Visiting the country of my birth: a poem by Carmen Bugan
This wonderfully evocative poem appears at the beginning of Carmen's memoir, Burying the Typewriter, which details what happened to her and her family, isolated and under surveillance during the Ceauşescu regime in România.
The tyrant and his wife were exhumed
For proper burial; it is twenty years since
They were shot against a wall in Christmas snow.
The fish in the Black Sea are dead. Waves roll them
To the beach. Tractors comb the sand. We stand at water’s edge
Whispering, glassy-eyed, throats parched from heat.
Stray dogs howl through nights like choirs
Of mutilated angels, circle around us on hill paths,
Outside gas stations, shops, streets, in parking lots.
Farther, into wilderness, we slow down where horse
And foal walk home to the clay hut by themselves,
Cows cross roads in evenings alone, bells clinking.
People sit on wooden benches in front of their houses,
Counting hours until darkness, while
Shadows of mountains caress their heads.
On through hot dust of open plain, to my village:
A toothless man from twenty years ago
Asks for money, says he used to work for us.
I am searching for prints of mares’ hooves in our yard
Between stable and kitchen window, now gone
With the time my two feet used to fit inside one hoof.
We sit down to eat on the porch when two sparrows
Come flying in circles over the table, low and fast, happily!
‘My grandparents’ souls’ I think aloud, but my cousin says:
‘No, the sparrows have nested under eaves, look
Past the grapevine.’ Nests big as cupped hands, twigs
And straw. Bird song skids in the air above us.
Into still-remaining rooms no sewing machine,
Or old furniture with sculpted flowers on walnut wood.
No rose bushes climbing windowsills, outside.
And here, our water well, a vase of cracked cement. Past
Ghosts of lilac, pear, and quince in the sun-bitten yard I step
On re-imagined hooves, pull the chain, smell wet rust.
Unblemished sky ripples inside the tin bucket,
Cradled in my arms the way I used to hold
Warm goose eggs close to skin so not to break them:
‘The earth will remember you’ my grandparents once said.
Here, where such dreams do not come true, I have come
To find hoof-prints as well as signs from sparrows.
România, July 2010