Claudia Serea






Nothing of importance happened today.

—King George III’s supposed diary entry on July 4th, 1776





Danube, Danube


Dunare, Dunare, drum fara pulbere —St. O. Iosif, Cântec


Danube, Danube,

road without dust

walked only by the ghosts of the past.


Do you get lonely?


Is that why you drowned

countless fishermen, sailors,

and the entire island of Ada Kaleh?


Some can still hear roosters

crowing under water

and the toll of the bells.


You drowned the Romans at Drobeta

and the Turks at Calafat,

when they fought their way in.


And in the ‘80s, you drowned

young men crossing the border,

desperate for a way out.


Here, you part

with the glamorous waltz,

and crawl through a scarred land.



woman with sinuous body

sprawled over miles of plains.


As a boy,

my father explored your ponds,

and you rewarded him with fish.


Did you recognize him later

in his prisoner garb,

when you washed over hundreds


in the forced labor camp

from Balta Brailei—

and spared him?


Danube, sweet graveyard of bones.

Cows turn your water into milk;

sprinklers rain it on corn.


So many dead make the tomatoes fat.



song without end.


I listened

to your guttural voice for years,

singing of solitude and longing.


I could hear it from my grandmother’s home.

At night, the ghost of history

rose from your bed,


all fog and whispers

shuddering the reeds,

and seeped under her door,


under the bed sheets,

curled beside her,

embraced her with cold arms.


Danube, Danube,

this song is for you and me.


Take me to the open sea.


Rock me to sleep,

small as a shell,

roll me, a ring


on your mud fingers,

hide me

under your pelican wing.


Danube, Danube, road without dust,

take me with you

away from the past.




My father, the great stone statue



My poems are my mistakes: let me make them. My friends are my mistakes: let me have them. So what if they are the sons of workers? So what if they are not refined and well-read? You can’t keep me in a tight-lidded jar.


Don’t you see,

I’m a five-alarm fire,

not a firefly. And I don’t wanna be a doctor, I don’t want to be a doctor so you can show off and climb the social ladder, and if you need a doctor in the family, I’ll marry one.

I can’t wait to marry just to spite you, the son of a peasant just like you,

you, the great stone leader on your pedestal, with your raised hand pointing to the brilliant future only you could see.



I lived in fear of you, in a dictatorship

the size of our apartment. I was afraid but fought you anyway. At 16, I waged my own revolution,

the one of all the girls

in the world. I chanted, screamed and waived my flags in the kitchen. You were my huge Lenin statue I tied with ropes, pulled down, and dragged away.



Don’t get me wrong, I always wanted to be like you, to be you.


I wanted to have your poise,

your walk,

your sure foot. At 27, I needed to prove

that I’ve grown. I broke the news over the steaming food: I got the visa today. A cloud entered the room and sat at the table. And you, who always wanted to emigrate, you couldn’t ask me to stay. You crumbled before my eyes. You, the strong one, distant on your pedestal, broke down to pieces,

to dust. A simple man

about to lose his child.

You cry too easily, I said.



I took your tears with me and carried them 5,000 miles. I owned my suitcase and my mistakes. My heart was a flapping flag I rose in the new land to claim it and make you proud.




The greatest city on earth



Alive, it stalks us

with glowing windows.


We are the prey,

the fresh blood,

the flesh.


The greatest city on earth

breathes heavily through manholes,

exhales the smell of sweat and piss

and rotten lard.


It holds us prisoners,

even our reflections,

prisoners in panes of glass,


our better versions,

thinner, younger,


hearts full of hope

and heads full of dreams.



We are its children,

brave and defeated.


The city loves us,

holds us tight

in a deadly embrace,


and we love it right back,


We love you, Mama,

your claws, your mane,

your thirsty fangs.



Why sit

when you can walk?


Why walk

when you can run?


Run, run,

to the beat of drums,


faster and faster,

rumble and rush,

and trample over others.


Rush rush rush rush

rush rush rush rush


We march through the streets every day,

a flood of faceless gray.



And everything we build

is ruined at night.


We build it again the next day,

and again it falls apart.


We build it, build, build,

and it’s ruined again.


Higher and higher,

then low.


And we know

the towers won’t stand


until we build our love inside the walls,

our most precious love,


buried alive

inside these walls.



Without fresh blood,

the construction workers will leave.


Without the work of immigrants,

the restaurants will close.


There will be fortresses of garbage,

and rats dressed as soldiers will ask

for ID at every corner.


The greatest city on earth will crumble,

first around the edges along Battery Park.


Bricks will fall; glass will fly,

and the Lincoln Tunnel will gape

a cracked mouth.


Wind will blow the last pages written

about the greatest city on earth.


Dusk will draw a dark curtain

over deserted Times Square,

and the end of time will drift

from the blind neon signs.



I won’t let that happen to you,

beautiful, carnivorous city.


Start spreading the news.


Here I come, sweet New York.

Here’s fresh marrow to suck.


Take my life and bury it

inside your towers,


and bloom on Top of the Rock

a vivid flower.












Claudia Serea’s poems and translations have appeared in Field, New Letters, 5 a.m., Meridian, Word Riot, Apple Valley Review, among others. She is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012), A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013), To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervena Barva Press, 2015) and Nothing Important Happened Today (Broadstone Books, 2016). Serea co-hosts The Williams Readings poetry series in Rutherford, NJ, and she is a founding editor of National Translation Month.


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