Orel Protopopescu

Orel Protopopescu
I grew up with two older sisters in Hempstead, Long Island, a town considered, throughout the 1950s, to be a model of integration. My mother was a dedicated third-grade teacher in an inner-city school. I devoured all the books she brought me. My father, a lawyer who preferred bridge and backgammon to the law, taught me chess and told stories that made me laugh. He was born in Russia and named me for a Russian city, something that I was often teased about at school. It was the Cold War. We had frequent air-raid drills where we had to crouch down in the hallways with our coats over our heads. I was also teased for being the only kid in school who’d skipped the fourth grade.

Still, I loved my neighborhood, with its people of every color and nationality. Our friends from Jamaica taught us the limbo. Gospel music spilled out of the Baptist church, jazz and rhythm and blues from many houses. I rode my bike everywhere, making up poems in my head. In a poem that won a prize in Oberon poetry magazine’s 2006 contest, judged by Louis Simpson, I paint a picture of myself in high school: “Where is the girl who forgot to eat, / who thought nothing of riding a bike / thirty miles to Manhattan after school, / who recited poems in the grass by candlelight, / chanted hymns of praise to trees and stars, / read books as she wrote them in her sleep . . .”

By the middle of the 1960s, our family alone was integrating our street and I


Thelonious Mouse

Orel Protopopescu; pictures by Anne Wilsdorf

Song- and dance-loving Thelonious the hipster mouse cannot keep himself from taunting the cat of the house, but it turns out he and the cat can make beautiful music together.