– How many afternoons I slept alone
with my skin –
Splintered doors letting in
strips of gardens.
In the distance, just visible,
a girl is playing “The Last Post” on a bugle.
A dead man falls from the sky,
light as a feather.
He gets hitched onto the roof.
“Now they bury them deep, and it’s raining.”
It’ s raining.
It’ s stopped.
The girl just manages
to swallow her bugle.
Everything fades out.
A bell tolls frenziedly.
(Noon full of ink and stones.)
Now I climb onto the ceiling
and the day burns my face.
I cry red tears.
Poems fall out of my pockets.
A few burst and darken the night
Others lie forgotten on the ground.
(Doubtless, after many years
they’ ll remember the explosion-
their function, that is-
and will alter the population density.)
Now I climb onto
like a jet of water,
like a thirsty eye.
Once I’ m on it
-monochrome butterflies will spring
from my blood-
A strong wind sweeps away my bones.
Bright, warm light, a very bird,
will stick to my armpit.
Below they wait
with open mouths.
MERCURIAL TIME, The Sceptre Press, Knotting, Bedfordshire, 1978.
RAIN AND THE PRESENT
It’s raining, like in Russian films.
The sky is fractured.
Down come generals and devils.
I hear the frozen lights
of cars descending.
The smoke of your songs
doesn’t impassion the official.
He brings the night and lights it
that he may warm his beard.
You αre scared.
If the rain lasts much longer
a bird will fade out.
MERCURIAL TIME, The Sceptre Press, Knotting, Bedfordshire, 1978
THE LOW VEGETATION OF SPEECH
To Nikos Houliaras
Fluctuations in me
bring electricity, salt
and earth to my other life.
Darkness is ablaze all around.
Nothing flies. Everything crawls.
Low vegetation-whispering voices.
You are asleep wrapped in your veins.
I take hold of Greek words
and make my way through devastation.
A whole pile of dates
undiscernible, gnawed by ideologies
and the loneliness of humankind.
I make a collage of faces
past and future.
Time nudges you
and you ‘re nowhere to be found.
Tomorrow dawns another night
From STI DHIALEKTO TIS ERIMOU (In the Dialect of the Desert), Kedros 1980
You think I’ll let you
mess around with Yankee sailors
drinking Cokes and getting doped?
I’ll do the lot in with the help
of Julian the transgressor
and restore you, a vestal virgin,
the horrendous fire in the temple
keeping you awake all night.
Like a wolf I’ll howl outside
And the moon – ah, the moon of poets –
will split open my head
to read the map of my ideas.
From THE BROKEN SHOP WINDOW
– A long poem is
like a hangmanβs rope.
A short poem is like a grenade
chip which blew off an arm or a leg.
Either way there’s no escape.
(Slav songs are my shoulders
when they cover you.)
– Then, of course, we have the lifeless
poems, thirsty as stray dogs
– Switch on the light that I might see you.
Another power cut?
(My words a felled forest.)
THE BASEMENT TENANT SEES GARDENS AND LAUGHS
To Dimitris Mytaras
He spins and twines smoke. Birds - human thoughts – are to be found here. Dolphins are knocking on the door. He hears nothing. He keeps an eye on history’s pall that envelops him, building him into the world. He weighs his words: aslant, unlike, awanting. Better that he says nothing. He just follows other people’s movements. He sees the sole’s furrow on the ground only. He presses his foot down to imprint fantasy. The white hair is not visible in the dark, only the bones phosphoresce. His hand has long been fasting, and now on the sands of his room he is drinking beer, while the cars’ headlights bore the hideout, razing the rear building plot. Everything is translucent and snowy with memories’ velvet lining. The tape recorder grinds his voice. Afterwards he shows the film. He recalls everything. He washes his socks – hangs them up to dry together with his feet – combs his hair and rests his head on the globe to sleep. Then the body’s circumflex (the soundless side) cuts the ropes and he swims in the blue morn.
From ANONYMOU MONAHOU (Anonymous Monk), Kedros 1985
ETUDE FOR SOPRANO
Her pointed hat pierces the sky,
touching the angels’ underbellies.
A silky but harsh mistress
waits for her lord and master from the war.
In her sleep she cracks almonds and feeds the darkness.
She wakes with the morning dew, cruelly beating her maids
for her loneliness. In the chapel she stares
at the confessor’s toes
through his sandals. She clutches rosary and prayer
to her womb. It was (is) September twenty-seventh
and inside her there’s a moon of past loves
and semen. She went out onto the balcony to sing
-as she did every morning, at around nine-thirty –
she returns to her chamber, abstracted.
She puts on a tape player hard rock
and looks at the calendar. Is it 1589 or 1958?
She doesn’t know. All she knows is her voice
is in shreds from drinking and smoking.
Every day she’d say: -Now my hearts going
to stop from the pain,- but her heart
worked clocklike. Some evenings she’d go to the cinema
wrapped in a black cloak. In time she grew tired
of waiting, and fell into John’s velvet
embrace. During siestas
she’d go down to the cellar and admire
the photos of her knight.
