Quarantine

Anca Roncea


[Editor's note: The following is part of a special series on the coronavirus pandemic, featuring original poems and essays by contributors to The Bare Life Review. New entries will be added every Tuesday and Friday. Previous entries in the series can be found here.]



Quarantine means 40 days out of 14th century Venetian. In March 2020 I had to spend 14 days in isolation because I went abroad. My grandmother had died a month earlier, my grandfather 7 years before that and no one was living in their house, so I stayed here. I had grown up there. M. said her bed holds her energy, 90 year-old energy dragging me down attaching itself to everything in the house. But I think she loved me, she wouldn’t want to drag me down, she’d want to engulf me. I think about relationships between men and women. After he died she used his shirts and his doctor’s robe to cover her clothes. This is about partnership. In Christian-Orthodox tradition we believe the spirit spends 40 days roaming the space it inhabited.

These 14 days are my goodbye to them and their home. Them on Day 3 of their honeymoon, he’s holding her shoulders the way R held me in a photo three weeks after we met. Going through their photos is organizing chaos of memory and space. There’s no conjuring something from nothing. There’s loss and gain in memories. It means letting go takes time.

Insects start coming into the house through all the cracks in the wood, bricks, cement. They invade all rooms except for the bedroom so I’m pushed to sleep there. Remember this is saying goodbye to the house. Sometimes I’m silent. Sometimes it’s the only way to look at photos of them. All of these objects, the Russian and German film cameras he obsessed over, her 60s geometric print complementary color clothes, his classical music records, portraits of Beethoven and Mozart around his desk. Since he died he’s been coming in my dreams sometimes, when he does I go to a classical music concert to show him I heard him. I’m infiltrating their dressers and cupboards, it turns those objects from theirs to mine. I was sitting right there when 9/11 happened and I watched it on TV. They stood right there when the revolution happened and they were watching on TV. This house is more and more. It turns into a Merzbau of memory.

After this quarantine I need to look different. maybe more punk: thick dark eyeliner, red lipstick, loose homme suits. It’s a fabric that feels old. Thinking about all the ways I’m being haunted. All the ways I’m enjoying it. Feeling out the space between spirits and memory. My joints remain constant.

He kept a wall full of books stacked front and back. Faced with all of these books I grew up with now translation becomes a different issue. They’re mostly translations into Romanian of texts in languages I now write in exclusively, it challenges me to see how I haven’t spent time in Romanian in the past few years, how the space of a translated text in Romanian feels foreign and uncomfortable. All the Romanian I translate I have an intimate connection with, it’s a personal living object that is now part of me. Sharing it with R, translating with him makes our connection. It’s hard to tell where his language ends and mine begins.

A feeling moves through us. My mind gets flooded by what ifs, people I love choking, lungs collapsing. R has had a fever for seven days and counting. He’s across the sea, the continent, the ocean. To come into the present, I name five things in the room. Her lightweight china with small blue flowers, his stethoscope, the history of classical music he wrote, their solid wood black table, of photo of them in their 30s smiling. They go into my lungs to breathe. In the present moment nothing from the future has happened nothing from the past.

Lasă. To let go, to leave, to give up. A word travelling the house, the things they left us, my letting them go, they’re leaving us. Whenever I would come to see him after I moved out he’d say nu te lăsa instead of goodbye. It’s the verb lasă in the reflexive, a tense that turns the subject into its own object, don’t let yourself go, don’t let yourself give up, don’t relax the tension in how hard you’re holding on to the things you want.

I start reading aloud to R through the phone through his fever. Started with theory, The Production of Space but then move to Murakami. We needed to feel closer and all we had was our voices. It was our way of holding.


Anca Roncea grew up in Romanian, speaks Modern Greek, French, and writes in English. She was born in Romania under communism and raised in a Post-Communist Romania transitioning to capitalism. She has lived in Bucharest, Iowa City, Yangon, Los Angeles, Paris and is currently in New York. Through her work she explores the space where language can create pivots in the midst of displacement while incorporating the aesthetics of Constantin Brancusi and the women artists of the Dada Movement. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the UIowa Literary Translation MFA program and her work can be found in the Berkeley Poetry Review, Beecher’s Magazine, Omniverse, Asymptote and Lana Turner. Her poems, "the field let out people" and "sound modeling," appeared in TBLR Volumes 1 and 3, respectively.

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