Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of 
Press 53
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 103, Jan – Mar 2017
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Claudia Serea 

followed by Q&A
Claudia Serea is a Romanian-born poet who immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. Her poems and translations have appeared in FieldNew Letters, 5 a.m., MeridianWord Riot, and Apple Valley Review, among others. Serea is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012), A Dirt Road Hangs from the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013), To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervena Barva Press, 2015), and Nothing Important Happened Today (Broadstone Books, 2016). Serea co-hosts The Williams Readings poetry series in Rutherford, NJ. She is a founding editor of National Translation Month. More at

Contributor Note:
I wrote "Digging" thinking about my father who was a political prisoner in communist Romania. He was sentenced to 8 years in 1958 because of a poem he wrote protesting the Soviet Red Army occupation of Romania at the time. His 19th birthday found him in prison where he served 5 years in brutal conditions in various locations, such as the forced labor camps Salcia, Periprava, and Stoenesti from the Balta Brailei region, a large Danube swamp. The prisoners were clearing the reeds, digging, and carrying wheelbarrows of dirt to fill the swamp. They each had a quota of wheelbarrows impossible to meet—a system designed to exterminate the prisoners through hard labor. I was thinking about this on my bus commute, looking out the window at the Meadowlands area I pass by every day, at all the reeds and canals. And my muscles were sore from digging holes in my own garden to plant dahlia bulbs in the spring. That's how it all connected—and the poem emerged.

1. If you could spend a day doing anything (besides writing), what would you do?

I love working in my garden, which is very small, but it has vegetables, flowers, and greenery for all seasons. I would tend to my plants, pick a basket of salad ingredients, and listen to the birds and sounds of water. I would make a salad and have a glass of wine. And I would cut a bucketful of daisies and Black-eye-Susans and some viburnum branches to fill a couple of vases inside. These, plus poetry, are some of the things that make me happy.

2. Where is your favorite place to write?

I don't have a place. I don't sit at a desk or in a chair near the book shelves. I write, edit, and translate from the Romanian on my bus commute between New Jersey and New York. I should credit the New Jersey Transit in my books, for I always have a place to sit (in the front, by the window) and dedicate an hour to writing every day. I type up my "clean" versions on my laptop in the dining room, usually late at night.

3. You’ve been informed you will be reincarnated as an animal and you can choose which kind, so which will you choose?

When my daughter was little, I made up a story for her about a Mama Bunny and a Baby Bunny. The Mama Bunny would have very long and fluffy ears, so long and fluffy that she used them to cover her baby instead of a blanket. They lived in a house with a beautiful garden. One day, Baby Bunny was kidnapped by a hawk, but Mama Bunny roared and mobilized an army of neighborhood animals and bees. They marched to the forest and saved Baby Bunny from the hawk's nest. So, there you go: I'd be the roaring Mama Bunny (with very long and fluffy ears). 


           There was earth inside them,
           and they dug.
                    —Paul Celan

A nation of earthworms,
we dug and we dug for years,
for decades.

We filled ourselves with earth.

We dug into each other
until we reached bottom,

first with shovels,
then with bare hands,
then with our teeth.

What does one do at 19?

My father dug and carried
wheelbarrows of earth
in forced labor camps,
each day, for years,
each night in dreams,

but not enough to get a postcard
to write home.

He wrote his mom in his mind,
poems and prayers,
and she answered him with rain.

Dust to dust, they say,
but also mud to mud.
Clay to kiss of clay.

My father still carries 
the kiss of clay on his lips,
even in his sleep.

The earth is not giving,
nor receiving life.

And it occurs to me that digging
is slow death.

What is the surest way
to kill a prisoner slowly?
Make him dig 
and carry dirt.

Turn him into an earthworm.

Dig and carry
dig and carry dig
and carry digandcarry

without knowing for how long,
or when it will stop.

Dig with your hands
and carry with your back.

Dig with your arms
and carry with your shoulders.

And, when you stumble, dig
with your teeth
and carry with your mouth.

There is earth inside you,
your own grave. 
Dig. Dig.

I think about the plain they dug,
the endless, windswept Danube plain
lined with endless bodies,
a ragged coat lined with silk:
Salcia, Periprava, Stoenesti.

Tens of thousands of men,
my father among them,
dug and buried there their youth,
their lives.

Balta Brailei looks like the Meadowlands:
water and weeds. 
Dirt and reeds.

And we still dig,
through silence,
through words.

We dig to find water,
to plant,
sow seeds.

The shovels speak a raspy tongue
and the bones listen 
for the clang
and cleave.

The past is not giving,
nor receiving.

My father and I still dig and dig.

We dig through the years
with our mouths

and carry our stories and lives
with our teeth.