Epistrophe

By Alexandra Mouratidou

 

I reached the starting point in disguise.

Luck should surrender this time.

My bags scattered on the floor,

overflow of my wreckages,

while my four-year-old

dances and laughs around them­. Thank God.

Behind my every pain lies a mistake of mine

and I am back again

spending the days reading poetry to the sea

so every time the sea breeze blows

the curtains, like witches,

can whisper giggling promises of other lives.

But at night, when the clock strikes three

Erinyes, crawling, reach me in my bed

and wake me up. And I cry.

Time gave me new eyes

and now the mother’s hug becomes a noose.

Nurture has a price, that hurting pride,

which I can’t pay. Or do I refuse?

 

And when I left home at sixteen

I swear I hid my photo-album

and had the illusion that it would wait for me intact.

But time never favors anyone

and now when I open it, hands pop out,

hands like snakes that grab my neck

and choke me and scratch my face,

and out of fear, I close my eyes

but I don’t beg for mercy. That, never!

The olive tree outside my window,

my old friend who has aged too

but is here to cherish and comfort me:

me, the naughty child who tricked it on purpose

but now cries to keep loving it.

 

And my olive tree, yes, the friend

to whom I would confide

all about that boy from Andorra

and that drunk, on youth, kiss

in a cave by the port. 

And with Eleni, single on principle,

we’ve been at a wedding uninvited

and danced in the empty streets

together with the almond trees

and we laughed. Oh, how we laughed.

And we wished upon a waxing moon

and a falling star,

each of us for another disappointment. 

Since then, I prefer half-moons red:

ellipsis suits me more,

as if I am completed through dearth.

 

My town a little labyrinth

and the big city, a dead-end.

I wonder if we have to turn every saying inside out

to really understand.

Here, God stands lower. The city widens

and He needs some distance to watch closely.

And everybody took this too damn seriously

and became hangmen.

 

My small town is a picture frame

and I’m in it, moving subtly back then. 

I scare the people in the corners.

I steal ice cream, two,

one for me and one for my brother.

Back then, yes,

when we counted the little red stars

featured on foreign cars­

–tourists from Yugoslavia—

and we kept losing the count

and starting all over again.

 

And those who like the black-and-white movies

recognize in them our lost truth.

Grandma at the port with her Tupperware

and we, Yianni and I, playing in the sea

pretending we would save the world.

Now we try to save whatever has remained of ourselves.

We were splitting our money to buy grilled corn

and even though he was older

he didn’t know I was cheating him,

or he loved me nonetheless.

And we worked, always.

We fished for tourists to rent a room

and if we managed, we had the afternoon for ourselves:

climbing the wall at the open-air summer cinema

to see the movie on half of the screen,

precursor of a future half life.

 

And I remember, on our terrace

we were five, up on stools,

pretending to be birds in faraway lands.

There we first heard about Niagara.

We came back with our wings broken.

Anticipation smashed them.

And one night

when we were celebrating something beautiful,

grandpa died and his chair was silenced.

I heard it again when his wife was gone.

You see, there is this shirttail relativeness

as if there’s any sense in defining guileless love.

 

And some vernal nights we snuck out

heading to a different place

and when exhausted from love

and making our way home

other things hooked our minds.

Dawn was already there.

Then, I loved those early-morning hours

when the sky leans towards the sea

and kisses her hand

and they become one:

this too was a sign of the eternal love

we swore upon.

 

Or some lazy middays in May, out of mischief

we cut flowers from other people’s gardens

only to throw them in the sea.

And with our slingshot

we aimed at the clouds:

every target a promise I reneged on.

And it was November when we started the fire,

and turf, that most nostalgic smell,

inundates me still.

 

I haul my old shoes now,

hurt, along the same streets

as I did back then

and wonder about how things have changed.

Or is it that the eyes I now wear have changed?

 

Come closer, my child.

It’s my turn to learn from you,

learn to see and count in different ways,

to become a dewdrop

slipping to other places

in my last epistrophe.