Raw Numbers

By Jasmine V. Bailey

During his reign, four hundred bears.

On the bloodiest day, twenty-four.

On a hunting trip with friends, staged,

as they all were staged, twenty-two

and eleven for his friends. No one

tallied the boar and deer.

Ceaușescu sitting in his perch above a clearing a gamekeeper chases the bears through,

firing an automatic rifle.

One hundred thirty bears

in those last six years.

Brown bears, grizzlies in our West,

eat mostly plants

but Ceaușescu’s bears ate pellets

fed to them by the gamekeepers

who say they don’t like hunting anymore. 

He will die next to Elena

in December, nineteen eighty-nine, 

the shortest day of the year.

One hundred sixty-eight centimeters: Ceaușescu’s height.

The bears flourished with the kibble,

hunting forbidden to everyone but

Ceaușescu, their Conseil International de la Chasse points

unnaturally high.

Twenty thousand dollars 

to hunt a brown bear in Romania now

if you are a citizen of the EU. 

The population is smaller, each bear

smaller since Romania joined Europe—

seven thousand five hundred at the height

to fewer than five thousand three hundred

once the doors of the Carpathians opened. 

Forty-three grizzlies died

when Yellowstone closed its dumpsters.

Staggering in their final, worst hunger.

Once someone hatched a scheme

to raise bears for Ceaușescu’s hunts.

Two hundred twenty-seven 

bear cubs were torn from their mothers

who, crazed, had to be shot

to let them go, as I would have to be shot.

One or two: the number of toes cut off without anesthetic 

to create a code by which to identify each cub, 

who went insane with grief for their mothers,

who were never successfully raised for the hunt,

who all escaped or were released

haphazardly, dying on highways

and in circuses, ending in a daze

the daze of their lives.

Two: the number of days 

the cubs howled 

after their claws were ripped from their paws.

The number of suicides

during his twenty-four years as general secretary of the Communist Party 

of Romania:

not known.

Twelve weeks my daughter’s lived

outside my body.

I want to lie with her under one blanket

until God thinks better of so much. 

Jasmine V. Bailey is the author of Alexandria and Disappeared (Carnegie Mellon UP), and the chapbook, Sleep and What Precedes It. Her translation of Silvina López Medin’s That Salt on the Tongue to Say Mangrove is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon. Her writing has been recognized with Michigan Quarterly Review‘s Laurence Goldstein Prize and Ruminate Magazine‘s VanderMey Nonfiction Prize.

Originally appeared in New Ohio Review 29.

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