A Poem of Resistance Inspired by the Romanian Protests

02/09/2017 11:59 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2017
Protesters gather in front of the government building in Victory Square, Bucharest, Romania.
Cristian Vasile
Protesters gather in front of the government building in Victory Square, Bucharest, Romania.

On Inauguration Day I Remember a Visit to the Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance

Behind the glass, a bloodied roll of gauze

unravels poetry stitched with wires

shed from a broom. Alone in a cell, a man

would slap Morse code onto his thigh, feeding

possibility to the other men in the block.

I walk into Iuliu Maniu’s death cell.

On the floor, a dented aluminum bowl

and spoon, empty bucket, cup.

Cot without a mattress, striped

uniform draped at the foot.

One cell is now The Poetry Room—

Morse crackling through the speakers,

photographs of anonymous wall poems:

I will die without knowing, without dying.

The man who stitched poetry in code

was condemned to death for trying

to get medical attention for a fugitive

wanted by the Securitate. Where, who, why?

I think of my sister, on another continent

—five years in America’s largest

women’s maximum security

for “resisting arrest with nonviolence”

as a teenager. Another two years for

another minor offense—now a motherless

mother with a motherless child.

I enter The Black Cell—really,

a torture room. Shackles anchored

to the stone floor of a shoebox room

without windows. Everyone else who reads

the placard at the door keeps walking.

Madness in great ones must not

(unwatched) go. In a women’s prison

outside Boston, one of my best college

students, thrown into solitary for weeks,

managed to write a paper diagnosing

Hamlet’s madness in a hole

meant to drive her mad—and turned it

in on time. The virtue of will.

Make the mad guilty and appall the free.

No one stops me as I leave the room.

In the courtyard, a grassy hill bearing citrus

covers a domed memorial. I enter

through its concrete door.

A round stone table like a retina;

its surface: water. Beeswax

candles lit in memory of someone,

of someone’s someone, flame

toward an open cross in the ceiling.

It’s starting to rain. Drops tap the table.

I am becoming aware that I might be

falling into a love beyond the limits

of restraint. I know without knowing.

Twelve lit candles light the water table.

I’ve been here alone so long

I’ve lit at least half of them.

For no one in particular.

For you, and you, and you.

—Tara Skurtu

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