(The original in Romanian)
N-am mai trecut de mult prin sat si-mi spune
Un om ce de pe-acasa a venit
Cum c-a-nflorit la noi malinul
Si c-ai albit, mamuca, ai albit.
Alt om mi-a spus c-ai stat la pat bolnava.
Eu nu stiu cum să cred atatea vesti,
Când din scrisori eu vad precum matale
Din zi în zi mereu intineresti.
It's been a while since I passed through the village to be told
by a man on his way away from home and night
how the hackberry is blooming at our place,
and how you've whitened, dear mother, you've gone white.
Another man said you've taken to bed with illness.
I don't know how I could believe him, or even what to say,
when reading letters I watch in wonder as
you grow younger every day.
I translated this one because Labis' touch, delicate and generous, stayed in my mind all afternoon. It's a loose translation, and I'm a mediocre translator who is only as faithful to the literary meaning as cross-cultural context allows. But Nicolae Labis (1935-1956) was a Romanian poet whose gifts and life deserve more exposure in the West. He died very young- and under mysterious circumstances- just as he was beginning to reveal his disenchantment with the Stalinist and anti-humanist line in Romanian communism.
When we visited Romania last year, I left a cold-stone kiss on Labis' headstone at Bellu Cemetery. The verdict on Labis' politics remains murky (some consider him to be the first Romanian dissident poet), but the verdict on his poetry seems clear as a sunbeam.