Five Poems by Mihaela Moscaliuc
You Ask Why I Buy Pineapples and Let Them Go to Waste
Eastern Bloc, 1980s
This is that pineapple, western in beauty,
hard as the country it rode in the belching Dacia,
cozied in hand-me-downs impudent in their brightness.
When they knelt in the German ditch, a mile
before the border to the East, my parents wanted to forgive,
the way they'd forgiven themselves, the decision settled like coffee dregs
heavy with future. Defect, save & send, in time sneak in the children.
Drive on, unthink the West, unthink dor, bring home the pineapple.
I imagine them there, in the shadow of words,
fingers curled tight into each other's palms, bare feet
rooting the muck, the sun already west, nesting.
Once he tore his younger sister's only dress
to make lampshades for his future wife.
Once they buried flesh they knew their own,
stuffed the hole with rotting apples. She fed father
the must of her breast, painted his eyes with green colostrum.
Later she would betray him and he would wail ca o bocitoare,
break his wrist wrenching off the bed frame--
but here, in this German ditch, details no longer matter,
so they rise and push on in the Dacia groaning now
through familiar potholes, the puckered face grinning
in the rearview mirror. They'd almost lost it at checkpoint,
its unfistable heft lousy bribe material--You crazy, man?
What am I gonna do with that spiky shit?
This is the poem of the pineapple hatching on top of our rusting
Frigidaire in 1985, darling kept whole for weeks by kids
pouring in and out at the news of my parents' brief escape West.
Children sucked in the tart air, stared hard, but never asked to touch.
When hospital smells started taking over the kitchen,
mother laid out the good china plates and father rubbed his palms
ready for business. You know what happened,
you who know to core the pineapple as it peaks into sweetness,
who can slide the blade so casually, as if it's always
been yours, this two-for-five dollar token of the exotic.
The inside had collapsed into a vitreous mess,
or so it seemed with all those bloated bodies trembling
in and out of focus on the mute TV. Our latest
casualties: how they'd pushed their luck, whispered love
into the ears of the maligned Black Sea, promised hecatombs.
How they were catapulted back to shore, nameless defectors
discarded as ditch spit, spit on the clean-shaven face of Ceauşescu,
our handsome thief.
The Summer I Waited for the Revolution and Fell for Peacocks
God would be watching me anyhow--hawk and peacock,
curtain rips, owls, those blueblack coins of flesh,
all His replica, my zealot aunt warned when I announced
I'd put faith on hold, try sin on an empty stomach.
What a summer that was. My teeth bled from the root,
the nuclear fallout plumped my lips till they swelled
like a wondrous vulva. I pawned my body in hope of self-
forgiveness and joined my sisters in their search for flesh.
I mouthtrapped welts and scars, craters filled with human salt.
I had no use for the healthy, the loveable. What a summer that was.
Come my lord, plow, my lord who are slashed lettuce
by my pond, who are bent shoot, sour milk, come sweeten my tongue.
When not slapping each other with wet lizards,
the boys broke into Jimi Hendrix, tails erectile, eyes silky with ennui.
Experienced meaning, O'Connor called the plumaged trope
delivering fervor in concentric circles. Flocks of eyes
shadowed with iridescent blues and greens as on a fashion runway
strutted the trails mid-sun, ready to size up tourists.
All summer something smacked of myth--unforgivable
myth--in the vaults of my anesthetized hometown.
We revamped the mioritic ballad, gave the dreamy hero a shot of oomph,
but couldn't get the dregs of fatalism out of our mouths.
Someone west of us was pitching Xmas carols as anti-communist lampoons.
Someone east of us was snoring a red snore. Who cared?
The local orchard had acquired a peahen so we chipped in for a bribe,
but the guard was too busy hoarding favors from girls hooked on peaches.
The trees reeked of industrial detergent, but the hunt was worth it.
The peahen stood still against a trunk, glistening with albino ladybugs.
She held us in her glamour: threadbare and eyeless, beautifully stuffed.
What a summer that was. Something smacked of myth in my house,
though my parents worked hard to deny it. They fought and made peace
in some clinical sign language, and transplanted our communal plot to the balcony.
They took turns stimulating growth by rubbing bees against the dry scalps
of cabbages. At night, while they patched up their imaginary parachutes,
I sank into the tales of the woman stranger than paradise
who sewed waistcoats for chickens and mail-order swans.
