“Istovitu Works the Nightshift” by Nora Iuga

Nora Iuga


when we were little
my brother istovitu and i would go out
in the moonlight
and pray for our mother to return
from the other world
istovitu works the nightshift
i the dayshift
this way we can swap
our women between us
their eyelids are sewn shut
they pour milk on their faces
and curl up
until the next day
at dawn the moon
goes back to its room
we watched our toenails grow
no doubt we were born dead
we took care that the sun
shouldn’t catch us out in the fields
that the coins wouldn’t drop
out of our mouths
we led a carefree life
we were seven
we dreamt we’d run away to america

Translated from Romanian by Adam J. Sorkin and Diana Manole

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016


Nora Iuga was born on January 4th, 1931, in Bucharest, Romania, and made her editorial debut in 1968 with the collection of poems It Isn’t My Fault. Her career has spanned more than four and a half decades. Soon after her first book, under the accusation that her work disseminated “morbid eroticism” and would have a bad influence on the young generation, Iuga was banned by the communist censors from publishing fiction and poetry; her books were also withdrawn from public libraries and bookstores. Since then, she has published fifteen collections of poems.

Diana Manole: “Some years ago, I sent Adam Sorkin an email, asking him if he’d like to translate my poems. ‘I’m busy,’ he replied, ‘but send some and we’ll see.’ The result is a continuing collaboration, across two of my collections, Nora Iuga’s book, and other Romanian poems. We’ve never met in person nor talked on the phone, but we conspired over and over in our love of words, attention to nuances, and time-consuming but rewarding perfectionism; in the process, Adam has grown into a dear friend, and co-translating with him has slowly but surely become one of my biggest joys. Or maybe a survival strategy. A note on the poem: The name that Iuga gives her character Istovitu derives from an adjective for weary or exhausted.”

Adam J. Sorkin: “My self-translation into a translator was totally fortuitous: In the spring of 1981, a colleague at the University of Bucharest where I was an American Fulbright lecturer asked me to go over her versions of a Romanian poet, and it brought back a younger self who wanted to be a poet rather than a scholar. I haven’t stopped since then as I explored a wide range of contemporary Romanian poets. I’d translated some of Nora Iuga’s poems prior to my starting to work with Diana Manole, who is a good friend of Nora’s, so I knew right away that we had to turn to Iuga’s poetry.”

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