The Praying Mantis Appraised
from Inventor of Love and Other Writings (out now on Black Widow Press)
translated from the Romanian by Julian and Laura Semilian
The seemingly uncanny phenomena that I suspect are unfolding within the interior of an orange placed upon a metal plate reveals to me my own mental life, as if a spontaneous reversal occurs, long yearned for, between the contents of this orange and my own cranial crate. It is a crate that thinks this orange, I discern the tenebrous circumvolutions obscuring even more the questions being asked there, under this neutral and discolored yellow rind, the only uncertain aspect in this hallucinatory blend of reality. As beneath the skull trickles a turbid juice, scented with an imaginal Mediterranean, simulated, my nostrils trepidate like a bird from which the eyeballs have been removed, these eyeballs so disagreeable, so irremediably riveting. The mental life of a fruit, the vegetal history of thought! There is nothing that seems to me more certain than this variety of momentary solutions opening for us into infinity by the adventure of thinking. Intermediary solutions, swift, fluctuating, yet each time flawless and utterly satisfying. Desire awakened with a tense fury, fastidious, out of its provisional fulfillment. This permanent condition of provisional plight of solutions populates the world which I inhabit with veils, bats and abandoned statues that my eyeballs, aroused to the level of clairvoyance, track with eyelids forced open in order not to give the appearance of being shut.
I experience the sentiments of a mathematician who bears a grudge against the cipher, axioms are corpses we ignore almost out of spite while sophistry, propped up on shoulders cloaked by a mantle crisscrossed on sabers, stages for its premiere a stately entrance in our mental life. Sophistry and the arbitrary, the shadow and the tracks of footsteps on sand, the ephemeral plight of childhood’s soap bubbles, a mask of diamonds draped over a face, mask which, from the viewpoint of the long-sought truth, I prefer over the concealed visage itself, the marvelous being a method far more rigorously exacting in this field of research which is the human being itself, all these uncertain and intentionally frail footbridges that we toss from one phenomenon to another, and inside the same phenomenon I infuse the foot which traverses them with the natural certainty, the unnatural as well, of a sleepwalking stroll, the certitude, real and imaginal, of a woman in a state of catalepsy. I know of no opium to oppugn the dialectically violent trope “the opium of the people,” utilized by Lenin in a pejorative mode when he attempts to wrench the mask off the annihilatingly cretinizing intentions of religion, than this hallucinatory product employed to serve the revolution. This transfiguration of our room into an opium den contributes in a systematic manner to the acceleration, the exacerbation and inflammation of the actual conflict within humanity.
This explanation of a social aspect, which might imply my tendency to justify certain personal inclinations, does not exhaust the unlimited trust I accord to each convulsive activity; at first view incomprehensible, not yet substantiated. The world inside the human being, inside objects, will continue to provoke in me the same perplexed and bewildered state, unbreathable and faintly demented, occasioned in me by the description staged upon this planet’s school benches, employing an image-cliché perpetrated to us in preference of the earth’s living crust with its oceans, volcanoes and immense mountains, a thin orange rind. The orange, around which, ever since then, spin all the comets of the questions I am being asked (the orange having long ceased for me to be an image-cliché, even less so the idea of the orange alone) is just as juicy, just as fragrant as any orange placed carelessly next to a knife. I deliver this orange to my lips and each time I do I have the sensation of that Romanian peasant who, having been handed a bar of soap for the first time, did not suspect that it would serve him for any other purpose than as something to eat. I squeeze its juice between my teeth and foam of the uncertain hue and consistency of your hair fills my mouth. Any attempt to externalize this sensation, as pleasant as a kiss, gives birth to a facile swarm of ambiguities. I eat a bar of soap in the same manner I eat your hair, in the same manner I breathe in your mouth when my fingers search your skin in the dark as though I were searching for the lamp’s switch. I ate a lamp maybe, maybe I devoured the praying mantis I appraised, maybe I ate nothing but your inedible image, your image reflected in my palm which I hold slightly at a slope above your head in order to divine your murmurous undertow but not your existence. It is an orange, my palm circular as a head, which I place under your foot to hoist you in the air in mimic of acrobats and your chiromantic strolls along my life line and love line are the only realities that I do not like to doubt. I adore flesh and shadow and easily exchange this entrancing lover for the tracks she leaves in the sand like hieroglyphs. Lounging at the foot of my enrapturing lover, I do not discern that between us stretches a field, a railroad, a universe. Solitary in my room like a smoker of opium inhaling your flesh from afar, your flowering shoulders, your lips from which escapes a bird, a veil, I ask you as I would ask a hairbrush: are you dead? have you been born? have I met you? am I going to meet you?
My answer does not depend upon your answer: I am not alone.
Gherasim Luca (1913-1994) was one of the founders of the Bucharest Surrealist Artists Group. Poet, writer, artist with more than two dozen published books. Exiled after Romania turned communistic he moved to Paris. He committed suicide by jumping into the Seine in Paris in 1994. Julian Semilian is a Romanian Poet, Filmmaker, novelist, and accomplished translator. His writings have appeared in journals and anthologies around the world. Recent translations include: Nostalgia by Mircea Cartarescu, Paul Celan's Romanian Poems, and many translations within the comprehensive: Born in Utopia, Anthology of Romanian Literature. With his wife Laura Semilian they have translated Max Bleecher's Scarred Hearts, Micea Cartarescu's Levant, and works by Gellu Naum. They both reside in North Carolina.