Thursday, December 31, 2009

Research Regarding Poetry and Driving

Recently received: A great New Year’s gift lovingly sent and signed by my old friend and author, John Levy. Half a dozen new prose poems in a three-color foldout from Bob Arnold’s excellent
Longhouse. Reminiscent of Michaux at times but without the French writer’s pervading sense of terror, these pieces are Levy at his unpredictable, whimsical best. Highly recommended. Available in both signed ($15) and unsigned editions ($7.95).

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Near brimming candlelit cemetery
Under a waning winter moon—

Ring of barrels emptied of lime
Next to an ashen shovel, light.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chair Contemplating Colossus of Cyprus

In the Museum garden

Empty chairs:
the statues have returned

to the other museum.

--George Seferis, from “Sixteen Haiku”

Four days on a guided tour of Cyprus during the Christmas holiday (courtesy of the Greek Agricultural Pension Fund) were not enough to fully appreciate this beautiful and still tragically divided island, nor am I well-enough informed to know what really happened there so many years ago; still, the sight of a huge crescent and the flag of the illegal Turkish pseudo-state of "Northern Cyprus" provocatively carved on the mountainside overlooking Nicosia and the barricades dividing the city make me wonder if there will ever be a viable solution to the Cyprus problem. For those interested, you can read what the island has gone through
here. Sadly, another tragic story that time is slowly but inexorably erasing.

As for the photo of the gigantic (10m!)
statue of Archibishop Makarios situated about 500 meters from his grave, it’s a shame that such a beautiful spot high up in the rugged Troodos mountain range should be defaced by such a monument to bad taste. How the plastic chair found its way up here is anybody’s guess but it makes a fitting complement to the kitsch atmosphere pervading the scene.

George Seferis wrote a great number of poems while on his first visit to Cyprus in 1953; published in 1955, they were included in his Collected Poems 1924-1955 as Logbook III.

NBB: Seferis' haiku should look like this:

In the Museum garden

Empty chairs:
the statues have returned
to the other museum.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Xmas in Limassol, Cyprus

In lieu of an appropriate card from Cyprus, here's a picture taken a few years ago during an exceptionally severe winter in Meligalas--where we shall return to on the 28th!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Standing One's Ground

In the end meaning may well mean many things to many,
But may it never mean not budging an inch when

Everything crawling becomes suddenly deathly still.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Clotho at Work

In this instance, my sister-in-law’s long-departed grandmother. Photo taken in the early 70s outside the back entrance to our old house. Judging from the three or four layers of clothes she’s wearing and the fact that she’s huddled in the southwest corner taking in all the sunshine she can get, it must have been a sunny winter's day. Apart from that, this picture also reminds me of how large her hands were and how effortlessly they worked at unraveling the ball of yarn and twisting it onto the spindle until she came upon a knot and had to stop to untangle it. Utterly engrossed in what she was doing, she never realized I was three feet in front of her, never once looked up, never heard the shutter click, never even saw the picture afterwards before her fate called her away.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Samizdat Revisted

Where one poet confesses 
To writing reams 
Of clandestine literature, speechless 
Others have nightmares 
They hand out pieces of his tongue 
And dream, dream, dream. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hassle number 8

Recently received from the author: Hassle number 8, featuring David Miller, Hassle Press: 27 Treverbyn Rd, St. Ives, Cornwall TR26 1EZ UK,

Poet, editor, art/lit critic, and accomplished clarinetist, see
The Mind Shop, this is Series 5, #5 of Miller’s Spiritual Letters. A short biography, plus information about David’s many publications and some succinct appraisals of his highly demanding but always satisfying work can be found here. My thanks to David for sending me this “Spiritual Letter” under the guise of a plain black-and-white pamphlet. Much appreciated!

Sunday, December 13, 2009


“The commune of Poetry becomes so real that [the poet]
sounds each particle
in relation to parts of a great story
he knows will never be completed.”

--Robert Duncan, Bending the Bow

The Sung, tangible as
The word sounds.

In this instance, poet,
A small round

Reddish-orange object plucked
From a mandarin’s bough.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Nothing substantial, a revenant
Forever taking us back to where

We thought we were relevant.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Southern Exposure

In a stretch of winter sunshine,

Against a harsh weather-
Worn veranda wall,

Soft blue slippers up-
Right in the afternoon,

Next to a beckoning
Red-pillowed chair.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Starship Earth

Beam us up, Scotty—

Our captain was dead right when he told us
There’d be enough light

Years here for only
One night.

Saturday, December 5, 2009



One imagines himself,
As in that line
Of Oppen’s,

Addressing his peers,
Or one does not. If he does,
He may well wonder how;

If not, he may fancy himself
Lost in reflection,

Wondering why.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bird in the Hand

im. Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

One crow cawing in the luminous
Distance remains

Never so ominous
An omen

As one groping in desperation
For the next one waiting

To hand him over
To despair.

(Thanks to Annie Wyndham, whose blog post here inspired the above.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Token of Appreciation

Love, here’s a penny for your thoughts—
The word I gave you had a hole in it,

Not worth a plugged nickel—now tell me
When are you going to give it back?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Dummy, you still don’t get it—
To reach the truth, death must

Pretend to lie about it through your teeth.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Enemies of Promise

“Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.”
--Cyril Connolly

Tottering from within—


That what will not be
Breached, though treacherous

Enemies have sworn
They will try to

Bring it to rubble whenever
Promise gathers the anointed

Rabble before the gates.

Sunday, November 29, 2009 is never wrong

Dear Mr. Zambaras: regrets to inform you that your application to register the name Saffilis Zaengmac as your lawful nom de plume cannot be accepted due to the fact that said aforementioned name was duly registered by one Goask Elgart on June 20, 1972.

