Joy Manesiotis

Joy Manesiotis

Joy Manesiotis is the author of They Sing to Her Bones, which won the New Issues Poetry Prize from New Issues Press. Individual poems and essays have appeared widely in literary journals, including The American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, Virginia Quarterly Review and Poetry International, as well as in translation, in the Romanian journal, Scrisul Romanesc. She has received artist residencies from Ragdale Foundation, a Poetry Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a Graves Award in the Humanities, among other awards.

For many years, Manesiotis was a freelance film editor, working mostly on national PBS documentaries for American public television. Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Sparta, Greece, and her maternal grandparents’ families were exiled from Smyrna, in Asia Minor, during the Destruction of Smyrna, in 1922. Currently, she lives in California, where she is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Redlands.

 
The Road

Past the house and further, the white road,
not the cobbled lane, curving tight

between blinding white walls on the island.
Rough tan block, the house yellowish

against the blue sky, a wood porch, capped
by brick tiles, the porch leaning against the road,

the grape arbor before it, tangled and sweet.
This is where the sadness lies, on this

road, in its jagged curve, in the pattern
woven by the vines and cast onto the smooth white,

crushed stones, ground to a fine dust, a powder
finer than the mist that rises

up the mountain in the mornings,
through the fig orchards, ghosting the olive trees.

 
They Sing to Her Bones
New Issues, 2000

 
Lament: Moirología

The women throw themselves back and forth,
their bodies saplings in wind, but they are
close to the grave and they sing to death: Oh slowly,
oh mournfully, I will begin lamenting

spirits rising to wail with them, the ghosts of their voices
loosed across dusty paths, paving stones traced in white.
shouting out your sorrows, Mother—one by one! rising
and rising, the pitch of voices a high wind
on the mountain, a breath winding the olive groves, the keen
pushing against the blue doors, against the cool mud wall
of the church, the women’s voices as one, pushing
against the men’s dark clothes, the priest’s slow footstep:
the men shuffle in the corner, the women fall back
and forth, dragging nails across their cheeks, Ah Mother!
you knew how to embroider the sky with all its stars!

they sing to the one who has passed over, they sing
to her hair turned white, to her hands broken in work.
They sing to her bones.  First they must bury her.  Day after day
they will clean the grave.  Month by month.  Washing,
washing.  My mother has travelled
far away
.  One day they will roll back the dirt. They push back
the dirt.  They reach in, fingers against bone.  And they lift
her bones, one by one, sweet digits of her fingers, bowl of her pelvis:
To whom can I call out?  they wash her bones, they rinse
each one.  Cradle her skull.  Her skull
passed from hand to hand, soothed in each lap, rough
palms cupped over the crown.  Ah Mother!

And who here will say
the women cannot sing to her now?

 
They Sing to Her Bones
New Issues, 2000

 
Sign

If we lived in the other country, I would stop
washing your grave now. Every day, end of the day

would fill with emptiness, space
to seal with some other task:

. . .

(the witness moves the wind through herself)

. . .

cooking dinner, sweeping the patio, or nothing, just

staring out the window, remembering hours spent singing,
washing the stone, telling you the news.

. . .

The way the child runs to the door of the hall,
eager to be in the dance:

the flush of her cheeks, the concentration,

. . .

The priest would come, the other women, the gravedigger,
and we would dig you out,
lift your frame from its nest of earth,

the old sadness unleashed again, the priest saying a trisario

circled around the ragged rectangle of earth—

. . .

(the witness takes no form)

. . .

Dusk: night falling around the church: tinny music from the islands—
bouzouki, clarino—scratchy, pours out the one door, open, lit,
becoming brighter as the outside darkens—

. . .

and we would cradle your bones, hold your skull, your tibia, each small
bone of your foot—
I would resist thinking this hand stroked me—steeled against sentimentality,

lift you one by one, no longer tied together

and wash each piece of you in wine—

. . .

Inside they dance the circle, the child slides across
the open doorway, past the doorway

. . .

marking the change, washing one last time, but with wine,
to anoint the shift of form

. . .

(the witness walks into silence)

. . .

step & hop, cross over, lifting each hand in time to the steps,
gliding past the bright doorway, framed for a moment, her joy
radiant now as she glides past—how it roots us here—

. . .

now the young dancers with their arms across each other’s shoulders

. . .

We have no such way to mark it. You are not
in earth, (I won’t think what your body looks like now), here,

and in the other country,
the bones lift clean,

. . .

a kind of offering, the child dancing for you, for all
she has lost,

dancing to be connected,
each black-heeled shoe touching down, saying, I belong here, I am of this

. . .

and as you rise, the belief in the dailiness of you also fades—
(carried in the wind? brushed off with the dirt?)

. . .

no, no, the fact of the bones

. . .

the loss and calling back—
the child makes manifest in her dancing—calls it into being:

I am here: oríste: I am here.

. . .

but I wander with no marker—

just sounds in the air, no action in the world, no gesture
to help conduct your passage, no we have honored this time,
no wine or dirt, no gathering to frame the day

just these sounds, spoken out into silence: no witness, no song

 
All poems on this post: © Joy Manesiotis
Published with the permission of Joy Manesiotis