Gray Sutherland was born in England in 1948, he graduated in French from the University of Calgary (BA 1970, MA 1975) and has been writing since 1964. He worked as a translator in government service until 2000 and as a freelance until last year.
From 2004 to 2006 he worked with the American photographer Carll Goodpasture on what he describes as the “photo-poetic” work Terje Vigens Båt (2006), which was exhibited in Norway and Canada.
In 2006 he also began translating contemporary Italian poetry into English. Gray has published five collections of poetry and a novel.
The Aeolian Islands are not seven but nine
Two lie fast asleep upon the seabed
Invisible beneath the waves that scamper
Northward from Milazzo
Perhaps they have not yet heard the voice
That ancient Aeolic voice that stirs, torments
The heart as the wind whips the oak, one day
Though they will awake
The three eponymous Aeoluses, sun, winds
And tidal wave and shout in their ears
Get up lazy bones, up, and the voice
Will whisper to them, come
Come dance with me, but not me
My knees can’t do it any more
And then, trembling from the gray rock
Rigid they will arise
Parting the still waters until at last
They erupt to take their place beside
The two sisters from Aonia
So long neglected
But who would they be?
There are still times when I can see back there
To islands luminous in the violet sea,
Home of the dancing women. While I watch,
Awestruck, their faces like medallions blaze
As they glide through the grove to an old grey-
Stone altar garlanded with small white flowers.
Their voices echo down the fluted halls
Of memory and chill me with beauty.
And there are still occasions when I see
Pale sunlight weaving pastel tapestries
Of landscape, people ambling carelessly
In patchwork cloaks, hair like rays of sun,
Where golden lunulae about white throats
Declare allegiance. There, among great trees,
The songs of reverent men tell all that is:
Water’s soft snaking through quiet valleys,
The rustle of leaves, the whisper of wind.
To her, again
I think it is that I regret
Those worlds that vanished long ago:
Great Crete, gentle Erin, and sweet
Lesbos – women’s worlds all.
I think it is that I still dream
Of fine pottery and dolphin dance
Radiant on the palace walls,
And mist, soft sunlight too,
Of pastel shades and whispering leaves,
Leaves that conjure songs long unknown
And songs sung, too, by dancing girls
At night about a fire.
I think that I was born back then
And have been lost three thousand years
Only to find the world has changed
Heroes there are no more.
Yet my heart still belongs back there
In Sappho’s time, when poets ruled,
Or when the sacred labyrinth
Still rang with dancing feet.
You were a priestess in those days
Resplendent in your fine white robe.
You were a priestess when the world
Still glowed with young beauty.
Erin has gone, sweet Sappho’s dead
And tourists gape at holy Crete.
But you are here, and I shall pour
Praises on your feet.
What the Hound Heard
Old ship, from where have you come?
Which among the thirteen wooded islands is your home?
Which among the olive branches crowned your lofty mast?
Which of the heroic peoples spread your painted sail?
Which among the myriad coastlines gave birth to your hull?
Which of the holy ancient trees was carved to form your prow?
Old ship, where are you bound?
Where among Ionia’s cities will you find your rest?
Where among the soft-skinned woman-lands will you make your halt?
Where among the unknown kingdoms will you bring new light?
Where in the seven rainbow seas will you drop anchor?
Where will the nine-fold ocean wave carry your cargo?
Old ship, when will you return?
Will it be after a thousand storms of vengeful ghosts?
Will it be when the tides run dry and the sea lies still?
When the stars no longer shine on the calm ocean night?
Or will it be when you are quite forgotten, and when
We who await you can no longer remember why?
Doors open, doors close.
The sea glows like an eye
At the end of the tunnel.
Hands reach through time
To frame a tiny face
And you emerge into the light,
Your breath reflected on the walls
Leading back, and far behind,
High upon the terraced hills,
A bronze figure stands, silent,
Clinging to an ancient dream.
And those doors, walls, dream, fade,
Dissolving one into another, as
Another door appears, slowly opens.
This is a world of light
This is a world of light, each glancing ray
dancing among shivering leaves, glowing
molten along runnels carved in cliff face
or darting, laughing, from blustering clouds
down to the ever patient sea
This is a world of light, each momentary
glance gathering countless fleeting shades
of green, gray, blue, and turning again
to countless other hues where you
smile and wait, eyes wide with longing
This is a world of life, the ancients
understood it well, seeing in truth
and beauty goodness, knowing that
life itself and all that it sustains
are sacred and all that sustain it too.
Yes, ’tis truly said: this is a world of light.
But in dark alone can the invisible
sometimes be seen, the inaudible be heard,
the silent soothing voice, go on, you’re right
you’ve understood. This is a world of light.
For other contributions by Gray Sutherland, please follow the link below:
All poems on this post: © Gray Sutherland
Published with the permission of Gray Sutherland