On 10 March 1983, Carmen's father, Ion Bugan, left their small village in Eastern Romania and drove to Bucharest to stage a one-man protest against the totalitarian Ceausescu regime. That afternoon, Carmen returned from school to find secret police in her living room. Carmen emigrated to the US with her family in 1989, following her father's imprisonment for protesting against the regime.
Is this window ours?
Which window? I ask holding his hand
As we walk the length of our rented apartment.
‘This one that looks at the mountain,’ he says
And then turns, ‘And this wall, Mummy, is it ours?’
‘Nothing is ours,’ I smile to him, myself
Now used to the sunny almost empty rooms,
That we un-cluttered in order to make more space
For him to breathe better.
We play this game so often, and when he asks me
To buy the whole apartment, with walls and windows,
The light bulbs and the cupboards, I don’t know
What to say, except, ‘There will be other windows
That will show us other things, don’t worry about owning
One. In having none we have all of them:
Like countries and like languages.’ ‘Yes, Mummy,’ he says,
‘But I like this one, can we choose this one?’
A Prayer for my Children
On the US Presidential Inauguration 2017
This year what you learn at school
Sitting at your tiny desks in the sunny room
Is the ‘lock-down drill’. We come from other
Countries, you remind me as you recount how
You hide in the closets, quietly
While the teacher pulls down the blinds in a hurry:
‘Is this a free country?’ you ask me
And I say ‘These are changed times.’
Out there on the campaign trail, the man
Who is now our President-elect, who talked about
Grabbing women by the pussy, calling it ‘locker room talk’
Used an arsenal of other words you should not know
And should not use, according to the laws of common decency.
‘Politicians are all the same, everywhere’, your father says
‘Vulgarity and corruption are as old as the world.’ But none of this
Excuses or heartens our hearths.
This year we bought our first house, stripped rooms
To the bare bones of wood, repaired every wall,
Sealed all the holes, changed the wiring to make it safe,
Gave it a brand-new roof, painted it all new.
Neighbors came by to thank us for the love we put in the house,
The smiles we brought to the street with the new colours.
We planted out first rose bushes and our first tree.
How can I give up on the hope that you now plant your roots?
The world within must meet the world without, my children
And nothing but love will come out of my pen
And nothing but hope will spring from my heart.
We’ll have to work at words together, pruning them back to their roots,
Our prayers must echo in the prayers from others.
I want you to take the bus to school where no one needs
The lock-down drills. I dream for you to remain innocent and play
With your friends in the fresh air, among trees, and flowers.