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Chants for Taming the Hedgehog Sow

Chants for Taming the Hedgehog Sow
Too tired, too myopic. Even my name, a squashed clam, slowly sinks through my skin deep within me, past soft tissues, past organs pulsating like terrified suns, deep down to where none of the things on the outside can force their way in any more.
 
*

Keep me away from this autumn, keep me away from the people, away from the fields bristling with stubble… Take me in your arms and keep me away from myself, lest I get lost among all these hideous heads of old women popping up in the light of the evening.

*
  
Oh the glamour of being the visceral type, the unaffordable luxury of it all! Viscera aren’t meant for display in a showcase. That’s where ordure builds up — the meanness, the hatred, the fear. That’s where randmother’s eat grinder is, the proverbial box — Pandora an’ all. That’s where Mom falls asleep alongside a host of her friends — neurotic women with diabetes, prematurely ailing, hands crisscrossed by jar scars. Everything’s complicated down there and extremely mixed up. That’s where crucibles crackle, that’s where death comes ingloriously. There, oh, there no one lies. Down there in the damp cold we all huddle together, faces caved in on themselves like gloves turned inside out.

*

Heart in hand I’ve been walking all over the city, treading the first snow of the year under my feet. And my heart, sprinkled with wine and with vinegar, went on rotting away to the beat of my years — all thirty and  even of them – while the magpies assembled on the drummer-boy’s shoulder. Bones alone couldn’t save me. Nor could your name, Argentina, you, Land of Promise. Only a big yellow dog took pity on me — humbly  walked up to me and ate up my heart, taking his time. Then he left, moving away towards the horizon like an enormous sun flower. 

*

Backbiting mouths, metallic grey and greased, snapping open and shut under the summer sky. If you want to grow up you’ll just need to be picking your way through the lot, Mika-Lé upped and said from behind the derelict wall. But who wants to be grown up? Save the creeps or the losers, perhaps, who believe that’s the only way out. Not I, though, not I … 

*

Of late happiness statistics have become all the rage. You can thus figure out whatever you want to. No more doubts from now on. These statistics could beat metal detectors big time… Precise and efficient they are. Yet what’s the coefficient of your happiness at midnight, when the hedgehog sow comes, creeps into your bed and nestles on your belly? What modern statistics could ever quantify the resonant nibbling and convert it to a percentage? 

*

There be some you’ve just got to put up with the way you put up with urban landscapes full of cigarette stubs, tampons and empty plastic bottles. Put up with them the way you put up with the neighbours’ blaring music or with tooth aches. Put up with them so you won’t end up like them.

*

Not even myself can I say that I like. I dab Gentian violet al over myself in order to alter my skin — or give 
it some colour at least, to obscure somehow all these poisonous mushrooms that keep sprouting out of my arms, to obscure my cracks and my stitches and, most important of all, to obscure at long last all the corpses I’ve been dragging along since my childhood. From the crown of my head to the soles of my feet I am smearing myself with Gentian violet in the hope that its curative properties, which everyone swears by, might help me somehow.  

*

My skin is fibreglass, my tongue is fibreglass, even my eyes are fibreglass. And no more touch is possible at all.    

*

When the heart shrivels up, shrinks to a raisin like grapes left to dry in the attic, when flesh ebbs away, 
when the body refuses to allow the world in any more, what’s the use of still trying, what’s the use of still smiling?

*

Leaves afloat in a jug. No old man is waiting.

*

Late at night – when advertising signs glow at their loudest and the world seems preserved in a vatful of lard. At night – when chests rasp at their loudest, muffling God’s regular breath, the hedgehog sow comes prowling again. She nestles on my pillow and starts sniffing at me.


Mika-Lé is traipsing along down the baking-hot pavement wreaking havoc among the heavyset men whom the sun rendered torpid. Mika-Lé susurrates in their ears the story of her barmy gadfly life and then severs their tendons with one single hair strand.

