Lucia Cherciu


The Butcher


Blistered fingers swollen

as if held under water all day,

the butcher explained that once she had to stay

in the hospital for a month from a hand infection.


What gloves? She laughed while cleaving large

hunks of meat. The man who brought the pigs

just hung them from the hooks.

She had to bribe somebody for this job,

and her husband had to intervene.

In the wide-open store, the meat

went so fast, she didn’t even need refrigerators.


In the rusted iron smell of blood,

warm breath still lingering

on cow tongues laid out next to impeccable livers,

people waited in line by the hundreds

but she only sold bones shorn, cleaned

till they shined. The pig’s whole head—

snout, eyes open, teeth, lashes, ears— 

was all a delicacy, as she wrapped it with bare hands

in wax paper, laid it on the scale,

the whole nine pounds of it,

while flirting with a customer.


The smoked pig’s feet

she saved for the pastry vendor

as they bartered. The prime pieces, for steak,

she sold under the counter to friends or party officials

who helped her get the job. The most coveted

position in town, she admitted,

holding out her hands

like raw ground meat,

nails broken, cuticles shredded.





I ask my mother

to tell me the end of a story

and she sips her tea,

wonders about my international

long-distance plan

that lets us talk for hours.   


When the whole village

paced behind the ox-drawn cart

decorated with dahlias,

why did women whisper,

untie their head scarves

and tie them back?


A woman went to a crone

still in the dark of dawn

and by dusk

she walked alone.


That time, the woman’s father

brought her home;

he stepped by his horse cart,

hat in his hand. Her head

rested on an old tapestry

with faded bujori.


Nobody said anything.

In the crowd, the strained

face of the official

sent to sign communist papers,

file a report—

facial muscles chiseled

with foreboding.



Four Children


between two and seven are left

alone for days, yet they survive, room

empty, bare mattress on the floor.


The first day, the three boys and a girl

rummage through the kitchen,

search for leftovers, scavenge

for bread. At night


they huddle, gather old blankets

on the floor. Winter

crackles, burns the line between

inside and outside:

in the fireplace, ice.


Listless and languid,

feet blue,

they move less,

speak less,

finagle together a snack

of cardboard.


When a neighbor

finds them, the youngest

cannot cry. House

redolent with fear.

Scoured. Wafting.


Trails of dirt around their eyes,

foreheads like broken glass. Too young

to tell how long

since mother went away.



Guardians of the Voroneţ Blue


The nuns of Voroneţ are mean:

they chase the visitors away,

resent the crowds who come to venerate

but touch with dirty hands the walls 

that otherwise have withstood

four centuries of rain and snow.


Some say the famous blue was made

with barrels of plum vodka

so that’s what gave the color stay,

resilience and ardor.


Others claim it is the blood

shed in the battles led

by Stephen the Great who saved

the land against the Turks

and had the monastery built

to celebrate his victory

advised by Daniil the Monk.


The nuns know better:

the fierce power of denial

and renunciation, the giving in

to arches and inner shadows,

the fusing in of stenciled crowns,

the sorrow in the eyes of saints

painted in frescoes. Outside,

some fool in 1859 scratched his name

with a nail on the right side of the door.



Infinite Verbs


The only thing we have is verbs;

everything else

is sleep of vowels,

fretting of chimes.


Doubt sifts the sky like snow,

brings in silence

of Gregorian songs,

syntax of prayer

we can’t translate. 


We wonder if this

is what we want:

postponed fear,

elusive bread,



We latch the door,

try to keep out cursing words,

and patch the gaps

with adjectives

and cups of tea.


The only thing we have is verbs;

everything else is squandered summer

running through our fingers

as we brace ourselves

for the sundry sounds of cold,

emptiness crackling

in the gaping stove.


Lucia Cherciu is a Professor of English at SUNY Dutchess in Poughkeepsie, NY, and she writes both in Romanian and in English. Her poetry appeared in “Connecticut Review,” “Connotation Press,” “Cortland Review,” “Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment,” “Memoir,” “Off the Coast,” “Paterson Literary Review ,” “The Prose-Poem Project,” “Spillway,” “Oglinda Literară,” “Pro Saeculum,” “Salonul Literar,” “Timpul,” “Hyperion,” “Contrapunct,” “Astra,” and elsewhere.


She is the author of two books of poetry: Lepădarea de Limbă (The Abandonment of Language), Editura Vinea 2009, and Altoiul Râsului (Grafted Laughter), Editura Brumar 2010.




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