Green Horses on the Walls by Cristina A. Bejan. Finishing Line Press, May 27, 2020. 46 pp
Cristina A. Bejan’s debut collection, Green Horses on the Walls (Finishing Line Press, 2020), is a 2021 Independent Press Book Award Winner and the 2021 Colorado Authors’ League Book Award for cover design which is also the author’s creation.
A spoken-word poet named Lady Godiva, Cristina A. Bejan, confers her collection the rhythm and beat of her performative act. Her reading at the Romanian Cultural Institute in March 2022 was an enthusiastic tour de force where Cristina A. Bejan’s acting skills complemented her poetry. Despite the easiness of her performative body language and enunciation, Cristina A. Bejan’s poems require a vulnerable and open heart since they address uncomfortable topics such as the crimes of communist Romania, mental health, and sexual assault. Blending Romanian, French and English, the author portrays the immigrant story of her family and through extraordinary acts of rebuilding, celebration and longing, her hyphenated identity reveals its richness.
Filled with visual and narrative streaks, her poems illustrate figments of a life that was shaped by immigration, separation, communism, trauma, while constantly negotiating the much-needed space to find balance. In her poem, “A Tricky Diaspora”, there is an accumulation of such earnest pieces that pull into forging the joint American-Romanian identity:
I’m from a tricky Diaspora
An assimilate-quick Diaspora
red lipstick, high heels, and skinny perfumed cigarettes Diaspora
The only thing we are known for is not exactly in our history—“Dracula”
Maybe that’s why we say we’re from anywhere than we actually are—“Je suis à
And I can’t actually hear the parental accent Diaspora
A my siblings cannot pronounce our family name correctly Diaspora
A too suspicious and yet too trusting Diaspora
A “Shhh, don’t talk or they will hear you,” Diaspora
A country that you’ve never heard of Diaspora
An “I silently understand eight languages” Diaspora
A no pressure to get married ever Diaspora
A sex is healthy and beautiful Diaspora
An any race is more beautiful than Caucasian Diaspora
Unless you’re a Roma…Diaspora
A politically totally confused Diaspora
This balance cannot be achieved unless there is a delicate, yet forceful, account of prejudices, failed expectations, and cultural taboos that cannot be held back, much as there is a cultural pressure to neglect or overlook such realities. The inherited trauma feeds the pain and consequently lights up Cristina A. Bejan’s poetry.
Growing up with an immigrant parent, and constantly aware of her heritage, Cristina A. Bejan’s other interests in totalitarism, genocide and communism infuse her poetry, as well. In her prose poem, “Opening the Orange Envelope”, the author offers an account of how her grandparents and parents navigated and survived communism, since their abusive arrest and imprisonment as enemies of the state to their legacy:
My father showed us who these packages were going to, with black and white photographs he pulled out of an orange envelope. When he was sleeping or out of the house, I would regularly sneak into his home office upstairs and open the orange envelope and peak into a world forbidden to me.
Topics such as sexual assault and mental health are vulnerable and require a certain willingness to address the raw details. In her poem, “Under your mattress”, such revelations are bravely delivered:
Put it under your mattress
That’s my Romanian father’s American mantra.
“Cristina, put this 200 dollars under your mattress.
Cristina, don’t tell anyone of the rape, the breakdowns, the sexual harassment.
Just stuff it under your mattress, no one looks there.
The traumatic past as a victim of sexual assault or abuse is further investigated in other poems such as “To my rapist” and “#Simplicity” that not only detail the mixed emotions but also act as an opportunity to purge the pain and come to terms with its legacy. The cathartic power of writing is the path the author embraces on her journey to deliver serenity, without ever willing to forget.
In a collection that recounts her cultural origins and the aggressions of the communist totalitarian regime, while touching sensitive subjects as sexual assault or mental health, Cristina A. Bejan invites her reader on a joyful, sorrowful journey whose vibrancy is bound to seduce their senses.
The poetry collection was also beautifully translated into Romanian by Mădălina Mangalagiu as “Cai verzi pe pereți” (Editura Tracus Arte, 2022) and can be found here: https://edituratracusarte.ro/produs/cai-verzi-pe-pereti-cristina-a-bejan/
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Clara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet with an MFA in Poetry from Adelphi University. Recipient of the Robert Muroff Poetry Award, her poems and translations appeared in Ambit, Waxwing, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. Her second poetry collection Praise the Unburied was published with Chaffinch Press in 2021. She is Review Editor of Ezra, An Online Journal of Translation.
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