Thieves – A Poem by Clara Burghelea

The Children – Childe Hassam

Poetry by Clara Burghelea

In the belly of summer
heat peels off like onion skin,
the burning ribcage of the day
cracks open and more sweltering air spills out.
Five of us sit on the pavement,
exchanging first-class stamps.
Guinea Bissau is the much-craved winner.
We spend days
begging for coins from our parents
to buy more envelopes,
hearts pounding
as we open them.

The stamps are tiny, too delicate for sticky fingers.
Histories of nations lie within the perforated edges
and teach us to practice vigilance.
We squint to capture the details.
‘Look, there is a hair stuck to every Guinea Bissau!’
‘Nah, you are imagining.’
Only two of us found the golden stamps
and proudly keep our books open
for sighs and envious gazes.
Wildly colored mushrooms
reveal their flashy caps
to curious eyes
that dilate in fascination.
All lavish stamps are framed
by a golden rim.

The rest of us look
at our useless Romanian stamps
and try to swap them for Russian ones
whose rectangular shapes work better
in our albums. No value whatsoever.

When all negotiation ends
we are reminded of our hungry stomachs.
Without much planning
but performing a well-known routine
we head for the marketplace.

Piles of egg-shaped striped
watermelons ripe in the quiet sun.
Behind them, tired farmers
rest their aching limbs
on colorful rugs, hats over
eyes, calloused palms on chests.
Two of us keep a lookout
wandering, hands in pockets
no worry in the world.
The other three tiptoe
and circle the dusty fruit.
They stop to listen to the wheezing
breath of the farmer,
punctured by coughing spells.
When the voice of a mother
calling her son,
breaks the silence,
they grab the prey and run laughing.
The farmer jumps to his feet,
confused, alarmed.


Inside our apartment building,
under the staircase,
we crack the watermelon open
and thrust our teeth
into its pink flesh.
Juice dripping down chins and elbows,
we spit seeds at each other,
precious ammunition
that ends up under our tacky feet.
A morsel of life eaten.
And time, the unaware thief.


About the Poet

Clara Burghelea is a Romanian-born English poet. Recipient of the 2018 Robert Muroff Poetry Award, she got her MFA in Creative Writing from Adelphi University. Her poems, fiction and translations have been published in Full of Crow Press, Ambit Magazine, HeadStuff, Waxwing and elsewhere. Her collection “The Flavor of the Other” is scheduled for publication in 2019 with Dos Madres Press.

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