from THE LAMPS (1973-74)
SCATTERED WORDS, Or LONG WALLS
Since they could never paint them or sing them with one back missing, as if in a bowl of water with a fish from the baptismal font, plastic and green, resting on the bottom, like a Saturday robber and brawling judge, they gave her a mandolin, or maybe a bouzouki -- their sound unknown in the century -- and those smiles of toothpaste ads, bond loans, air conditioners, next to a pasha, or maybe a vizier, always under half-waxed moons, always deficient and mice-gnawed singing of our sorrows, their sorrows, perhaps even of their slavery. Now in our sleep on our sarcophagi and our beds near artificial lakes -- the palace at the far end -- some men’s faces high on the walls, enigmatic and lone, embroider next to the plummeting of the industrial monopoly’s stocks and of prosperity, the vizier’s downfall, the vizier’s downfall.
WINDS OF INDIA
The unmentioned horses no one ever mounted
are now trees behind worksites
behind pulled down quarters, are now rocks
following local silences
those winds that blow in India
When children leave their desks and sneak off
in the rain to go and find them standing alone
lengthening under trees, knocking on
empty pastry cartons, drum of a feast now finished
without the arrival of that crazy rider who bent down
to drink spring water and observed
his scratched face.
It’s raining and you are a haemoptysis in the Sunday fêtes
a patch on their trousers from the usher’s torch.
A dog you are under the car’s bonnet as it passes
along these avenues and throws you bread
And it is nighttime and you are from the villages of Mantineía
alone in the rain and not afraid to see me bringing letters for those killed
It’s raining and you are the cashier at their cash register.
THE FIRST COUNTER-DEMONSTRATION
The first counter-demonstration lies under the park’s waters
as your first ejaculation is cupped in your hand
Beyond the trees, white housetops
turned-off lights leaving on rafts
A few unsuspecting excursionists
Sunday newspaper issues
You can’t hear their slogans or they don’t know them.
They are almost commonplace
Adonis singing in Hades
the dolls of Tanágra
then a missing letter is no big deal
but the name of the addressee
his mother looking at him in tears
Being abandoned it’s as if I exist
as if learning how to swim, to breathe
When I'm ending it’s like I’m starting
like rain that erases streets and numbers
and I lost and looking for you
My body hating me and as such slowly dying
and my table a sunken, vanished island
Talk to me you can’t
Kill me you can’t
Because you know me
Thus you resort to small details
you walk as if on a tightrope
talking about an unknown to me repatriation
about a strange dead man
mentioning the actions’ insecurity, the shame
a day’s wages, the reception desk
of the Carlton Hotel
At the time of your siesta
imperceptibly I become a dog at your feet
and penicillin injections
I become a dog
I change quickly, dress as the last-appearing chanteuse
along with two or three other blokes -- who barely know how to play the bouzouki
and I record you
in empty hotel rooms
Then during the interlude in the Garden of Allah, in Domenico’s bar
a heavy darkness falls in cinemas
deep mourning in my house,
in between Béllou I give you an apple
a smile from the magazine Bouquet
In the other hand I hold a knife
I don’t care about my health
In the palms of my hands I bury my final silence.
leave me alone
The nocturnal, the principally mournful demonstration
is proceeding past the buildings.
from INSULIN MORNINGS
HALL OF MIRRORS
In the end she decided to do away with herself like those Huxleian heroines -- she slept with nothing on by an open window
Next morning when she woke up slantwise so as not to see the clear sky above her, she said in a juggler’s voice
Tonight I travelled widely within me, uncertain travels that are travels for you don’t know where you are going, what you want, what you are looking for in the squares at night without clothes or a sheet before the elementary schools of a lost province, and tonight I am rain, cholera, duodenal ulcer
Tonight the rain obliged me to cover myself on the road with trees whose names I never learned -- my friends were none other than waiters or soldiers -- and I don’t have a vagina, I don’t have breasts and I can’t feel
Yet I am supremely happy -- travelling as I am, walled in on a train, headed for Lárissa, and what music will adopt me, and what river will empty me into the sea, and what sea will drown me, and what boneless fish will eat me, left with wearing gloves and that cement lying softly on the marble kitchen sink as it issues with cemetery silence from the Eleusian chimneys day and night, and I throw dust, throw vitriol, cursing the published profits of your employer in front of the neighbourhood’s plastic windows, and Mrs. M., you have my iron, and Mrs. D., you’ve taken my children away, and God I am left without stockings.