*  

Where do I squeeze, where do I squat within this body? Where am I to be found inside this withered flesh that’s not even mine any more? Where is my place inside this alien body no longer to be travelled by your hands? And where do they end up — all the bodies of women unloved? Their bodies displaced, with their rugged elephant skin, those earthen-brown bodies not even the wind will caress. Where, I wonder, do all their tenderness dreams end up, their tiramisu-flavoured tenderness dreams? 

*

As I lie on my bed, my body sinks ever so slowly, going down through the mattress, past the floorboards and into the moist earth favoured by grubs. There I run into the crumbling bodies of so many women and merge into their thick paste. And then you come by and you smile. Your smile extracts from down there and lays me back on my bed.

*

I used to write about loneliness, poems about loneliness. Yet I did not know it in truth way back then. The loneliness scissoring at your entrails and banging you against walls, the loneliness of a Bucharest ghetto with Gypsies that call out of containers telling you to back off. The loneliness with its stale rancid smell, with its brutish indifference. The loneliness ridding your body of all of its organs till only a carcass is left roaming the streets late at night. And here comes loneliness now, drooling just like a bulldog, writing its poems, its very own poems, straight onto my body.

*

Never before has autumn been as beautiful as this. La luz de tu cuerpo. La luz de tu cuerpo. The promise of an evening without her. No. This evening the hedgehog sow is not going to come. She’s going to stay put in the drawer with nail varnish and socks. Getting smaller and smaller, claws tangled in lace trims. La luz de tu cuerpo. La luz de tu cuerpo. And sleep will be running its course through my veins. 

*

To embrace suffering, go bathing in it like in water, clean water. Yet I’m neither a saint, nor am I Dostoyevsky. Not that I need to be, really, because suffering dwells within me like a dog, poisoned and helpless. 

*

Your beauty, Mother, has descended by degrees into your tobacco-stained bronchia, into your frost-bitten heart, into the rubbery realms of your helplessness, into the numbness of your pink-coloured pills. But still, Mother, do keep your fate to yourself, do not bequeath it to me as you leave. Hold on to your damp fate, I’ve had enough of all the things we have in common.

*

Humans are also animals, of sorts, only more civilised, Mika-Lé, such an expert on life, whispers to me. But even that is just another lie. In fact they’ve only managed to discover the more exquisite torture devices. They can skin you alive with only one word. Just like this, she goes on as she slashes my skin with her asp tongue. Next she snatches it off me and then hangs me up on display like a skinned rabbit carcass, veins neatly exposed. See how right I was, dear, Mika-Lé adds, proud to have demonstrated her point, and she brings me a mirror as large as herself. 

*

November was mild, even hot. A tree with crows on each and every alley. Dummies left behind under benches, in cemeteries. Brightly lit little boxes where people torture each other, chop up each other while waiting for Christmas to come. But I am just waiting for you.

*

And all that is left is this waiting, chewing the world with its black gums, already gangrened. And this waiting is called by no name.

*

It may well be I'm no different than the seagulls along the embankment — a whitewashed crow, just like Mika-Lé used to say. Hey, you can’t possibly think they are seagulls for real... What on earth should them seagulls be doing in the middle of Bucharest?, Mika-Lé taunted me through her razor-sharp lips. I could hear, all the same, their ravenous cries and could see their lot prowling, along with needy fishermen, for the same paltry prey soiled past redemption with infested waters. I could see them rummaging through the garbage along with the homeless. And in my turn I started asking myself what on earth was I doing on the embankment, what was I doing in that raving mad city? The earthworms after the rain were wriggling their way to my feet. Slowly but surely. And all I could do was just stand there, all on my own, like some potted plant, roots gone all mouldy. 

*

Week after week after week I can feel myself crumble away in the trains taking me farther and farther from you. Long-distance trains, fast trains, express trains, high-speed trains — it’s all the same: they all decompose me, particle by particle, mixing me with the dust and the stale air in the carriages. So please, watch your step and tread softly. And inhale not too deeply – that’s me, all around, and my ripe love, my overripe love.

*

A grating voice above an ashtray full of stubs and a face I can hardly recognize as my own – and that only because no one beside me is there – in the cheap hotel room that just waits for an earthquake.

