back from the night shift,
tired bones cracking,
hair imbued with sulfite salts.
‘For lunch, eggplant salad on rye bread.’
I’m slipping this promise into my heart pocket.
Her lithe fingers on my face,
clock hands on the wall
missing purpose, mute.
‘Can I have more salad?’
Her skin prickles as she touches mine.
Inside the palm, blisters map the motherland.
I follow them with my finger.
I take everything in,
then bite into the slice of bread,
she hands me,
a generous spread of eggplant on my cheeks.
Things My Mother Brought to Life
In the closet, among linen,
four green bananas to ripe.
Sometimes, a bar of apple soap,
for doctor visits,
never to be used, yet
allowing us to briefly live on its scent.
In the kitchen cupboard,
on the highest shelf, out of reach,
a packet of real coffee,
the silhouette of a red fez boy
teasing the senses.
I wonder how it feels to live in colors.
‘Honey, I left the coupon
on the fridge. Buy bread.
Don’t lose it again.’
A mother’s handwriting
is always arched and slender
like a spring day.
I put the key string
around my neck.
Mother crocheted it while waiting
in line for milk. Instead she came back
with four oranges. ‘Do we save them for Christmas?’
Mother’s back cracked like an old bed.
In the street, linden trees are in bloom.
When mother returns from her
night shift, we will pick their blossom,
dry it on the little balcony for tea.
For now, pollen numbs my heartbeats.
And everything about her keeps me alive.
You shall not argue, bargain or disobey.
You shall be a good daughter,
make a fine wife one day
and breed like an Orthodox woman.
You shall not want, dare or speak up.
You shall rub floors and backs,
do laundry and favors,
stay home and low.
You shall not have fun, pleasure or dreams.
You shall work long hours,
smile, bow your head,
cook lavish meals and speak softly.
A plunge into language
begins around the edges
of words, I run my fingers
across their surface.
My fingers scratch at the label
and then start rooting underneath
the vowel wrapping.
There is a swallowing of the body
that takes place next
and the words end up inside me,
like floating lanterns.
It is there the purging takes place
and new ones are born,
letters of fire and air alike,
ready to inhabit the veins
and ink the world.
All of them know my name.
When I moved to this city of dreams,
my lopsided sun came with me
and it’s been raining ever since.
Back home, a gray tongue
is hanging in grandma’s smokehouse.
She is going to eat it in a garlicky sauce.
“Be good,” she whispers behind the screen
of my computer, when we talk once a month.
My new writing tribe has no words for things I love,
no remembrance of the wounds I carry.
Inside my veins, a flow
of foreign blood,
pushing me into this cement dream
that coils around me like vine.
Does an animal miss the tongue?
When I open my mouth,
a mute cry breathes out like a deflated balloon.
It has roots in another body.
Clara Burghelea is a recipient of the 2018 Robert Muroff Poetry Award. She is Editor at Large of Village of Crickets and got her MFA in Creative Writing from Adelphi University. Her poems and fiction have been published in Peacock Journal, Full of Crow Press, Quail Bell Magazine, Ambit Magazine, The Write Launch and elsewhere.