"Did I know then how much I would leave behind?"
There’s a tender fragility and quiet strength woven into the words of each poem in Lucia Cherciu’s Immigrant Prodigal Daughter, as one might expect from such a vulnerable title. From Romania to New York, Cherciu reveals a heart divided into old and new worlds. This beautiful, moving book is presented in three sections, each loosely connected to the other in terms of the courage it takes to pull up your roots, leave family, friends, culture, and traditions behind and replant your life in foreign soil. The opening poem, featuring the same title as the book, reflects that heartache and courage:
Immigrants carry the burden of sin:
they left behind their father
who waited for them all their lives.
Every day, parents looked towards the gate
hoping beyond miracle. Every night, mothers
prayed. The courage it takes to uproot
for a new country, a new language, leaving
friends of a lifetime, path to the house.
Immigrants wrangle unwieldy
hopes. In their ears, a mother’s wail.
There are several themes throughout the book, the strongest being that of longing, found in poems such as “This Summer I Cannot Travel Home,” “The Immigrant Mother’s Lament,” “The Things Immigrants Leave Behind,” and many others. Lines such as these from “The Things Immigrants Leave Behind,” leave a profound mark:
Did I know then how much I would leave behind?
Disposing of words, giving up syllables.
For anyone in Cherciu’s position, who has left family and home, there’s a deep sense of connection and understanding as to what it’s like to overcome language and cultural barriers and try to fit into an environment that has no familiarity. There’s also the felt pain of loved ones left behind who want nothing more than for family to return. It’s this relatability that draws us into the depths of Cherciu’s work.
Another clear theme throughout the book is regret. As human beings it’s natural for us to second-guess our decisions and to imagine the “what ifs.” In “My Mother Says I Would Have Found a Job in Romania” Cherciu says:
To tell you the truth I always felt guilty for leaving home.
I’m sure I would have found a job in Romania.
I measure the distance from New York to Bucharest
in miles, hours from door to door: the luxury of leisure
on the plane, the layovers. The expense. But also—my daughter
doesn’t want to go to Romania anymore. To tell you the truth,
ninety percent of my dreams at night are set in Romania…
In “All That Light” we see another example of regret:
The painting you gave me
reminds me of hell. I made mistakes.
I tried too hard I didn’t try enough. Books
I didn’t finish. Money I didn’t give away.
And in “Orchards and Wilderness” yet another:
I wish I had written down what they learned.
I wish they had written down what I should do.
How many of us would undo certain events in our lives if we could? There’s a weightiness that comes with regret, and many times it’s almost more than we can carry. And yet we carry on, as Cherciu clearly demonstrates in her writing.
In spite of this collection’s marked sadness, Cherciu also resurrects hope by exploring the values of traditions and memories with poems such as “Blue Wrapping Paper,” “How Many Trees Have You Planted,” “Rituals,” and “We Live in Paradise.” Especially in poems such as “Rituals,” we see that Cherciu’s traditions are the very fabric of who she is—even though she is thousands of miles from her native Romania:
I want to call my friend and tell her
to place an open bottle of red wine
and a large pretzel, colac, above the door,
to leave them there for forty. Days
so the spirt can come home
I want to tell her to carry a bucket
of water to the grave of her husband
every day for forty days.
Rituals and memories speak our language and stamp us with indelible characteristics. Cherciu gives readers the gift of her own rituals and memories of Romania as confirmation that “home” is not just one’s physical residence but an internal state of being.
I truly cannot offer enough praise for Immigrant Prodigal Daughter as I was touched by its honest, raw slices of life. As I closed the last page of Cherciu’s book, I found myself wanting to go back and read it again. To read is to travel, to connect, to learn, to walk in the shoes of another. It’s this magical journey that resonates with us long after the words are hidden from sight.
Arvilla Fee teaches English Composition for Clark State College and is the poetry editor for the San Antonio Review. She has published poetry, photography, and short stories in Contemporary Haibun Online, Drifting Sands Haibun, Teach Write, Acorn, Stone Poetry Quarterly, Bright Flash Literary Review, Havik, Garfield Lake Review, October Hill Magazine, North of Oxford, Modern Literature, and numerous other presses. Her poetry book, The Human Side, is available on Amazon. For Arvilla, writing produces the greatest joy when it connects us to each other.