*

Time was, I used to be a cup brimming with cream, a Christmas music box. Time was, sleep was gentle to me.  

*

At night people creep out of tree hollows, put on their furs and their jewellery, then go to cocktail parties. At night faces are mingling and jaws are commingling incessantly.  Pills for a youth eternal. 

*

Thank God for Bobica. The old tomcat – black, heavy and warm — sits in my lap, paws on my chest, and draws out all the evil, all the verdigrised staleness oozing within me after a day’s work in our booming Capital, the city with the lowest unemployment rate in the country — because the homeless do not really matter – who’s got the time to count them? Bobica purrs softly and my heart, once again, becomes green and tender, ideal to chew on, like sorrel leaves.

*

Who’s going to tend my bones? Who’s going to scrub them clean and buff them bright? Who’s going to etch them and carve them with flowery patterns? Then who’s going to hang them from the eaves of the house for he wind to blow past them and sing? Who will be curious enough to discover the ink-like marrow I could have used to write my family’s history, never told to the end?


Old-age-old-age-kosher-meat, old-age-old-age-kosher-meat, all the arteries in my body are leading to you.

*

Dressed in a ceremonial kimono Mika-Lé’s teaching me how to eat sea-food, camembert and Roquefort without making faces too obviously. She’s teaching me how to open myself – voluptuous as a tulip in the sunshine – while juicy black mad berries are bursting inside me one after the other. Next thing she is clinging to me, seductive and passional, as she feeds my voracious wrinkles. We dance with each other. The devil weeds’ dance in the moonlight.

*

Alésia Maine: four ladies dressed in beige overcoats, four elderly French ladies wearing identical overcoats. C’est le saison! The Paris chill bites to the bone. Four beige overcoats watching each other on a bus. All wrinkled and rumpled. They smile politely, awkwardly. Still, not the slightest semblance. Granny’s alone, all alone in the big house complete with a barn, alone with her coxarthrosis and cancer. Alone in her circle of colourful pills.        
                          
*

Paris is just another city without you. I walk past neatly-lined imposing buildings, past chic cafes, crowded at lunch time. Your fragrance nestling within the folds of my skin is exploding, suffusing the fragrance of oysters. And nobody knows where the blue light suddenly drowning the city comes from. My body may wear itself thinner and thinner, it can betray me each day, yet it cannot forget. 

*

As if the world were not full of nonsense already, you are constantly asked to take tests: Which fairy-tale character are you? Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella or the Little Mermaid? Which lover-type are you? Which personality type? What are the forces governing your life? Which job suits you best? A’s, B’s, C’s and the odd D neatly lined up and numbered tell you well in advance who you are. Then why bother at all, little damsel? You’re just as many A’s/B’s/C’s or D’s… And that should suffice you. 

*

It’s Easter, it’s sunny and warm. We’re sitting outside, at Sacele, under the tall, one-hundred-year old fir tree. It’s been almost one year since Korcsi passed away, Auntie Moriş remarks. And the fir tree bows down over the lump in her nape. The five cats slink past the geranium pots. He’d barely turned 63. Then Herta, the German, passed away too this winter (she fills me in as if I’d known the woman). She came out in the doorway and died, her cat by her side. I wonder what must have gone through the animal’s head, Auntie Moriş goes on as she pops in one more juniper berry and the stones in her gallbladder slowly crumble away. The house was hot like hell – the gas was on – and there she lay outside, frozen stiff. An’ then the ole’ man in the house just behind ours – right now, before Easter. Find him dead, they did. Soon as they carried him out on a stretcher, the ambulance doctor started shaking the fleas off himself. He was dancin’ away like that Mick Jagger nutcase. ‘Twas all you could do not to laugh yourself silly. He was going like this. And she gets off her stool to do an imitation of him and the cats come to a stop, sort of intrigued, and the house is subsiding lower and lower.

