Category Archives: Greek Poet

Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of

2/23/10

“Poets You Can’t Get Rid Of,” was to be the theme of tonight’s meeting of the “Poets Read Poetry” group which has been cancelled because of the weather. The slush became thicker. The air over the river turned as opaque as heavy tracing paper. We were scared.

I had planned to make blog #3 a report of our meeting. But I can’t. OK. This will give me more time to go over my choices for the next time.

More time. More time alone in the house surrounded by ice and wind and rain. More time to listen to Red Garland play “I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good).”         More time to eat the truffles that were a Christmas gift. More time to listen to Rick Margitza play, “Widow’s Walk.” How does a young guy like him know how this feels? He’s so good. So black velvet and longing, digging deep. So good, I’m going to Paris in April to hear him work his tenor sax four nights in a row.  He’s that good.

Time to go over my poems.  Time to cut and staple them into tidy little packets for the group. I read a stanza of “Aegean Melancholy,”

…The long lament of the woman,

The lovely woman who bared her breasts

When memory found the cradles

And lilac sprinkled the sunset with fire!

By Odysseus Elytis

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

One I must include for the Poets Read Poets group in case they outlive me and attend my funeral–the favorite poem of my middle-life.  I want it read there in whatever big church hosts my farewell. Yes, it’s an unorthodox choice for such an occasion, but those who know me well will know that romance–having it, losing it, finding it again, trying and trying has been a major part of my life. Why not my death, too?

Half an Hour

I have never had you, nor I suppose

will I ever have you. A few words, an approach,

as in the bar the other day—nothing more.

It’s sad, I admit. But we who serve Art,

Sometimes with the mind’s intensity,

can create—but of course only for a short time—

pleasure that seems almost physical.

That’s how in the bar the other day—

Mercifully helped by alcohol—

I had half an hour that was totally erotic.

And I think you understood this

and stayed slightly longer on purpose.

That was very necessary. Because

with all the imagination, with all the magic alcohol,

I needed to see your lips as well,

needed your body near me.

C.P. Cavafy

Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Yannis Ritsos understands desire, too. I love those Hellenes! The brain, the body, the heart, the soul, the living, the dead, the sea, the olive, the church, the brothel. Thavmassia! (Wonderful.)

Keeley gets it with his translation, in just two lines from:

Miniature

….He doesn’t look at her.

He lights up his cigarette. His hand holding the match trembles.

These Greeks have warmed my ice-bound house. They are not the first.

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Valentine’s Day

2/14/10

Valentine’s Day. My Valentine is a friend. We are not sweethearts, but pals. I sat next to her for 15 years at the PEN office. More time than I spent with either of my two husbands.

We’re pals who have shared each other’s romantic turmoil. Our romantic fields leveled now by age and death.  I ask her to be my Valentine. She invites me for drinks at the Russian Tea Room. Perfect. The room is red. The bar is lined with aged sweethearts, couples toasting their love with vodka and bite-sized bits of blinis.

My friend and I lift our drinks to a better year. Then she gives me a gift from the lingerie store, Agent Provocateur. I accept the slick pink shopping bag. “No, please!” I think…no garter belt or push-up bra, no matter how fabulous, can fix me now.

Thank God, it’s better. A thick book, THE GREEK POETS: Homer to the Present. Edmund Keeley, the renowned translator, says “Hello,” she tells me.  Then, the two of us part: kissing each other’s perfumed cheeks, flower scented hair, embracing in view of the drinking, eating sweethearts.

The Metro North Train is abuzz with holidaymakers returning home. Lots of red sweaters and mittens, exhausted colognes overcome by sweat, dozing husbands who missed their Sunday afternoon ballgames but may score later as a reward for their city trip.

A disaffected young man in a suit and tie shifts a limp red-rose encased in a plastic sheath and a miniature cheesecake in the shape of a heart to make room for me on the seat beside him. Is he coming or going? That rose will get him nowhere.

I open my new book in the commotion. I’m sucked in, instantly:  Aratus, “Burdens of blood and war shall bow their backs.”  Philes,”The drink cooled me down/as it flooded the fire in my heart, /so that, moving closer, I seized/your boiling heat to warm my shivering body.” Kazantzakis, “You’ve drunk and eaten well, my lads, on festive shores, /until the feast within you turned to dance and laughter.”

The conductor punches my green ticket but I’m way gone. Back to one of my summers in Crete, I’m on the back of my lover’s motorcycle tilted close to the road on mountain curves, my arms around his torso, my face hiding in the safety of his hair. Here life is filled with death. It’s the truth.

Later, the long driveway seems especially so in the ice cold car. The empty house stands larger, quieter than when I drove away from it at noon.