Illegibly yours,


Saffilis Zaengmac, Jr.

PS. Serves you right for not writing your name in block letters instead of signing off with just your signature, BLOCKHEAD.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lie of the Land


Our luck,

stopped among

the carobs and pines.

Needles. The beckoning stone
hut sunk
in whitewash, inside
the heart lines creasing

familiar land.


Coming out

now, the close lie

of the gulf

for a thousand miles
between us,

the hard truth hurting,
absolute light.

(First published in a somewhat different version in Sentences, 1976)

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Soulmonger's Thanksgiving

Ungrateful chattel,
Munching on every minute

Of every day, lest you forget
The hand that feeds you,
Give thanks

For all that is given,
All shall be sold,
All carted away.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Scrabble of Sweet

Lethe-bound, I had a dream
In which all I remembered

Remained a three-word puzzle:
Short, mysterious, sweet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Let it be decreed and duly inscribed:

The word of a poet’s passing
Shall be accompanied
By a pealing pandemic
Multitude of reads!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Village Coffeehouse, Summer 1969

Sunday morning after church, 40 years ago: My mother's brother's coffeehouse in my home village of Remmatia--one refrigerator, one sink, one tiny butane cooker for the preparation of Greek coffee, three small round metal tables, a few wooden chairs, a hard-packed dirt floor, and the village's only telephone.

From left to right: My first cousin on my father's side of the family, my father, the village priest, my uncle, my cousin John on my mother's side--the only person still alive--all captured in a room inundated with incredible, bright late morning light.

Saturday, November 21, 2009



To know poets are
As good as their word—

It’s their politics
That’s disturbing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

À Rebours


In the golden autumn
of the Judas tree,

There is a solitary


Whose every note threatens

To betray him.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The village was a hard place--a few white squares against
the mountain. No wells, no streams, a taste of cisterns on
the widow's lips who had brought him food--white cheese,
hard gray bread, black olives. She watched him eat and
told him to stay for the cool hours of evening and the
morning that would come alive like the light moving along
her lips now.

(From Sentences, 1976)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009



When we got to the moor,
We saw the one thing still

Moving on that mossy-like surface
Was a waterlogged semaphore.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Today as April 21, 1970

Who will calculate for us the cost of our decision to forget?
George Seferis

For the past
three years, she's been at it,
nagging as I descend
the steps into the garden, bent
over, bringing the sky with me:
Elias, where's the sun? You forgot
the sun again. You know how
we depend on you.

Hag. How she stumbles
in her garden, blistering her knees
against the rocks, while I sit here,
idle, and think about it:
"You know how we depend on you..."

I should have been an owl in daylight
or a marble face dumb in the night.

It would have been easier then,
hating her.

(From Sentences, 1976)

NB: Today is the 36th anniversary of the fall of the repressive, brutal and despicable Greek junta which seized power on April 21, 1967; true to form, the US was one of the first countries--perhaps the first--to recognize the dictators.

Air of Gravity

Raindrops tripping the light

On high tree limbs, light-
Headed wind brings them

Down to earth again.

Monday, November 16, 2009


desert storm

. . . . . . . . . . . .

mirages err

or ages speak

mirrors terror

. . . . . . . . . . . .

crushed the bones

jaws of asses

do not clatter

. . . . . . . . . . . .

thus of error

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Not to be swayed by one thought not worthy—
Keep this thought with you when I’m not.

Immaculate Conception

Not what you would think but

Poems as pure,

As the snow
That’s driven us

To perfection.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


What does it mean,
To grope? To an inquisitor,

I suppose it must
Mean to find yourself
Feeling uncertainty when
It happens

You find yourself fumbling
At the end of a rope.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009




Who cares if care is required
To enrich poetry, pity

The poor slob who cares.

Invasion of the Slug People

You know

They’ve finally taken over
The world

When we no longer
Have the time

To shovel the slime
We’ve left behind.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Environmental Awareness

Lone predator

Scouring the environs,
Peregrine falcon out

On uppermost branch
Of blighted tree limb—

Pray keep an eye on him.

Sunday, November 8, 2009



O gods, the sprawling earth-
Bound spirits spawning

Their issue in aether,
Spilling their fire-

Like essence over
A consummate

Wine dark sea!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Whence the Problem of Poetics

Poetry? I remember

I had a soft spot for it in my heart
That became hard to explain

Once I let it enter my brain.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Good-For-Nothing Record of a No-Account

His ledger rife with minuses,
Two plus two never making four,

He put a rifle up his sinuses—

Nothing made sense anymore.

Recently Linked: My thanks to Elisabeth Hanscombe, who has just signed on as a follower. Elisabeth hails from Victoria, Australia and is a writer and psychologist who can be found writing on her blog ,
Sixth In Line.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Another Oral Writing Lesson

--after Claude Lévi-Strauss(1908-2009)

Whoever said that
Writing could change
The intellectual

Conditions of human existence
Should have thought twice
Before writing it.

(Written after learning of Claude Lévi-Strauss' death on
Ron Silliman's blog.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Room with large windows
Opening to the sea

In which to close
One’s self upon waking.

Monday, November 2, 2009


High above the ruins
Of Ancient Messene
And below the lone village restaurant,
There is a haggard dog chained
To a large, earthenware jar.