*

I always wished I’d been somebody else, wake up in the morning, look into the mirror and not be myself anymore, just to escape my mother’s haunted look, the look of an animal failing to make sense of what’s happening to it. I wished I’d gone into the world, find myself another family where girls were allowed to giggle and wear their hair long, yet I couldn’t leave Mary behind – who would have told her bedtime stories then? Nor could I leave my granddad and my grandma – working themselves to the bone and so sad. And so I went on living in the house with shuttered windows, all packed in carbon black.

*

Silicon puppets – professionals of sex – in acrobatic positions, horoscopes for pets, toddlers on leashes, gardeners vacuuming lawns, women with staples in their skin, slick people of all sorts, tarred with all sorts of brushes. I’m positive you wouldn’t like all that. But at least we’d have something to speak of as we sit on the trestle bed under the cherry trees. Softly, in muffled voices, lest we should awaken the black dog, the water dog.

*

I got on the 301 bus by mistake and ended up in Baneasa. Once you pass the Herastrau Lake, a world of its own comes to meet you. Out there mowing the lawn makes no sense, neither does the Feng Shui according to which our media stars position their beds. Nor does snobbishness hurt. Out there all you can do is humbly pass by, make yourself smaller and smaller. A homeless glue sniffer is dancing away at the crossroads. Headset on, dressed in a flowing grimy overcoat, he’s dancing in a state of torpid bliss, luxury cars zooming past him from every direction.

*

I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I’ve entered empty houses and forced myself past threshold after threshold. Like a demented cuckoo fledgling, I’ve been looking for you. I’ve been looking for you eyelessly, till the tips of my fingers got blunt and the mornings got sticky. I’ve been looking for you restlessly, unbeknown to me even. But by now you’re a different man.

*

I’ve never flown a kite, nor did I ever skydive. And now it’s way too late. I’m only a potato in the rain without any notion of the cardinal points. I could ask the termites in Africa. Still I choose to abide in the sticky thick mud at the Capital’s outskirts, among people that end up as sieves and colonies of wretched dogs.

*

Let me hide, let me bury inside me, as deeply as I can, this fog fragrant with pine and with elderberry blossoms. Fog inside me,  swelter inside the underground train. Men’s eyes cling to my breasts. Still there I stand – on my best behaviour – in brackets.      

*

I treat them to rock candy sugar, to the odd shot of ouzo and keep them at a distance like visiting old aunts. They recount in great detail their pathetic, their shrunken-up lives. The hedgehog sow’s spines bristle up, Mika-Lé flaunts her jet-black tresses over the milky glass of ouzo. The rock candy sugar goes crunch-crunch. They lend me a loan of their world-weary faces, they smear my fingers with henna and dress me in laces. Crunch-crunch. The world fading to light tones. Delicate tones, growing fainter. But soon enough the rock candy sugar is going to run out. And the ouzo as well. What next? Amenkatooynoolapshalepht. And my throat is creeping with red ants. 

*

My heart grows straight out of the sweltering asphalt stained dark with ripe mulberries. It rises and grows like a scarecrow above the peeling blocks of flats. With celery leaves and with dill I bind and unbind it. With Abraham’s weed, aniseed, lovage and borage I dischant and enchant it. With wheat-flour cakes I entice it. With persimmon and cinnamon. And I bring it flowers from the isle at the world’s end. And still it just wouldn’t descend. It floats high, it floats high, into the ever-burning flaming sky. 

*

At three o’clock in the morning the cockroach goes pop with an echoing crunch under the sole of my shoe and falls into the void four floors down, past newly-painted landings. In the midst of my room there is no one but her – the hedgehog sow – waiting for me. Her moist snout is touching my ankle. She’s cringing at my feet: since we moved in together, these two years and a half, I’d like to believe the two of us have become room mates at least, if not friends. And I frankly don’t know why on earth you avoid me.

*

My homeland is my grandma’s spent old body, stalked by the black geraniums, my homeland is my granddad’s bones, my homeland is my sister’s eye bags extending all the way to heaven for God’s mercy. My homeland is the apple trees, the pear trees and the walnut trees in the yard I’ve not entered for all these long years. My homeland is this fox shedding its fur as it whines within me night and day. My homeland is the crooked seed of helplessness bequeathed to me by Granddad as he left.