I don’t remember and I don’t want to remember all the things I have forgotten before they happened, even as trips never taken, unfulfilled and immersed in islands below ground, like oil wells or gold mines in the Black Continent belonging to Swiss businessmen, and today we are celebrating the victory of the White Race, and today we are mourning for Lumumba‘s assassination
However despite the tolls as I am travelling to Lárissa by train, third class, next to the WC’s and the Euboean Sea, I am thinking of that room above the ancient marbles when at night I’d come wearing the pyjamas of my murdered cousin and I’d see you all
It’s not so much the journey’s duration as the idea of the journey and the journey within the very journey
And once you arrive places will be dead on its face
I declare a revolt against myself
I am a man
Woman A: I am happily married
Woman B: Me too.
Reporter: What do you say?
Man A: I don’t know, this is women’s stuff
Man B: Me too
I declare a revolt against my glands. I am a man.
TWO CINEMATIC SKETCHES BY OCHRA ASFOTEF*
On the night of Andrea’s nameday, Andreas and Manolis danced to an old song by Bill Haley --
hard rock, all instruments playing the same theme song, the lyrics assiduously harsh.
Later on Manolis got drunk and said to Andrea’s mother: You are my mother.
Enter the boy Polybius with his mother in the temple. Figures and motifs designed, perhaps, on pots, on walls and on the floor. The mother is seen going on in front. Tall and slim, wearing a long white robe, head leaning -- tired of working in the fields or modesty? She holds a salver with dead flowers and roots of burnt trees, flowers in the hands. Behind her comes the boy Polybius. He moves along as if at a loss -- shouts from the gallery: like a vision in Hades. Thin, in a white tunic, and rather unhealthy-looking. Up front are visible the temple’s columns and a priest, he must be a priest, welcoming them with open arms. At the far end are discernible a line of mountains and a river.
Enter the boy Nicholas with his mother in the station. The mother walks ahead. A plaintive popular singer. Her dress with patterns of embalmed flowers, disgusting. Low-heeled shoes. Hair dyed with green walnuts. Swarthy skin. Black circles around the eyes. She holds a handbag and a white candle. They have just got off a tram. Nicholas is dressed in white. He is wearing sneakers. He is a good-looking boy but rather frail. His mother queues up in the narthex for tickets, and they enter in silence into the main neo-station. Priests, night hawkers, strollers, travelling salesmen, a gypsy with a monkey, a lady holding a copy of “Readers’ Digest”, sailors, airmen, soldiers, prostitutes-cum-priestesses of the Saint George Hotel, conductors, a hermaphrodite, a lad who takes cortisone, Arcadian deities, Egyptian deities, a singer, hair parted in the middle, a gentleman with an issue of “Estia”, Angelos and others are moseying along, hardly visible in the half-light. Nicholas scrutinizes faces, bodies, movements, inhibitions.
Mother, when shall we be on our way? He asks.
We have been on our way for hours, Nicholas, she answers.
She has lighted the candle and sits on the concrete, head bent over the lines. As she sings “That murky river…”, she weeps.
