Tara Skurtu

the poet

Tara Skurtu is an American poet, writing coach, and speaker. A two-time U.S. Fulbright grantee and recipient of two Academy of American Poets prizes, a Marcia Keach Poetry Prize, and a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, she is the author of the chapbook Skurtu, Romania and the full poetry collection The Amoeba Game. Tara is based in Bucharest and leads creativity seminars and writing workshops internationally.

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the poems

Hum

for Indrė

00:00 / 01:13

Are you aching? The poet held my hand 
at the edge of the world’s smallest village. 
Think of pain as a plane. She wanted me 
to forgive what I couldn’t forgive.
Only the side door to the Assumption
of Mary was unlocked—she knelt 
at the Virgin’s painted feet and prayed, 
and I took pictures of a crucified Jesus 
in a fishbowl under the alter table. 
She wanted me to love the man 
I couldn’t love. It may take a year. 
Outside, she translated, word for word,
a Lithuanian saying: “When you fall 
down drunk, the ground will catch you.” 
My god is no god but the God 
of Human Will. I needed the poet’s prayer, 
I wanted her to will my forgiveness 
to bloom. A bruise is a plane: 
I fell, the ground caught me, I got up.

Writing Poetry is Like

Fielding Ground Balls

00:00 / 01:47

Someone is smoking in the lavatory
and one of the flight attendants says 
shit and she gets on the mic and says
whoever this is will be prosecuted 
to the fullest extent of the law 
upon landing
while I’m writing 
I hate ballpoint pens 
with a ballpoint pen because 
they don’t spray my period-brown 
ink all over the white designer jeans 
of the gorgeous Miami woman
to my right—which was how I learned
not to write poems in a metal box 
in the sky with a 1930s Sheaffer 
fountain pen—and I was the one 
waiting at the lavatory door 
when we all smelled the smoke
and didn’t know what to do and I’d 
already been between two bombs
at a bombing, so after being ordered
back to my seat with a full bladder 
of wine, I order a whiskey, and this 
turns the Romanian flight attendant on,
who winks and gives me nuts and olives 
on the house, and by now I know 
again we aren’t about to explode 
this time, and swallow my nip 
and eat my snacks and continue, 
with this ballpoint pen I hate, 
working on what will, nineteen days 
short of two years from now, become 
a poem, and we land in Bucharest 
and everyone but me claps in perfect 
post-communist unison and 
the smoking man gets away with it.

Penance

00:00 / 01:58

But it was I who held your arm 
as the three gravediggers hammered
your father’s narrow coffin shut.
It was I who drank every pour 
of your mother’s vi
șinată, sucked 
the liquored meat of each sour 
cherry from its pit, swallowed 
even the floating worms. 
But it was also I who disobeyed 
the two saggy-breasted, callous-
handed babas in headscarves, 
who, after asking if I knew anyone 
at the funeral, scolded me
in Romanian for placing 
twelve marvelous white roses 
on the grave and not in the village 
church, where they’d live longer,
be admired by the living. It was I 
who wiped the vi
șinată vomit 
from your face, wiped it from 
your arms and hands with my hands 
in the back of the backyard before dark. 
Daily I wipe everyone else’s piss 
from public toilet seats. And daily 
I let traitors kiss my cheeks 
in public—but tonight, 
in my sleep, I’m finally arriving
in outer space. I’m in orbit with 
my husband, whom I’m leaving 
for no one. We’re breathing air 
that’s just air and I want to go 
back to our speck on the sliver 
of earth out the window, but 
this is now and I am here, 
so tonight we’re in space 
for years, and this may shorten
my life—but what a view!

Publishing credits

Hum: Poetry Wales
Writing Poetry is Like Fielding Ground Balls: AGNI

Penance: The Baffler

© original authors 2020

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