Angela Costi’s parents are from Cyprus. Her father, Con Costi, is from Northern Cyprus and her mother, Helen Costi, is from the South. Although Angela was born in Australia, her heritage and ancestry inspires much of her poetry. She is the author of three collections of poetry: Dinted Halos (Hit&Miss Publications, 2003), Prayers for the Wicked (Floodtide Audio, 2005) and Honey and Salt (Five Islands Press, 2007). Honey and Salt was shortlisted for the national Mary Gilmore Prize 2008. Briohny Doyle (Cordite Review, International Literary Journal) had this to say about Costi’s poetry: Her collection, Honey & Salt, is filled with sensual, languid poems addressing her identity as a Cypriot Australian and unpacking its contrasts.
In 1993, Angela Costi received a travel award by the National Languages and Literacy Board of Australia to study and undertake an Ancient Greek Drama program in Greece. Her poems, stories, essays and plays have been widely published, broadcast and produced, including in the US, UK, Greece and across Australia. In 2009, she received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts to travel to Japan and work on an international collaboration involving her poetry and Japan-based Stringraphy Ensemble.
How can you be lonely, you make love to this
environment, the hills have slopes you can swoon on
they have views you can open your thighs to
they have Venetian structures ready for you to take
with one open gasp, they have seas
that melt your gaze, the colour of lilac
if it was blue and black crosses on white churches
reminders of sacred sensuousness
reminders of honey skinned almond eyes
the touch of madness and of chance.
When the world was a sequence of aerial views,
a book of landmarks and highlights,
when her backpack was the shape of a house,
a disposable camera, her constant companion,
when Korinthos, Kalamata, Kalavryta fused
their histories with her frayed journal,
when each corner offered the wrong direction,
each laneway, a man peddling more than his grin,
when her feet tore their soles on the grit
of roads leading to debris and neglect,
she stopped to count her choices on three fingers.
One: to return to her motherland
where tables are scrubbed in chemical scent,
their sheen smothered in plastic,
screen doors used like airport metal detectors,
fences erected like national borders,
pillows so soft, sheets so clean, lamps so ambient,
her digital alarm the daily scream.
Two: to stay and build a future on accent,
make friends of those snapshot smiles,
stay where a red jacket did not outrage
the bulls trapped at culture’s gate,
where language suddenly collected
like postcards at a journey’s end.
Or pause: Was it the world’s turn to catch up?
Her breathing became slower, deeper
inside the Cave of Lakes at Kastria,
resting with underground waters,
where she felt a thousand years
between one drop and the next,
where a man draped in a white beard
can be a stalactite in tears.
Through a doorway, the moan of silhouettes,
on the beach of smooth pebbles in cool shallows,
in bed sheets that smell like harvest armpits,
Karellia smoke and incense linger sweetly,
in a bunk room of a ferry,
from ouzaki tainted lips,
in the famous spillia where stalagmites steam,
on a motor bike straddling the coast’s curve,
in the dusk of a sliced moon,
after a meal of saganaki and horta,
between Georgiou, Dimitri, Pericles…
the pull of Cypriot manner
into the sly deep smile of Anna’s thighs.
She chooses which village and attractions
with a flick of her wrist on a map, though
Anna tells the boys what they expect to hear,
her research sounds important in English.
They relax their ammunition as Anna turns her body
into their country with its nervous checkpoints,
explosive neutral zones, its fertile borders,
compulsory training in strategic positions,
she secretes a few codes they attempt to decipher:
cultural allegiance, birth identity, peasant mentality.
The boys enjoy getting stuck in her trench
while she marches the page over their heads;
they surrender their stories entwined in white sheets.
Women on the Rock
Anna sees her Ancient Greek counterpart
sweetly shimmering in the sea’s spray
dressed in the delicate thread of sorrow
Ariadne, she calls, how can I ever let him go?
Ariadne was destined to soak the rock of Naxos
with the saltiest of tears, it took thousands of years
for her rock to become the largest sea sponge
in the Aegean, bloated and buoyed
from other sobbing, aching hearts.