His view of this once-rich
City is indeed magnificent, truly
Uplifting to the spirit, but
As he knows it by heart,
He prefers to sit on his haunches

And turn his back on it,
Looking up instead for any sign
Of the bones he prays the gods
Might find it in their hearts
To throw down to him.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Friend Tree


I thought it was
the wind,

and turned in time
to see

leaf after leaf falling

my friend and me.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Alexander Meets Diogenes

gone to the dogs all right
and cynical a cur as any he knew
this purebred jackanapes blocking his sun
light would soon find his ass jumping
through hoops clearly over a barrel.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Hammering out a Definition of "Queer Voice"

--for Kenny Goldsmith

Don't throw a fit, egghead
If the hammer doesn’t fit,

Take everything down
And fit it all on the head

Of a roiling pinhead.

(My thanks to Joseph Hutchison for providing the initial impetus here.)


This scythe that cuts
Its swath through space

Of unremitting air, see it
Does not stop its wishing

To hesitate there.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


to where road leads to
cemetery’s edging

marble moon littered full
circled threshing floor.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Autumn of a Lepidopterist

On edge

Of buckling, weathered
Red-tiled roof,

Orange-brown and black
Veined monarch trembling,

Like a leaf.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Me? So naive

I remember it hurt me
so like I was

so stupid, heard it out-

you, too?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Negative Capability

"That they are there!"
--George Oppen, from Psalm

Whatever we think he meant by what he said

In passing, one thing is certain:

He never meant a world
In this in which

Nightingales had never spoken.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tiny Tortoise vs Silver Knight

Tiny Tortoise was found on its back close to death near the formidable walls of Ancient Messene last Sunday afternoon. I had stopped for "nature call" (#1) and while doing so, I spied what looked like a
curious-looking, green-and-white checkered pebble to my left. Upon picking it up, I saw that it was a miniscule tortoise that seemed lifeless but I just couldn't tell. Remembering something I had read in one of Kazantzakis' books, I decided to find out. Quickly cupping it in my hands, I started to warm it with my breath; soon its little legs were moving and its head slowly emerging from its shell. I put it in the trunk of the car and took it to Meligalas, where it is now free to roam our spacious, weed-infested garden to eat whatever its little heart desires. Knowing that I might never see Tiny again, I first put him/her next to Silver Knight (all of 10cm tall) and took this picture to remind me how brave this spunky little critter really is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On Getting One's Bearings Back

Bearing north near
The river, hard

Not to be hit
Hard by the joy

On hearing the waters
Rush by,

Heading south.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


relieve years of previous notions of light thought

lost but still motioning under rippling surface.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Getting over Being under the Weather

Housebound no longer
After break in bad weather,

Plant yourself under a branch
Heavy with rain, wait

Till songbird comes to
Lighten it, leaving you

Feeling fresh all over again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On the Road in Hellas, Icons Come and Go Fast!

Marking the spot of a motoring accident, road icons continue to be found in ever-increasing numbers all over the highways and roads of Greece, but most of them at dangerous points where either the driving conditions and/or the recklessness of drivers have been responsible; if the victim is fortunate enough to survive, he/she thanks their lucky stars, i.e. God, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, by promptly planting one at the scene to commemorate the occasion. If the accident is fatal, relatives of the deceased take on the responsibility of the upkeep, also making sure to light the icon’s candle as often as they can. Not very often it seems, as the great majority of these sobering, seemingly inexhaustible little reminders of man’s motoring carelessness during his brief sojourn on Earth are falling apart from neglect—notice the missing fourth leg of this one.

NB: Photograph taken about ten years ago. Sadly, this crippled road icon is no longer standing, having long since fallen by the wayside—a victim of someone’s carelessness or of the passage of time. Sic transit gloria mundi? Of course, but in Greece you can be sure there’s always another one up around the bend.

NBB: I still come across people who ask me why I have never put a road icon up on the Mavrozoumena Bridge!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Vintage Year

--for Eleni

Intoxicated, we were

Drinking the sun dry
My love years before

The barrels were full,
The wine mature—

Not one drop left of the light,
To be sure.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hellenic Hits: Volume 2

Recently received: Hellenic Hits, Volume Two: Classic Greek Love Songs 1920s-1940s, from The Zambaras Family Record Collection (cd included) $20.

If I remember correctly, Eleni and I first met the musician Tom (Diz) Carroll in Tacoma, Washington in the summer of 1993; at that time he had just finished a stint as an elementary school music teacher in the University Place School District and was also an acquaintance of my brother Chris’s wife Kalitsa, who was working as a cook in the school’s cafeteria. He was and still is an avid fan and proponent of traditional music from the Balkans, especially of demotic and rebetika songs from Greece, so when we first met, we had a lot in common to talk about. My brother was the custodian of our family’s collection of vintage 78 rpm records which were stored in the attic of his house; unfortunately, quite a few of these rare discs (recorded in the US circa 1905-1940) never lived long enough to be preserved on celluloid, having been discovered and turned into flying saucers by my nephew in his high-spirited youth. The ones that had survived the blitzkrieg were lovingly recorded on twelve 90-minute tapes by Diz and given to Eleni and me as a present. After returning to Greece, we started a correspondence with Diz and since then, he has tried to visit us every two years—usually around Easter—which is The Time to visit Greece! After having re-mastered all the tapes onto 12 CDs and giving us two copies of each, he suggested we collaborate with him and produce a series of songbooks based on our family’s collection; the first volume, Hellenic Hits: Songs of Exile, came out in 2007. More information on these songbooks and on Diz’s group, The Makedonians, can be found here—ohpa, manges!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


--for William Michaelian, again

Startling but not
Really alien, as in

Earthlings reaching,
Lifting them-

Selves up and out
Of the blue.

(This came up after reading William Michaelian's poem here.)

