Poems from The Amoeba Game (Eyewear Publishing, 2017, London)
THE AMOEBA GAME
I stood at the stove holding
a wooden spoon in my right hand,
listening to butter sputtering against
the splattered circle of an egg. Perhaps
it was the flapping of the egg’s
wavy edges against the steel pan,
or the amorphousness of its innards
outside the carriage of its brown shell—
I remembered an odd game I played
in Brownies. The amoeba game.
In the front yard of the scout cabin,
one girl at a time would become
an amoeba and lead the rest.
We didn’t know what amoebas were,
only that they weren’t human or animal,
and moved like a thousand blind legs
treading through molasses.
So it was that our heads and arms
became legs and feet, undulating
wayward into dusk. Swaying our shoulders
left to right, we’d giggle through mouths
we weren’t supposed to have, pretending
we had no eyes and didn’t know where
we came from or where we were going.
Dad hears there’s a town in Romania
where almost everyone is a Skurtu,
and I think about Jo-Ann Fabric.
The aisles of zippers, mismatched bolts
of cloth that frenzied my eyes electric—
and on all of these, a zebra-striped sticker
with the letters SKU. Skurtu supplies.
If this town exists, I imagine it’s full
of dads teaching their children to draw
shapes: circle, square, slibeedoo.
A town with balls—like Dad, when a cop
pulled him over for no apparent reason,
looked at his license and said,
Step out of the car, Mr. Skrewtoo.
Looking that cop in the eye, Dad said,
That’s not how you pronounce it.
My name is Mr. SkrewYou.
In that one-family town, no one loses
a name. Unlike Mr. Freid, whose grandfather,
at Ellis Island, spoke the only English words
he knew but couldn’t spell. I am afreid.
And fear, with a foreign accent, renamed him.
On THE AMOEBA GAME:
The earned, liberated laughter of survival and foreboding; a high-voltage mind thinking in images; candid grief; an irreverence that rises above convention to a true, untamed intuition of the sacred; love, with all its penalties and joys. With these qualities, the engaging poems of Tara Skurtu’s The Amoeba Game offer a vision of our familiar world transformed by possibility. The title poem is a compact, funny parable of imagination engaging the unknown, and happy to encounter the unknowable.
“There’s a town in Romania/where almost everyone is a Skurtu…,” the poet Tara Skurtu hears from her father when she’s a girl in Florida thinking about aisles of zippers at Jo-Ann Fabric. Skurtu journeys into adulthood from there, her childhood state of Bible School and barracudas and a loving family’s disarray, to the dream and reality of life—and love—in Romania. In these wise, sharply observed, dazzling lyric poems, we travel, too, as she opens to—and is opened by—her ancestral adopted country.
—Gail Mazur, author Forbidden City
In The Amoeba Game, Tara Skurtu demonstrates broad, empathetic range, moving between remembering a childhood game while frying an egg to visiting her sister in jail, prayer, Ellis Island, a pink dildo defacing a statue of the Virgin Mary, boogers on a White House wall, a “cross-eyed skull” tattoo, vacation Bible school, and “your neighbor Marlene,/ her neon lips, twenty-something/feral cats, her Buick, its red and white/bumper sticker: Shit happens.” All are made real, present, with admirable, clear-eyed precision. Whether she’s talking about “[t]he fear of forgetting I am well” or wanting you so much she “walked into your morning shower fully clothed,” Tara Skurtu shows you what she means, and that she means it.