White lab coats When I was still in Romania, studying to become a chemical engineer like my father, he asked me how I see my future. I’d like to work in a factory, like you, I said, walk fast and solve problems, like you, and my white lab coat would fly behind me like a cape, or wings. Everyone would move faster, energized, once their problems were solved. I must have been 14 at the time, and wasn’t kidding. Since then, I have learned I can’t solve anyone’s problems. I can’t even solve my own most of the time. And many things move rather slowly, slowly, toward disaster, and no white lab coats ever flutter. My doppelgänger Sometimes, the ghosts reach out of their dimension small, transparent hands and snatch an earring, a scarf, an umbrella, or whatever else they fancy, or send a flash of forgetfulness so they can rob at will. That’s how I lost so many things: jewelry, clothes, keys, a pen with gold-plated nib in third grade, and books I lent to others, never returned. Once, I walked out of the dorm for the summer, leaving behind a cupboard full of turtlenecks, fluffy sweaters, and mohair dresses Mom had knitted for me. I still didn’t tell her I don’t have them anymore. I lost another earring today—but I was most heartbroken when I lost Mom’s brooch I carried pinned to my breast across the ocean. It matched the knitted burgundy mohair dress. I imagine the sticky fingers spirit that now wears it is the same one who got the necklace last year: my doppelgänger, completing the look. Let her have it. Let the ghosts be happy in their world with whatever they steal from ours: gloves for cold hands, mismatched socks from the dryer for their icy feet, a hat, a computer, wallets, lottery tickets, and bills. Let those losses be the only ones I’ll suffer. I’ll get new earrings anyway. A village in Romania The wind blows love letters on the streets and black and white photos with scalloped edges. Here, on the bottom of a well, I find the poems I once wrote. And here’s the guy that first kissed me: I remember his muscular mouth, his tongue taste of cold mollusk, but I don’t remember his name. Moths flutter over the main road where skinny horses pull wagons loaded with Latin verbs, logarithm formulas, Mendeleev’s Table, Ceausescu’s Theses for the brilliant future, le subjonctif, and technical drawings of useless contraptions. Forgetfulness is a village in Romania by the amnesiac Black Sea where secret police generals retire to open B&Bs and sing in the church choir, where former snipers and revolutionaries drink together in the local pub, and everything I once learned disappears in the dust that rises and swallows a house where an old woman sits at the table, throwing a fistful of corn seeds with a spell— 41 seeds, 41 brothers— to find out what the king is doing.
Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet with work published in Field, New Letters, Gravel, Prairie Schooner, The Malahat 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.