Bucharest


in bucharest, the history does nothing to mute the cobblestone streets,
the hoarse screech of gypsy women trailing chains and cloth and
silk scarves speckled with gold threads.
without western distractions, old men devote themselves
to carpentry.
they compose gardens and tread them daily,
despite deep aches and clots congealing,
then thinning with each willful stride,
until their thighs forbid it, and a grayness,
like a rustling in the veins,
patiently ascends to nestle in that lobe,
or the other.

their children will regard the pale mums
blooming, hands buried in woolen pockets,
struggling with the language and the aged bodies
that once knitted woolen gloves for these hands that have forgotten.

so few memories:
my grandmother’s herbs swaying in the attic,
borscht and beets rippling quietly on the stovetop, and i kneaded
brittle parsley between eager fingers.
or, sitting beneath a raw, uneven wooden table,
licking salt grains from my then-unmarked palms,
cupping spices in the swell of my throat.

but outside, marxists convinced even beetles crackling beneath the
      midday sun
to revolutionize, and thin bodies amassed to petition merchants
for some enduring rhetoric, and a slab of butter.

i remember travelling east until men’s bodies became knotted and
umber,
until their women were lean, and few,
to a stretch of flaxen land stalked by a rabid dog, and further,

tugging raspberries from their vines, my bare knees freckled with soil.
waiting for a sibling, who, though promised, never fell viscous into life:
my birth would never be repeated again,
and my mother brooded, inconsolable, even by beatific Jesus,
or the man sent to trickle blessed waters
along our bowed necks, the man whose gilded robes
enveloped my small body, whose voice entreated God to attend me.

while outside, communism toppled and through the canopy
of rising dust and the faint, fervent prayers of exiled poets masking
      themselves in tender words:
ceausescu’s execution, the sound blotted here and there,
swallowed in snow, and reckless anarchy.

my mother panted, tore bedsheets from the mattresses,
mounted those along the windowsills,
while gunshots reverberated through the streets.
the bullets, which i confused for lanterns.
in the barbed gasps of the dying
my child’s body heard delight, and quivered
with anticipation.

now outside, the weight of my childhood descends on me daily.
the gravity of architecture decimated, of columns collapsed
and left to lie among their fractured parts.
the stunned, orphan faces still gaze blankly
from behind chainlink fences; preserved in news footage, in print.
a decade later, the hunger in every curve of bone straining through thin skin,
haunts doorways and roads, in the growls of rabid dogs
and hooded eyes of new mothers hoisting naked babies on angled hips.
peddlers circle tourists like carrions, and from the gilded tips of its churches
to the weary haunch of democrats without votes, the city remembers;

i resist.

Alexandra Grigorescu