Poetry Contest Winner, Second Prize, Fall/Winter 2022

Norma DaCrema

It's only ugly when you use it

Gypsy is romance and enigma at home,
a thousand-year story we thrill to be in–
us and Maria Ouspenskaya as Maleva,
just the way we remember her,
my son with a brow like Bela Lugosi,
and two violins, though he doesn’t play.
We love the word literally,
metaphorically, historically–

though it was never the right word
because Egyptians don’t come from India.
We love it anyway, for the endless caravan
of illusions it conjures. From the Ink Spots
to Natalie Wood, to the sad gypsy serenading
Hoagy Carmichael’s moon, to the rugged
vagabonds in that majestic blimp
saving the day in Golden Compass,

everyone has favorite gypsies, real
or imagined. Ours are the children
laughing and playing in villages
in Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Spain.
We love them when they laugh,
and mourn them when they beg,
or cower, suffer and die,
like the thousands killed in Nazi camps,

or abandoned to coronavirus
in Hungary, Italy, Romania, Spain,
or murdered by Greek or Czech police
just this year. Call them Roma, Romani
or Gypsy, theirs is the language of flowers,
feeding on oceans of time and traveling,
a song of survival and sorrow
for cimbalom and voice.

Years ago, my Hungarian art professor,
with his heavy broken baritone,
leaned close outside the library the week
before we left to adopt our son.
“Whatever you do,” he rasped. “Don’t get Geepsies.”
Take the word away from him if you have to,
and from the fingerprinters, fingerpointers,
the myopic, the moronic, the Tucker Carlsons and Proud Boys.

You can't take that word from us.
It’s beautiful when we use it.