Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris: the whole static safari.
In the Natural History Museum
Extract from the poem by Liviu Campanu (1932-1994, Bucharest)
We hold hands
(my thumb on her wrist but it’s my own pulse I’m checking)
and survey the whole static safari. She tells me about Cuvier
the greatest poet of them all, she says, the paleontologist
who could take a tooth and reconstruct the animal
around it, who made wholes from the smallest part,
who fleshed the bone and sealed the flesh with skin,
dreamed a species from a femur, named it
and made it breathe in our imaginations.
The next room. Light off. Lights on. We’re caught between
two darknesses, she whispered, the one ahead and the one behind…
yet always somehow passing through them both, I thought,
and the shadow that crosses our neck like liquid night,
or is it the scythe’s cold slice of moon?
(poem from the ‘Museums in Bucharest’ sequence in City of Lost Walks, 1985)
Translated from the Romanian by Patrick McGuinness
Update, 8 September 2011: Patrick McGuinness, long-listed for the Booker Prize with his debut novel The Last Hundred Days, clarifies in an interview (via The Page):
“I invented a poet for my novel, a character called Liviu Campanu, but cut him out as he slowed the pace. I gave him a few lines of poetry, which I quite liked, so I built poems around them. Soon I found I had a small collection of his work, and he became my alter ego. I now write his poems and ‘translate’ them too. He’s become quite popular—in fact a couple poetry critics said Campanu was the best thing about my recent book of poems, Jilted City. But he’s a product—a by-product—of my novel, and he’ll have his own book of poems soon.”