— Forget the snooze button (we’ve got java). Wake up early in the Rocky Mountains and travel to Bucharest via Kevin Reed’s prose. Plus: an intimate chat with his fiancée about the daily juggle between managing his cafe, writing, and family life. Featuring original music by Timo Ji George.
Excerpt from: Saints of Bucharest, in Winter
Parts not included in video italicized.
The first pale light of day colors Bucharest. Pink, frost-gauzed windows begin to glow. October’s final morning. The city is quiet, serene. The avenues smoke eerily in the cold. On the outskirts of town several Roma huddle around a fire in a field, the faint outlines of the cityscape emerging from the fog and the darkness. A band of roseate light is being cast over the ashen dawn like a flower in bloom. This is the first late-autumn morning that has announced the bitter intentions of the impending winter. This country that was once a hinterland of the Roman empire, Dacia in the Latin, more recently conquered by the sterile vision and powerful military of the communists. A thin, glistening layer of ice lacquers the old wooden churches, the lime trees, the cobblestones, the streetcar windows.
This weather has arrived in a flash, cold and harsh like light glinting off a knife blade. Only a week ago it was still hot, unseasonably so. Now in the Carpathians to the northwest snow is drifting down, muffling all sound and blanketing the firs.
The young man from Louisiana pulls the blanket tighter around his shoulders and shuffles over to the window. He sees the Romanian dawn through a frigid kaleidoscope, the window starred by frost. Patterns of intricate, icy geometry. These lonely winter mornings; how many other Mormon missionaries stand at other windows in other cities each morning, thinking of family and girlfriends?
He is weak, but thinks the fever is finally breaking. Even here inside the apartment clouds of his breath smoke and trail off. Like a faith healer he solemnly places a palm on the rusted, paint-flecked radiator with eyes closed, waiting. Nothing. He wipes the glass with the heel of his hand and takes in the varied hues burning beneath the ominous charcoal clouds that fill the morning sky, layered in shelves one atop another and high into the sky. The underbellies of the clouds seep rich crimsons and purples with the lower reaches of the horizon lit by bands of pink and coral. He moves his eyes downward from the heavens. The twelve stories of raw and cracking concrete across the courtyard look almost pretty the way the building glows in this light. He had not thought it possible for Bucharest’s drab, post-World War II tenement blocks to look nice under any circumstance. Yet at this hour he sees the cliffs of Dover, bathed in pastel light.
An Orthodox priest walks along the sidewalk below, a solemn figure in black seemingly floating across the pavement. His robes are caught and billowed by the wind swirling in the street. These sad-eyed, irascible priests with their long, grizzled beards, rivals in the tug-of-war for Romanian souls. The Orthodox priests, the Baptists from Alabama, the Jehovah’s Witnesses – they all mocked one another in private, but despite their differences they all seemed united when it came to their disdain for and mockery of that most American of religions, Mormonism.
The young man at the window shivers not so much from the cold air as from the illness raging inside him these past three days. He stands there feverish and not a little scared. But what scares him most has nothing to do with fever. He feels it welling up from that dark place, like pools of black oil tapped through cap rock and brought to the surface. Thousands of years of decay, of pressure, of heat. Curled up and whimpering in his sickbed for days and far from home, he has felt too young to be doing this, living in Eastern Europe and walking the streets and talking about God. He is nineteen. Yet today he feels ancient. The anxiety, the sharp talons of the malaise digging into his chest and stomach, they age him each time they visit him. He, too, feels like the product of thousands of years of compression and decay.
He studies the sky, thinks of days on dark waters back home. The briny tang of the shrimp piled up on wood boards comes to him briefly, teases his nose. The old man looking every bit his seventy-seven years, and that visage beautifully worn and creased by a lifetime facing the salty winds, and the gulf sun beating down on it. His entire extended family made its livelihood back home with boats, on the waters of Louisiana cypress swamps, and even out on the open gulf. He’s a young man who knows weather. He looks out on the weather at Bucharest at dawn. He heads for the shower and hopes for hot water, and once again brushes his hand on that paint-flecked radiator. Still, nothing.
About the Poet
Kevin Reed is a writer and business owner who lives with his family in the mountains of Colorado. He grew up outside of Nashville, Tennessee and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition to the U.S., he has lived in Romania, Russia, and France. His business, Inkwell & Brew, is a mash-up: stationery/journals/pens/cafe.