|Apr/May 2007 Poetry Special Feature|
The Story of Manole the Builder
is known to schoolchildren
across Romania. Here are elements
common to other tales: the evil
prince, the innocent wife, the walls
that crumble and cannot stand.
And less common ones—
the builders flying away
at the end, on wings made
from wooden shutters. But I like
how Alina told the story to me at work,
when it had slowed down and we
were cleaning, making high orderly
towers of white napkins and takeout
containers. Manole's dream did not
come from God, she told me,
but from within his own heart. Year
after year passed, and the monastery
was not completed. The builder
failled again and again to bring
his vision to life. But one night,
Manole dreams that he must sacrifice
what he holds most dear, and the next day,
when his pregnant wife arrives to bring
him lunch, he knows what he must do.
She is tricked into the walls, her screaming
still heard through centuries of stone.
But now Manole is free.
Free to chisel the indolent marble
and granite into the shapes he has
only imagined, free to trap the sunlight
in golden spire and dome.
The monastery is perfect—
worthy to be entered by any god—
the woman's sacrifice an antidote
to failure. At the tale's end,
Manole climbs alone to the top.
There is nothing more to be accomplished,
nothing further to aspire to.
He flings himself out into a well
of sunshine. He is anointing the air,
looking down at his vision, one wooden
wing named sorrow, the other, triumph.