Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Two poems

MISSOLONGHI STREET

I lived and went to school.
October came, and the children like blue and white insects
Buzzed and wailed, their snot gleaming in the sunlight.
The letters seemed to stand alone at first,
Fine and white against the blackboard,
Each one enjoying freedom before words entrapped it.
I marvelled at them yet simultaneously grew bored,
Happier to gaze through the window into the air
Where whirling birds suggested other phrases.
On the road home from school
I’d observe the differences from yesterday,
At the cobbler’s, the florist’s, the sweet shop selling coloured transfers,
Plump-armed angels behind the dusty windowpane.
I always stopped outside the undertakers:
On the shutter a canary in a cage
And Socrates with macabre exactitude dusting coffins
Or resting on the threshold; two chairs,
One for his feet, two folds on his nape,
One deeper than the other,
And Yorgis covered in whitewash dropping in for coffee
From the builder’s yard next door.
Shiny purple cloth would often fill the hall,
Socrates busy and a woman crying.
Then my heart grew heavier than my bag
And off I’d run to the kiosk
To buy my favourite comic and forget black thoughts:
My house was waiting on the corner like a person,
The balcony with the white curtains of Mama’s room Seemed to wave.
Sometimes I felt the sweetness of security in my stomach,
Sometimes I sat for hours on the stairs,
Fed up with so much repetition, altogether hating life.
Oh, to escape, to be someone else, I thought,
To start again from the beginning with another name.

***

THE PIGLET

“You’ll go far if the little piglet
Doesn’t eat you on the way.”
My mother would often repeat the old French saying
And I kept its image ever in my head
As if it were really on my tail.
It grunted and ran behind me smacking its porky lips.
Its skin was a patchwork of my shortcomings
And on its back the largest patch,
My passion for you.
With its strange legs thick and aching
It trampled on my lost moments
As they sank into your eyes, divine and cursed.
Now and then life offered me a focus, some meaning,
And the stumpy quadruped would lose ground.
I’ve beaten you, I cried, and high above
Appeared my mother, floating by like a bird,
Like a little cloud.
But soon the pig would bite my heel again
And my consoling mother disappear
Together with her chair, her knitting.
Night fed only by remorse would take me,
Again the dappled porker was triumphant
And off we’d set, inseparable, along the downward road.

*From «From Purple Into Night», Shoestring Press 1997. Translated by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke and Jackie Willcox.

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