Alina Stefanescu

10 Epigrams in Praise of Household Tyrants

after Paavo Haavikko


A screen door
slashes across the space
between screen and
One side of this story
is a garden.


When the tyrant leaves for work
we stand near the door
lips empty as Hollywood holsters
parting weary as the hat tips
in a gritty cowboy western.


Permit the tyrant’s frisks when he must check you for groceries.
Accustom yourself efficient frisk, half-hearted frisk, the frisk
anxious as weaponless ideology. It will feel different each time
what is needed to make him feel safe.

An empty sink is a happy sink.


What he wants is a monument of flesh-struck stone:
a girl frozen on all fours.


How eagerly he greets the baroque of a dress
heavy-brindled. The stained-glass window
of a face beneath a Levantine moon / fleshed
hammock of thighs /
love’s unyielded insolence.


Chorus of laundry drying
inside machines.
Soft roar from behind brick walls for
which the tyrant demands better
ins ula t io n.


Do not give him light to suspect the night sky.
Beware when the moon becomes a petri dish
smeared with samples of other loves.
He declares each wish a toxin.


The tyrant neither squats nor stoops. He sits
in chairs never floored. He expects entertainment—
a dance which compels him to desire her again.
Again. Again. Do it again.


Tender tyrant of the half-lilt heart
which of us needs touching?
Who to spark first is the spanking.

A Ghost Is Not

for my mother, for some ever

A ghost is not like money you put in the bank

to withdraw as needed.

A ghost is not a watercolor painting or a poem

in the margins of your notebook.

Her face is defiant— I’ll race you down the slope starting....... now

— and she may not win

but she will race and she will race and she will

fly with the wind between her teeth.

Certain she will not relinquish the adrenalin

of a fight to the finish.

A ghost cannot be coddled or mollified

like a button-eyed children’s puppet.

A ghost is a person she says over her shoulder,

the slender Rossignol skis throwing white powder

into my eyes like confetti, this movement away obscuring

the path she dares me to follow and now what.

Now how. I am left stranded at the top of the mountain

with no way to imagine going down.

Two Cars

we uncouple
like railway cars
in exposed places
count the links
forged between
a stain and
a shirt.

it takes two
cars to make
a train,
and one stain
in common
to trust.

if we are
color, let
us be

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. She won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award. Her poetry chapbook, Objects In Vases, was published by Anchor & Plume in March 2016. She aims for an ontology which would satisfy Hannah Arendt, Norman Manea, and Tom Waits. More online at