SEVEN STRAINS—AND A TRITONE
|1 / vial of water
A vial of water procured near Bucharest failed customs muster. The official stamped no. I ran a fingernail through the soft wax seal and swallowed the water. So no one could stop me. Officials formed a semicircle to let me pass. I kept the water; they confiscated the glass.
2 / blue jeans
The Vrancea earthquake of March 4th, 1977 demolished buildings, houses, railways, and roads in Romania. Killed 1,424 residents of Bucharest, including several court poets.
3 / wheelbarrow
Many attempted to explain the earthquake. It's no one's fault. The mayor of Bucharest pushing a wheelbarrow. Communism cannot be defeated. Geologists describing an ancient fault line which preceded the current leadership. Revival of history that contextualizes the earthquake from a socioeconomic perspective. Sudden Roman history renaissance. Gipsies lost the least! Consensus is the mark of a great country! Homeless persons migrated towards untouched park benches. Streets filled with leather shoes. Capitalism engineered black market solutions. Romanian rubble is for Romanians! The Ministry of Metallurgy collapsed. We are proud to welcome the assistance of the International Red Cross. Over 34,000 families were left homeless. New laws punished persons who abandoned the ruins of their residence. Communism grew long, pretty, paternal claws. Hooligans washed windows shut. Retirees told reporters they only wanted to make Romania Great again.
4 / green truck
Trucks hauled the rubble to various hillsides and forests.
5 / blood
Some stones poured into the mouth bore traces of Bucharest blood. People who died in the earthquake. A land which ate us could only be Romanian.
6 / black hoods
Gipsy witches gathered in prejma to practice their traditions near the pond. Midsummer nights, St. George's, St. Andrews—auspicious days when the gates opened briefly into alternate realms. The whispers of witches spread like wildfire through plowed fields. Spells cast from the banks of the pond were potent, incorrigible. Any spell cast from there would come true. Globes of lighting, mysterious white lights, perilous halos were corroborated. Owls honored their rites with elusive, reedy matins. Monks shrouded their heads while issuing exorcisms palliating ghosts. Hobbyists sought Vlad's bones to establish a proper burial. To end the historic discrepancy.
The pond rewrote history. Pregnant women could not afford to love their state-operated bodies. Wombs harbored the fetuses of Little Pioneers. Patriots entitled to breast milk. Miserably burdened mothers made pilgrimages to the pond. Bathed their foreign bodies in its muddy water. No frogs croaked. No woodland stags came to sip. No sign of life may be a blessing.
My mother wore her blue jeans beneath the white doctor's coat, a body divided into white and blue blocks. And that flicker of orange—her hair the color of hay hit by sunset. She worked the village clinic near Boldesti. Peasants said things. Ploughmen swore blizzards could not freeze the pond. Rainstorms failed to add to its waters. The pond stayed the same despite drought.
At night, when the house snores, I wander the wilderness of my Romanian-American childhood, consciously shifting mental gears from English into native tongue. This story came from a few notes in my insomniac journal (the one I keep in Romanian, a sort of estrangement from everyday self and life with my American children). A few mythologies mingled with my mother's memories of the Bucharest earthquake set loose inside the language for which my vocabulary and syntax remains adolescent, followed by morning research into Romanian legends, and then back into night to write. When translating the story from Romanian to English, I forced myself to gnaw close to the original bones, avoiding the sirloin-steak-style texture of my everyday speech. Because I can't resist Romanian's magical associations, a tongue in which anything can happen, superstition shares syntax with facts—and marvel tunnels within the marrow.