Stephanos Papadopoulos

Stephanos Papadopoulos

Stephanos Papadopoulos is the author of Hôtel-Dieu, (Sheep Meadow Press), and Lost Days, (Leviathan Press, UK / Rattapallax Press, NY). He is editor and co-translator (with Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke) of Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems published by Kastianiotis Press, 2007.

He has published his poems in magazines such as The New Republic, The Yale Review, Poetry Review, Stand, and many others. His poetry has been translated into Greek by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke and Italian by Matteo Campagnoli.

He was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship in 2010 to work on The Black Sea, a collection of poems about the Pontic Greeks of Asia Minor in the 1920’s. He lives in New York and Athens.

 
Unit 649 Samos

Father, your image clings to the mountainside
in this half-morning while the tired soldiers sleep.
Dust of the trampled field, dust rising
from the tracks of Steyers in manic traverse.
It’s difficult at times, being a man.
I would like to fall into the purple light
like a child, like the star that rolled
with its lucent teardrop straight across
Cassiopeia and drowned in the east Aegean.
You would understand this strange, cinematic landscape.
You too stood guard on such dark horizons,
counting days while some magic woman
quietly buried your heart. Silence falls silken
on these windswept barracks.
Desolate steel, dirt— the hourglass slips.
Memories fail, eyes flutter where the void
swings open like a leaning gate. Look out
across the charred mountains, the sky stretching
to where the mind is useless anyway.
The flash of Turkey in the distance,
the crippled trees staggered on the ridge’s blade,
surprise me every morning when the sun
rides up the back of Mt. Karvouni
and leaps out white-hot with a violence.
I have seen every sunrise and sunset
for ninety days. Dust coats my eyelids.
My iris glints like the barrel of my gun.
I am no soldier— when I guard,
I guard the stars. When I march, I march
for the sad music of these hills, for joy.

from Lost Days, 2001

 
VATHY BAY

Sifnos, Greece

The wind picks up on Friday,
carries the sound of bells
and the tin-megaphoned drone
of a distant liturgy
across the resistant hill.
In a stone hut too low to stand in,
a sheep’s bones lie white in the dirt.
Like the scene of a crime they sink
into their own brief history;
bones in the stone-dust,
sharp as the cricket that spins
from the thorny brush.
The sun breaks its body,
trips on the far rocks
and the staggered masts in the bay.
It goes down in the deep water,
It goes down like the last time,
as if all the earth’s lovers had gathered
for one last evening lookout
and the gawkers and dumbstruck tourists,
bad painters and amateur photographers
had been waiting for this.
And when it hit the sea it split
like a local watermelon
with its big black seeds spilled
on a wide plate—the watermelon warm,
the sharp knife cold to touch.

from Hôtel-Dieu, 2010

 
AN INHERITED MEMORY OF WAR

My great grandfather rides a white horse,
travels the Black Sea fields clip-clopping
the roads from which the hardest
rain will run like blood into the stubble.
He wears black in the merciless sun,
sells tobacco, counting crops and profits
from a green leaf held to the light.
He knows with animal conviction
that steel burns white as the sickle moon,
that it takes a generation of dead
to raise another. He crosses himself,
lays a palm on his heart,
stands faceless in the smoky church
while the priest swings his blazing censer.
There are times in the insomniac dark
when his wife and children lie sleeping
that he doubts God, has a vision
of his sons’ heads stacked like cannon balls.
He sees his home in a rising plume of smoke
as the boys traverse the trampled rows
of the fading crop unpicked and curling,
hears a rifle crack when Aristotle falls
just short of the wall, holds his chest and bleeds
into his father’s field, plants his bones.

from Hôtel-Dieu, 2010

 
Last Days of Summer

Last days of summer—
the ones the magpie missed
in the treetop swollen
with meaningless song.
Where are days for no pain
when the fields go brown
as thistles on hillsides
cicatrized by tiny paths
in the burned maquis?
Who do I turn to
when the fishing tubs
tied in the night harbor
tell me what I love
is also that which disappears
in this square of twilight
stretched like canvas
where the clouds parade
without name or explanation?
Give me something that repeats
the sea’s slow delivery,
anything, a lullaby, a lie,
that we are not alone
on this salt and rocky coast
where sunlight absolves
those things not spoken.
And a horsehair bow is dragged
across the tightened gut strings
till those thoughts are spent
and you sit and stare
at the cold, hard surface of the sea.

from Hôtel-Dieu, 2010

 
Voices

Black Sea South Coast

Voices still rise from these village-studded hillsides
that drop and fade into the shore of this Black Sea,
sulfurous and dead beneath the upper zone of life
where fish once roiled in silver clouds
and one too many mythic rivers met
in this water ringed by mountains
without names, before the Caucasus, Ionia,
before Ovid pined for Rome and wept in Tomi,
before Darius and his battalions, Xenofon’s march,
Heraclitus, Anaximander, Democritus,
and that army of pain-in-the-ass inquisitors, madmen,
who looked into the sky with arrogance.
Before men fought for this view from an open window,
and the sea sun burned for the sake of burning.

from The Black Sea

 
Melanthe Speaks to God

Samsun, Turkey 1918

All night the sea flutters like tin,
ex voto for the sulfurous zone, dead
as the mute black sky and the stars too thin.
A wish on something falling sinks like lead;
that’s what I think, who’ve made my wishes
and worn the paint of icons on my lips
as the priest intones that he who washes
in the blessed water is rid of lies.
That’s the language of men, full of solutions.
I buried three children in the cold dawn
by the roadside without prayer or ablutions
and heaped the stones to hold their bodies down
and kept walking through that field of stolen corn
whose husks are paper crosses on the cairn.

from The Black Sea

 
The Circassian Whore

These blond locks are worth a pretty penny, boy.
The Turkman thinks I’m his, the Greeks are beasts.
But a glass of this sweet wine will bring them to their knees.
Greeks, Turks, whatever— two halfwits make a man I guess.
I’ve spread these thighs for seven lusty armies
and when they come to fuck the flags are gone.
I’ve seen twenty-thousand pricks that look the same to me.
But what do I know, a whore in a broken world?
A little hash for better dreams is all I want
and a jar of rosewater for my hair.
Let them conjure their fat wives when they heave inside me.
I’m paid and they’ll soon be dead, we’ll all be dead
and these fields will grow wild with poppies
always faithful to the color red.

from The Black Sea

 
Rain Over Trabzon

Heavy raindrops strike the water,
a wafer of dissolving sunlight below the clouds
is a white line on a canvas of storm-blue.
The rain erases and renews itself in puddles
that lean like oval mirrors on the promenade
where the priest hurries, robes lifted from his ankles,
thin white ankles reflected in the rain pools,
dark sky over Trabzon, the mist filtering
through streets exchanged like dirty banknotes,
Rubles, Drachmas, Lira, passed from hand to hand,
the dog eared corners wet with blood, bent
by angry fingers, angry men with sadder wives,
the streets of Trebizond, Trabzon, Trapezounda
washed by rain but won’t wash clean.

from The Black Sea

 
All poems on this post: © Stephanos Papadopoulos
Published with the permission of Stephanos Papadopoulos