Mountains you cursed

In this mountain meadow

teeming with wildflowers

a soviet rocket

juts into the sky:

rusty playground slide

abandoned to decay

lasting symbol

of communist exploits

and child’s play.


Zornitsa parts the high grasses

like seas, driven

by a secret scheme

cell phone hot against her ear.

She brought us here

to hike and eat

but clearly her mission

has evolved. It’s hard to tell

if she wants to draw us in

or shake us off.

I’ve learned her moods

turn rapidly

and after all we are relative strangers:

strange relatives from Germany.

She waves frantically

for us to follow

plowing a path

toward a boxy house watching us

through half-closed shutters:

a presence I suspected.


The back door opens

and a man emerges from seclusion.

Zornitsa shrieks and leans in

to greet him, unleashing

a flurry of flirtatious

words and gestures.

His surprise shows.

Who are they, he must wonder,

and why did she bring them

to my private hideaway?

We wonder the same.


Zornitsa leaves no room

for questions, fills the space

with the thrill

of owning this coincidence.

She is the man’s dentist and he

the father of our lovely host

found on Airbnb!

It’s a small world,


and the red

carpet is rolled out for us,

another small world.

Bring on the slivova

— to hell with it — American whisky!

Sip and smile

try to keep up

with their charged banter,

amenable but alert.

Something of your mistrust

lingers, mixed

into these potent

shots of hospitality.


The man suggests we follow him,

drive in tow

along the winding mountain road.

Eventually we stop, step out

to admire the view

from an unfinished terrace.

He’s a real estate developer

who builds boxy houses

in privileged isolation.

The most beautiful corners of Bulgaria.

In future we will be

his guests… for free!


I’m charmed

as well as wary

of his generosity

(a Bulgarian trademark).

I don’t want to compromise

your integrity

with naiveté.

In over my head.

Are these wealthy people

the descendants of your oppressors?

Am I making a pilgrimage

to the wrong side?

Who am I

to doubt this man

willing to share

his fortune with strangers

ostensibly more fortunate than he?

I live in New York,

the shimmering capital of capitalism

where a silvered river winks

just beyond the windows

of our rented box.


I stand uncertain

above the valley sprawling green,

crib of my origins,

flanked by mountains you cursed

as obstacles to freedom,

essential to you as mother’s milk.


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