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!
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