The Dictionary

Romanian prisoners, 1942.

Poem by Claudia Serea


obedient obey obituary 
object objectify obligatory 
obliterate oblivion

O forms in the mouth,
in the throat, above the tongue:

an outward movement of air,
a hollow, round sound.

Open the page at letter O.
See what you find.

Oancea, Gheorghe. Peasant. Sentenced to 15 years.
Oancea, Ion. Peasant. Arrested with his son Stefan, teacher. Tortured by Securitate. Sentenced to 10 years and his son to 5 years. Wife Agmira and the other 2 children deported for 6 years to forced labor camps (stone quarries).
Oancea, Soare. From Bessarabia. Arrested by NKVD and deported to Siberia in 1946. No further information avail.
Oancea, Traian I. Student at the Polytechnic Institute. Sentenced to 8 years for conspiracy against social order.
Oancea, Vasile. Tortured by Securitate. Sentenced to 5 years. Wife Floarea and 2 children deported.
Oancea, Zosima. Priest. Married, father of 4 minors. Arrested because he helped the families of political prisoners. Sentenced to 9 years.

a succession of sounds
to which a face is attached.

The name might as well be spelled 
by vowels, clangs of shackles, 
consonants, thuds 
of fists against skin, 
bangs of prison doors, rattle
of cattle trains.

observe obsessed obsolete
obstacle obstinate occupied occur
ocean oculus ocular

Ocular. Eye. Eyewitness.

Obancea, Gheorghe. Arrested for giving food to partisans. Tortured by Securitate. Sentenced to 15 years forced labor.
Obarseanu, Florea I. Peasant. Arrested on October 21, 1959, for activities against land nationalization. Tortured by Securitate. Sentenced to 5 years.
Oberding, Dominic. Arrested by NKVD and sent to forced labor camps in Siberia.
Oberkirch, Barbara. Born in 1934. Arrested by NKVD and sent to forced labor camps in Siberia, where she died.
Oberkirch, Magdalena. Deported since 1951.
Obician, Arcadia, Dragutin, Dusan, Mara. Peasants. Deported on June 18, 1951.

odious offend offensive
official often old omen
ominous omission only one

Only one. The one.
Every one is the one.
The only one.

They once had bodies,
flesh, voice, life.

Now all that remains 
are lists of names,
bones in a cemetery online.

Olaru, Aurelia. Born on August 19, 1941. Arrested on May 5, 1952, 11 years old. Deported.
Olaru, Constantin. Born in 1929. From Bessarabia. Deported to Siberia (Kurgan) with his wife Alexandra on July 6, 1949.
Olaru, Constantin I. Worker. Arrested with his father, Ion, and brother, Stefan, in 1949. His cooperation with the investigators resulted in multiple arrests.
Olaru, Petre. Arrested because of statements made by his son. Interrogated by Securitate, where he was beaten by his own son.

ongoing onslaught on purpose
open operate operative
oppose opposition oppressive

Faces blurred,
eaten by time.

O forms in the mouth 
that blows binary dust across 
the computer screen,
byte by byte.

Names, names,
enough to populate a small country
of pain.

But do you hear them scream?

Oprescu, Gheorghe I. Born on October 28, 1934. Sentenced to 5 years for conspiracy against social order, then deported.
Oprescu, Grigore S. Sentenced to 2 years forced labor.
Oprescu, Puiu. Economist. Sentenced to 7 years.
Oprescu, Toma. Priest. Sentenced to 8 years.
Opret, Iacob. Peasant. Arrested in December 1956. Tortured during interrogation. Sentenced to 7 years forced labor.
Opris, Constantin. Lawyer. Sentenced to 5 years in 1950. Arrested again in 1958 and sentenced to 24 years forced labor.

opprobrium opprobrious ordain ordeal
order orderly orphan ostracize our

Our. Our Father, 
Who art in heaven,
Holy is Thy Name.

My father
and his father and brothers.

Our. Our fathers. 
Our grandfathers, uncles, brothers.
Their names.