THE END OF THE CITY
Then one morning they pulled them down. That no dust should be raised by the crumpled yard wall, they used the facilities of the Water Board to spray water on it with a green hose. Perhaps it may be written for the umpteenth time the ?????? adage, in lieu of spleen, in lieu of urine. At the entrance they raised a wall. The stones were the colour of those looted from a humble quarry by builders working like a horse. They were transported on “Virgin Mary bless us” trucks, on “I am coming to you” horses not to be found on any racecourse. The mason, an old eunuch who had remained at Hadrian’s side. At the library entrance, reduced to a ruin, Hadrian’s demolished property. It was ochre-hued. Its interior was divided into seven sections covered over by thick oil paint. Down, at the feet of comers, the drain of water and urine was to be found. Oftentimes the plumbing did not work, whereby the whole space around was enveloped in ammonia mist, and other times the water spouted like a fountain, showering the unsuspecting comers. Moreover, and not uncommonly, fag-ends, matches, weeds, sunflower seeds and fallen leaves blocked up siphons, commonly called traps. A hanging wall between the thoroughfare, Mars Road, and the interior, could well protect all comers, as well as people walking mindless along the road -- the walls of Mycenae presented the same picture to young students and evening schools. It was not considered necessary to have a ticket collector at the entrance. But very often now, as the gramophones are playing, I remember being discussed the idea of placing a box in a corner to collect a few pennies. One day someone shouted:
“Hey, don’t throw money on the plates, they’ll start building!” But how was it possible for Pausanias to imagine that his mother would be a party to his death by blocking the entrance. With perfect aplomb -- he was, after all, a Lacedaemonian general as well, and loved seeing his mother with powdered face roaming the backstreets -- he applied himself to his rash death.
It did not take long for the wall to be raised at the entrance. Besides, there was no organized reaction, or demonstration, or even on the first night of celebrating the field of vision for those walking up the rising Mars Road, above the Monastiráki electric railway station, it collapsed like Arta Bridge or a poem that could not withstand criticism.
The following nights shadows and ghosts hang around the alleys. For a long time. For a moment we thought it was just a construction, a nothing building, and even if fallen, the priests and the faithful would not fail to come to the temple.
Vain hope. Shocked, we scattered along other roads. In due time we disbanded.
Friend Aphrodite was wedded for the worse. Geórgios. Christos. Orbius. Pythonices. Pythagoras Schools. Maark. His mother has cancer. He forgot to leave me his motorbike. Leonidas has been called up. Troumba. Saint Barbara protector of the artillery. So what, where’s the lolly?
from THE BLACK HEELS (1973-79)
Then he jilted me
Then he jilted me
and left for Zagreb in a lorry.
I am through with working
loitering and asking
Part of what I get
Part of what I get from my clients
I give to those beggars pressed against the barriers
and banging spoons on their plates as I go by.
Part I use to settle the water and electricity bills
and some I keep for Mimis.
I spend the rest with Rena
she is short and ugly, and no one wants her.
We at least
We at least stayed at home
and didn’t venture into the gardens
nor did we go on those terraces holding a would-be
We lie prostrate on the floor as in the past
on large divans
Look, the sun has just set behind Salamis
and Déspina has just come in from work
First she takes off her fake rings, places them neatly
in empty wedding boxes, and wipes off a coal mark
Afterwards she brings her hair to her face and covers her eyes.
Déspina, are you still alive?
I BEND DOWN TO PICK UP MY THINGS
I bend down to pick up my things
-- combs and compact its mirror broken
And from here I can see Omónia*
I lived in a bedsitter that looked on what?
Indefinite time has come
Dancers, I think, dropping coins
in upturned hats
There are others who lay jackets on the floor
Beyond are children with dogs of an unknown breed
I a helpless done for whore
how can I roll on my mattress
the one I couldn’t convince
Signora Nora, my departure from your brothel
is again postponed.
*Omonia (Concord): A square in the centre of Athens.
BECAUSE WHEN SHE FELL
Because when she fell on the floor
her hair was loosened
and she saw her face on the ceiling
standing by her without cries
And she didn’t move, but alone as she was
she just stayed there
A mere thing, a damaged object
Ugly as the day her mother gave birth to her
voiceless in the dark
Until the fish left
the manholes and the proper drains
for the river mouths
when the bodies arrive.
SINGER FALLS OFF BALCONY AND IS KILLED
From our correspondent in Mytelene. Yesterday evening, at 6.30 p.m.,
the twenty year-old singer, Nektaría Varayánni, fell from the third floor
balcony of the Blue Sea Hotel and was killed. Instance of suicide.
