Playing The Danube Delta

The Delta, as far as I know, looks like an ashen lake, where all day long the old pelican sits awake, a solemn fixture, awaiting a photographer to take its picture. So that he'll get a good shot, it doesn't even budge from the spot. And in its beak, that's a fish it's got. But a lubber laughs at how the fish is made of rubber! Here, in the Delta, you see, as well as pelicans and other things, there are also bald coots, cormorants and lapwings. Oh, never fear, all the birds in the whole world are here (if not an extra boon, which is to say birds from the Moon). In this enchanting place, they have gathered in conclave so that they can sunbathe. They cross the land and seas just to show their feathers, if you please. Because in the Danube Delta, every year there's an Exhibition in Recognition of Non-Stuffed Birds, which goes on for a fortnight, quite a sight. Do you see their plumes and eyelashes? Look at how the colour splashes! Some dye them with seaweed leaves from the River Ganges, others with lard of crocodile from the Nile, or, I don't know what, with paprika from Africa. After that, their feathers buffed and tweaked, they add a touch of lipstick to the beak. Of course, at the end of the season, and not without reason, the bird that looks the best is awarded a tortoise by the rest. Now, alighting from the ferry, we enter a wood where you won't find a single blackberry. The tall trees, which at their crowns have shaving brushes, are called in Delta-speak "rushes". Every morning, for heron chicks it becomes a heaven anew, for ducks and lapwings too. They use the sedge as a sledge. The bolder ones climb on each other's shoulder, until the last one sits on the tip of the tallest frond, and thence another chick shoves him into the pond. There they start to drink water – not so they'll sink, but because that's the only thing they'd think to drink. You know, from a tender age they all engage in swimming lessons. The truth to tell, they learn to swim even in the shell. In every egg that's to hatch can be found a book to match. As soon as a chick learns to speak, it breaks the shell with its beak. And as long as it's a chick, it rules the pool. What else can I tell you? This water, on which the reed islets float since days of old, is worth its weight in gold. And for sure, it is fresh and pure, from the ripples that stipple its surface to the grasses that grow in masses at the bottom. And water that isn't salty can't be faulty. Where else would you put all these birds and chicks, whole shoals of fish, for whom you don't even have room to turn; and then there are all those frogs, who poke out their tongues at the butterflies and enot dogs. Can you see the rushes flicking their shaving brushes? Well, I think you should know that I – don't ask me how or why – can turn rushes into paper of any ply. I have discovered that in the rushes and the bushes, which sway above flood and mud, there teem whole reams of paper. If you're a writer, you won't know any lack: there's paper by the sack. You pile up the papyrus in a great big stack, and by the next day the reeds have grown back. Without any quibble, there's enough space to scribble on one of these reeds to meet a lifetime's needs. Now let's float downstream in our boat. It's a pity it can't cut through every recess of this wilderness, as it speeds through the reeds. Look over there, in that creek, at the heron's sharp beak; there's a whole flock of them, their feathers swishing as they're fishing. If we toss them across some gudgeons, they'll be our guide with pride. One by one, how sublime, from the boat onto their back we climb. That's the way… My, oh my, how we'll fly! All aboard, not one island shall remain unexplored! We'll wave our hands, flying over the sands, and every stork will give a squawk. We'll even number all the stars that in the lakes do slumber. And all the while, beneath our feet, we shall know how softly, softly into the sea the Danube does flow. From Where Do We Go When Running Away?, Tineretului, 1967 

by Marin Sorescu (1931-1996)