Saturday, July 10, 2021

Leah Horlick, Moldovan Hotel


Learning to Read Hebrew

A shape is a door.

A door takes a different shape
if it comes at the end of the hall.

You can use your usual hand
to open the door, but if you reach

From the wrong direction,
the frame wavers, knobs

This door, well, the original lock
has been lost. We have to open it
another way. We make it work.

Many of these doors lead
to the same room. Many of them
only look the same, if you are not careful.

Some of them, despite being very old,
do not make even a single

To understand the impulse that propels Calgary-based poet Leah Horlick’s third full-length poetry title, Moldovan Hotel (Kingston ON: Brick Books, 2021), one needs to look no further than the notes at the back of the collection: “It’s a Jewish tradition to dedicate a period of study to a departed ancestor or teacher.” According to the back cover, Moldovan Hotel emerged when the author “travelled to Romania to revisit the region her Jewish ancestors fled. What she unearthed there is an elaborate web connecting conscious worlds to subconscious ones, fascism to neofascisms, Europe to the America to the Middle East, typhus to HIV/Aids, genocide in Romania to land grabs in Palestine, women’s lives in farming villages to queer lives in the city, language to its trap doors, and love to its hidden, ancestral obligations.” Horlick writes of grandmothers and Romanian villages, of escape and survival, and of some of the dark folds of European history, some of which continues, through the dark stain of contemporary fascism. “Europe inhales sharp and folds in / on itself. Its shoulder is a triple cross // stamped with iron,” she writes, to open “Europe Eats Itself,” “one elbow / is a flag // held the wrong way / on purpose.” She writes of the past, but very much aware of how the past impacts the present, often impossibly so.

A collection that follows her Riot Lung (Saskatoon SK: Thistledown Press, 2012) and For Your Own Good (Prince George BC: Caitlin Press, 2015), Moldovan Hotel is a book of acknowledgment and study, constructed as a collection exploring specific individuals and geographies through a particular strain of her family history; exploring history and family, and how language, culture and people were forced to respond to trauma, violence and erasure. “You learn to use a word like a lock,” she writes, to open the poem “In Rumenye Iz Dokh Gut.” Through sharp, first-person lyric poems, Horlick works to explore those shifts and quiet erasures, and those spaces deliberately broken or hidden. She works to uncover stories, seeking to better understand her own relationship to trauma. As she writes, to open the poem “You Are My Hiding Place”: “The hole in the floor is old, old, old, country. / It lives under the kitchen table, yawns wide // While the family eats, wider still when they starve. / Cold above, so below. When the horses march up to the house, // the hole – it has teeth – it chatters. Grandma says the hole / is where the women go when the Russians come.” Or, as she writes to close the title poem, six pages deep:

It has been a long time
How long

doesn’t really matter

I have come back
to drink your wine

I have come back to touch the trees
in the graveyard

I have come back
to use your shower

I have come back to stand
in this field

I have come back
to sing in the car

to drive the car 

to drink your water
under the tree

I have come back
mostly to confuse you

I have come back
to drink your wine some more

This is just to say
Nazdrovye, bitches

I have come back
to close the gate behind me

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