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from the December 2010 issue

The Amigo

1. it’s rumored that the amigo, the good buddy came to town.
so people hurry to see for themselves and for a minute we begin to believe as well.
but in the square there’s only a man more foolish and more down on his luck than we.
he stands in the middle of the square his hand held out and says he’s our buddy, the amigo.
everyone standing in line curses him because now, at christmas,
we hoped a different buddy would appear, the true friend.

this guy calls himself the amigo but we know him.
for years and years he’s been going around begging in the outlying districts.
then he gets drunk and sleeps it off wherever he can lay his head—
he’s too much like us to be the true buddy.

but since we’re worn out and it’s christmas eve and we want to have fun,
we stop, we pretend to listen, we take part in his game
we call him our amigo, since here, on the banks of the
dâmboviÈ�a, we turn into buddies over time, every one of us.

then snow starts to fall, people drift away, we wander back to
our tables in this rundown beer joint.
we no longer hear and no longer want to know anything.
because it’s the eve of the holiday that always mocks us.

at about seven he pokes his head in
he’s so drunk he can hardly stand and he’s bruised all over.
but, since we’re worn out and it’s christmas eve and we want to have fun,
we shout, come on in, amigo, let’s celebrate you.
but now he no longer claims he’s the amigo, our true buddy.
he simply asks us to help him keep going,
he whispers he just wants us to lend him a coat, any coat.
go to hell, we haven’t got one for you—can’t help every damn cripple.
nobody’s gonna help us either.

then at the entrance of this dive we notice the cross glaring at him sternly,
staring us down, casting an evil eye.
beat it, we yell at the amigo, get lost,
or we’ll all be in bad shit.

when we stagger home, very late, we see him far off, dragging that stick of wood on his back.
the wood on his back has grown taller than the blocks of flats in long rows.
hell, if we’d believed he was the one, shouldn’t we at least have set our shoulders under it for a bit?
but he’s too much like us really to have been the amigo,
the good buddy.

2. listen, now, i’m an overcoat, drunk and sick. i’ll be damned if anyone remembers me.
but once upon a time i fought great battles at thermopylae in the obor market.
if i hadn’t followed the amigo, i’d have been a doctor’s coat or a cop’s,
clean, educated, in the lap of luxury.
but since the amigo first put me on, there have been no more good times.
’cause that very day he dragged me to two bars at once.

at first i was disgusted and felt humiliated.
i was hated by those filthy boozers.
then i forgot who i’d been and i drank with him.
i came down in the world. i’d say let’s drink, we’ve
worn this life sometime before, it’s already crumpled—
god goofed up and created us again.
four years after that, i didn’t give a thought to myself, i could hardly carry him to the door.
anyway, the day before whatever it was, i was crushed by tiredness.
he was wearing me, singing and utterly alone. we hardly knew how we got home.
i can’t remember taking him off.
i can’t remember falling asleep under the table.
that night he went without me wherever he went.
i swear, i’ve no idea what happened that night.
i’m an overcoat, sick and old, but an honorable one,
may the devil drag me to hell.

i’m a nothing. a cousin, the amigo’s. for three months now
i’ve made my home in the vasilescus’ house.
when i’m with the amigo, i grow important and fill out,
i feel i’m somebody.
but where he suddenly decided to go that night, who knows?
i’ve no news. he caught me unawares. if i knew he got some money,
i’d say he went back home, to claim his inheritance of laughter
and madness that have been his family’s for a hundred years.

3. we too wear the mask of passersby, the amigo says,
and we too are often deceived by them.
we serve them for years and eventually we forget about ourselves.
but suddenly, one fine day, someone knocks at the gate in the evening.
who is it? you ask, since you’re one of the victors and nobody
would be looking for you any longer.
wake up, the answer comes, i’m bringing you home from battle,
i carried you on my back all this distance, you’ve been dead for days.
come on, shall we drink a beer before night falls?
damn it, give me one, or do i have to throw your corpse in the water by the wall?

no time to go unlock the door. the man from far-off places has gone on his way.
he knocks at other gates, repeats the same words to others—
on a night like this it’s not easy to see who’s staggering down the road
by himself—maybe you, maybe somebody else.

on the battlefield, the victor goes searching for the defeated among the corpses.
come, he begs, it’s your turn now to be on top.

