Dean Kostos


Bryant Park, August 2015








The Mütter Museum,

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia


Daguerreotype of a doleful

man, withered horn curving from his forehead.


His forearms—long as thighs, thin as wrists.

Parchment-colored vitrines feature parades


of dwarf skeletons, small to large.

Their bones glister like sinister jewelry.


Vertebrae, leg, & arm bones

arranged like Linear A,


never to be deciphered. As I leave,

fragments grin like a carnivorous


insect. A six-foot colon looms

in a glass casket like a sunburned iguana. Rows


of skulls gaze from hollow sockets,



The wax replica of a man leans

back, reveals his throat: sliced smile, flayed


open—pink & white muscles, nerves

complex as electrical circuitry


that didn’t exist in his life. I peer

back from my time, almost two centuries.


I’m greeted by a face in a jar—severed

from the head it adorned,



(Kostos, Medicinal Corridors, page 2, new stanza)



from the person who called it

“I.” The face has the shape & shade


of an Anjou pear, suspended in formaldehyde

by two pins: parentheses. Its eyes


are fixed downward in regret. Its lips part

as if preparing to say, “I was.”






A painting by Edward Hopper,

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


1. The Proprietress

I govern this rectangle—boundaries push

into me, press moist light from skin.


Behind the saturnine glow of lipstick

& rouge, I wait. A galaxy


of lamps yaws above me.

My eyes soar through this smoky café,


alight on a businessman & courtesan,

tête-à-tête. She gapes


from the balustrade, her chocolate-

colored gown cascades.


He gobbles crème-caramel truffles,

fans a royal flush, his collar the color


of rancid mocha. He swigs

spiked espresso, snuffs out Gauloises,


gestures to her. They rise.

Footsteps beat a tattoo.


What is movement—

orbit from None to Numb?



(Kostos, Soir Bleu, page 2, new stanza)


2. The Courtesan

He & I ascend the ascenseur.

Hazed in smoke, our words float, lanterns.


Merlot floods my throat: voices

loud, waning, moaned …


I warm pearls, savor truffles

but never ask: how long married,


how many other women?

My dress puddles


onto parquet—my roan chignon

a dénouement across my breasts.


With eyes closed, chocolate melts

on tongues. Communion.


3. The Businessman

Charlotte … Deirdre … Anne … Chateau Pétrus.

More ganaches, more giandujas, more pralines.


4. The Clown

The owner thinks I don’t see her—absurd.

I fan my regal hand, learned


concealment. I’m no magician, unless you count

blurred years I’ve made disappear:


somersaulting, pitching tents, hammering

spikes into frozen soil.


Look: no smeared, ear-to-ear

greasepaint smile.



(Kostos, Soir Bleu, page 3, new stanza)


5. The Card Shark

I roll a cigarette with spit

& contempt, eavesdrop on tips, chase


whiskey with burnt café noir.

I flourish false cuts, false shuffles.


6. My Eyes

My pupils are mouths:

I consume what I see.


But seeing is grammatical: the dependent

clause to the left of the canvas, divided


by a pole—wing of a triptych by Robert Campin,

Flemish master. Forget


art history. Besides, Soir Bleu resists

symmetry, no second wing.


Isolated dramas erupt, side by side.

The Proprietress pricks


my gaze with coffee-black distance,

drowns in her own scumbled denial.






With poems scratched into wax paper,

& wires cut from telephone poles,

with dust miasmas exhaled from the ground,

fishermen’s nets unraveled.

Mouthing a skein of cigarette smoke,

you faced the Acropolis—bleeding


a swastika. With the bite of dusty blood

& the blue that veins blank papers,

rust reddened smoke.

Compass needles pierced poles.

With fish blood on nets unraveling,

you traced the ground.


You boiled soup from stones, plucked from ground,

mouths mute as Philomela’s, bleeding.

With curfew streets unraveling,

names singed on birth-certificate papers,

& war-charred Athens’s flagless poles,

you traced cursive smoke.


With grape vines sprouting smoke,

tongues of goats shriveled on the ground

& a forest filled with burnt cypress poles.

You tore a page, poems bleeding

onto invisible paper.

You traced rage’s unraveling.


With sleeves of knitted script unraveling,

fists grasping the syntax of smoke.

After 22 Nobel refusals, papers

drank ink from your pen. On the grounds

that you were a communist, lies poured into blood.

