Sunday, November 09, 2008


(For Spiros and his family)

On Sunday most stores
close on Chios, but we find
water for the trip
over the mountain in search
of the world’s best olive oil.

We pass the orchard
of my friend Spiros’ neighbor,
who presses the best,
but he isn’t there—so we
go on down the western side

of the island to
a popular martyr’s shrine.
This sunny morning
Saint Markele’s severed head
hovers over the garden,

its halo intact,
as we walk the shaded paths
where believers in
miracles will spend the night
of the feast in sleeping bags.

Here where land meets sea
anything could happen, but
today the place brings
only hunger—which we sate
at a beach café before

leaving. On the road
back we decide to climb up
to Fort Volissos;
we can see it from the road,
but the footpaths are complex

and we ask the way.
An Albanian worker
decides to lead us
astray, but we manage to
make it up there anyway.

There is little left
of the fort besides its view
of village and shore
and sea beyond where ships fly
like great sea birds in the haze.

My telephoto
lens allows us to spy on
people leaving church,
gossiping on their way home.
Beyond them the bay opens

to the Aegean,
and to the south volcanic
black beaches pebble
midday family picnics.
This island still suffers its

memories of rapes,
slaughter, pillaging and fires:
mastic villages
have few entry gates, others
look like parts of the mountains—

to be overlooked
by the near-sighted pirates
searching for gold
but ignoring the rich island
light, the ebony olives

and the trees dropping
their sap like silver drachmas.
Globalized pirates
now pass the island by: they
have other fish to fry;

young folks abandon
it for Athens and the hope
of jobs, while elders
bury the dead—posting their
black-rimmed obituaries

on telephone poles
and waiting for their own turn
to be remembered.
Old shipowners’ mansions wait
for restoration, daily

losing more shutters
to the wind, and in Kampos
orchards are heavy
with golden lemons and dreams
of Homer, the blind poet.

Perhaps blindness is
necessary to see things,
and poems better
constructed from simple words
so long as the heart writes them?

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