©2020 Pericles at Play. Homepage paintings by Annabel Dover

In Greece

By James Ackhurst

We never went, but let me make a guess

about that fortune-teller that we’d pass:

she hides the future with her hands. You know

what poker-players do to hide the cards

they’re dealt? They sweep their hands over each one

one at a time but fast; that’s what she does

with tarot cards: the hanged man, death by water.

And that is what the sea is doing now,

its hands in gloves of richest Spanish black

with edges breaking into scruffy lace.

Hiding the future, though the cats don’t mind;

they’ll go on dancing on the peppered beach,

between the tourist tables and the dark.

I’m in Greece, dumbass. Yes, in Greece, where you

went backpacking one summer after college,

lost your passport, hooked up with an awful

Greek, and generally played the part

of a Canadian in Europe: nice,

unprepossessing, earnest, out of place.

I know all this because you told me, and

because I followed you, three years

behind, clicking from one picture of you

to the next like I was island-hopping

too – from slutty Mykonos down through

the archipelago to Santorini,

where there’s that photo of you lying on

the beach, as hot as the volcanic sands,

your hair more black, and somewhere in the center

of your iris the land went pop for me,

the seas poured in, and deep inside me ancient

men were leaping over bulls in bright

red palaces under millennia

of ash. Yes, I’m in Greece, just like I was

last summer, two months in ramshackle Athens,

racing through bombed-out Syntagma at dawn

so I could delicately hack at dirt

and scrub scraps of ceramic with a toothbrush –

and waiting for you, Airport Girl, through stun-

grenades and tear-gas, all the Sirens’ lures,

and offers whispered on the Hill of Ares.

Waiting for you, Airport Girl, so you

could fly to London and then dump me there.

Yes, that’s right, I’m in Greece, not San Francisco,

where I first spotted you beside the

baggage carousel, one more depressive hipster,

but just the right amount of cute – I checked

you out as you went up the escalator.

Not San Francisco, where I’d run downhill

to meet you every night, the city lights

swinging to meet me like a chandelier

or like I was an astronaut or diver

plummeting down into the Zodiac

or some sunk galaxy of coral. San

Francisco, where I often wander,

and always half-expect to see your face,

a chance encounter that I’m ready for,

of course – I’ll just say ‘hi’ and then walk by,

leaving you stalled, bewildered, disappointed.

I walk down 24th Street all the time,

meet friends for drinks where our first date was –

it’s not like you own the place, not like

I can’t eat sushi where our second date was,

when you saw your friend, and downed a huge

Sapporo, and masturbated me onto

your chest. Well that was slightly later,

but the point remains – it’s not your city,

I fit in here too, square though I am

in collared shirts and khakis, free of ink,

eschewing piercings, but with coloured socks.

And you were so much cooler than me since

I had an norange raincoat,* and you wore

an army jacket from East Germany

whose olive camouflage I fear you never

got the best of, living as you did

(and probably still do) in San Francisco.

But now you’ve left me and your number’s up.

The hippies in the meditation hall

won’t hug you now; they’re sitting on my side;

in Chinatown my lackeys are inserting

some dire syntaxless fate in your last cookie;

and in that coffee-shop we’d study in

they wouldn’t know you, wouldn’t plant a

daisy on your latte, while for me they craft

a foamy heart as white as angels’ semen.

And neuroscience, who even gives a fuck?

You spent all of your weekends in the lab

placing electrodes in the brains of rats

with all the relish of a tram-conductor;

you’d get them hooked on something, then you’d snatch

it back and cut their heads off. Sounds familiar.

Hell, you’d just as well have studied me,

the first night’s summer rain of serotonin,

and when you left, the dopamine in me

draining like water from a paddling pool.

Each time we made love you would register

the surge of oxytocin – ‘oxycodone’,

I would say, although you never laughed.

And I would swear, all through those first few weeks

my synapses were gummed up with some drug

that made all of the old familiar things

exchange their colours: every morning after

as I climbed the hill that sky was gold,

the moon was blue, my blood was green, and all

the trees were bursting into living red.

I’ll never figure out how come that year

ended so early, after starting twice.

The second time was in that coffee shop

when we were looking into each other’s eyes,

and then we left, and walked out straight into

the biggest Chinese New Year’s Eve parade

I’ll ever witness. Lanterns were slung all

around as bold as fruit, the firecrackers

bloomed like sulfurous lilies, old men hoisted

undulating coils above their heads.

I held your hand, and watched the dragons romp,

their manic heads devouring loneliness.

And then it passed, that whole instant parade,

the families home, the dragons’ waves collapsed.

So I’m in Greece, though I’ll be heading

back to San Francisco soon, when I’ll be moving –

would you ever guess? – to 24th Street,

near our old haunts... And Kate, it’s alright now.

You came along to Zen a couple of times;

that’s all I’ve learnt, and maybe all you learn:

things come along, and then they go again,

the itching on your finger or your nose,

the sudden onslaught of anxiety,

or your unconscionable nighttime lust

for chocolate. They come along and then

they go again, and so do we. We did:

for me, a long hoped-for remembering

of what to fall in love is, and for you,

well, there’s no need to reach consensus now.

‘You never know what’s just around the corner,’

you said to me as I was blubbering.

Quite an annoying thing to say, under

those circumstances, but the thought was right.

We never know, since Mexicans can’t really

tell the future, and the sea can’t talk.

I’m playing poker with it just the same,

dealing my visions – future, past.

It closes its hands over them, one at a time.

The cats will go on dancing on the beach

between the fish-knives and the salted sky,

so let me say this for the only time:

I’m over this, I’m over you, it’s over.

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*Editor's note: 'norange' is not a typo.