Poem of the Week | August 18, 2012

This week we’re kicking off fall semester with a poem from our brand new issue (Summer: 35.2). Andrea O’Rourke is from Rijeka, Croatia. During the day she attends the MFA program at Georgia State University in Atlanta. At nights she’s been seen in black latex gloves tackling massive canvases with spatulas and acrylics. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Spoon River Poetry Review, Poet Lore, Anderbo and PANK, among other publications.

Author’s Statement:

It’s a fascinating place, the Balkans— the failed ideologies still linger in the background of the dramatically beautiful Adriatic coast and the heated temperaments of people. This batch of poems reflects the life of that region, mostly Croatia, and spans from World War II (“Would It Surprise You I Don’t Like Mornings”) through the break up of Yugoslavia, particularly the wars in Croatia (“In the Absence of Grass”) and Bosnia (“Sarajevo Cycle”). More importantly, they are about growing up at that time when the shared Yugoslavian experience was collapsing. That was a peculiar generational experience, like waking up hungover to a ransacked reality—what anyway used to be a dubious-looking future, turned into nationalism, warfare and bloodshed. This is my Southern European self speaking here, and while the narratives are based on complex historical and political events, these are primarily individual stories. A lot happens in these poems, but it could be boiled down to love and war in the most general way: wars on domestic as well as national fronts, lives in shadows, and occasionally love—unexpected as a …  Jester Among the Rubble, which is the working title for what is to become a full manuscript.

Would It Surprise You I Don’t Like Mornings?

How bright the bombs must have looked
as the dawn stretched thin across the hills,
shrapnel sleeting on the terracotta roofs.


For another sixty years, every time she’d step out
of her bungalow, she’d face the monument—
ten yards ahead the shell of her old house now storage:
trunks of fabrics, potatoes sprouting in mesh bags,
the stink of drying prosciutto, pigs feet. I like to think
she’d always turn left to the solid stone well,
1902 chiseled on its base, planters rusting
(pomodori pelati cans), the screen of blue grape vines
taut like boat ropes overgrown with moss. I remember
my aunts grumbling under that shade and to the right,
in bell-bottoms, my uncle slouching in a plastic chair—
long sideburns, the sheen of scissors in mom’s hands
and the graying tufts falling on grass like ashes. I remember
mom’s cheeks being higher than the hills, Nona’s breasts
pulled and vein-ridden like grapeskin, and Nono
singing and twirling with Linda, his dog.
No one spoke about the ruin, no one mentioned her two boys
found in the woods, slaughtered with partisans,
their oldest brother sniped while passing a window
in his room at the general hospital. No one remembered
her first husband’s name, or the name of the neighbor
who called him out at 5 a.m., then returned two hours later
for coffee and grappa she had to offer, her Italian husband
prostrate in a grove, executed with other suspected
Fascists. No one talked about how that was the house
Germans bombed and how that morning the shadows
must have been audible moments before the planes—
Jesus clamoring on the cross above the front door,
the tremor like no other, the dust. Perhaps a cry.
Nona thrown under her Singer sewing machine,
its treadle in perpetual up-down, the fabric slipping
and the baby, another boy, crushed by the roof beams.
Then the silence.
Like our secrecy. They say joy is a choice
but no one mentions victims. So, hushed it stays. Back home
you spread, almost asleep. I make here there, glide over
your forbidden back and lip the scar under your ear. We do this
each night, never let the daylight see it. Victims ruin it.