“Things” by Gabi Reigh

romanian rev
1989 Romanian Revolution, Radio Bucharest

The day they shot the Ceausescus on TV

My mother sent me to the shop to buy

I don’t remember what

But can still see

That greasy gem of butter,

A sweaty cornea of fat

Trapped by the lens of the delicatessen counter.

I say delicatessen. There wasn’t much

(Before the shrill embarrassment

Of frail despotic voices pleading for their lives from a makeshift courtroom)

There wasn’t much to buy

(Before their drowsy shuffle

In the open air of what could have been my schoolyard

Or a cosy patch where engineers smoke their breaks away)

In that delicatessen,

Except, invariably,

The jars of clouded peas, gathering dust,

(And that astounding gasp

Surfing the waves of satellite

From lung to lung

Sealing us all together for one last time

With those recumbent bodies)

As if accusing us.

Things – that’s what freedom meant back then,

That gorgeous alp of butter,

Things to spread on bread, to try, to hoard,

Unrationed Dallas on TV each Saturday

Airing away the smoke of firing squads,

Tickets to leave to find more things,

To close the doors on rooms of unforgetting.



Gabi Reigh’s translations and fiction have been published in Modern Poetry in Translation, World Literature Today and The Fortnightly Review. She has won the Stephen Spender prize for poetry in translation and was shortlisted for the Tom-Gallon Society of Authors short story award. She is currently engaged in a translation project called Interbellum Series focusing on works from the Romanian interwar period: Poems of Light by Lucian Blaga was published in 2018 and The Town with Acacia Trees and Women by Mihail Sebastian are forthcoming. She is working on a translation of Danse Macabre (originally Ciuleandra), by Liviu Rebreanu. Read Gabi’s translation of Ruxandra Ceșereanu’s journal about resistance here.