Visits with Capra
An animal within to give its blessing.
– #4 from Joy Williams’ list of “Eight Essential Attributes of the Short Story and One Way It Differs from the Novel”
Capra is the name of a traditional Romanian dance,. Wearing a goat mask and sheep skip on his back, a young man and his friends dance from house to house, stopping by each door on New Year’s Eve.
New Year’s Eve is the space between one year and the next and nothing happens. Nothing happens, often with flute music. This tradition comes from the ancient Roman people and it reminds us of the celebration of the ancient Greek gods. I wear my mask with jean cut-offs on Thursday because it covers my whole face and keeps neighbors from stopping to chat or infect me.
We sit inside,
licking the lips off our beloved.
– Ching-In Chen ending the poem, “Dream: The Disappeared Loves”
I don’t want to share the entire poem which centers dreams of an ex, resurgent during pandemic. I just want to savor the end of things–the licking part.
I try to write my dreams. Last week, the dream of waking to find I had eaten my husband’s eyebrow. I knew this because I had chewed and spit out a small wad of dark fluff on the kitchen table, a strange relic I didn’t recognize until he came into the room missing an eyebrow. And the look of surprise and concern on his face–nothing in me had the energy to connect the dots. To say it is I who took your eyebrow and here are the remains of it. Instead, I pretended to help him hunt for it. I permitted mystery where there should have been confession. And yet–I did not remember eating his eyebrow.
I felt possessed. Even now, as I tuck these words into my notebook, the disorienting shape of my handwriting resembles a carnival mirror changed by carpal tunnel ache. I have never seen myself less clearly.
Thought about the leftist tendency to valorize home, natural relations. The foreigner ruins the community.
– Johannes Göransson
I email an attorney in Romania for information about my Securitate file. What did friends and family say about the child left behind by defectors? I want answers. It is American to believe I can receive them, to assume access to the opinions of others gathered as facts. The attorney’s name is Vlad. His away message notes that he will be traveling by train into the Carpathians because he does not drive a car.
Someone mentions a goat on social media. Sleep is subdivided by islands of wakefulness, and being awake, or fresh woke, is pocked with islets of sleep. I am tired of sleeps’ corrective hygiene regimes as I am tired of following instructions in order to prove myself innocent of failing to be present or even alive.
See: you are tired. Come to bed.
The daughters dream: growing fangs; little dragons eating their friends’ eyes; best friends dying because they lied about lipstick; a castle made from alligator fangs; only the daddies survive.
With the Romanians, the goat was believed to be the animal that could show if the weather was to be fine or foul. Most certainly at first the “capra” dance (the kiling, the mourning, the burial, the resurection) was a solemn ceremony, a part of the cult. As part of the agrarian festivities the dance has become a ritual designed to bring fertility in the coming year, an increase in the number of animals in the shepherds’ flocks, bumper crops – invoked and evoked by the grains flung by the host over the procession of the „capra”.
-from a piece titled “Romanian Christmas” on a blog
What did you do?
What I read. Stood naked in the backyard moonlight of a waxing moon and recited three times, “Sister Luna, Sister Stella, femmi crescere questa mammella.”
What did it mean?
Holy moon, holy star, make my breasts grow. Did it work?
I don’t know. I got distracted by Emma Goldman.
The woman considers her position as worker transitory, to be thrown aside for the first bidder. That is why it is infinitely harder to organize women than men.
– Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays
In the story which starts off Emma Goldman, I wove my words into brilliant red flags for the workingmen of Cleveland but all they wanted was an eight-hour workday. A few days without pay and sand between toes. My head surged with unstamped postcards, the words spilling from
my mouth like a litter of unwanted puppies. Where is your courage to wave revolution? Do you think the industrialists will fight for your freedom?
A working-voice crumpled like cardboard from beneath his straw hat, a man who said he didn’t have time for revolution, time being the heart of what he lacked, two hours less work in one day would be two hours more to read, two hours more to spend time with family and stroll along the cleaner streets, two hours to plant a seed that might grow into a plant he could feed. He wanted to live like a human. The 8-hour day was enough, the men tired. This revolution never-ending.