I wanted the feast of her big white teeth as she bit off,
with each penned violence, her own death.
I wanted her trust in the panopticon of one's choice,
the taste of terror coursing nuque to tailbone.
I wanted to feel the ocellated coverts of the pheasant cock
against my almost lovely cheek. But what a summer that was
--hot rumors, congealed blood, the dictators' smooth faces, some comic relief
as I nurtured the cripples inside me and slept through the tease of insurrectionary hymns.
The Red Eviction
for my great-grandmother
Nine buds snapped out of her like string beans,
by the water pump, on the same patch where
she'd buried the still one. Rose hips took to the placentas,
exploded the wire lattice, spilled onto the common path.
In time, she wedded off her girls, raised their urchins,
cursed their luck if they forgot to leave the work shoes outside.
In time, she blessed the ones headed for the madhouse,
the ones pickled in alcohol, the ones who murdered
what they couldn't love or bleached the skin to pass as gadje.
When the county delivered its eviction note, she spat on it
then torched it on the church steps. She watched the villagers
watching her, quick flames at her feet, cigarette between figged lips,
hands on hips. We will build us a red-brick bus stop, they chanted,
red bus bound to the red town, red all around.
She blessed the journey with a goose:
twisted its neck by the water pump, worked the leveler
with elbows, the bucket with iron calves.
Plucked and rolled in peppered salt and lard,
the goose roasted in the firepit on a tongue of pines
while her boys hauled onto the horse-drawn cart
chests and copper pots, mirrors wrapped in shawls,
two distressed piglets, a dozen stuffed pheasants.
They ate standing by the fence, watching the mayor's Honda
barf above the ditch, two arms and a finger away.
They sucked clean the bones, skewered the rose patch.
The blood-eyed feather my mother, then eight,
tucked in her braid still seals breads in egg white.
The wishbone pins her grandmother's hair
below heaps of scrap metal roaring with chicory.
They become sweeter with age. Bolder too,
surprisingly firm when I broil them, whole,
in early winter, the reds carnal as always,
but less likely to bleed at the slightest incision.
When I release the tinfoil, the beet's hot tongue
pries open my mouth. I take it all: laced earthsmoke,
vapors rising straight from heart rot.
When I transfer the steamy root to your plate
and offer to slather it with butter, honey, goat cheese,
you decline, the very sight of them unpalatable.
I defend the loneliness of its sagging folds: pure heart throb.
I try Aphrodite-the-beetroot-goddess, her lava lips,
I try the Oracle at Delphi who claimed beets' worth in silver,
try beet-powered warriors, God Kvasir's mead of inspiration,
Rasputin's protégé (you could see it in his eyes),
then, at a loss, I riff, poorly, on the Beats.
With fingertips and knife, you peel off its singed
slip and carve the hard flesh into robust chunks.
Eat eat, don't mind me, I love seeing you eat.
You feed me your own whiskered heart,
then mine, stained fingers one with the beet.
Berenson recalls how once, upon seeing a counterfeit,
he felt an immediate discomfort in his stomach,
and that is what she feels these mornings,
cropped at wrong angles in the hallway mirror,
chipped stars in her hair, skin almost translucent--
a shade darker before it touches air,
the gnawing in her belly thrumming as she hurries
to the art class that teaches color, paid for in kind,
her body an eloquent model of afternoon stillness.
One teacher dubbed her nature's ventriloquist:
she channels rivers and thistle blades, the bite
of a lazy sunray, but has no understanding of human
expression, no artistic empathy. As students sketch, she re-roots:
the desiccated belly of her Moldavian village creek
toothed with rocks, eyed with shriveled minnows,
but she can still feel their eye, the hammock of her body
swayed by the screech of charcoals' smooth incisions.
Tonight she steals in to see herself in various stages
of completion, looks for the hand knowing enough, kind enough
to release her. Fals, fals, fals, she croons as she sloughs off
each sketch, the verdict swift as a mouse down an owl's throat,
then leaves the studio to finish off the night.
She wakes up full, pellet of fur and bones at her breast,
brand new, eyes speckled with blood.
Mihaela Moscaliuc is the author of Cemetery Ink, Immigrant Model, and Father Dirt, translator of two poetry collections, and co-editor of Border Lines: Poems of Migration. https://www.mmoscaliuc.com/
Poems reprinted with the permission of the author. Poems from Immigrant Model (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015)