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.
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
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.
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.
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
and THIS SIDE UP.
So what future awaits them?
They will be cut into pieces,
served with ice,
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,
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,
early morning roar
of the angels,
like lacework of an oracle)
I will go.
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Sketch for ‘Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus’
Oil paint on canvas
Frame dimensions: 883 x 1170 x 118 mm