Inclusion and Exclusion in Our Daily Lives
PART V: FAMILY & HISTORY
When I was born, father could still do John Travolta impressions. Polyester shirts clung to his chest and shoulders, and pants bulged where they should instead of trying to hide the bulge of his stomach. That was before I was born, before America. Now at three in the morning he’s in the kitchen, and it sounds like mice have gotten into the cupboards. Wrappers crinkle, boxes tear open, the fridge hisses open and closed. He cannot sleep at night. Hasn’t been able to for years. First it was his father, dead only days after his wedding, then leaving family and home never to return. Then it was the immigrant jokes, calloused insults, lost jobs over his accent. Then it was the heart attack that finally knocked him down, forced him to lie on his back, helpless without choice like a wounded animal. These days father gets out of bed shrouded in long shadows cast by passing cars on Queens Boulevard, his big belly pointing the way as he groans like an old man. I hear his heavy grunts, the tired breath through thin bedroom walls as he makes his way to the kitchen where light outlines the door in dreamy white. There he’ll sit hunched over the square wood table top shoving food in his mouth until mother wakes from his absence, yells at him to stop. He eats now, drinks, anything, not because he’s hungry, but to keep away the rumble of longing for times when he felt he was needed, listened to, respected. If there wasn’t enough food at least there was enough work to keep his mind occupied and help him forget that he’s never worked a single day for himself and that men his own age treat him like a child when strange syllables get stuck to his tongue the way snowflakes pause then disappear without a trace.
FEAR HAS A WAY OF REMEMBERING US
Because in the right light the horizontal bars on her plastic window blinds appear like cuts made by the rolling treads of a German tank, my aunt stays hidden behind thick, dark curtains drawn tight with stickpins. That’s how she lives her old days in America, always anticipating the next Nazi raid, twin engine planes and sirens blaring, clocking with precision the hours of night when she crouched huddled underground, hoarding meager rations of water and bread. Like a soldier returning home, she talks of suffering, of the shattered lives she left along desolate fields in ’44 but which like a recurring nightmare never give her peace outside the house, not a single step without a cautious glance. Even now, tucked away in suburban Queens, her house is a modern day bunker, iron grate windows and doors bolted, alarmed at the twist of a silver key that she keeps safety pinned during the day to the elastic waistband of her skirt. These days, with her favorite TV shows as daily interruptions, she still expects a bomb to drop and detonate, disaster lurking around every corner.
In these poems, who is doing the including? Why?
In “Fear Has a Way of Remembering Us” and “Insomnia” I explored the experience of two generations of Romanian immigrants to the United States, both of which came in the wake of violent conflicts. In the former, my aunt arrived in the U.S. following World War II and in the latter my father (and the rest of our family) arrived in the U.S. following the Romanian revolution of 1989. I was interested by what those moments of trauma leave imprinted in our minds and on our personalities and for how long we carry them with us. I believe that no matter what the immigrant experience holds for us, there are parts of ourselves that can never be forgotten, excised, or even forgiven.
For the immigrant, life I feel is always lived with one foot in one door and one foot in another. The extent to which we switch or travel between these physical and psychological locations depends on a multitude of factors that differs from individual to individual. Trauma, fear, paranoia, poverty, persecution – all play a role in how we navigate our two worlds. One thing that doesn’t change, however, is the knowledge that something of ourselves, of our past, has been changed forever, if not completely lost.
ANDREI GURUIANU is a Romanian-born writer living in New York. He is the author of a poetry collection, Days When I Saw the Horizon Bleed (FootHills Publishing, 2006) and a chapbook, It Was Like That Once (Pudding House, 2008). He is pursuing a Ph.D. in English at Binghamton University, and teaches writing at Ithaca College, NY. He is the founder and editor of the literary journal The Broome Review (www.thebroomereview.com). He is also the editor of the forthcoming anthology Twenty Years After the Fall (Wising Up Press).