On Inauguration Day I Remember a Visit to the Memorial of the Victims of Communism and of the Resistance
Behind the glass, a bloodied roll of gauze
unravels poetry stitched with wires
shed from a broom. Alone in a cell, a man
would slap Morse code onto his thigh, feeding
possibility to the other men in the block.
I walk into Iuliu Maniu’s death cell.
On the floor, a dented aluminum bowl
and spoon, empty bucket, cup.
Cot without a mattress, striped
uniform draped at the foot.
One cell is now The Poetry Room—
Morse crackling through the speakers,
photographs of anonymous wall poems:
I will die without knowing, without dying.
The man who stitched poetry in code
was condemned to death for trying
to get medical attention for a fugitive
wanted by the Securitate. Where, who, why?
I think of my sister, on another continent
—five years in America’s largest
women’s maximum security
for “resisting arrest with nonviolence”
as a teenager. Another two years for
another minor offense—now a motherless
mother with a motherless child.
I enter The Black Cell—really,
a torture room. Shackles anchored
to the stone floor of a shoebox room
without windows. Everyone else who reads
the placard at the door keeps walking.
Madness in great ones must not
(unwatched) go. In a women’s prison
outside Boston, one of my best college
students, thrown into solitary for weeks,
managed to write a paper diagnosing
Hamlet’s madness in a hole
meant to drive her mad—and turned it
in on time. The virtue of will.
Make the mad guilty and appall the free.
No one stops me as I leave the room.
In the courtyard, a grassy hill bearing citrus
covers a domed memorial. I enter
through its concrete door.
A round stone table like a retina;
its surface: water. Beeswax
candles lit in memory of someone,
of someone’s someone, flame
toward an open cross in the ceiling.
It’s starting to rain. Drops tap the table.
I am becoming aware that I might be
falling into a love beyond the limits
of restraint. I know without knowing.
Twelve lit candles light the water table.
I’ve been here alone so long
I’ve lit at least half of them.
For no one in particular.
For you, and you, and you.