George Kalogeris

 

 

(USA)

 

 

 

POSEIDONIANS

 

              –Cavafy

 

After so many years of commingling with

Tyrrenhians, Latins, and other foreigners,

The Poseidonians forgot the Greek language.

All their ancestral ways had faded away—

Except for a beautiful Greek festival

With lyres and flutes, and contests for laurel wreaths.

 

And every year, as the festival drew to a close,

They would wonder aloud about their ancient Greek names,

And try them out on each other—at least those few

Who still knew the sound of their Poseidonian names.

So their festival, when all was said and done,

Would always conclude on a melancholy note.

 

At the end of the day, they too were Greeks—but only

So long as their annual ritual made them remember

That they were citizens, once, of Magna Graecia.

But now they had to face how far they’d fallen,

Speaking and acting like those they used to call

Barbarians. Cut off, alas, from Hellás.

 

 

 
 POSEIDONIANS II

 

What all the maps now call Salonika

Was once the ancient city of Poseidonias:

Named for settlers who came in the vanishing wake

Of their leader, a hunter who swam the open seas,

Pursuing a deer, and lost track of it there, the headlands

He named for his people adrift. And later the same

 

Meandering tribe will land in Magna Graecia;

And later still lament the Greek they can’t speak,

In the great Alexandrian’s poem about amnesia

Confounding the annual festival. Was it purely

Coincidence that their royal stock, Cavafy,

Goes back to a king whose murky origin,

 

As far as we know, appears to be Egyptian?

Can the irony that’s deep in a poet’s bloodlines

Be traced, like a name, through Ancestry.com?

But the deer-in-the-headlights look belongs to my parents,

In an open field in Ipswich, when all the tents

At the church picnic go dark, and we search for our car.

 

 

 

ANDIDORO

 

Every Easter, and just at the start of Lent,

One of those blue-striped envelopes would be sent

From Greece, containing what it could barely seal:

A rigid cube of bread, wrapped in tinfoil.

 

Andídoró, the gift in return for a gift.

It was sent by nuns who lived on the edge of a cliff

Above my father’s village. Before I could read,

Their stucco house was there, in the pockmarked bread.

 

Though it didn’t have a door, or any windows,

Its roof was an orange crust. Andídoró.

Communion bread that never went stale, as long

As I could taste it fresh, in another tongue.

 

A word that meant more names would go on the list,

The one my mother wrote up when it was Lent,

And sent to the nuns, along with some dollar bills.

Names of our dead, chanted over distant candles.

 

Andídoró. A lump in the envelope’s throat.

Bread baked in an ashen hearth, or so I was told

By the tinfoil’s crinkly glow. Ancestral crumb.

Strange valleys where the dark vowels were coming from.

 

And then, at midnight, on Holy Saturday,

When all the murmuring stopped so suddenly,

Everyone would stand, as our church went dark.

Waiting, with unlit candles, for singing to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________________________

 

George Kalogeris is the author of a book of paired poems in translation, Dialogos (Antilever, 2012), and of a book of poems based on the notebooks of Albert Camus, Camus: Carnets (Pressed Wafer, 2006). His poems and translations were anthologized in Joining Music with Reason, chosen by Christopher Ricks (Oxford, 2010). His book of poems, Guide to Greece, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press (2018). He teaches English Literature and Classics in Translation at Suffolk University.

 

 

 

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