In one, with full armour and drawn sword
before a conquered castle.
In another, with white tunic drinking
red wine - the wineβs colour she imagines –
In yet another - slightly blurred – hunting for deer.
One afternoon, she wanted to lie down.
She felt slightly dizzy. Just for once she wished
to take off her pointed hat. She pulls it
sharply and with it pulls: her mind,
entrails, moon and voice.
What remained was an empty body in the shadows.
(History records that she died from languish.)
From DOREAN SKOTADI (Gratuitous Darkness), Kedros 1989
BEWARE OF NOSTALGIA, IT WILL KILL YOU
It goes through the skin, into the blood,
like lice. The symptoms are similar.
Itching, infection, extensive tissue
damage, which in most cases reaches
the bone. The patient suffers acute
sadness. He sees the backs of people
and thinks that a passing face
is his own lost forsaken face.
He sits on a chair, hand
on each knee, in a state of advanced decay
-he himself is totally unaware -
and tries to fill the gap
with these medusan thoughts. Mind you,
it’s not the past, there’s a basic difference.
He is mesmerised by sinister wind instruments
and talks and mumbles to hair,
lips, ears and hands,
or full-bodied women
who come through walls
or appear suddenly
through the furniture and the floor.
If he continues this way, he’ll end up
an old newspaper thrown out
into the street.
POESIE EUROPE (Germany), 1993
The excavations brought to light your ill omened
morns. The earth had preserved the footprints.
On measuring, it came to five men. One,
the strongest, wore golden sandals.
It was he who broke down the door, and the maidservants
fled. You had just dipped your foot
in the cistern for your morning bath.
Your cries and the steam
are still visible on the walls.
All else is lost:
the curses, the attempted explanations,
the nurse’s pleas,
the dove’s frightened flight.
What was found were the knives, blood,
hair in his clutch, your moans,
the rumble and damages of the earthquake
that occurred at the same time as the murder.
After thousands of years,
the setup, the opaque glassware, the maintenance,
the museum, the visitors.
THE ANCIENT COUNTRY OF POEMS- Modern Greek Poets on Ancient Greece. Translation: Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke & Yannis Goumas. Metaichmio Editions, Athens, February 2004.
I can no longer distinguish names.
The toothless politician speaks
and I take him for a friend.
The dead author coughs
and I bring him water.
The floor grows grass on Sunday.
On Monday I burn it and choke with smoke.
People complain – what people? –
Take it easy. You’ll get your pension.
Take it easy. You’ll soon be dead.
Those who commit suicide first remove
their shoes then fall over
(as if they were going to swim or fly).
and are covered
hastily with a paper.
If only I could hear your voice
and take hold of its ropes
and climb to the polyphonic -come-.
THE TRAVELLER WITH THE BLACK BOX
This white face,
painted with white lead,
like a moon, like a shoe,
it comes from afar.
It walked along street after street
to come to our neck of the woods.
It walked poems,
forests and seas,
to be with us.
Its dark eyes,
Time, a cue,
its tip the right
moment, and the game
is successfully played everyhere.
And as the light falls
softly on the lemon trees, we
eat chocolates laughing
well aware of what awaits us.
He wears his years skin-tight.
He recalls the stairs. Beyond,
the desk, the scattered papers.
Then a great war.
Ideologies, industries, revolutions
have forced the fishes up the trees.
He reverts to personal affairs.
He came to love certain people,
saw tunes being forgotten.
He smoked a lot. Once or twice
he managed to hear the sky
without airplanes, and thatʼs all.
His teeth fell out, he sagged.
He calls out inexistent names
– mute parentheses – With goitre,
with flatfeet, with civil wars.
The telephone in bandages
– he neither hears it nor is he heard –
Life spins at seventy-eight
rpm. The needle grooves him.
The song grates upon the ear.
He can no longer walk. Up till now
he could crawl on hands and knees. Now
he lies flat on the bed, staring at
his garden on the ceiling.
On the sidetable his false teeth reflect
a pure-white night – unknown tomorrow.
Smoke overcomes him and he coughs
the old and the new.
Mole-verses burrow themselves.
Poke their snouts out for a second.
Alarmed, they go under again.
But the old man goes on living, knowing
how iron turns into cotton wool.
Your two small breasts
smile in the afternoon.
At night I light matches
to see how they sleep.
Your two small rodents
chew my fingers
in the dark.
In the morning my hands
are with birdsʼ wings.
CINEMA IN AN ARCADE
New York is still
under my eyelids, a speck of dust.
For years Iʼve been passing through the tunnel.
I enter as a youth and at the exit
Iʼm an old man, or vice versa.
Thousands of yards of film
girdle me and follow me
Last year, walking and observing
the leisurely light at the exit, it was
like waking up with the taste of oleander
on my palate, and a throat
throbbing next to me.
blocks the exit
and I find myself in the hall.
Outside the neon signs go on and off,
policemen shoot, a siren
is heard. The innocent thief hides
by the corner of the building,
and clouds pass black