Featured Writer Claudia Serea

How I earned 10 lei in second grade

Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus by John William Waterhouse

Loudly, quickly, and badly,
that’s how the famous musicians play,
Mr. Trifu said,
and no one notices their mistakes
because they don’t stop.

So you should never stop,
not for any parent
entering the auditorium,
not for the principal
blowing his nose,
not even if you see a mouse
running across the stage.

The next day, at the quarterly exam,
we sat on wooden chairs on stage,
in a semicircle,
waiting our turn.

My knees were shaking,
and I felt sick
when they called my name.

I stepped to the front of the stage,
facing the judges:
Comrade Principal,
Mr. Trifu,
and two other violin teachers
seated at a long, velvet-covered table.

Mrs. Gusti at the piano gave a nod,
and I began playing,
as loudly and quickly as I could,
and I knew it was bad
because I got some notes wrong
and hoped the piano covered them,
so I didn’t stop,

not even when the neon light on the ceiling

and came down crashing
with a bang
at my feet,
and Mrs. Gusti gasped,
and Comrade Principal froze,

and everyone stopped,
but me,

with my white stockings
and starched, fresh-pressed uniform,
and huge bows, rustling on my head
like pigeon wings,

I kept playing
with quivering knees
and queasy stomach,

on my small violin,

loudly, quickly, and badly,
in that deep silence,

I never stopped

until the end
when Mr Trifu got up,
took out a 10 lei bill
from his wallet
and handed it to me.


About the writer:
Claudia Serea’s poems have appeared in Field, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She has published five poetry collections, most recently TwoXism, a collaboration with photographer Maria Haro (8th House Publishing, 2018). Serea co-hosts The Williams Readings in Rutherford, NJ, and she is a founding editor of National Translation Month.

Image: Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). Oil on canvas. 58.6 x 38.9 inches. 1900. Public domain.