The same as in the other dances with masks performed during the winter holidays, in the “capra” dance, besides the classical masks, the goat, the shepherd, the gipsy, the woodman masks of „devils” and of
„greybeards” were introduced, where yells, lusty cheers, funny gestures, intensified the cheerful, humorous aspect, at times lending it a nuance of grotesque.
– from a piece titled “Romanian Christmas” on a blog
I read that growing older for women includes fewer dreams of being victimized. I say dreams when I mean nightmares are normal. The shell near my feet comes back in the breath between falling and rising. The mothers stay woke for a kitchen. Vlad responds to my email with his GPS coordinates.
You’re my Moby Dick, White Witch,
Symbol of rope and hanging tree, Of the burning cross.
Loving you thus And hating you so
– Eldridge Cleaver, “To A White Girl”
[Aside to self who cannot find an entry into the essay] Follow the money. Not the words, the public prayers, the pageant idolatries of state Christianity but the dollar dollar dollar. The bling effect. Call it profit or pay-out. Call it the dirty secret of every American dream. Call it tailgating for the broken hearted. Ideologies function like fidget-spinners, catchy trends to entertain and distract the masses. It’s not the -ism but the empowered dick-tater that counts.
[Aside to self who keeps asking why she’s obsessed] Because you’ve read 28 books on Hitler. Even more on Stalin. Because you’ve read enough political dissidents to know most people don’t protest a criminal regime so long as baseball practice continues. Most people won’t. So long as there are parades, flags, and patriotism to distract them. Or silence them. Because you know most people readily sacrifice liberty for a false sense of security–and conscience for assurance they can be part of the crowd. You read everything. You create fake profiles in manosphere hangouts,
subreddit your way through Friday nights, do anything to get inside their heads. To understand their rage, taste the tendrils of their entitled resentment.
“Spatial and temporal context both have to do with the neighboring entities around something that help define it. Context also helps establish the order of events. Obviously, the bits of information we’re assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing both of these kinds of context.
Scrolling through the feed, I can’t help but wonder: What am I supposed to think of all this? How am I supposed to think of all this? I imagine different parts of my brain lighting up in a pattern that doesn’t make sense, that forecloses any possible understanding. Many things in there seem important, but the sum total is nonsense, and it produces not understanding but a dull and stupefying dread.”
– Jenny Odell, “Why Does This Feel So Bad?“, The Paris Review, 19 April 2019
I can’t help parts of my brain lighting up on Twitter. Lighting forecloses context around neighboring entities. What am I, Facebook? How am I missing? Order also helps understanding total nonsense. Nonsense is totally understanding scrolling through wonder. Wonder is how I am supposed to think in a pattern that forecloses lighting the sum total is bits. We’re assailed in there. I imagine spatial entities like cave events where things grow up or down and we are there for the selfies. Vanessa was there first. Ellen followed her through the feed. No one was here. Everyone missed out on the stupefying dread.
One character that I loved to hate for his incapacity to develop. He didn’t even have a name. He was just this guy that said: “A bird in the hand may be a tush in the bush”.
-The Porch in an interview with an essay, July 2020
The Capra offers his flesh as a sacrifice on our front porch. A neighbor brings a carving knife. The post-person opens his mouth and speaks bullets. He has a gun and a small spade attached to his waist. My kids say the goat must die because this is what happens to sad goats in the story. I say this is not a story–this is the performance of restitution in a romanian context which our friends will misunderstand.
Attorney General John Ashcroft believed calico cats were a sign of the devil. He made sure the International Criminal Court at the Hague had no calicos on its premises.
-Democratic Treasurer and financial writer Andrew Tobias in 2001
A young teacher dies of COVID-19 in south Alabama. The media descriptions infuse the event with romance–she loved teaching, she would have died for her students.