Monday, October 12, 2009


The light goes without leaving

An inkling of where it has been,
Or where it is going,
Or of the darkling

Nest within.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Turning Point

Pinpointing the knife

Turning point-blank over

An unfulfilled bed

Full of wishful thinking, thinking
The ceiling’s all ready

Gone red.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

On the Brink

He finds himself thinking:

One goes forward only when
Reversal brings him back again.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's All Greek to Me, or My First and Only PoBiz Business Card

After having returned to Greece in 1973, one of the first things I did was get in touch with Kimon Friar, the foremost translator of modern Greek poetry into English. Madrona had previously published a number of his translations in issue number 6, and I also had a letter of introduction to him from his old friend, Leonie Adams, who'd taught one of my poetry classes at the University of Washington. At that time, I entertained ideas of perhaps devoting much of my creative energy and time to translating Greek poets into English and I needed some guidance on how to go about meeting these poets. I remember Kimon's kindness and interest during this first meeting in his flat at the foot of Lycabettus and his willingness to put me in touch with those poets he thought should be translated; I also remember his suggestion that I get a business card--I think he said something to the effect that everyone who is anybody over here has one! Though I never did much translation, I came upon a small printer's shop tucked away in a narrow street in the Exarchia district on one of my many walks through downtown Athens and promptly ordered two hundred business cards; this is one of the twenty or so left; this was also the printer who eventually produced 300 letterpress copies of Sentences in 1976.

Monday, October 5, 2009


The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne,

the snail leaves

a never re-

trail of silver
over the earth’s


Friday, October 2, 2009

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

Worm digging

Your way in
To the mind’s eye
In earnest—

No hemming,
No hawing,
Till death—

Do us asunder.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The man had been posted, for the usual obscure reasons,

to a small fishing village in the remote south. The prefect,
stepping out of a closet full of women's shoes, greeted him
with the customary formalities. We are all in this together,
the prefect said, as he removed the man's
genitals and
tossed them gently to the others who had gathered below
in the square, and were howling.

(First published in Sentences, 1976, this overtly "political" piece was written during the brutal seven-year reign of the Greek junta (1967-1974). It was 1973 and I was in the tiny fishing village of Kotronas in the Mani, that once so inaccessible and desolate region made famous by Sir Patrick Leigh-Fermor's book of the same name, asking myself why I had returned to Greece after twenty-five years of living in the US.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009



the derelict walked right on up
the wind-

swept street round
the corner down

to where (he remembered)

the old man’s shoe-
shine stand

ran down.

Monday, September 28, 2009







(First published in an untitled slightly different version in Shearsman #1, 1981.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009


After the sun's checked out,
Go into the empty room

At twilight watch the light
That's left drain out

The windows open
To the sea before you

Sink into the darkness
When the cicadas have

Wound down completely,
Do not look back.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The "Milk and Honey House" in Meligalas has about five salamanders that can usually be seen popping their beady-eyed heads out of the stonework around early evening or so; they spend most of their nocturnal time motionless, glued to the ceiling waiting for moths or flies to come within range of their lightning-smart tongues and bam! no more stupidity till the next one's struck dumb. Somewhat like me when I found out some little red Salamander had one of my poems stuck on its tongue; thank you, anonymous little critter, and may you catch many more before the dawn comes.

How to Win Friends and Influence People in PoBiz

The Golden Rule:

Pity the poor, precious
Ordinary reader, poet--

Easy on the effluent;
Don't suck him in.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Déjà vu

My god every time

He reached for the sky

To be saved, he was plumb
Gone over the edge before

He knew what hit him.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Hell, we all know you

Cut a mean, wide swath but
Before you get carried away

With all that useless fodder,
Don't tell anybody anything

That can be used against you
Till your dying day.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Poet as Archaeologist

This man smiles at the coming of autumn,
The silence of cicadas makes him laugh;
even the wind-scatter of leaves pleases him.

Tired of digging in, he is digging out
from under the ruins of his measured words,
while his ancestors, having escaped him,

turn round and smile at the distance between.

(from Sentences, 1976)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009



meaning over

mongrels vow
to screw

the purebred language


a posteriori


(from The Intricate Evasions of As)

Friday, September 11, 2009


[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]
[ ] [ ] [ ]

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Yours for the asking,
But don't

Ask me how that is.

Definitely Not Lemmings #14

My thanks to Samantha Rose for following this blog; she has a blog with a catchy name here and likes words and Magritte, among other things. Check it out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Light's here to capture,
And therein's the bind:

Delight is to enrapture,
As spell is to blind.

God on How to Get Rid of Warts and Other Disgusting Stigmata

Toady one, do not prattle--

Go wash your hands clean
In this, my blessed hollow

Oak tree trunk filled with holy
Heavenly piddle and pray you

Do not return to tattle.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Lonesome old cow I hap-

Hazardly tethered loosely
To this tree, twisting

The rope taut all night in-
To a noose instead of snoozing

Contentedly like Elsie,
How could you

Be the death of me.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Early Morning, Elderly Biker Hits Trail

Descending river

Bank road, brushing
Scent of dew-

Moistened wild fennel
Flowering before

Sun ascends.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday, DNL the 13th

No, it's definitely not Friday the 13th but it is Definitely Not Lemmings #13; thank you Mairi.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It Figures

So before you
Become just another


Carry your self over
To the next column


To be tallied,
Mark off the cipher

No longer there.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Luck of the Draw, Boot Camp, Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, 1965

You never knew Jean Genet had a twin brother, did you? Well, here he is, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a genuine Madras shirt underneath a handmade Milk and Honey sweater knitted in 1964. I forget what brand of cigarettes he was smoking at that time (Luckies?) but I do remember reading somewhere in Genet's memoirs how cool his brother said his head felt. That was before Vietnam toasted a lot of his buddies, while he was lucky enough to sweat out most of his two-year hitch playing the role of Kool Kompany Klerk in Sandia Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Intricate Evasions of As

Momentarily, as

In the absence
Of something, say

It was just one

Of those things
That appeared simply

To fill the silence,
Then went on

Its way.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Time for Another Danse Russe?

