Plovdiv, June 2000 · Lisa DeSiro

Fields outside the city, and in them shepherds holding hooked staffs. Romanies riding horse-drawn wagons. Children following us in the street outside the church, begging money. Clanging bells every morning. Piles of cherries at the marketplace. Thin coins smaller than buttons. Thin dresses sold for a dollar. Communist-era architecture, billboards advertising Coca-Cola. The evening promenade through the plaza. Girls wobbling on high heels over cobblestones. Internet cafés. Long-distance phone calls made at the post office. Men smoking at an outdoor restaurant, a gun on their table next to the menu. The stepped rings of a Roman amphitheater. A paved yard decorated with potted plants, flowers, herbs, vines greening the stone walls. Faded red folding chairs, paper tablecloth. Bottle half-empty, crushed ice melting in a dish. Candles melting. Midnight. Familiar constellations, hovering linden tree. And the four of us, drinking, debating. Bits of Bulgarian, English, German. Laughter our common language. And the question: What is art? The artist grinning through his beard, cigarette poised between his fingers like a pencil. The translated answer: Art is seeing and hearing what others can’t see or don’t hear. We raised our rakia, touched glass to glass. Little flames lapped the summer air like tongues.

Lisa DeSiro works for a non-profit organization and is an assistant editor for Indolent Books. She is also a freelance accompanist. Her publications include Labor (Nixes Mate, 2018) and Grief Dreams (White Knuckle Press, 2017), as well as several poems in journals and anthologies. Read more at