From, The Black Sea (Sheep Meadow Press, November 2012)
He walks naked to the window,
looks out across the city, the ancient walls,
the trawlers cinched tight along the promenade,
the dogs sleeping in clusters among the piled nets
and the first hint of light that arrives,
messenger between the hours of sleep, thin line
that holds the horizon to its edge, that holds
his throat to the horizon so that every vista
is a lanyard over-tightened, a clothesline tied
to the olive tree and swallowed by its bark,
a dream he left that followed him in daylight,
oil lamps burning for the blind, fireflies at dawn,
pain’s logic, the lantern in the midday sun—
he dresses slowly like the hangman.
Melanthe Speaks to God
All night the sea flutters like tin,
ex-voto for the sulfurous zone, dead
as the mute black sky and the stars too thin.
A wish on something falling sinks like lead;
that’s what I think, made my wishes
and wore the paint of icons on my lips.
The priest intones that he who washes
in the holy water is rid of lies.
That’s the language of men, full of solutions.
I buried three children in the cold dawn
by the roadside without prayer or ablutions
and heaped the stones to hold their bodies down
and kept walking through that field of stolen corn
whose husks are paper crosses on the cairn.
An Oval Photograph
Uncle Constantine, great uncle sadly unmet,
your cream suits are forever pressed to perfection,
with hands like the folded wings of sleeping birds,
soft eyes fixed on some unknown distance,
the phantom limbs of childhood streets.
Constantine, you knew the wind’s caprice,
the names of rivers, the fashions in France,
walked with a cane and banded sun hat
on the unused sands of Athenian beaches.
The fire red sunsets over the Bosphorus
carried in your veins, your sadness
wrapped in cream linen and delicate sheets
of writing paper light as air, letters unsent,
bottles of ink unopened, the sleep of unturned pages.
Rain Over Trabzon
Heavy raindrops strike the water,
a wafer of dissolving sunlight below the clouds
is a white line on a canvas of storm-blue.
The rain erases and renews itself in puddles
that lean like oval mirrors on the promenade
where the priest hurries, robes lifted from his ankles,
thin white ankles reflected in the rain pools,
dark sky over Trabzon, the mist filtering
through streets exchanged like dirty banknotes,
Rubles, Drachmas, Lira, passed hand to hand,
the dog-eared corners wet with blood, bent
by angry fingers, angry men with sadder wives,
the streets of Trebizond, Trabzon, Trapezounda
washed by rain but won’t wash clean.
The Circassian Whore
These blond locks are worth a pretty penny, boy.
The Turkman thinks my ass is his, the Greeks are beasts.
But a glass of this sweet wine will bring them to their knees.
Greeks, Turks, whatever—two half-wits make a man, I guess.
I’ve spread these thighs for seven armies
and when they come to fuck the flags are gone.
I’ve seen a thousand pricks that look the same to me.
But what do I know, a whore in a broken world?
A little hash for better dreams is all I want
and a jar of rosewater for my hair.
Let them un-conjure their fat wives when they heave inside me.
I’m paid and they’ll soon be dead, we’ll all be gone
and these fields will grow wild with poppies
always faithful to the color red.
Black Sea South Coast
Voices still rise from foggy hillsides
that drop and fade into the shore of this Black Sea,
sulfurous and dead beneath the upper zone of life
where fish once roiled in silver clouds
and one too many mythic rivers met
in water ringed by mountains without names,
before Ionia, Anatolia,
before Ovid pined for Rome and wept in Tomi,
and Xerxes whipped the straits with chains,
before Thales, Heraclitus, Anaximander,
that army of gadflies and madmen
looked into the sun with arrogance,
before men fought for this view from an open window,
and the harbors burned for the love of burning.
From Hotel-Dieu (Sheep Meadow Press, 2010)
The Last Letter
The letter comes late.
Each line seeps
from the parcel like light
through the louvers
of summer shutters—
when neither lover
was as cut and rationed
as a telegram,
or gravestone caption.
All light I claimed as ours.
In every field I found
two surviving flowers,
not augury that words
could close a season
with the southbound birds
like our lexicon sprayed
from a shotgun
across the innocent page.
There was sunlight deep as punishment
in your eyes when the dogwood trees burst
like party crackers and it was April
with the squawks of magpies and cardinals
sharp as a phone ringing with news of death.
The shovel fell from my burning hands
and I stood under the cornflower-blue
sky while the dumb spring kept unfolding
like a slideshow someone left running.
Better sometimes to stay in the dream,
stand fast and stoke the fire
while the disappearing light still holds.
The worst arrives with stunning grace,
like an usher who suddenly appears
on quiet feet to lead you through the dark
as gathered thoughts burn uselessly,
lights switched on by accident.
And on the same street of secret gardens
the cherries and ornamental pears
were screaming “see me! I’m beautiful!”
while the trucks shifted on Hillsborough,
people talked, bought newspapers, parked their cars
and like hourglasses filled with sand,
the girls rode by on bicycles.
Notes In Gratitude
For Derek Walcott
Don’t be astonished
when the poem demands
your organized suffering—
when you pin the black band
to your shirtsleeve
you inherit the conscience of death.
Take notes: blue sky, green trees;
read Montale when the horizon
threatens at times to disappear
and your own brown islands,
like the gas ring turned low,
hover and go purple at dusk.