Night clubs have a shape
Black and grey ceiling
Silent angels on the eyelids
Visitors and passers-by listening to
where no singing voices exist
Night clubs play odd rhythms
when others outside stop in front them
Their eyes are clinical and their hair
sets the tar on fire. Above all they are
no longer children
Afterwards at an uncertain hour
they come on with false eyelashes
And the stage is empty
when they see to the microphones
and fix the lights
-- Besides, mother, I find nothing in the songs
they give me strange organs of dead organisms
And this was no way of living.
Let the blue women
Let the blue women in the brothel
and the dear old lesbians
sleep soundly on the double divans.
Look, far on the horizon
the fleet is entering port;
God, silly sailors will again be dressing
and others will help them put on
Today I went down to the craggy slopes
Today I went down to the craggy slopes
I went to kill myself
And far off I saw ships
Below I saw the sea blackened
Birds crying overhead
Behind me factories cutting the day
I also saw the seamen pulling hard
on the ropes
saw them altering course
And thus I stayed for very long
I came back
I wasted away.
THERE ARE WOMEN
There are women who attend funerals
They attend funerals before they are born
Wearing black overcoats, green petticoats
Wearing just their dressing gown
A wedding ring on their fingers, a faux ring
Their eyes have no other rings
Other funeral wreaths to lay.
There are waiters too
with steady dancing movements
who place red roses
on the black faces of the dead
Saturday after Saturday
Wednesday after Wednesday
They also walk over their graves smoking a fag
They bend down as if kissing false beaver eyelashes
Other times they drag with them aunts and cousins, and a Nóta
As the city withdraws into inner spaces
behind soundproof glass partitions, he orders
They meet in places of their own
well shut by the successes of the times.
On suchlike journeys their hearts are broken.
From THE J.S. BACH BAR
Late on Saturday
Late on Saturday I watch death
stamped on things old, wooden
ceilings, indecent beds, ochre-painted parquetry
Its shadow is towns in Mexico, Chaeronea
Bangladesh. In their backstreets they sell warm mud
and photos of the emperor's coronation.
Why do you cry and stay up all night
Why do you cry and stay up all night, my friends
doesn’t Zéphos come to us every day
when he knocks off
And the dead don’t they smoke
strong cigarettes in our dreams
Then again those leaving don’t they wear
dark glasses at the window
or don’t birds flutter quietly
above our heads?
I’m not looking for more hope
I’m not looking for more hope
nor do I want any
I don’t happen to be lost to shame
some skilled workman
fetching and carrying for those who pay me.
Doors open and close at night
Windows still retain the darkness
My only hope is this day
As it passes headlong and stops at night
As it leaves all sounds suspended.
A number of things I shan‘t do, in fact nothing
since the upset of love is heart-rending.
Now he takes his coat
and remains on the stairs
believing that someone will be greeted
in the light of his eyes
Until winter comes
and his shirts, mother-of-pearl buttons
on other shirts, buttons of melted plastic
and fire-treated combs
A little further down
is his undoing.
Sailors love laddies
Sailors love laddies
in short trousers as they go to buy cigarettes
from the kiosks
as they shake their bodies behind the spokes of bikes
The way they bend down to polish their shoes with white lead
or when they slowly roll barrel hoops
in gyms and arenas.
new faces are coming to our parts
and they don’t know where to place the soap
where to hang a shirt, how to undo their laces
That’s why they beg to differ
In the morning they come down and won’t speak to the hotel owner
to the stranger who occupies the triple-bed room
Sometimes they leave the tap running or smoking a cigarette
they stay up all night
I found Luke
I found Luke
Soldier from Thebes
Leaning against lamp-posts
In Omónia Square
Waiting to be demobbed that afternoon
-- General mobilization caught me
one day before I was discharged
One day before I could wear
my white shoes.
It seems he met some woman
It seems he met some woman
and embarked on a new life with her
I saw him this morning at the station
and later on hurrying past the Turkish baths
Hasty movements of one who thought
he had changed
by putting on his raincoat inside out
Paying heed to leave his laces undone.
Only he walking ahead
Only he walking ahead knows where he is taking me
A twenty-three year-old accountant just discharged from the army
he has a room, he says, completely safe -- so quickly?
This Parliament building, he says, and that of the Foreign Office
these private schools for plumbers, and across the way evening