Thursday, December 21, 2023

Leah Horlick (#poem)



At first, like a head cold--then, three glasses of wine--no five.
Hour twelve, a low-grade fever. Hour fourteen, your whole body is
on fire --

each joint snaps open, heat coiled inside your knees. A reaction to
the measles booster, days before the trip. Fades like a hangover,
then rears

its host of heads again. We chose not
to go to Chișinău -- We have no business

being here anymore. Reroute to Iași. It's the heat,
driving stick, a last hiss,

writing to the chief rabbi

I'm sorry we're not going to make it--
the GPS, the roads, Russian, the car

which really means
I'm sorry we are afraid

-Leah Horlick

I've never had a measles booster, but I had the shingles one not too long ago.  That's about how it was.

Leah Horlick's book Moldovan Hotel came out from Brick Books, a small Canadian press, in 2021. It's her third book of poetry. (I haven't read either of the earlier ones.) She'd gotten a fellowship to go to Romania and Moldova in 2017 to attempt to come to terms with the tragic history of her Jewish family in the region.

Ritual Instructions for Transnistria

Avoid all travel to Transnistria in northeast Moldova.
-travel advisory from the Government of Canada, December 2017

In your right hand, take the ten-hour tourist visa. Form a window with
your left, frame the last functioning hammer and sickle flag. Walk six
times around the last twenty thousand

tonnes of Soviet ammunition. A tanker spills cigarettes out of its side
like a whale and so we say May the memory of this whale be a blessing.
Wash your hands before you dunk your head

beneath the x-ray at the checkpoint, the x-ray that pretends not to notice 
you. Rabbi, is there

a blessing for the border?

A blessing for the border--

May God bless and keep the borders, seen and unseen, far away from us.

-Leah Horlick

Transnistria is that breakaway region in Moldova (across the Dniester River) that's propped up by Russia. 

She says in an afterword she lifted that final line from Fiddler on the Roof, but I knew that. 😉("Is there a proper blessing for the Tsar?" "May God bless and keep the Tsar...far away from us.")

The title poem is probably the best, but too long to quote. Interesting stuff.


  1. I like that these two poems are unexpected...and also funny.

    1. She handles dark stuff well, though there were even darker poems in the book.