Hey, whatchamacallit,
don't you see

it's about time

this thingamajig was
moving in on you better

watch out now watch it,
what you call it calls

the tune.

(A rewrite of a poem that first appeared in Sentences (1976) under the title "William Carlos Williams".)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jack Sprat Robinson, Sleight-of-Hand Man


He's got wife with can
Of sardines up un-

Canny ass,
Eats her whole

Before you can
Say Jack,

Where'd she go?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Definitely Not Lemmings #12

My thanks to Katie Murray aka don't be emily for becoming DNL #12; here's the link to her Promethean-inspired blog.

On the Way to Parnassus

This much remains certain,
Above all: We shall rise

To unknown mythical heights;
But how low

Must we go to know?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Dismantling

We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

--T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding


Our most enlightening eviction,
We thought

We had every right
To squat here

Undutifully derelict,
Oblivious to light.


This gift, this blinding
Edifice of beauty

We took for granted, we lost sight,
Though our instructions were simple—

Before you lose it forever,
Take it down

In glorious black and white.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sudden Departure

The knell

That forever brings us back from far-
Fetched unseen reverie

Never keeps us here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ten Not-So-Easy Pieces and An Epilogue

After two not-so-easy years of web designing trials and tribulations that I'm sure she would rather forget about, Elizabeth Boleman-Herring's comprehensive, completely revamped website for the intelligent traveler thinking of visiting Greece is up and running. Here's the link to my contribution that will virtually take you straight to The Land of Milk and Honey before you actually decide to visit it in person. See you soon!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Calm before the Storm

leaves moving on

table under the
Judas tree over
our heads still

waiting for what
it was that
brought us here

we hear what
must be the
last cicada calling

loud and clear.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Erosion of Memory

On the bluff slowly

Being eaten away, rows
Of tenacious red and white

Laurels holding fast against
A calling, rippling blue


--Vromoneri, Greece, August 6, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Maximum Serenity Facility

Location: Vromoneri (Stinky Water)
, Messinias, overlooking the Ionian Sea--7 km south of Marathopolis-- this is where the two inmates were incarcerated for two days and forced every morning to descend some 75 steep, harrowing steps to a pebble beach and swim in the incredibly clear waters until exhausted, then made to climb back up in the early afternoon for a meager lunch consisting of a Greek village salad, wine, and fresh smelt caught by the warden a few hours earlier. Afterwards, a siesta, two hours of reading and/or writing and back down the steps again for another swim. In the evening, reading and/or writing, a light supper, and interrogation carried out by the warden under the light of an incredibly large August moon--pure torture, I tell you; honestly, I don't know how they survived the ordeal. Next time, the warden should definitely consider prolonging the period of confinement.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


From 1800 hrs Wednesday, August 5th to 1800 Friday, August 7th unless caught and brought back earlier.

Antediluvian Poem

How utterly

Profound, then lost
In the deluge

Left behind long before
It was time.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In the Deep Blue Sea

You write:
the ink grew less,
the sea increases.
--George Seferis

If to fathom is to see,
To come to understanding after

Taking your breath in and holding it
While diving deep, what

Did coming up for air mean?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Putting Two and Two Together


well the serpentine
dry stone wall holds

the lie of the land

depends on how well
it meanders, how

well it is put

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aporia, or The Wall

No one knew why
He would keep on

Staring at the blank
Space the clock

Used to hang onto.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ceremony

Like an Orthodox Christian, in this society
I prepare myself, mangas* friend, for the ceremony.

I shop for tobacco ends and a piece of hashish,
And set out, mangas friend, for the village of Holy Mama.

I go into the church, into the round rooms,
And start puffing as if I were lighting candles.

And the archangel suddenly appears--
He's got high from all the smoke.

He says, "Listen Christian, it's not a sin
To come into the church for your little ceremony."

But suddenly a monk speaks to me, "Get out of here!
It's my turn to have a drag," he says.

Zeϊbekiko, Vassilis Tsitsanis, 1938?

(From Gail Holst's excellent pioneering book, Road to Rembetika: music of a Greek sub-culture, songs of love, sorrow & hashish, Denise Harvey & Company, Athens, 1975. From the same book: "The manges (singular mangas*--the pronunciation of the 'g' is hard in both plural and singular) were men who formed a sub-culture on the fringe of society. Many of them were actually in the underworld. The nearest equivalents in English are probably 'spivs', 'wide-boys' or 'hep-cats'.")

This is the classic rembetiko heard on the video of my previous post; one of the many rembetika that were banned for years, it was finally recorded by Tsitsanis in 1983!

Vazambam's Zeϊbekiko

Monday, July 20, 2009

Muse/Alter Ego

There is no voice but that of the other
Singer of promise, love, good news,
The bending of knees at the altar--
I'll stop at nothing to sacrifice you.

(First published in Sentences, 1976)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Moon on the Meadow


The mouse
In the house,


The bat
In the sky,


The moon
In the heavens,


The man
On the ground,


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Robert Creeley and the Bridge over the Mavrozoumena River

I know a man

As I sd to my
friend, because I am

always talking - John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-

rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &

why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look

out where yr going.