*

It is cold, getting colder and colder, and I can’t walk along the lace-festooned trail you’ve been tracing before me. It is cold and the blueberry fruits burst in my palms. It is cold – I can no longer hear the golden-pulp pumpkins as they sing their refrain in the dead of the night. It is cold and the sea has long since frozen solid. 

*

All the lint in the world has converged on my heart and deep within me whole fields of tobacco have grown. And it’s only their rustle that still keeps me walking the streets. 

*

If animals could talk, they’d tell us we’re but shadows among shadows, phantoms dispersing through the air, and vain imaginations and despair. They’d tell us our days ruminate us in silence and we don’t have an inkling of how life should be lived. They’d tell us we’ve forgotten the good savour of mornings and the song of the earth.

***

You’re tight-lipped, Mother snaps, in between two drags on her cigarette and the odd sip of coffee. Tight-lipped you are! Like that dad and that granddad of yours. Tight-lipped! Not so, I reply. Just like my granddad. Same difference, she snaps, fuming against me. Where are your words? What have you done to them? I’ve swallowed them down. Not the whole lot, of course – I’ve left out just the blunt ones. The rest I’ve swallowed down and I’m keeping them safe in my belly. Still, you needn’t feel sorry for them. They are birds having ten rows of teeth and serrated wings, wings of steel. You needn’t feel sorry for them – I’m not letting them out, no matter what. 

*

I lie in a moth-ridden sleep, a sleep swarming with moths, a sleep smelling of algae and gobies, a sleep tight as a plastic tube. A sleep with no sky, with no candour. 
 
*

As I keep trying to stick myself back together again, I end up as Blu-Tack. Crumbly Blu-Tack smelling of lye. The worst kind of Blu-Tack. It hardens in no time and catches no thing, not even flies. Shoddy Blu-Tack, just like my petty dramas, which I’m putting in curlers to make them look different. I’m nothing but Blu-Tack. And all I touch changes to Blu-Tack. Blu-Tack over and over again. And Blu-Tack can’t cry.

*

On St Andrew’s night they came by, both of them. Wearing black and red robes. With tangled threads my hands they did bind and they scored my palms with their vain hopes, with their brothel-sluts loneliness. They brought me snaking letters of fire and stuck them to my chest. And they took me across the Dead Sea 99 times in a row. And wanted me to be their foster child, made in their image and after their likeness. How could they have known of that mighty big fish Granddad had stirred out of whirlpools and driven my way? How could they have heard his advice flowing my way from beyond the discarnate horizons, from the realm of the tollgates stripped bare.

*

I failed to notice her on entering the room. I closed the window, turned around, then saw her. There she was, among Mother’s knickknacks. She slowly climbed down from the shelf. Her spines were all shiny, carefully sharpened. It was just the two of us there and the night that had hardly begun. On the verge of my ‘40’s, just the two of us stood there, beyond good and evil, like two peas in a pod.    

*

My organs are shivering under the thick wool-stuffed quilt Granny has sewn just for me. They shiver and come loose. They desert me one after another. In vain do I beg them, please do come back, I’m going to take better care of you this time around. In vain do I tell them the hedgehog sow’s prowling. They’ve had enough of me, enough of my much too tight body oozing with ink. And still I am begging them, calling them back as if they were kittens. My liver, my spleen, my kidneys, my lungs, do come back. It’s the 24th of December and it is my birthday. Come back and wish me “Many happy returns”. But they’re far away now, up in the Christmas tree, left untrimmed. They glitter as they’re pointing north for me. I’d follow them gladly. If I could but get out from underneath this thick and heavy quilt.

*

Plant me, Lord, in the steaming-moist earth. Plant me as if I were a chrysanthemum bush. Plant me and keep me close to all things small, close to the ladybirds, the ants an’ all. And then come by to pick me. In the morning, through the fog and the hoar. Pick me and let me loose into the world once more.

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