Photo: Thomas Langdon
Dimitris Lyacos is one of the leading figures in new European writing. His seminal trilogy Poena Damni (Z213: EXIT, With The People From The Bridge, The First Death), originally written in Greek over the course of eighteen years, has been translated into English, German, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese and is widely performed across Europe and the USA. The work has had an increasing influence over the years, inspiring a wide range of interdisciplinary projects ranging from drama to contemporary dance, video and sculpture installations as well as opera and contemporary music. Extracts, in the different versions of a work in progress, have been published in, mostly English-speaking, journals around the world and there is a growing bibliography exploring the various facets of Lyacos’ complex work: The trilogy boldly straddles and crosses perceived boundaries of literary form – from the journal-like prose in Z213: EXIT, to the elliptical monologues of the distinctly dramatic With The People From The Bridge, to the pared down poetic idiom in The First Death, Poena Damni builds a world beyond postmodern dystopia that engrosses the reader. Dimitris Lyacos is Fellow at the International Writing Program, University of Iowa.
For more information visit: www.lyacos.net
The slow bells from the church which must be near me I stopped for a while and waited and now they were chiming again. And here where I sat, like stains below the slabs as if blooded. Who was there ringing, guesses confused not made clear, who was there ringing the bell waves going down the dome, the echo of an ocean that licks on it and drips here. And the flashes through the window from the one to the other like a searchlight turning around seeking me out. Here, in a flooded pit full of bodies, branches that cover and float leaves that float on faces unknown funerary gifts on the side, phrases by him and the Writ mixed on this page, and further down sea tombs and then something between the frozen palms. Gestures of the walls that invite you. A hole high up opposite, you can hold on to the shoots of the ivy to climb up and see where exactly you are. You don’t care, the tracks hold you the people they brought here, something of what they lived, and the pain they felt like you and they came and sat here together like the leaves that came in where from you don’t know a pile that gathers in front of the saints, and them all together, one by the other, side by side, opposite all together to look at them kneel, a circle, that will hold them a while. But, release, and what’s left, yellow mouths leaving again from those arches which covered them and they dream still for a while of courtyards where the souls find rest, a flower sequence of angels awaiting them there. And then the illusion dries up and it is an empty uninhabited house. The icons below the colour that changes the same shape the same face painted again on all the walls. And there in the corner the body demolished, like metal plates sunken within it, until dark falls completely leaning out from the last fading saint his face pressing lips tight.
THE FIRST DEATH
(excerpts II, IX)
Judgment of the sea,
shackles from broken sobs
beneath the dry bowl’s split eyelids
an unseen prey –
plunder from passions’ tombs, litanies to the senses
on the point of crumbling, inarticulate melodies, lava
from beheaded rivers
blades of the waves cut deeply into the screen;
development of an hour-glass, epidemic
unmixed visions of heroes leaning
into the drunken veins of the light
the tempest that winters on the marshes –
shedding its leaves the return
of a dismembered body in the spring.
Seaside altar stooped begging avenging waves and torn ship’s gear instead of vine leaves. The lament of the water absorbed within the serpents’ nests, howling of the side-slipping gull – sacrificial cry, enshrouded fish, absolute darkness of a throat blocked with sediment and mucous. The utterly bare island, restless nightly couch, unmade hospital bed and its dry aged skin, the ash which encrusts the burning eye-sockets and the remains of the sacrifice. The nights fishing in the shivering torrents of disease for damp clothing, wandering nightmares and far-off memories of shipwrecks sparked anew, the dark sea’s apparitions, corpses of bosom friends, the cracked picture of the beloved, her sea-whelmed breast – before returning to the bitter meadows of the abyss. Feast of all fruits.
© Translated from Greek by Shorsha Sullivan
Poetry in this post: © Dimitris Lyacos
Published with the permission of Dimitris Lyacos