--Robert Creeley

The Peloponnese—“Pelops’s Island”—begins where the Corinth Canal severs it from mainland Greece and culminates at mainland Europe’s most southerly point—Cape Matapan (Tenaeron in Greek) in the Mani. Besides being a region of outstanding natural beauty, it is also full of classical archaeological sites such as Olympia, Mycenae, Ancient Messene, and Epidaurus; medieval ruins and old Venetian castles like those in Nafplion, Methoni and Koroni; Byzantine cities such as Mystras and Monemvasia. Not into ruins? No problem—the Peloponnese is also a perfect destination for those who want to get “off the beaten track” and explore all the other magic it has to offer: craggy, massive mountains and expanses of fragrant citrus; lush vineyards and silver-green olive groves; beautiful sandy beaches; hundreds of villages tucked away in valleys and hanging from mountainsides. If you get this far south of Athens and remember to look out where you’re going, you will be amply rewarded in more ways than one.

One of the reasons for going through Meligalas—besides stopping to visit the Zambaras family—is to see the impressive ruins of
Ancient Messene a few kilometers to the west behind Mount Ithome. On your way you first have to go over the historic, three-pronged, multi-arched, stone bridge over the Mavrozoumena River (see photograph above) on your way to Neochori (the birthplace of Maria Callas’s father). Mentioned by Pausanias in his Travels, this narrow bridge is believed to be the only one in Europe built over the confluence of two streams, and is surely the only one with a hairpin turn right in the middle.

I must have driven back and forth over this bridge hundreds of times, as it is on the way to my home village of Revmatia, but on the 11th of November, 1978, I found myself driving off it with a friend and into the shallow, muddy waters of the Mavrozoumena River ten distant meters below. There were no safety railings at that time, we were traveling at about 90 km-per-hour in a brand-new Ford Fiesta I had driven across Europe from Belgium one month earlier and were just returning from a leisurely 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. ouzo-drinking bout with two other friends in Neochori’s main square, one ouzo led to another and another and another until we lost track of just how many. . . .and then, sure enough, there we were, falling over the right side of the bridge.

Luckily, the span was flanked by some thick plane trees which miraculously broke the vehicle’s momentum. However, I was dumped out the open door of the now upside-down car and ahead of it down through the branches into the murky waters (my friend remained trapped in the falling car) only to have the Fiesta land right on top of me. There was enough mud to cushion the car’s fall and my head was still above the mud, though I couldn’t move my legs because they were under the car and I thought they were crushed until the villagers raced from the main square and pulled me out of the muck and my friend from the car. I was so drunk and in shock that I got back into the newly and violently transmogrified amphibian and tried to start it.

[NB: In this 1964 photo of the Mavrozoumena Bridge, as you travel left to right and focus in half-way between the man behind the donkey and the man in the horse-driven cart, you can pinpoint the exact place where I should have remembered Creeley’s best-known poem and stopped. By the way, my friend's name was George.]

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


No sign of birds, no tell-
Tale trace of entrails

To guide you along,
The prospect was not

What you expected,
Was it naught?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


As the light descends on it,
The spirit that's been spent

Dreaming wakes in the air.

Sunday, July 12, 2009



On the corner
Of First and Duryea,

I thought
He’d gone off

And said

Some foul-mouthed runaway
Kid named Cid took the bacon
Cross the tracks past Commercial

And ran he did,

Brought the taste of it all
Back home to us

Nickel-and-dime bastards I swear
He did.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

One Down (Twice), Two to Go

“If you haven’t built a house, dug a well, and married off a son or daughter, you haven’t lived.”--Greek proverb

As part of her dowry, Eleni was given about a hundred olive trees in a grove in the middle of nowhere about 9 kilometers due west of Meligalas; the only way you could get there in 1981 was to park your car a kilometer away and go on foot uphill for about 20 minutes. Every winter, my mother-in-law and her late husband would walk down from Revmatia to this olive grove during olive harvesting time (a two-and-a-half- hour walk) with a donkey ladened with provisions, all six children, the goats and anywhere from 15 to 20 sheep. Once there, they would stay in a tiny 3x3 sq.m stone hut for as long as it took them to harvest the olives-- usually a week, but longer if it was a good year. In 1981, Eleni and I decided to tear down the hut, together with the nearby sheep enclosure and use the stones to have a new house built in the grove, but first we had to find enough cornerstones for its construction; using our Fiat 127, we immediately set out rummaging through the countless heaps of dumped stones and piles of rubble scattered all over Messenias to find the pieces we needed.

For this small 4 x 6 sq.m house, we only required about 50 cornerstones and fortunately for us but not for traditional Greek village architecture, at this time people were still demolishing traditional stone houses in fits of modernist frenzy and building new monstrosities out of reinforced concrete and brick and calling it “progress,” so it was fairly easy finding cornerstones. And that’s just what Eleni and I did in the ten years between the building of the little house in the grove and the construction in 1991 of the much, much larger two-storey stone residence our family now lives in. By then we had amassed approximately 1,200 cornerstones—more than enough for the house and the stone wall in front—and were known throughout Upper Messenias as that “somewhat batty couple in a battered Fiat 127 who were gathering, of all things, cornerstones.” [NB: It might interest readers to know that cornerstones from old demolished houses are now selling at 30 € a piece and up.]

But back to the grove. During Fall, Winter and Spring and when the two children were still too young for school, we would leave Meligalas every other Friday night after I had finished with my English lessons, drive the car (filled with enough food and other provisions to last us until Monday morning) to where the dirt road morphed into a rut, and then haul the kids and provisions up to the house—no electricity, no phone, no running water, no other people, owls hooting, jackals crying at night, millions of stars—for a weekend in Paradise. As strange as it might seem, when we came back down to idyllic Meligalas on Monday, it felt as if we were returning to Hell aka Civilization.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gravelly Run

Do not cast the first stone, pilgrim—

Though wide-eyed urchins throw
Sheep shit at the poet transfixed

Before the babbling brook,
There is no sin

In their misdoings,
Only wonder.

