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Waiting for Hurricane Isabella to Pass

by Liliana Ursu

translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter

On my table: The Art of Poetry, Lives of the Egyptian Saints
and the coffee from Starbucks I drink every morning
with eyes lost at my American window.
I talk to birds blue as lightning
with Toady, a cat with five toes
always on the hunt, stalking me from a distance.

I also talk to the old tree
whom I address as “Your Majesty”
And to the delicate lilac Tess planted
one glorious April morning
barely holding its ground
beneath Hurricane Isabella.
The storm has lost its strength
coming to Pennsylvania,
has changed to a thick rain
and gusts of hot wind.

Theo’s appeared, the dog
playing with a red ball.
When I first came to the Poet’s Cottage
I bent to study the ball, frightened
It looked just like a little bomb
A melon with a handle.

I leave the table and stop
beside my borrowed bookshelf
Among the books, I find a wooden abacus
And suddenly I’m five years old, in a kindergarten in Sibiu
on the corner of Gusteriţă and Balanţă
Bent over the abacus
blue ribbons braided through my blond hair,
learning to add
by moving the red balls, more fascinating than stars in the sky
learning the Abstract with patience and curiosity.

Even now in Bucharest,
in a drawer with love letters
from my father to my mother
I have a small, transparent box
with my braid and blue ribbon
that Mother kept like a relic
in the scented chest of drawers.
I run suddenly to the window
“The train’s coming!” I shout with all my heart
and throw down the abacus
and the children follow me into the yard
beyond the school’s wooden gate
to real tracks and a real train
Just like here in Lewisburg
right through the backyard of the Poet’s Cottage
where squirrels and rabbits play among the wooden ties.

At the end of my American street
a lazy river passes: the Susquehanna
And I can make out the enormous bridge that connects
the city with woods in Northumberland.
The telephone rings, and a man from Sibiu tells me
the train bridge in that city
has been destroyed.
And so, here and now
I raise it again, stone by stone
word by word
And the people in Lewisburg
are surprised to see, beside their bridge
with smaller cars
with smaller shadows
with smaller storms
A bridge where a little girl in pigtails and blue ribbons
crosses every morning
holding her grandmother’s hand
walking to the cathedral in the center of Sibiu.


Liliana Ursu is a poet, prose writer, and translator with eighteen books published in Romania. Her work has been translated into many languages, including four books in English. She lives in Bucharest, teaching courses in poetry and creative writing, producing occasional radio programs for România culturala, and writing. She has received two Fulbright grants and taught creative writing at the University of Louisville and at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. (4/2009)

Sean Cotter has translated several books from Romanian, including Liliana Ursu’s Goldsmith Market (2003) and Lightwall (forthcoming in June 2009). He is a professor of literature and translation studies at The University of Texas at Dallas, where he is part of the Center for Translation Studies. (4/2009)

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