by Lucia Cherciu
Publisher: Main Street Rag
Reviewed by: Donelle Dreese
Lucia Cherciu’s Edible Flowers is an inspiring bouquet of poems that are delicate and sturdy, lyric and narrative, beaming with images that illuminate beauty and conflict while reminding us that the past is still often with us.
The book is organized into two sections with the first titled “In this World, May It Be For Your Soul.” This robust opening list of poems takes readers on a tour through the politics of communism and the History Museum in Bucharest in the poem called “Renovations” where conflicting emotions behind a turbulent communist history are palpable on the page. Cherciu, a United States citizen originally from Romania, explores this tumultuous history in ways that captivate the reader.
“Censorship,” a poem dedicated to Romanian novelist Marin Preda, is particularly powerful in its portrayal of underground efforts to acquire great literature that was “withdrawn from all bookstores” due to its critique of communism. The poet writes, “the more it was seized, the more / we passed it around.” Cherciu’s account of censorship is lovely and signals to the reader that this is a collection of poetry that needs to be read.
The second section,”Traveling Companions” is not just a grouping of carefully nuanced poems, it is also a wonderful collection of poetic vignettes about people who will capture your imagination. Cherciu is both poet and storyteller describing people from the past who are deeply human and inspiring. In “Theft,” Cherciu describes women from her village who used to steal and trade seeds with one another and “roam around the hills / looking for confused snowdrops and wild violets.” In a nostalgic poem, “Planting Sweet William,” Cherciu recalls a neighbor woman who grew the flower Sweet William. As the poet searches a greenhouse for the plant, she is “hoping for the purple splendors of her garden.” It is this longing to bring pieces of the past into the present day that engages readers and the poem is as lovely as the flower itself. Perhaps most magnificent are the poems about her mother. In “Blueberries,” the poet writes in the opening lines, “Mother said not to crave / fruit out of season / not to dream of things / you can’t have.” The rest of the poem is just as satisfying to the reader as eating the blueberries themselves.
Cherciu pulls the collection together through the title poem “Edible Flowers,” which describes the experience of being a foreigner through images of food and the longing for grape leaves from home. She writes “At home if you run out of grape leaves / for sarmale, you can use cabbage.” But in this new home, the poet must learn what greens and flowers can be picked for eating and which plants are poisonous. Readers will enjoy moving along with the poet on this journey of discovery in this new land and culture while never forgetting the old.
The final poem of the collection is haunting. “With The Horse Through The Cobblestones” leaves us with a young boy asking the poet if she is looking for something.
Indeed, throughout this breathtaking collection of poetry, we sense that Cherciu is looking for something. We wonder if she has found it, but in the end, we are honored that she has graced us with her words and given us a glimpse into her Romanian heritage.
Donelle Dreese is a Professor of English at Northern Kentucky University. She is the author of three collections of poetry, Sophrosyne (Aldrich Press), A Wild Turn (Finishing Line) and Looking for A Sunday Afternoon (Pudding House). Donelle is also the author of a YA novella Dragonflies in the Cowburbs (Anaphora Literary) and the novel Deep River Burning (WiDo Publishing). Her poetry and fiction have appeared in a wide variety of literary magazines and journals.