(First published in NO/ON #7: journal of the short poem, Spring 2009)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fowl Play aka Chicken Village

One of my favorite watering holes right on the seafront in Kalamata is the Navarino mezedopoleio (literally, a place that specializes in hors d'oeuvres but may also serve larger entrees)--the perfect setting for savoring a large variety of traditional Greek dishes--great service, delicious food, good spirits(!) and a menu catering to all tasteful imaginations. But before you get carried away by the prospect of tasting some of these mouth-watering tidbits, take a good look at the third dish on the menu. Can anyone in their right mind imagine being served an entire village of chickens?

The Quick and the Dead

From out of nowhere,
Smart lizard darts

Onto hot deadly stretch
Of killer asphalt,

Grabs stupid grass-
Hopper's ass before

Coolly high-
Tailing it back

To nowhere.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Definitely Not Lemmings #11

Though I can't see him on my blogsite due to a continual Blogger anomaly, I welcome Gerry Boyd as Definitely Not Lemmings #11; thanks Gerry!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Darkness Moves, Henri Michaux

An Henri Michaux Anthology, 1927-1984, selected, translated, and presented by David Ball, University of California Press, 1997, 340 pp.

From the Introduction: "Henri Michaux died in 1984 at the age of eighty-five. He was the author of more than thirty books of poems, prose poems, narratives, essays, journals, and drawings; his writings were translated into more than half a dozen languages, his paintings amply displayed in the major art centers of Europe and the United States. His place in world literature and art was secure, but difficult to define. Michaux stood alone.

When people who know his work try to relate Michaux to some movement or tradition, they don't come up with schools of poets, but with a range of great individual figures in literature and art: Kafka, Hieronymous Bosch, Goya, Swift, Paul Klee, Rabalais....His strangeness has occasionally led him to be classified with the Surrealists (some critics feel they have to put him somewhere), but he never used their techniques: no cadavre exquis, no free associations, no abstractly formulated attempt to destroy tradition and logic. A sentence like Breton's 'The color of fabulous salvations darkens even the slightest death-rattle: a calm of relative sighs' could never have been written by Michaux, who tries to render his dangerous, magical world as clearly and concretely as possible. Whether in poetry, prose, India ink, or paint, his weird visions are not the result of some theory about the nature of art: they are messages from his inner space. In a sense he inhabits the realm the Surrealists merely longed for.

No group, no label for him. John Ashbery defined him as 'hardly a painter, hardly even a writer, but a conscience--the most sensitive substance yet discovered for registering the fluctuating anguish of day-to-day, minute-to-minute living.' Wild and druggy enough to be venerated in the sixties by a poet like Allen Ginsberg (he called Michaux "master" and "genius"), and by the French rap star M.C. Solaar in the nineties, an inventor of fictions brilliant enough to be admired by Jorge Luis Borges ("his work is without equal in the literature of our time"), who was Henri Michaux?"

This fascinating anthology is the perfect place to start looking for an answer.

George Seferis also admired Michaux; in a 1970 Paris Review interview, in answer to Edmund Keeley's question about lack of a sufficient audience for his poetry, Seferis had this to say: . . . ."this situation of not having a very large audience has something good in it, too. I mean, that it educates you in a certain way: not to consider that great audiences are the most important reward on this earth. I consider that even if I have three people who read me, I mean really read me, it is enough. That reminds me of a conversation I had once upon a time during the only glimpse I ever had of Henri Michaux. It was when he had a stopover in Athens, coming from Egypt, I think. He came ashore while his ship was in Piraeus, just in order to have a look at the Acropolis. And he told me on that occasion: 'You know, my dear, a man who has only one reader is not a writer. A man who has two readers is not a writer, either. But a man who has three readers'--and he pronounced "three readers" as though they were three million--'that man is really a writer'."

Friday, June 26, 2009



Morning: Lorine Niedecker,
American Poet (1903-1970)


in our thickly
twinned cy-


the ooh-ah-
ooh of mating

mourning doves
call your

ah you


(First published in Poetry Salzburg Review #2, Autumn 2002.)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Composition #5


a low mottled moving blue-
white canopy a

swaying field of tall yellow-
green mustard

riddled with red wind-
Not So Recently Linked: A belated note of thanks to Skysill Press of England for providing a link to my blog some time back and which I became aware of only a few days ago.

To a Neophyte Poet Blinded by the Light

You have the gift
Of offhand sleight,

Though naught it seems
As touch to sight.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Punch-Drunk Down And Out in Tijuana

What's missing, slugger,
Is the zing in the mescal,

The bat out of hell, worm in
Your belfry loud as a bell.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bad Seed

It kept well, conserved
In the niggard's dark pantry,

Till prosperity undid the latch,
And off it went spoiling,

Spilling into the light,
To be preserved

For posterity.

(First published in NO/ON: journal of the short poem, Spring 2009.)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Malva Sylvestris Vazambam

Two years ago, Eleni and I gathered various wild mallow seeds and scattered them throughout our garden. Measuring in at 3,5 meters, this is the tallest of the 30-some mallows that we now have. Not bad, considering the ordinary mallows found in the surrounding countryside seldom get much over a meter.

NB: This post was originally saved as a draft on June 15th but owing to an enormous Blogger anomaly, it could not be posted until today (June 20th).

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Variation on Stevens' "Of Mere Being"

What is the palm saying
As it sways in the wind?