You traced the polarity



(Kostos, Litany for Yannis Ritsos, page 2, new stanza)



of a civil war. With crutches carved from balsa poles,

blind children wore bandages, unraveling.

When dictators’ ropes choked blood

from Eucharistic chalices, peasants swilled smoke.

As a pen stabbed your brain to the ground,

you traced blood-stained paper.


A paper backdrop looped behind you, stretched between poles.

Eyes winced at ground bones. The Aegean unraveled

smoke & you spat the salt of blood.





for Anna Kontogeorgiou, my grandmother


Because my hand unspools the endless bolt,

my voice uncoils like smoke.

Because I change with the whorl

of this brocade, my name

fades from tongues.


Not a moon loosened from orbit, not

a discus thrower’s disc, but All that is

blazes behind your head. Sitting

by your window, you watch a procession

of lives. I listen as you chant poems learned as a girl.


Hare mou, pare me, you embroidered with breath.


My wings shuttle between matter & the province

beyond knowing. See my robe pleat

& unpleat the five flights you climbed

60 years. You carried groceries, 14th-Street bargains,

& piece work to sew into night. A finisher,

you stitched champagne-colored satin

onto mink coats. You sent money to your sister in Greece.

My stairs are neither ascent nor descent, leading

where directions merge.


Hare mou, pare me, you cawed, sensing


my wings’ brush, myrrh breath, shirred

shadow, watching since you were a braided girl

at your loom, feet not reaching the floor, hands

weaving for your family. Pewter olive

leaves culled soot from the mines’ black air

that choked your father.


Hare mou, pare me, you wove with wet eyelashes.



(Kostos, Charon’s Call, page 2, new stanza)



I curled each fetus your husband made you abort

into my sleeves until two infants unfurled—a girl

& a girl. When your husband died, you pressed

tears between pages of his embossed books,

grief & rage burning holes through a black-

bordered handkerchief.


Hare mou, pare me, you embroidered with the Virgin’s hair.


At your apartment altar, your arms fragrant

with anis seeds, wreathed your daughter’s boys

as you told village tales: the girl with pomegranate

cheeks, the almond tree speaking the moon’s Hagiographa,

the olive tree writhing toward eternity, roses

mouthing Jesus’s wounds, Son,

the sun, bleeding. You taught your grandson to pray,

saying you married God with breath.


Hare mou, pare me, you chanted the last day of your life.


All day, when you pinned your eyes

to mine, I gathered you in my arms

like a bride across the threshold

from Is to Is-No-More, leaving memory like a hole

scissored from cloth.


Hare mou, pare me, you chanted,


a white sávano gown

floating around you. You slipped from sleep,

nesting in the leaf of Soul. Anna,

don’t fear me as I near you, adorned

with disks of light—ray piercing like a needle.



Hare is the vocative form of Haros. In Modern Greek, he represents the Angel of Death. In Ancient Greek, he is Charon, the ferryman who conveyed the souls of the dead across the Styx. The refrain, Hare Mou, Pare Me (pronounced Haray mou, paray may) signifies, “Haros, take me.”


The sávano gown is worn by pilgrims, baptized in the Jordan River. It is then used for burial. My grandmother made her own sávano to be buried in.










Dean Kostos’s forthcoming collection—Pierced by Night-Colored Threads—will be released in September of 2017. His previous books include This Is Not a Skyscraper (recipient of the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, selected by Mark Doty), Rivering,Last Supper of the SensesThe Sentence That Ends with a Comma, and the chapbook Celestial Rust. He edited Mama’s Boy (a Lambda Book Award finalist) and edited Pomegranate Seeds (its debut reading was held at the United Nations)His poems and essays have appeared in over 300 journals and anthologies, such as Boulevard, Chelsea, Cimarron Review, Mediterranean Poetry (Sweden), Southwest ReviewStand Magazine (UK), Western Humanities Review, and on Oprah Winfrey’s website His choral text, Dialogue: Angel of War, Angel of Peace, was set to music by James Bassi and performed by Voices of Ascension. His literary criticism has appeared on the Harvard UP website and elsewhere. A multiple Pushcart-Prize nominee, he served as literary judge for Columbia University’s Gold Crown Awards and received a Yaddo fellowship. He has taught at Wesleyan, The Gallatin School of NYU, and The City University of New York. His poem “Subway Silk” was translated into a film by Jill Clark and screened at Tribeca and at the San Francisco Indiefest.


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