Anna rests her chin in the seaweed
takes her tired heart and shelves it
among the coral and oyster shells
the jagged cracks find solace.
The Shade of Ariadne never leaves
despite the wind pushing, the sun burning
Anna feeds on eternal whispers of betrayal
Never give your heart before your mind
— Theseus took both as sunken treasure.
Anna holds an empty Marlboro box, inside
the scrawl of Christo’s promise fades in weak ink
— see you at the beach, my baby —
two, three, four days of searching for the baseball cap,
the easy wink, the hands that made her body soft clay.
The low tide allows Anna to take her ancient hand
run it through the ripples as she wades to the horizon
she can now see Christo on his motorbike
sailing into Theseus’ sunset
his back cast in marble, forever facing the other world.
for Irene Pappas
Black couldn’t contain allure.
Aphrodite worshipped her shadow.
When she walked the Island knew.
Local boys, foreign men, cackled widows
named her ‘the eternal sin’.
No woman so beautiful and alone
can refuse the trap ? lust, love, death,
she smirked at all three,
treading the path of jealousy and desire
like all good trapeze artists, precariously
swishing her skirts though she trembled,
braving the hyenas’ den for her stray goat,
hoarding her tongue from their gossip,
raised beyond their peasants’ grasp.
When her tree bore oranges she gave
and her garden became a haven of blossom,
laurel oil, walnut leaf, lemon dew, drops of sun.
Only for the Scholar she uncurled the rind
savouring her sweetest pith for him.
The Scholar drank of her ripened scent.
Men of her youth became scampering boys,
noses straining at her thistle gate,
obsession begot impotence begot hate…
and mania staved their lamb’s slaughter.
Knives sharpened as the church bell tolled.
Her scream clawed for their mercy.
Her blood entered their final prayers.
for young women to play romance
as snap-shot experience
when lovers of difference
Catalonian, Peruvian, Cypriot
look up, speaking the language
of zeal, desire leaping like a panther
to circle all hesitation.
for little boys from great heights
to gain the power of gods
blowing their might with water
balloons becoming the bullion
they reserve for the meekest heads
mother’s hand the lightening flash
striking flat all laughter.
for older aunts and uncles
to drop keys, shout market lists
tell the story the neighbourhood
the nephew like a son, waiting
revving bike louder, wishing
the day wasn’t so certain.
I see her as I see me, sitting on chairs before the impact of our craft,
both intent on making a story out of a sequence, a gift out of repetition,
her stitch is my letter, her design is my phrase,
thread weave through out and in, through out and in,
she is framed by a mountainous fig tree,
I have the hallway of wedding and christening photos,
her eyes meld to hands to thread to tsimbi to glosi
to caterpillar turrets to butterfly balconies
to geometrical dreamscapes of Venetian ladies
for Leonardo da Vinci to take to Rome
to robe the table for the last supper
to paint and adorn the Milan Cathedral, that is the myth from linen,
she is the story on linen,
no longer woman in small village sitting under a tree for days months years
of thread weave through out and in, our skin
an embroidery of old maps and new, Lefkara, Larnaca, Kyrenia, Hartchia,
Riverwood, Bankstown, Lalor, Reservoir, thread weave through out and in,
she lives in each strand of cotton perle, the white, the brown, the ecru,
she makes houses, rivers, wells, trees, caves
for secret lovers, lost children, dying soldiers,
she peeks through gofti, through fairy windows, and sees me,
letter by letter, crossing the keyboard, thread weave through out and in,
she sees her children’s children not work in fields harvesting rotten crops,
not work in factories making hard, rough, poisonous things,
not work in shops selling dry, fried food,
she sees a series of baby girls named after her, dressed in white,
she lives in the stroke of a foreign letter by letter, word by word,
thread, weave through out and in.
Poetry in this post: © Angela Costi
Published with the permission of Angela Costi