Opris, Ilie. Greek-Catholic priest. Killed during interrogation.
Opris, Nicolae. Arrested because he helped several people cross the border to Yugoslavia. Sentenced to 12 years.
Oprisan, Constantin Costache. Sentenced to forced labor for life.
Oprita, Ileana. Born on January 1, 1951. Arrested in 1958 (7 years old) and deported.
Oprita, Octavian. College student and partisan. Killed by Securitate in Apuseni Mountains.
Oproiu, Ion. Arrested with his father (priest, 74 years old) for refusing nationalization. Sentenced to 20 years forced labor.

O forms in my mouth
and in my bones.

O forms in the way my hair follows
the oval of my face,
my father’s forehead,
my grandfather’s nose.

My blood carries Os.

arrested, tortured, imprisoned, killed/

Scroll down to Orasel,
my maiden name.
It means small town.

Orasel, Eliodor V. Born in 1939. Sentenced to 8 years for conspiracy against social order.
Orasel, Lucian V. Born in 1937. Sentenced in 1956 to 10 years.
Orasel, Petre Gh. Sentenced to 6 years for conspiracy against social order.
Orasel, Vasile. Father of Eliodor and Lucian. Sentenced to 25 years for refusing nationalization of the land.

Oust out outcast outlaw outwear
over overflow overkill overwhelm

O, the sound of wind
winding through the hollow of bones.

Chain links, chained Os. 
Eyes. The round eyes,
the fixated pupils of death.

Orban, Andrei. Butcher. Killed during detention, in 1951.
Orban, Carol. Accountant. Sentenced to death and executed on September 1, 1958.
Orban, Cornel. Sentenced to death in 1956. Executed on September 1, 1958.
Orban, Stefan. Sentenced to death in 1956. Executed on September 1, 1958.
Ordeanu, Danila. Worker. Arrested in 1951. Killed in the Cernavoda camp, on February 9, 1953.
Orendi, Ioan I. Clerk. Arrested in 1950. Killed during detention in 1952.

Who stole their years,
their lives? Who?

Letters ignite into funeral fires.

The dead are baking ovals of bread.

My grandmother places
torn pieces of meat
into the gaping O
of the pot on the stove.

Oh, the stories untold.

Orescu, Gheorghe V. From Bessarabia. Deported in camps from Irkutsk, Siberia, with wife Maia and children Fiodor, Varvara, and Ecaterina.
Orezeanu, I. County clerk. Arrested by NKVD and deported to forced labor camps in Pecioara, Komi region, Siberia.
Organ, Alexandra E. From Bessarabia. Peasant. Deported to camps from Cita region with children, Vasilisa and Victor.
Organ, Ivan I. From Bessarabia. Peasant. Deported to camps from Cita region with wife Feodosia and children, Alexandru and Alexei.
Organ, Vasile. From Bessarabia. Peasant. Deported to camps from Kurgan region with wife, Eudochia, and son, Andrei.

Overrun overswarm overthrow
overturn own own up

My own drops, 
small drops
in an ocean of Os.

I owe them words,
own, own up.

Own up to the Os.

CLAUDIA SEREA is a Romanian-born poet who immigrated to the U.S. in 1995. Her poems and translations have appeared in Field, New Letters, 5 a.m., Meridian, Gravel, Apple Valley Review, RHINO, and many others. She is the author of Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012), A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013), To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervena Barva Press, 2015), and Nothing Important Happened Today (Broadstone Books, 2016). In 2015, Claudia Serea was featured in the documentary Poetry of Witness, alongside Carolyn Forché, Bruce Weigl, Duncan Wu, and others. Serea co-hosts The Williams Readings poetry series in Rutherford, NJ, and she is a founding editor of National Translation Month.

This poem uses lists of victims found in the online archive Procesul Comunismului (The Trial of Communism), which can be found at, and in Victimele terorii comuniste: Dicţionar N-O, Vol. 7, by Cicerone Ionitoiu (Editura Maşina de scris, 2005). The lists of words are selections from The Merriam-Webster Thesaurus (Pocket Books, 1978).

2015 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical Finalist.
Originally published on The Spark on 6/24/15.