4. hey, buddy, if truth still exists, for us
it would be better if it stayed a stranger,
for we’re no longer among those who can accept it.
we’ve sat too long at this table, old habits die hard,
the streets are bustling, our bodies constrain us—
they’ve always prevented us from being what we wished.
my friend, we no longer drink the way we did last year. we no longer wait
for the one lonelier than we to come and prepare us to save
ourselves. we no longer expect him now.
but we’re used to it, and by habit we keep coming
to this table, and if one day suddenly one of us . . .  the others
won’t even notice. nobody will
wonder, for nobody here is better than anybody else.
look, pal, we ought to be satisfied with that. so who knows why we’re not.
since the father’s vanished, anything goes.

5. oh, we’re such worthless creatures, worthlessness
itself fails by comparison. we work at it diligently,
year after year, hoping that one day . . .
oh, we’re such worthless creatures, woman who will never be.

nowhere to go. nowhere to escape
unseen, out of this world.
oh, the woman will say, such worthless creatures!
from this moment on, who will . . . ?

6. i am the chair the amigo sat on. i’ve lived
in the vasilescus’ house for eight years. when i was still being made i was told
i wouldn’t amount to anything. now i’ve got to laugh:
i’ve lived longer than my peers. i’ve aged rather well.
i’ve held the whole family between my arms. i’ve led a useful life.

i am the lamppost by whose side the buddy slept
on the night between the third and fourth of march. i am
the snow he slept in and embraced until he melted me and i was gone.
i was virgin, i’d fallen barely an hour before.
i don’t think i’d ever whispered “my love” to anyone.

i am the streetlight at the crossroads. i stay on all night.
i am the last one who saw him when he went down to the river.
it was after midnight when he passed by me and he was
more a stranger to himself than he’d ever been.

i am grigore, the dâmboviÈ�a tadpole, grand duke of sweet waters.
boy, the amigo said, take me across quickly.
aha, i said, that’ll cost you, give me a couple of coins and i’ll take you with thanks.
fine, he says, here’s a one. i don’t believe i’m coming back.
keep the change, put it in the bank.

i liked the guy. on the other side i sent for
the mole to be his guide. she knows every turn and way.
mind you, you good-for-nothing, i told her, don’t toy
with this one. i said to him, good-bye, my boy.

i am the mole, my name is mrs. cuza. it’s my pride
i served the buddy as his guide.
behind us the white world flickered and went dark.

for three days i followed paths known only to me.
nobody ever was above us and it snowed.
on the third day the badger greeted us. he sat in prayer,
his paws clasped and sore. he
was waiting for the amigo. welcome, he said,
i am paul.
the amigo bowed and paul blessed him.

then i don’t know how long we walked, except it became darkest night.
a caterpillar in a cassock glimmered among stones.
don’t pity me, amigo, here the most humble creature
is dearest to god. i am peter.
my dear fellow, i alone can unlock the gate to heaven over there. first, sit here
with me, and let’s chat for an hour.

the garden of heaven covered about four acres
enclosed all around by a wattle fence
and the fields were still unplowed.
do you see, peter asked, the shingled house at the back of the garden? keep
your head bowed, my good man, and betake yourself there. you’re expected.
mind you, don’t knock on the door loudly, god
may be drowsing or asleep.

the amigo knocked, the door wasn’t locked. god didn’t hear him
for he was busy throwing a log on the fire.
hi, said the amigo. hi, said god as he hunkered
on a stool by the fireside, warming himself.
god was a runty little guy, mostly bald, cross-eyed,
with a white beard down to his waist.
he spoke teasingly, relaxed,
a bottle on his right, another on his left.
come over here, man, go
roll a cigarette and pour yourself a vodka.
the world becomes something other once you’ve tossed down a shot.
have a glass, god urged, the way you used to. you used to like it a lot.
no, no, the amigo replied. from now on, god, no.

7. a man alone beside a man alone.
this is how war and peace are ended.

Translation of “Amigo.” Copyright Ioan Es. Pop. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2010 by Adam J. Sorkin and Lidia Vianu. All rights reserved.

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