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Five Poems

by Markos Meskos (1935-2019)

Translated from the Greek by Joshua Barley


From Black Mountain (1963)


Above Vodena*

goes the Sotira road.

Quiet hills, wild gorge higher up,

the cherry trees’ chestnut soil is newly dug

here the wheat’s green blade dances there

the plum tree in bloom, cows on the slope again,

somewhere near Mt. Paiko an unsaddled mare

whips the air…





The Courtyard


Beside the mountain, the green ends in the courtyard –

a passage for birds, a passage for sun,

hence the smears on the earth:

From broken wing or hunted beast

from the grunt of the slaughterhouse and unpolluted blood–


At dawn the lady of the house was white-washing the walls and 

the lane from beside the mountain

to the courtyard

  - no, no, it wasn’t human blood

I confess, it wasn’t…


From Horses in the Hippodrome (1973)


The Horse


In Athens in the month of May cherries for twenty drachmas.


Sunday morning pigeons between the grey apartment blocks 

and the black murmur of the flower-seller’s perfumed voice.

Sad pastures of artificial inseminations, animals behind

the whip, up on their hind legs, and your gaze reaches three metres to 

the red wave on the ruin opposite. Where are you going 

Children are walking in the park, not selling wings –

plastic garlands for May Day and for tombs, yes.


(Stepmotherland, Stepfatherland, rotten the money in my hands

your piastres don’t gleam.) We’ll go through youth too –

deep at summer’s end we’ll disappear… Oh! city

who bore me you don’t hear me, every night I beat at your walls

but the guards don’t let me in. I turn back cut a branch

take up a song to blanket the tears – a blind horse I walk

and cry, brow to your brow. 




When there’s a knock on the door she opens it unafraid,

habits don’t change – in the neighbourhood they’ve opened

the Easter table, little Anna’s drinking beer 

and Mrs Tzaferaina in black asking the

grocer for Nescafe. In the corner of the table

Mrs Calliope (long dead), beside her

Artemis, out of sorts. 

Later she’ll open the volleyball net and pin

on our door plastic May…

Little Refugees


You remember Joy’s dream in the plain of Thessaloniki

and you haven’t seen her since. It was June, a light north wind was throwing

the first apricots down. From the same tomb on

another slope where the iron and steel run tests again 

Artemis’ soul emerges, ponders the woes of the world


- stillborn so many children inside her belly.


*The old name of Edessa, Meskos’ home town.

Markos Meskos was born in Edessa, northern Greece, in 1935. He published over a dozen volumes of poetry and several works of prose, receiving the State Prize for Poetry in 2012. He died in Thessaloniki in 2019.


The poems by Markos Meskos are published in his collected poems, Μαύρο Δάσος [‘Black Forest], Gavriilidis Publications 2011.‘’

Joshua Barley’s translations of the poet Michalis Ganas (with David Connolly) were published by Yale University Press in 2019. An anthology of Greek folk songs in translation is forthcoming from Aiora Press in 2021. He lives in Athens.​


William Roper-Curzon