Nothing Left to Do

Photo by Lora Ninova via Unsplash

The first draft of this poem was written in the spring of 2018, during NaPoWriMo. Grateful to Maureen Thorson for her Day 18 prompt (and all the other prompts).

Nothing Left to Do


You must forget what came before,
how really there was no cloud
of mosquitos that night, only a stinging
flurry of words, how everything happened
too fast once she arrived, and how
you were the only one left to bury her.
Afterwards, you ate and cried as you ate,
the toast black like the black soil
you kept turning inside your mind,
covering and uncovering a grave.

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke, so you
sat there, waiting, eating the burned
toast, raising your hands in surrender
to imaginary knocks on the door.
The makeshift table wobbled, half-chewed
by termites. The TV flickered on mute.
You made your own news, platefuls
of it, the gift of an alternate reality,
where the world was still the same, but
was played back in reverse, and last night
with its soft-pink center was yet to come,
led by the peace of a dreamless sleep.
You paced in front of the open hearth,
forking your memory like a bale of hay.
Three doors down, the Russian neighbor
sang a drunken song. You hated his raspy
voice, his blatant disregard for the tune,
and you wanted to be there with him.

You would have cast off your own
murderous hand if you could have,
as it rose to wipe regret from your eyes
and came down covered with soot.
You knew it was fear, like you knew
you couldn’t return yesterday’s bland
morning, when people still looked
heavenward to soothe their anguish.
That’s not how things happened,
not for you. You left the apartment
and walked beneath tall, sprawling trees
that took root in the soil of your palms.
The streets had emptied. Lighted
windows passed you by and you tried
to guess how many hid your kind
of darkness. You envied the ones letting in
all that air scented with green.

You went back to the woods, where
the birds were just waking up,
where the roots with their obsession
with digging deep, and the branches
with their hunger for growing, and
the leaves with their thirst for drinking
up the sky were almost enough
to forget. And you let your grief shoot
up like a tree inside your body, you let it
splinter your bones and tangle you
lovingly by the neck, you let it rustle
into your ear how there was nothing,
nothing left to do, but dig.


First published in American Literary Review, Spring 2020

4 thoughts on “Nothing Left to Do

Add yours

  1. Romana, lovely to read you again. Just curious: was your poem a reply to another as the prompt prompted? Did you go verse by verse in reverse?

    Another, unrelated thing: I’ve just been reading (and revising my friend’s translation of) Tatiana Țîbuleac: Grădina de sticlă. Do you know it? Sooo strong it’s maddening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Manja, thank you so much for reading.💜 I have yet to make my way to your website after falling off the NaPoWriMo wagon–but I will soon!

      I did use a source poem, namely Gregory Djanikian’s “First Supper in the New Country,” and responded to each line backwards. My lines were long and messy and I ended up with a sprawling text, which I then whittled down to its current version. This exercise was so inspiring that I now use it as a warm-up practice whenever I’m stuck.

      I haven’t read Țîbuleac’s book, but have heard of it from a couple of friends back at home. It’s on my ‘to read’ list (along with her first novel). The action takes place in my hometown after all! I’m so glad to hear you’re helping someone translate it. And by the way, I’m impressed by your use of Romanian diacritics.🙌

      Liked by 1 person

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