Poems from A Ship to Spare

By Lena Kallergi


Translated from the Greek by John O’Kane

These exquisite trees,

these houses amid the waves,

let no one expect them.

I have nothing, not even a leaf of mint

to freshen the unutterable sound.

The Lover-Fish

He slipped out of my hands

and I really needed

much art in handling the net.

No heavy trident, it will cause pain.

No hook, blood will run

from his finely crafted gills.

And though he was a foreigner, mute and cold,

my eyes flashed silver when I saw him.

And when he vanished in the depths, I choked

on his ivory bones.

“Farewell” and “watch out, it will rain”,

in what tongue should I utter?

Dry hostages my legs

rooted in the earth.

From species to species, without mutations,

silence will walk.

Perhaps we’ll meet some time on the shores.



Between us stands

a language

and a sea.

We look at one another

through morning frosts

and dusks of coral.

We chant each syllable without oars.

If the wind can do it, so can we.

Some move mountains, cultivate plains.

Others pray for a rain of brine.

We remain opposite.

We contrive ways.

We are the edges of what separates us.

Together, only the birds see us.

We imagine

that we will build bridges

with words and water.

A Chance Oracle

I try out languages, change homelands,

I come back to unknown waves.

I don’t know what became of my neighbours,

nor of the trees that we planted.

I was not fused with my old love,

we didn’t grow together in another body.

I meet travellers turning in circles.

They speak to me in a broken voice

and tell me in familiar Esperanto:

“My guest status is infinite.”



I gave them what suits each of them:

constellations for their eyes

swarms of clouds for their hair.

To the shipwrecked I sent storms.

Defeats and betrayals to the leaders.

Flowers and death to the mothers.

I told them: My children, you are all firstborn,

the whole fortune is yours.

But all things return to me.

Gold that comes back as ash.

Forests made into libraries.

Islands overbuilt with houses.

Their desires, their prayers, music of angels

imprinted on stones and marble,

whispered in strange languages,

come with outstretched wings

and strike me in the face.

The face

they have given me.

And they unleash a wind so reckless

—did I endow them with such an aperture?—

and they demolish in their path so many shrines.

Alone, entirely, I labour

for an infinite time,

but not one thought has room enough for me.

Where should I tell this

and who will believe me?


They have taken the summers to the north.

They have hermetically packaged

even the last grape

for fear their drivers and pilots

will end up getting drunk.

The sacrifice is fresh.

They’re keeping them in quarantine,

frost-bound, closed up in boxes

with bilingual labels



So what future awaits them?

They will be cut into pieces,

served with ice,

dubbed “exotic”.

They may even assimilate

and one day we may visit them

when they’re grizzled and more plump.

I’m negotiating for their return.

I’m forming committees of barren rocks

and whatever cicada managed to elude them.

I’m organising campaigns, sponsors of vacations,

foreign donors.

The ghost of August haunts me.

I lost an entire season

which wasn’t my own.


If the voice

(sound of leaves

with blade in the wind,


unexpected shore

so ancient

so wakeful,



early morning roar

of the angels,



like lacework of an oracle)


calls me,


I will go.


Joseph Mallord William Turner 

Sketch for ‘Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus’


Oil paint on canvas

Frame dimensions: 883 x 1170 x 118 mm

Tate: N02958