I hear the voices of stories lived long ago.
Church bells sound a halting song
from the belfry next to my house.
The priest is teaching the boys the ropes.
In the end he can’t help himself
and gives an impromptu recital
just for the heck of it.
This is how it’s done, this is the sound of pure joy.
I spend time watching the goings on
in the courtyard of the church.
The lives of others.
I see blue and white balloons.
They are baptising a baby boy.
The parents walk slowly in their best clothes,
the father holding the prize,
the mother adjusting and re-adjusting
till it’s all perfect:
a falling shoulder strap, the baby’s hair,
the father’s thoughts.
Two people with huge cameras
are recording the ritual proceedings.
Inside, they will undress the baby,
they will immerse him fully in warm water,
they will anoint him with oil,
cut off a tuft of baby hair,
dress him in wonderful white clothes
to symbolise renewal,
taking photographs all the while.
Some people think the terror and the crying
is cute and funny.
Maybe it is inevitable,
like fate and toothache.
All of us have gone through it,
it’s a shared blueprint
carry to every corner of the earth.
Four tracks scoring a scorching retreat
down your back
(gently now, we are not so young any more)
four tracks scoring the orange
as the smell takes over all else
and the colour dirties my fingernails
and I think
shall I end this? Shall I end
this parallel descent of my fingers?
Do I mark this obsession
with indelible raised furrows,
a monument to a history
of palpable happiness,
possible, plausible pleasurable
do I go back to
Nothing but ripples on pristine sand,
in palest grey.
No smell, no colour,
no dank, organic smell,
no bigger purpose than staying
On turning on the computer in Greece, a window pops up with all the names of the Saints whose holy day it is. They are also displayed on screens in the Metro in Athens. Often the saints are so obscure, I have never met anyone with that name. It’s a litany of K names, or A names, it can be poetic and surprising, like everything in Modern Greece. The old and the new live side by side. The people who lived in these same places make their presence felt all the time. There is a wall at Syntagma Square Metro Station where five thousand years of plumbing mark the spot behind glass. Everywhere you dig, it’s an archaeological site. People have been here for a long time. Athens, the city of my birth, has been sacked and raised to the ground many times. When I walk outside, there is a silent protest on the square from displaced Syrians. Tell us where to go, say the banners. I was told they were moved away for Christmas. Austerity be damned, people were shopping for Christmas, an imported custom. They didn’t want to be reminded of people facing worse nightmares than them.
At any time, whenever my uniqueness, call it eccentricity, is pointed out to me, I am acutely aware that only Greece could form me. They say you have to go away to find what you left behind. I’m constantly looking for meaning in everything. What makes me uniquely me? Food, yes. Memories growing up in an empty city full of promise? Endless summers, hot skies, lazy holidays at a time when very little felt like plenty? We are a small nation but boy, do we make a lot of noise. It’s a fascinating, yet rather exasperating place. Poetry has helped me make sense of it, poetry is always present. When I was growing up, songs on the radio were written by many of the great poets living in Athens at the time. The radio was playing and we would swoon. We still sing those songs, even the young people, even though we have our own rap. Recently, we had a flash mob enacting the Ancient Greek comedy “Froggs”at the metro station. It was posted on social media as it happened. Sitting at my laptop in London, I was there.
Last night you left a crust of prayer
on the edge of the table,
crumbs discarded all over the place,
forgotten needs, needless explanations,
hopeless tirades, songs without purpose.
And yet, and yet.
Chirps accompany your waking up
and chirrups. And clicks and tweets
and happy taps on the windowpane.
Sunlight caresses the leaves,
rustling wind sets the pace of the new morning,
deafening crickets are loudly, persistently
announcing a hot day.
It’s a good thing for some people,
a bad thing for some,
thirst being relative and lust being,
by nature, finite. You breathe, slowly,
daily bread. Then,
you make your hand into a fist,
you grab what you can
and make it your secret, your stash of hope.
The Angels envy your resilience,
their shadows move across the landscape,
when all is good with the world.
Blessed be the Lord, the creator of cinnamon,
Lord of sour glistening berries with a furry after taste
and seeds that get caught between my teeth,
red chili peppers I shouldn’t be eating
and ripe, perfect apricots I can only have when I’m home.
Blessed be the Lord, the providore, the farmer,
the creator of the mystery that turns milk into cheese,
the one who whispered the secret to the shepherd:
try this, you will like it. Like me,
when I offer a taste of the sauce on my spoon,
She says: pick this, try this.
Put a little bit of this and a little bit of that together,
see, She says, I saw and it was good.
I let the berries form out of red,
I allowed the grapes to take shape in purple,
I exploded little brown beans
/bitter dots of brown/ for my enjoyment.
I, the mother and father of more greens
than you can put a name to,
I say: eat in my name.
Blessed be the Lord of each mouthful,
blessed be the Lord, the creator of cinnamon.
The one who never said some shall have
and some shall have not,
the giver of sunshine and rain, milk and honey.
Lest we forget who is boss, eat
like it’s the last meal of your life.