When the poem equals the love,
when the poem surpasses the love,
you have brushed the saddest flame.
So be tough and humble
as the stones of these islands
poured from the same brown earth.
Go fall into a dark-haired woman
like the elegiac rain—
work early, don’t complain.
Field of zinc—
tin wave stalled
and galvanized against a sky
so summer-blue it flirts
And the houses cry out,
“our bright yellow poverty,
our two eggs served
like the jaundiced eyes
of our poverty;
our beautiful brown children
run flame-like through
the crimson edges of our poverty
and still our song rises
from oily smokestacks.”
whose stripped tankers
lie like cadavers
under bright lights
in the floating shipyard.
patrons of rust,
climb the desolate hills
in the midsummer sun—
faith in rusted cable.
And the shacks bloomed fuchsia,
and “candle-wrapper blue”
on the buttressed,
with boat paint
your sailors lifted
from a drunk captain
in a rum-tinted dream.
whose shattered length
is a woman staring
from a window
at the unrepentant sea.
From : LOST DAYS (Leviathan/Rattapallax, 2001)
August was for love and betrayal.
One morning you woke to find
the sad white handkerchief falling.
Betrayal is a strange freedom
for the betrayed. And the handkerchief
floats gently earthbound.
A woman came and went in August.
August, a month of rising and setting,
of waking to sharp blue eyes,
alone, your own, in the crooked mirror.
Black from sunlight and dirt,
you look back like those forlorn
faces on railway platforms
staring after the disappearing train.
A hand waves from a window.
Someone is always waving good-bye.
You’ve gathered as many good-byes
as Napoleon had stars. You greet
them like distant friends.
One morning the woman you love
will leave you. It is perhaps as necessary
as the air you breathe. Days
pass. Your spirit lurches
toward the turning season.
Unit 649 Samos
Father, your image clings to the mountainside
in this half-morning while the tired soldiers sleep.
Dust of the trampled field, dust rising
from the tracks of Steyers in manic traverse.
It is difficult sometimes, being a man.
I would like to fall into the purple light
like a child, like the star that rolled
with its lucent teardrop straight across
Cassiopeia and drowned in the east Aegean.
You would understand this strange, cinematic landscape.
You too stood guard on such dark horizons,
counting days while some magic woman
quietly buried your heart. Silence falls silken
on these windswept barracks.
Desolate steel, dirt— the hourglass slips.
Memories fail, eyes flutter where the void
swings open like a leaning gate. Look out
across the charred mountains, the sky stretching
to where the mind is useless anyway.
The flash of Turkey in the distance,
the crippled trees staggered on the ridge’s blade,
surprise me every morning when the sun
rides up the back of Mt. Karvouni
and leaps out white-hot with a violence.
I have seen every sunrise and sunset
for ninety days. Dust coats my eyelids.
My iris glints like the barrel of my gun.
I am no soldier— when I guard,
I guard the stars. When I march, I march
for the sad music of these hills, for joy.
In the burnt yellow afternoon light of Kouzi,
Mavraki sits with the old men—
leather boots left to dry in the sun.
Wars move quickly, then there is the memory.
The sun moves across the pockmarked wall where
rust stains lead down from railings,
the tear marks of iron eighty years exposed.
The building stands like a sick horse;
walls crumble when touched, crippled foundations
turned to limestone dust, and the memory of plumbing
risen to the surface like veins.
Mavraki pushes his cart through streets that sigh
with too much history, an old man
trying to forget a memory packed with salt.
Mavraki passes churches, crossing himself (in case)
while shopkeepers stand like question marks in doorways,
as he traces the snail’s path through sidewalks
that speak of old Athens through forty-year cracks,
of a younger, lighter man.
In Papandreou’s tavern, he swallows the last strings of tripe,
a glass of wine, smokes cigarettes and waits.
as mosquitoes die on light strips
and the accordion shudders, gasping.
Where do we go from here?
Mavro means black, Aki, from Crete;
he wears his island like a cross.
His gas lamp hisses, filament trembles—
the sound of night escaping.
Salmon-tired tourists move up Hadrianou,
they have made the ocean crossing to come to this:
a street of jewelry shops and plaster,
authentic Greeks in authentic shops.
This city is like a shirt worn inside out.
He waits on the unclaimed corner,
every bag of salted nuts sold is a step
toward home. Nuts, cigarettes, empty canisters of gas—
dark green drip-marks in the paint of his cart.
Green paint, gas lamps, fingerprints of Athens
before the war, before aluminum window frames,
mirrored glass and plastic roll-up shades.
Before orange awnings. Before
the gods became a circus out of work.
Standing in a Truck from Soufrière
Standing in a truck from Soufrière to Castries,
Black Jesus pumping brakes, and Danny the Rat
smiling yellow smile from one yellow eye
to the other. Bananas, bush, sea shacks—
the great unfinished churches of St.Lucia
telling us, this is as far as Europe got.
The halfway mark. Church half painted, heart half-full
of England, the Lord’s prayer, E.C. and U.S.
Danny the Rat asks me if I like his island.
‘Mwe fet ici,’ I say, and the wind
pulls back our lips laughing, Danny the Rat
bent over, clutching rail, this white man’s so funny,
and Black Jesus at the wheel
driving faster than accidents over half-hearted roads,
coconuts bleeding in the ditch.