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‘The best weapons against dreams’: 2 poems on Ceaușescu’s orphans

'The best weapons against dreams': 2 poems on Ceaușescu’s orphans

22 January 2021
Images: Antonia Glücksman

UK-based Romanian poet Maria Stadnicka’s forthcoming Buried Gods Metal Prophets, published by Guillemot Press, is an astonishing collection of poems, and a testament to the tens of thousands of children who grew up in Romanian orphanages under Nicolae Ceaușescu. Bringing together historical documents of the era, lines of other authors with her “censoring” interventions, and Stadnicka’s own moving poetry, this is the poet’s fourth collection both written and published in English.

Drawing from her own experiences as a teacher at an orphanage in the eastern Romanian town of Botoșani, as well as from interviews with women performing illegal abortions, and her own siblings, who lived in an orphanage before they started school, Stadnicka says this book “cements her personal interest in reopening the subject of the trauma lived by the decreței” — the generation of Romanians born between 1967 and 1989, following Ceaușescu’s abortion ban. While the number of abandoned children surged over those 23 years, a parallel phenomenon also took place: working parents lacking the funds, childcare facilities, or relatives, to look after their offspring, often sent their children away to be raised in orphanages. Indeed, this was the case of the HIV-positive children Stadnicka worked with in the Botoșani orphanage. Her own parents toiled in three different shifts at factories, with no remaining time for their five children. “I was raised by my grandparents and other relatives, while my siblings were raised by the state,” she says.


On the first day of school

I stop by a Girl in Hyacinth Blue

and with a sharp tool scratch her eyes,

kick her silent in a pile of wood.

In assembly, I turn up barefoot,

punch a dog in a fight for

the best seat at the cinema,

then escape through a window

during the fire drill.

A bird notices me drawing swastikas

on the toilet door. It is nine o’clock.

Headmistress invites father to a political chat.

She reports the facts from a book

with many missing chapters. Acceptance, she says,

the best weapon against dreams.

It rains and the world smells of people.

Father’s navy-blue overalls pace up and down

in the quiet corner of the school library.

At night, I cough out a nuclear war.

Father removes the poetry stuck in my throat.

Radioactive Milk

After curfew, she knocks on a door

two streets down. 16 Lenin Avenue.

A man who looks like a dentist

takes her in. On the kitchen table

he checks how many weeks have gone.

She takes the poison, paying the bill.

My arms, legs shaped from her blood,

kick, punch, grow in confinement.

Her waters feed me.

She asks a witch for spells, swallows

the words with cups of tears

until her milk turns sour. One night

the curse shoots out of her womb

and starts walking. For some reason

the newly born survives.

Buried Gods Metal Prophets will come out on 11 February, with Guillemot Press.

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