Jane Hulstrunk and
Anita K. Rosenberg

Jane Hulstrunk

Notes Before a Trip to Moldova, 2005
By Anita K. Rosenberg
Inspiration piece

You are about to travel to a place where the dark forest once gave shelter to some who outsmarted death. Remember, this is by no means a vacation. This journey demands only that you march, tight-fisted, into this poor, forsaken country. By sheer will stare down evil as if it were not yet written on the palm of your hand. Unearth the name of your lost great-grandmother then locked –kneed, return home triumphant.

Purchase a suitcase, tweed perhaps that projects the image of a well-traveled, fearless woman. Pack a pale, plain jacket with a hidden pocket for your passport and gold.

Take special care in your choice of shoes. Choose only high top boots that lace up tight around your ankles. The ground you will walk on has been enriched with the blood of your ancestors. Your nameless great-grandmother is most likely under your feet, transformed into bone meal similar to the kind you buy at the garden store. This is why you must wear heavy shoes that lace up tightly above your ankles. One speck of this soil on a bare heel can pull you under to join her.

You might hear faint voices from the not-yet-dead but no-longer-living that have waited, defying gravity, for sixty odd years. Dangling from the limb of an oak tree you might see a tattered black and white shirtsleeve, its stripes faded to gray, swaying and beckoning without the assistance of air. At the bottom of a rushing waterfall, buried in the red mud you might step on a silver monogrammed pocket watch, tarnished to black. Don’t let the cool, clean spray or the incense rising off the carpet of warm pine needles lure you into an illusion of beauty.

When the people in the village speak to you, believe no excuse as to why they did not hide them. Eat nothing offered, not one crumb of the glazed, crusty, sweet braided raisin bread and never, ever drink the water. Quickly look away quickly when tears fill their eyes or you might drown.

But maybe… nothing will be as you imagine.

Into your suitcase slip two small glass jars for soil and stones from the Jewish cemetery. There might be a family of three hungry goats who trim the weeds between the toppled headstones. When you return you might gently mix that soil with the soil around your oak tree. Maybe you will take the stones to the graves of Leah and Faiga, your great-grandmothers’ daughters who found their way across mountains and an ocean and created a life for all of you. Maybe you will walk out of the cemetery and there, in front of you, will be your father’s shadow exposed under the sun.

Later, you might become drunk on homemade sweet, red wine poured from an old plastic milk jug by a broad-chested Gypsy named Valentino. He wears a white ruffled shirt and his stories make you laugh, gut- splitting laugh, through the night. Perhaps you can begin to understand the melancholy that even now, years later is a shroud on our most joyful gatherings. You might think did I come to retrieve their laughter? As the sun rises you might notice tears in the eyes of Valentino when the stories turn a darker shade, his voice a darker tone. Listen closely when he explains that the excuse was fear for their survival. Let yourself believe him. You might think the salt of tears taste the same in every language.

Your great grandmother will gently pry open each finger one at a time and etch the truth onto your palm. She will place your hand in hers and stay with you forever as she slips out of the forest to rest in the dust of peace. Finally.

Maybe, on the last day you will climb a green hillside, and witness the pantheon of every evil ever committed, unfurling across the planet. Not one hand is clean but the transcendent vibrates equally through it all. Maybe your heart will break open with the power of this unbidden grace. You might untie your boots and dance barefoot on the warm earth. You might think not one thing remains the same as it was. Maybe the world will turn upside down and a well of compassion will extinguish the fires that held you hostage. Maybe your knot of sorrows will be untied. Freed, you will fly home weightless, having let go of it all.

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 12, 2010 at 5:03 am | #

    Jane, I look at the photo taken in response to my writing every day. I find something new and hidden in it. It reflects exactly what motivated my writing. The experience was a dance, improvisational and perfect. I am honored to have worked with you. And so deeply touched that you saw the core of my writing. Anita