It's time to be leaving,
Time to be born again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Generation Gap


To so much laid-back cool
young flesh laid bare,

the two wizened
white-haired black-clad

hags en-

in animated

conversation under the hot pink
beach umbrella

are neither here nor there.

Friday, June 5, 2009

When Lower Is Higher

When I first came back to Greece in 1959, there were far more donkeys in residence than there were people who could speak English; that is no longer the case, since the number of donkeys has alarmingly fallen to the point where some children wouldn’t recognize one even if it came up to them and brayed, “I am an ass! What are you?” On the other hand, the number of Greek children now able to speak and understand English has risen dramatically—thanks to the countless number of private language schools (frontistiria) scattered throughout Greece.

When I returned to Greece again in 1972, there were certainly many fewer such schools than there are today, but the measure of any school’s success was and continues to be its track record vis-à-vis how many students manage to pass either the Cambridge First Certificate (“The Lower”) or the Michigan ECCE examinations held twice a year in various venues throughout Greece.

Students usually sit for these examinations after six years of studying English as a Foreign Language, and the certificate issued after successful completion of the Cambridge test is usually referred to as “The Lower”—as it used to be called up until the early 90s—but which term the vast majority of Greeks still use when referring to this particular (cough) “diploma.”

Back in the late 90s, there was a spirited national discussion carried on within the private foreign language teaching community as to who is better qualified to teach English: those with university degrees in English, or those with so-called “Proficiency in the language,” i.e., those who lack a university education but who have successfully passed either the Cambridge or Michigan Proficiency Examinations—usually taken after eight years of study at an English Language School.

This question of who is better qualified remains controversial; what is beyond questioning is the unsettling fact that more and more parents are relinquishing their responsibility to find the best language school for their children’s foreign language education. Looking back on my 30 years of teaching English in the Greek boondocks, I have to conclude that though there are parents out here who are truly concerned with the caliber, qualifications and experience of English teachers, and who do make their selection of schools accordingly, there is an ever-increasing and thus unsettling number of parents who just don’t give a damn one way or the other.

Decisions about where to send children are often reached at the hairdresser’s and/or as a result of door-to-door campaigns carried out by industrious language school owners who also enlist the help of relatives, politically affiliated cronies, hoi polloi, you name it—and all the while thinking up every conceivable wile to drum up business, including free lessons for kids in kindergarten, free school bags, free notebooks, etc.

Peer pressure also plays its part and lets many a parent off the hook—the children assume the responsibility of selecting their own school—which means the more lemmings, the merrier; and if it’s also the cheapest place in town, so much the better. Get the picture? If not, let me tell you the following true story. It illustrates what many conscientious English teachers are up against when it comes to dealing with the great majority of Greek parents.

When Lower Is Higher

Quite a few years ago, in the late 70s, Eleni was working in one of Meligalas’s two tailor shops as an apprentice to a man who had spent 19 years in various concentration camps after the Greek Civil War. He had been a member of the Greek Underground and his period of imprisonment was his reward for fighting against the Germans during their brutal Occupation of Greece. It could have been much worse for the tailor—hundreds of his compatriots were either murdered by roving bands of Rightist thugs after the Occupation, or put on trial and executed by a series of US-supported Rightwing governments up until the early 50s.

In the late 70s, I was heavily involved in party politics as a founding member and local secretary of the
PASOK organization. Back then (how times change!), PASOK was considered by many of my area’s residents as more Leftist, more radical and perhaps more dangerous than even the Greek Communist Party! Zounds! To understand the region’s fear and loathing of Communism and its cousin, Socialism, we have to go back to September 1944, when Meligalas was the scene of a fierce three-day battle between Greek partisans and the
Security Battalions set up by the retreating Germans to protect their rear as they were leaving the country.

The Security Battalions lost, summary people’s trials were held, and those found guilty of collaboration were taken to a site just outside the village of Neochori, shot and thrown down a well. Estimates vary, but there were at least 1,400 men, women and children executed. The battle and resultant executions left an indelible mark on the area’s residents and makes it easier to understand why Meligalas is today such a bastion of conservatism. It does not satisfactorily explain why so many Messenians and locals swore an oath to Hitler, donned German uniforms and fought against the partisans as members of the Security Battalions.

So, it was in this former partisan’s shop that I would drop by one or two times a week to spend a pleasant half hour or more talking with both the tailor and, of course, Eleni. One morning, a client of mine dropped by the shop while I was being measured for one of the two suits I eventually had made as an excuse for stopping by the shop to see Eleni. Never wore them but they were well worth their price in more ways than one! Anyway, after dispensing with the usual social amenities, my client asked me about his son’s progress in English. After telling him his son was unfortunately not progressing, the following exchange of vast pedagogical import took place.

“Ah, I see. Thank you, Vassilaki; that is interesting. Now that I think of it, just where was it you learned your English?”

“Well, Mr. Banias, thank you for asking! You know, I’ve been teaching for ten years and you’re the first parent who’s asked me that—most of them just want to know how much I charge. Let me see. My parents took me to the US when I was four; I went to elementary school for six years; then another six years of junior/senior high. After that, I went to university for four years, got my BA in English, and then did two more years of graduate school for my MA, also in English. After returning to Greece, I taught for two years in Athens before opening my school here. That’s about it.”

Mr. Banias hesitated, but only for a moment.

“Well, all that’s fine and well, Vassilaki, but can you tell me please, HAVE YOU THE LOWER?”

NB: Written two years ago as a part of the Messenias supplement to
Elizabeth Boleman-Herring's excellent website on Greece; unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond Elizabeth's control, the supplement was never published.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...