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
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
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.