What’s so romantic about dying young to everyone who isn’t dying young? What makes pain look good on Juliet and bad on an incel? How is the aspirational suicide more normal than we care to remember once we’ve grown into paying the mortgage? Is the joy of being mourned or missed a secret code to communicate the need for proof that one’s life matters?
I wake up wanting to be remembered the way I remember others which is a ravishment.
I think it’s fabulous that you still have poetry in this difficult time.
-The neighbor who makes and sells Reborn babies online
Poetry grants significance by consecrating the formal constraints of “how it feels”, by permitting the simultaneous terror and beauty of life to exist in tension, to be both common and uniquely situated in context, to taste both courage and weakness without choosing which part to privilege. This is not a virtue poetics or pedagogy. This is how it feels to write. And erase.
Write me back. I need some more documents.
Confirmed: there is a secret police file with my name on it in the Romanian state archives.
I think everyone wants to make something touchable, but most of us don’t out of fear of being laughable. I’m not saying I’m fearless.
– Jenny Zhang, “How It Feels”
The fear of being facsimilie draws our attention to the threshold and keeps us from risking much. It is not unusual for a large group of poets to become a flock of Baptists nodding and policing newcomers for appropriate display of dogma and performance of good poet. That’s a tattoo and a t-shirt. That’s the hashtag’s hold on the modern heart. We want to be read so we fashion ourselves readable, relevant, cool.
Poets are not cool. There is nothing cool about poetry. There is nothing blasé about a poet who courts words in a way that demands paying attention to the overlooked, the undone, the least popular. A bird just pooped on this page. This poop is part of the poem’s impurity, parcel to the need not to turn or erase the unexpected. A poem that cannot make space for shit is too fragile to touch us.
You look relaxed and somehow Victorian.
– You in that dream
A packed room and an elevator, or a staircase, I had ascended alone. It was expensive: the catering, the floral arrangements, the long tables decorated for eyes seeking status. We were both there with others, with partners, with people we loved in safety. You changed chairs to sit beside me–and you were thin, scooped somehow, generous. You touched my cheek and time vanished. Time was like nothing in your hands.
But I have always looked better on paper than in the flesh where the body may fail, where the body’s story of failure requires redemption, where the borders of memory are muted by hidden grenades.
Was it that you forgave me? Or what you said–
that I was faithful in the way that mattered for the story I need to tell with your name.
– What you said
And though I can imagine you saying this in bitterness, you did not. Your napkin untouched in the bowl, your eyes like spoons scooping behind me, holding me still in a hospital where I couldn’t sleep without your breath in my ear.
There were yesterday’s clouds arranged as flowers on blue tables. Your eyes and mine feasting on silence, on the unsaying, on the understanding that what had been would always be a first tonal range. Your partner was a boy I knew from Catholic school and I wondered if this was part of the way you changed, or the reason for the unthreatened position of your arms. It was so real, so real, as in rooted in realism, as in you said your surrogate had miscarried on the day I sent an abortion poem to you.
Where was I then outside living and dying in a fluctuating tempo? At a point where I was ephemeral to you therefore innocent, squandered by summer and distance?
It is a trance I rewind again because part of who I am is the girl that loved you and learned how to hear her name handled outside scorn, disgust, xenophobia but with all the beauty of life and desire and this body in it. This body, this body in it.
After she hugged me, I stared at the dull November leaves and thought only how it might have been wrong, the name I added to the Goodbye and what did that look on her face mean if she wasn’t Suzanne? What did anything mean at all? I wrote a story about Suzanne that seemed to be about other characters.
– Capra 2020, in an unpublished interview on a porch
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her partner and several intense mammals. RIBALD, a prose chapbook, is now available from Bull City Press. Her writing can be found in diverse journals, including Prairie Schooner, North American Review, FLOCK, Southern Humanities Review, Crab Creek Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Virga, Whale Road Review, and others. She still can’t believe (or deserve) any of this. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com.