Cristian Popescu

From Memory Glyphs – 3 Prose Poets from Romania (Twisted Spoon Press, Prague, 2009), Cristian Popescu, translated by Adam J. Sorkin with Bogdan Stefanescu:

Advice from My Mother

With my Cristi, you’ve got to understand him. He may be saying a lot of things about us, but you mustn’t take him seriously. He loves and respects us. And we’ve always believed in his talent. When he writes about me that I’m coquettish, and that he doesn’t collect only black dirt from under his nails, but also a sort of rose-red, from his pinkies, so we won’t have to spend money on powder and rouge, he’s really saying it out of tenderness and he’s thinking about my little economies. That’s him. He’s not made for this world. As a matter of fact, I’m partly to blame myself: during the nine months I carried him in my belly, I had only erotic dreams. Night after night. He deliberately wouldn’t sleep so that he could peek at them. I could feel him wanting to squeeze me in his arms on the inside, but, poor thing, he had nothing to grab on to. And then he’d stomp his feet like those hoodlums do in movie theaters when something goes wrong with the sound. That’s the way it is. What more can you do now? I heard that if you pass away in your sleep, your dream stays right there, between your temples, like a crystal. I’ll leave word for them to remove it carefully, not to break it, so Cristi may watch it whenever he wants. It’s no use him hugging however many women in his arms. I’ve even read all about it in books. No use. That’s why I’m leaving him my last dream.

You have to understand him. You mustn’t take him seriously. If he tells you I keep a plastic bag of cigarette butts from when I was young, cigarette butts with my lipstick stains, and when one of his girls dumps him I secretly give them to him so he can kiss them and get over it, just consider that he’s lonely. We don’t know what to do with him. He won’t utter a word for days on end. I always told him, “My boy, don’t give yourself such big worries. So what if I wash and iron for you, that you remain dependent on me, that I sacrifice my life. I know what happens after you die. As soon as you get there, you start growing young. But not in any old way. The very same years your children grow old — they make you grow younger. It’s all in the family. When you’re decrepit, I’ll be beautiful and alluring again, and your father will once more love me, like in the old days. Stop thinking that you don’t bring home enough money. That’s the way it is. It can’t be helped.”

Mother’s very considerate. When I cut the bread, she bandages it, and when I break it, Mother immediately puts it in a plaster cast.

After he came out of me, I felt crippled, you know, missing a limb, and I’d have paid no matter how much for a doctor to cut me open and stuff a prosthesis in my belly. I couldn’t live without him. But little by little I got accustomed to it. I started liking it. In the evening, when I had to give him to suck, I dressed in my wedding dress, put on my pearl necklace, turned the lights low, powdered and rouged my breasts. I comforted myself thinking that one day someone will curse him and tell him to stick himself back into his mother. I was young and he was my very first baby. That’s the way it is. When he was two months, I drew hair on his armpits, on his chin, wherever he had none. I drew with an eyebrow pencil. He would simply lie there quietly and gurgle. He couldn’t take his eyes off me.

Mother’s a good cook. She keeps the sugar in the two cups of an old, yellowed bra, hung up on the wall from two nails. That’s how she can sweeten a whole pot of milk with a single teaspoon of sugar.

My boy. This is something you don’t know, but when you turned thirteen, you came back home with a big cage, exactly your size. Since then, on every birthday of yours and of mine, you squeeze in, we help, too, by pushing you, because you want to fit in that cage again. And you read us the newspaper from inside the cage and try to cry for us like you cried when you came out of me. We listen to you, we kiss you, we congratulate you with many happy returns of the day, and you become quiet. I know you will finally turn out to be a great poet. So what if women don’t love you and your hand has tremors when you lift the spoon to your mouth? What if I have to remind you of your sister’s name when you want to call her around the house? What if you still are with one foot in your mother while others already have one foot in the grave? Don’t you mind it at all, my boy. You’ll show them. They’ll bury you. With a big service, tears, all the usual stuff. But after three or four days I’ll ask them to let me see you one more time, to take you out of there for a bit. And the coffin will be empty. And inside, on its walls: graffiti, smut like in public toilets. Don’t you mind it at all, my boy. That’s the way it is. You’re not made for this world.