Poems: Claudia Serea

The clarinet

When my grandfather walked into the room,
shorter and much older
than I remembered him,
playing the clarinet
with a group of musicians,

I was cooking six large mums
in a sweet and sour heart sauce.

I couldn’t see their faces
obscured by their woodwind
and brass instruments,
fat saxophones,
oboes, and duduks,
trumpets, trombones, and tubas,
gleaming like gold teeth.

When did you learn to play the clarinet?
I asked,
but he didn’t answer.

I served him the mums
and the bleeding hearts
and went outside to hang
silhouettes of unborn children
on the clothesline.

It was early spring,
freezing and raw.

My grandfather and the musicians
played their wind instruments
at the funeral of the century

and walked slowly over the hill
behind the truck with the coffins
until they disappeared.

Only the clarinet kept wailing
in the cold wind.


All the roads were smoldering

My father’s face rippled,
a torn flag.

Each time I thought of him,
something ignited:
the dry corn fields,
the woods,
the grasslands.

And the October light,
falling through his eyeglasses,
set fire to the newspaper
on the kitchen table.

I could taste the ashes in my mouth.

And the smell,
the clinging odor of smoke
I wore in my hair,
a mourning headscarf,
for days.

I collected tears
in a tin cup

to throw them
into the fire.

A cinder bird flew
through the open window,
bringing a message,

a spark.

I saw it,
rising to the ceiling.


Preparing for winter

In November, Mom lights up the pears
in the windows, yellow lamps
to stop the advancement
of winter’s ambulances

which always arrive too soon,
sirens blaring,
in a blizzard of white coats.

But maybe they’re not pears,
nor lamps,

but lighthouse beams I can see from afar,
sending a coded message
over the ocean:

I made pickles,
sausages, and preserves.

We have firewood
and potatoes to get us through.

We’re ok.
Come back when you can.

I’m saving some apples and grapes
for you.


Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet with work published in Field, New Letters, Gravel, Prairie Schooner, The Mahalat Review, Asymptote, RHINO, and elsewhere. She has published five poetry collections, most recently Twoxism, a poetry-photography collaboration with Maria Haro (8th House Publishing, 2018). Serea is a founding editor of National Translation Month and a co-host of The Williams Poetry Readings series in Rutherford, NJ. She writes and translates on her commute between New Jersey and New York.

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