I remember my first time in school
how I cried in secret
when my mother withdrew her hand
and a palm of iron
patted me on the back.
I think now
I wasn’t afraid of the teachers
or the examiners
my unfamiliar peers
army officers later on
professors at university.
It was the frigid cycle of their knowledge I dreaded.
harsh, intransigent, loveless
like empty walnuts upon cracking
whilst my mother’s words
kneaded together in affection.
And so now
as I sense the same fear in my son
I give him words each morning
words of love
to take with him
to have and to hold
when the clang of foreign words
closes in on him.
The child leans on my shoulder
my shoulder is rough
bones wrapped in muscles
longs for his mother’s shoulder
a blossoming cushion
three layers of honey
a tap dripping rose petals
a wealth of rose petals
My shoulder gives way
breaks into shards
under the weight of the child’s
works with metals
comes home with cuts and abrasions
He works as a waiter
withered by gazes
My son runs errands
the sun inside him dies
My son harvests olive trees
his hands black with bitterness
He’s a good boy my son
everyone loves him
Sometimes he is summoned
to other jobs
he is summoned
from the skies
to act as an angel
to lift the wounded.
from the neighbourhood.
On occasion, passers-by would bring him theirs.
His two children ran around barefoot
their eyes gleaming with adventure
and its end.
All day they ran.
Swamped with work
he never took his eyes off them
but at a sharp point in time
when the improbable scythed a path through the afterlight
on that blind spot
when the neck fails to turn completely
they slipped away
mounted two saddles
with punctured tyres
and rose to the peak of reveries.
On the way back, a colourful downhill
all barefoot children flounder
they didn’t make it.
In vain he looked for them
their sunless father
In silence he looked for them
No one but him.
Along with others, these incidents
occur in lightless places.
STORIES YOU COMPREHEND
a policeman would chase after us ablaze
in his shorts
and the orchard owner.
The first bedamned us for playing ball
and ruining his siesta
he’d grab a wooden stick and rush down
to beat the crap out of us.
The second would howl incomprehensibly
certain he would catch us
red handed stealing fruit from his trees.
But we were more ablaze than them.
It took me years
that perhaps more than us
they hated our laughter
power and ownership
have no love for children.
We meet randomly once or twice a year
Only yesterday he saw me at the supermarket picking
And again he asked how my eldest daughter was.
- A son, Andreas, now a student.
- Right, right.
- Is he alright?
- He’s fine.
The same chat each and every time
over groceries gone bad
at the door of the clipper of names
the repair shop for replacement of limbs
in the queues of dry jobless people
the pavements of the shrunken
the trenches of the city
- Lean forward Andreas, no, don’t take a bow
just lean forward.
Strange how someone
can always remember the same thing wrong.
I noticed a slight tremor in his hand
though skillfully he tried to hide it by clinging onto the shopping cart.
I do my best to avoid him
but he persists on sharing his embarrassment.
You can’t beat that.
One day he dropped his head
We ran to catch it
When I paid the next publisher
to bring out my sixth book
I mailed it to an address unknown
certain he would receive it somehow.
Years later we met again
in the public toilets
paying for a pee.
“Say, how’s your daughter?
Loved your poem about that guy.
I can’t believe that guy!
Who is he?”
The forgotten children
are kicking a ball
in the school yard.
It is precisely 3:30
the sun at this time of the year is compassionate
yet scorches little by little
one after the other
The blond girl
a delicate key-holder
on tip toes, opens the gate
then runs outside
to fetch something insignificant.
The door is left ajar
a child notices and hastens
out of limits
to become a cloud
another child does the same
the other children turn to droplets and gusts of wind
the children multiply
the children evaporate.
This is more or less how
on that sun-drenched day
an uncanny storm
over the school yard.
There are in India
people over 180 years old.
They drink water and feed on sun;
so some serious guy once said.
I looked it up in the bizarre events section
you have to believe me.
They are more or less 180 years old
hermits in their secret crypts
amidst the branches of plane trees
and they read the universe.
Their lives are as long
as the sum of the years
of the children who drowned of late
or died along some route.
And then some.
A few years are left over.
Lives long and succinct.
They’ve lived so long these old men
but they’re flat
as if joy is not wise
or grief is wise only if you’re not sorry for someone
there’s nothing around them they enjoy
their world a stern sanctuary
they stepped into and locked from the inside.
What wouldn’t they give, these children
for a few more years
- so many, the excess in the equation.
I too would trade all my poetry
for a miracle like this.
But these old men, frankly, I don’t think they care that much
in their caves and all.
JOSÉ SARAMAGO’S BROWN BOOK
I’m reading a brown book.
The author is dead
The translator is dead
The main hero took his own life.
I’m still alive.
Sitting on the slope of an unsung moon
I’m drinking a blond beer.
Who says death
There’s something held in abeyance
I really need to get off my chest.
Someone’s watching me as I write.
I can hear him clipping his nails
scratching and yawning
Then rising, cracking eggs
for an omelette
Switching on the TV
relishing daily gloom
then getting worked up over a derby
puffing on his humungous cigar
sending smoke rings
towards his grey ceiling
I could care less about poetry
he tells me, ripping all etiquette apart
I actually don’t give a shit about it
he cracks up.
He thinks he can piss me off
or prompt me to engage
in something more profitable.
Let’s drink a glass of wine, I reply,
once again you’ ve given me
the best poem.
She sleeps splayed across the bed
I’m not even sure she’s breathing.
Next to her
cuddled up in the foliage of the night.
The secret rope ladder from the moon
and once more I’ll ascend it alone.
She’ll wake up
notice the aimless lingering of the rope
fold it neatly
and tuck it away in the drawer
just like so many other odd things
the sky releases
now and then.
SELECTED POEMS Translated FROM THE GREEK
by Despina Pirketti
English Text edited by helen stavrou