by Markos Meskos (1935-2019)
Translated from the Greek by Joshua Barley
From Black Mountain (1963)
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…
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)
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…
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.