from 26 Poems
Translated from the Greek by John Taylor
. . . And the Catastrophe
Don’t leave me alone, please don’t leave me
In beloved hell
This earth lies under low clouds, the notes soar above my umbrella.
Dressed in turn-of-the-century clothes, the children are singing, and Franz,
dearest Franz, drowned in roses, perseveres
“what can I say now that I’m sunk into myself, into the string of words launched by my pierced mouth and hovering above gardens which in winter keep raindrops in their chilly hearts? As for sinning, I’ll confess to knotting my tie, and then I’ll attend my beloved soul’s funeral, peeking through the keyhole at my nakedness. I’ll be very serious and speak of nothing but our futile love, the smooth wooden surface that protects your childish head when you lower your elbows and hurriedly whisper the frayed letter sigma, the deceiving thunder of your even more deceitful wrath.”
And successively the beads falling to the floor, bouncing, the icons offered to the outraged saints’ historical fleeing and not belonging to unhappy loves that keep on strolling, warming frozen hands moist like flowers, indeed flowers that speak of exceptional times in the past.
I owe everything to you.
Clay the unsafe
scaffolding of divine guilt,
the shadow of those who shaped
with a sense
Before I could say “save me” from you
I was born. Inside your soft belly
throbbed the strange substance
creating, O God of excess,
the fear of the future
existence that I owed.
longing for the startled
I have confessed my suffering
from prostituting my heart
and so I know why you
Here’s what I see from my window with its sills blackened by the shadows of birds that keep on prophesizing. A hazy horizon, a rowdy atmosphere because of the music. The sister goes down the hotel hallways, whispering as she were crying out. From the balcony can be seen whatever is especially useful. I watch the body lying on the marble table; I don’t speak with the person and the gentle mouth asking questions; everything is the past because it exists. And yet I fly over the divine machine. It brings up something from down there: Bolivar to the Acropolis. Land. Witchcraft.
Someone is behind the door. Can you hear?
I haven’t touched you but your news—
I’m getting married!—stabs me all the way
up into the vault of heaven.
Write on the sweaty windowpane: She’s dead.
This word “dead” has no gender, no number.
All those staying at the Hotel of Love are dead.
What’s left, eros?
Naked wrestling on the sharp stones.
Above all, a straightness that isn’t shattered
A wintry landscape with nothing
White about it
Only the masks are bright white
and everything else that tries to plead
for the unexplored synod
of the gods.
Silence and deathliness
The tree trunks motionless
The branches enduring
Nothing is more sorrowful than
The snow bobbing underground, the wavering line
—even the metal is tragic—
(no plot or sequel in this but
an image that attracts, bears fruit.)
Who among you dares to repeat the incision
Made with a steady hand?
In the night the groaning night
from the puppet’s woe
hangs the unjust landscape
the voice vowing the redemption of loss
speaks not twice
The Future of the Shadow
The soul saw, the eyes created, the hand sculpted the mysterious statue. The little hunchback hid there, and below it ended the desolate life of the dog, so loved by she who
I didn’t take care of you
Hands took a long time to move
I would walk late at night
I met up with the woman who didn’t
Have a sword but
Threatened with her face
I had a fever in Spain
Prior to that pains there
As I crossed the white landscape I hid from
The inhospitable lightning
Because I had been forewarned that as long as
The vital force exists the walls will keep rising
I swear to you that I didn’t take care of them
The ending didn’t matter to me
I had a small job but couldn’t stand noises
Certainly not at all
Didn’t I take care of you
Fighters as you were in the battle
Oh, and I can’t find the beginning
Everything is creaking
Slowly as the still undefined spherical universe comes closer
(The Flickering Candle)
I saw him. He was sitting on a bench in the unlit basement, shifting the upper part of his body while gazing at the floor. . . He wasn’t saying anything. The others were glancing at him now and then, yet paying more attention to outside noises since the distant silence, which might have lasted for hours, would be interrupted by the drone of an airplane or by a whistle that would make them shudder.
The space was large, rectangular. Whitewashed concrete, with wooden benches all around and in the middle an earthenware basin full of water. Once their eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, they would try to make out faces. It wasn’t necessary to be someone familiar, as long as his look recalled something of the street, the bakery, and the marketplace.
Directly across from the central bench and next to the door, to the left as you went in, stood an oblong wooden table with worn-down corners, a top covered with engravings, and two of its four legs broken. Sitting on a rickety chair at one end (which never remained steady (because it was constantly jostled by the restless feet of those sitting around it) was an old woman of indeterminable age, bent over, shabbily dressed, somehow withdrawn from the others. Although no one had ever glimpsed her face, since she never spoke a word to anyone nor liked to stare, as the others did to alleviate their boredom, her presence, from the very first day of their confinement, impressed everyone.
And this bitter admiration for beauty lasted, despite the smell of the whitewash and the increasingly intense dampness, all the while eating away at whatever remained brave, fearless, and firm in those minds.
Note: these poems and prose poems have been selected from 26 POIHMATA (“26 Poems,” Agra, 2004).
John Taylor has translated many French, Italian, and Greek poets. His memoir Harsh Out of Tenderness: The Greek Poet and Urban Folklorist Elias Petropoulos (Cycladic Press) has recently been published, as well as a new edition of his translation of the short stories of Elias Papadimitrakopoulos, Toothpaste with Chlorophyll & Maritime Hot Baths (Coyote Arts). He is the author of several volumes of poetry and short prose, most recently Remembrance of Water & Twenty-Five Trees (The Bitter Oleander Press) and a “double book” published with the Swiss poet Pierre Chappuis, A Notebook of Clouds & A Notebook of Ridges (The Fortnightly Review Press).