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 Bringing together historical documents of the era, lines of other authors with her “censoring” interventions, and Stadnicka’s own moving poetry, this is the poet’s fourth collection both written and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.
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.