EILEEN TABIOS Engages
JOINING THE DOTS / UNITI PUNCTELE by Monica Manolachi
(editura pim, Iasi, Romania, 2016)
Some background to Monica Manolachi’s JOINING THE DOTS is available in Neal Leadbeater’s Introduction reprinted in GR #26. I engage with the English in this bilingual (English/Romanian) edition whose first poem, “What Language,” begins
My grey-green-blue eyes bare
Those poet’s eyes see a lot. They also reveal much in the rest of the book’s poems. This expanded and expansive vision relates to how those eyes aren’t one color but are “grey-green-blue.” Aptly, the poem continues
A half Hungarian walks through my bones, calling
for a taxi in Serbian, and then blabs
with the driver, whose father is Greek and once
lent me a profile contour, before setting sail to Fener.
Streets with long Russian names of
people visiting the place – only in spirit? –
ripple like waves of Italian shoes produced in Timișoara (or Temesvár
or Temeschburg or Cimișoara, if you want).
The door creaks more and more in Turkish
when Bulgarian crescent walnut rolls whisper
with Ukrainian vareniki and a toddler giggles
hoping for her father to get the picture of her Polish joke.
Some mobile phones already chirp in Spanish
and isn’t that clock on the wall ticking in Chinese?
In what language indeed, then, should this poet-translator (fluent in English, Spanish and Romanian with a working knowledge of German, Hungarian and Finnish) write? I believe it relevant that the author obviously is cosmopolitan, worldly. She is also well-traveled, such that she’s taken on the edgy sophistication that, at times, is specific to the well-experienced. This surfaces well for her poetry in pleasingly unexpected ways. For example, her poem “A third myth about translation” is, yes, about translation (“There are many in t he cave and one cannot make out / their souls from the calcareous formations. Somebody / is weaving a musical misty fabric in between.”) but, first, the poem begins
There is no one you can talk to in Romanian. You
enter the museum and, after a few galleries with paintings,
go to the bathroom and steal a roll of toilet paper.
Enough for a month of crying.
There is much of the intellect in the poems, logical for, as Neil Leadbeater’s finely-wrought Introduction, her interests are “wide-ranging,” reflecting “her early experiences of reading and writing poetry, her enthusiasm for learning languages, her travels to many different countries as a student and as a teacher of languages or researcher.”
But Manolachi also makes me appreciate her interest in the quotidian—her appreciation of details easily ignored in one’s environment reflects an observing, detail-oriented eye no doubt facilitated by the translator’s job of ever paying attention to nuance. Here’s an example I enjoyed:
If I don’t know what to believe in,
I believe in the van driver’s arms:
athletic, hirsute, firm, tattooed,
orientated towards a destination.
This morning I saw them clearly,
resting, on a wheel,
and I stopped for a few seconds
and, like a sinner in front of a miracle,
listened in awe to the blood
roaring through his veins,
speaking of journeys,
long, tiring, dangerous,
of unknown men and foreign women
interchained with misty ropes,
of their bolting mysteries,
of my own shackled eyes,
over which I lowered my lids
to find my way again.
That line “of unknown men and foreign women” is interesting. Initially I questioned the adjectives. Is the “unknown” man also foreign? By calling the women “foreign” aren’t they inherently also unknown? But then I thought that Manolachi’s choices opened up another possibility—that of human trafficking. This may or may not be an appropriate reading of the poet’s intent but it seems a not unreasonable speculation by the reader. The mystery of the back story elevated for me the rest of the poem.
There are a variety of characters and presences in Manolachi’s poems and she inhabits/presents them authentically. Perhaps this results from her openness as amusingly (amusingly to me) presented in “Request”:
I, the undersigned,
living in my fascinating and fabulous country,
that is in a remote corner of the world,
declare in plain English that I want to be corrupted.
This is my main cause of distress.
Thus, I seek a roving correspondent, man, woman, anything,
a specialist in the field, more precisely, a defrocked angel,
to sell me on the spot or in instalments,
to help me break away with the past, with love.
Purity is over!
We’ll agree on the price.
I give this poem for an immoral act, plus others in nature.
Call up the police and the nosey press, call up
the geometers to measure the prospects of such a gesture.
My intention is to be caught in the act,
proved a notorious wrongdoer
and quickly put behind bars,
cheap food for poor minds.
Keep calm, I do not need interventions, fixers etc to escape.
Justice is not blind. I can hardly wait
to have my life, my image and whatever destroyed,
This is my dream, to be a famous prisoner,
to do time,
so that I could contemplate in silence
how my troubles dissipate.
That tenth line—“We’ll agree on the price.”—made me chortle out my morning coffee onto my poor blouse. Which is all to say, there’s much pleasure in reading through this collection—so much pleasure that I almost forget the wisdom also crackling through the poems. Or, perhaps, I don’t forget—I just appreciate how wisdom is served up with such (often masked but inescapable) joie de vi·vre.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be books that focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work: THE CONNOISSEUR OF ALLEYS was reviewed by Joey Madia for New Mystics Reviews, Book Masons and Literary Aficionado; and EXCAVATING THE FILIPINO IN ME was reviewed by Aileen Ibardaloza for "Filipina American Literature: Reading Recommendations" (Barbara Jane Reyes Blog). She released three books and two chaps in 2016, and is scheduled to release at least three publications in 2017. More info at http://eileenrtabios.com