Monday, April 29, 2013

Claudia Serea, Angels and Beasts

ANGELS & BEASTS by Claudia Serea
102 pages; $13.95. September 2012. Paper.

In this largely autobiographical collection of 74 short prose poems, the poet presents her life in three sections. “Angels & Beasts” recalls her early years under the regime of Nicolae Ceasescu, a world of secret terror in which the child interweaves reality and malevolent creatures from Romanian folklore. “The Little Book of Answers” covers the years between the Romanian Revolution (1989) and Serea’s emigration to America in 1995. Finally, “The Bank Teller’s Name is Jesus” involves the immigrant’s impressions of her new home, always colored by the past she carries with her. Serea’s masterful use of brevity, surrealism, irony, and black humor allow her to express — and the reader to
confront — unspeakable horrors. She is a survivor, but a survivor with wide-open
eyes, determined to move forward holding the darkness and light together.


Serea’s Angels & Beasts manages to perfectly blend quirky surrealism with expert minimalist craft: her sentences are woven with a stunning attention to detail, seemingly stitched with the same blood, fruit and tears that she writes about. When she writes, “The pears were small red tears we weren’t allowed to eat,” the reader cannot help but to feel as if she devoured something forbidden. The body is on high when reading Serea.
—Lisa Marie Basile, MFA, author of Andalucia and A Decent Voodoo, and editor of Patasola Press, The Poetry Society of New York

These prose poems are as sharp as the shrapnel from a nail bomb. They leave you shaken and bloodied and awed that anything so small can be so powerful.
—Howie Good, Ph.D., professor of journalism at SUNY New Paltz, author of Dreaming in Red (Right Hand Pointing, 2012)

There is so much to admire in these firecrackers from Claudia Serea: the simple elegance of her language, the deep mythos of her vision, the sheer architecture of each narrative, and—most dear to this reader—the startling brilliance of her endings, which teach us to leap from the ruts of our own expectations and see our world anew.
—Jeff McMahon, editor of Contrary Magazine, Lecturer, Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, Committee on Creative Writing, The University of Chicago

Claudia is heir to horrors, and she whispers her inheritance to children, who run delighted through sunlit fields. Read her poems and become those children.
—Don Zirilli, editor of Now Culture

Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet who immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. She is the author of two other full-length poetry collections, To Part Is to Die a Little, Cervená Barva Press, and A Dirt Road Hangs from the Sky, 8th House Publishing, Canada, and
two chapbooks, and her poems and translations have appeared in many journals. Together with Paul Doru Mugur and Adam J. Sorkin, she co-edited and co-translated The Vanishing Point That Whistles, an Anthology of Contemporary Romanian Poetry (Talisman Publishing, 2011). Ms. Serea lives in New Jersey and works in New York for a major publishing company. A rising star in the world of contemporary surrealist poetry,
she received two Pushcart nominations in 2011.


Some angels walk among us looking just like regular people. Sometimes they even play football, like this guy with a sweaty t-shirt. He takes a long drink of water and looks at me knowingly. When he pulls his shirt overhead, I can see the scars where the wings fasten. I bet he has them neatly folded in the duffle bag he carries after the game.

The chicken bones

Some people could roll over three times and turn into dogs. There were a lot of stray dogs around. They traveled in packs, following us on the sides of the road. Mother always threw them some chicken bones, which bought us just enough time to escape.
There was no escape. Soon, we were the chicken bones that another family on our street threw at the dogs. They, too, were trying to buy time to escape but stumbled, fell, and accidentally rolled over three times, turning into chicken bones that someone else threw at the dogs. That went on for a while, and is still going on today.

Her back is turned. The head kerchief covers her hair as if she should be ashamed she has any. She keeps stirring the pot  on the stove, but I know only chicken feet float in that soup.  The dust in the room is a thousand years old and keeps rising to her ankles, to her knees.

White as milk, the stag carries the souls of dead children. He drinks the tears from their mothers’ eyes and grazes on thin memory grasses. He stops at the abandoned house to rummage through the rubble, looking for small clothes. The children’s souls are nestled in silk swings hooked on the stag’s antlers. He carries them gently over treetops and roofs, and into the moon.


Gaia’s wings could turn the day into night. Circling the sky, it followed Grandma everywhere as angels follow people. When time came, Grandma saw Gaia waiting outside the window. She tried to warn me, but her voice was garbled. In an instant,
Gaia was inside the room. It swooped down, grabbed Grandma’s breath and flew off, leaving behind a whirlpool of red petals.

I send you transparent love letters that barn swallows sow in the sky  when I miss you.
The swallows are great mail carriers: they fly fast and low, preserving the letters’ sentiments. Sometimes their job makes them late for school, and they get punished: they have to sit
for hours on a wire and sing in unison.

Dearest little one,

a hummingflower flies from bird to bird,
sipping sweet songs from their throats.

Taste me later rather than sooner, sings the bone in the stew.
Suck my marrow for a taste of spring grass. By tomorrow, I’ll hum,
and fire will bring out the choir.
Dip a wooden spoon inside me, answers the stew.
I have the fragrance of roots and of the life of the lamb. Lift me to your lips,
and take it all in.

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