by speaking to you of  things learned from books.

Death will surely lay you in a ridiculous posture.


Soon you’ll be stiff, and your wide-open mouth

will become a shelter for flies.

Serioja the innkeeper will miss a customer –

or perhaps with time I’ll take your place:

pop, someone has to do that, too.


* * *


One of us will smother you with a pillow, if

you’re lucky. Your pain is a wall

against which we’ll bang our skulls

until there’s nothing left to humble or destroy.

I want to know if  after your last breath

the world will be safer, more comforting. I want to know

who will wring the necks of  kittens when you’re dead.

What will we do without you, papasha?

Who’ll fix the furniture, the home fixtures (left over

from our grandparents), these pipes

that leak every other day?

I sometimes look at my thin arms and my sunken chest,

my pallid skin and the dark eyes popping out of  their sockets, and then

I watch Olguţa

sewing her socks and vest in the darkness

and I tell myself

all is lost.

If  you’re lucky, one of  us will go mad

and hack you to pieces with a long slender blade one night.


* * *


Our older brother Oleg

says pop’s a snake

Oleg left home seven years ago

and today tells me on the phone to stay away from the old man

I talk to him in secret and whine down the line

but Oleg says to me I’m a man and have to pull through

I promise I’ll try for a while longer

to survive in this house

although I’m buried in my family history

and pop’s afflictions

in the tears of  my mother and sister

I try

as hard as I can to pull through

one day

Oleg will come back

with his Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo

3.7 liter V6

Four-wheel brake traction control (4×4 only)

High-performance halogen headlamps

First-class interior space

Independent front/multi-link rear suspension

Electronic Stability Program

and save us all.

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