Three Poems ~ Claudia Serea


We ate the ugly ones

The good ones,
we picked and handled like eggs,
sorted them by size and color,
and placed them in rows
in wooden crates.

The Aztecs called them tomatl,
fat water with navel,
the Italians, pomodoro,
apple of gold,
and the scientists called them
by their Latin name,
Solanum lycopersicum,
of the sun.

My grandmother called the tomatoes plãtãgeni.

If they were good-looking,
they were worth more money.

Her knotty hands,
stained green from their sap,
used a soft rag
to shine each plãtãgean
like wiping a child’s face,

then nestled it carefully
in its tutu
of waxed paper.

We ate the ugly ones,

the scratched,
the blemished,
the over-ripe,
the warted ones,

tasty, fat
from water
and summer sun.

The days were long.
The lines to weigh the small crates, longer.
The money,

The yellow-green tomatoes went to export
and ripened on the way.

I wondered if anyone from the West knew,
when they picked them up
from the supermarket shelf,
weighing in hand
the round red hearts—

did anyone know
whose hearts they were,

where they came from
behind the Iron Curtain?

I wondered
if any of the ripe ones
for the internal market
would land
on the dictator’s plate.

And if it did,
did it bleed a little

sweet juice
under the knife?




Winter break, 1988

We travelled first by freezing train
through the blizzard,
in the dark of the early morning,
hours and hours, through empty landscapes,

then by rickety bus
until it stopped
when the road wasn’t plowed any further,
and the driver said,
You’re on your own, kids.

There were no cell phones.
No one around.

We started on foot,
two dots
in the vast, wind-swept plain,

you, in your suit and wool coat,
hair slicked back,

and me in my long skirt
and high-heeled boots,
all dolled-up and hair-sprayed,
to impress
the future in-laws.

When we got tired,
we sat on the roadside
and ate frozen liver paté sandwiches.

We were the only man and woman in the world,
leaving behind
a shaky set of footsteps.

A cart piled up high with firewood passed by,
and the drunken peasant
picked us up.

We perched on top
of the white fields
until the next village
where the man went home.

So we were again on foot
until a car
filled to the roof with bread loaves
and we crowded in the back
in the warm fresh scent.

We rode through sheets of snowy night,
glowing eyes,

and we weren’t cold at all.




Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1

The first time I listened to Tchaikovsky’s
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor
was on a summer night in 1984.

I was in Iasi
with my new boyfriend Adrian
from Ploiesti.

We were both 15,
away from home at a two-week
national conference and contest
where we presented chemistry
research projects.

I’d say our chemistry was pretty strong.

That night, we were in the little park
close to the high school dorms
where we were staying.

Someone on the second floor
of the apartment building across the park
placed two large amplifiers on the balcony
and played at maximum volume
a disc with Tchaikovsky’s
Piano Concerto No. 1.

It was loud
and breathtaking.

Our words drowned.

We sat on the bench
in the music’s enormous embrace,
away from parents,
away from everything,
and kissed.

This happened five lives ago.

Meanwhile, I studied chemistry,
wrote poetry,
I met another guy and got married,
went through a revolution and its aftermath,
rented videotapes,
sold olive oil and coffee,
and worked in fashion.

I emigrated and moved
5,000 miles away to New York City,
worked as a hostess,
cleaned tables and served drinks,
went to school again,
worked in marketing,
publishing, advertising,
bought a house
and moved to the suburbs,
gave birth,
and wrote poetry again,
this time in English.

I never saw Adrian again.

And tonight, on the bus,
I’m reading Bukowski,
and, in a poem, he’s listening
to Tchaikovsky.

And I remember the Piano Concerto No. 1
and find it on YouTube
with 5.6 million views,
a small country in which Bukowski
and Tchaikovsky still live.

I remember the small park,
soft lips kissing—

and Bukowski’s laughing at me
his old bastard laugh,
and I laugh too,

with the piano’s perfect movements,
laughing and rolling,

with the whole world,
loud and crashing,

into the night.