Donna J. Gelagotis Lee is the author of On the Altar of Greece, winner of the Seventh Annual Gival Press Poetry Award.
The collection received a 2007 Eric Hoffer Book Award: Notable for Art Category and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry and other awards. Her poetry has appeared in journals internationally. She lived in Athens, Greece, for many years.
Please visit her website: www.donnajgelagotislee.com
The island sun bursts through the shutters,
fills the house with white, catapults
from window to window, the sea’s blue only
deepening in response. In a land already
whitewashed where ports open to other
travelers, I am so grounded I cannot step
away. I become spellbound, as if sirens re-
emerge, home where the body languishes,
the senses drunk as a waking mind.
I think I’ll walk down the mountain
road that dips to port, where villagers
wait with éna kafé and toast. I’ve
heard they have eggs dropped
with the sunrise, the rooster’s billowing
out white. Even the sound is consumed
with light. Even the silence that follows
as ferries roll in like water snakes
and the black engine smoke-clouds
dissipate. Into the horseshoe port
the boats spill. Out of the ferries’ mouths
voyagers stunned by the light as though
it had appeared for the first time.
Yet none of the villagers seem distracted.
I think I’ll pretend I live here. I think
I’ll pretend until I believe I live among
the accustomed bright light that rolls into
the houses. Would that be so unexpected?
I Cannot Lie Down Anymore
The sound of the jelly-wad—slap,
slap. The rock shining beneath it.
You tenderize the body to be
succulent in a sauce of wine and kalamata
olives. My mouth will water. But for
now, I will not step closer. The tentacle-
like arms. The hidden mouth.
The eye broken. The force you show
callous. But we are on an island,
and this is our food. These are the facts—
long-armed with suction cups and nothing
to hold. I watch you immerse yourself
with a spear into an underwater
world. I follow the spout you use
for air—you subterranean hunter, fish
in your belt full of scales the color of cut
glass in the sunlight. Now you prepare
the octopus, slam her body against a large
rock, with force. Now she is ready for the cook’s
hands. We have changed because the facts
have changed. We grill an arm, simmer a body, cut
the meat with a knife, compliment the cook.
Tomorrow we’ll return to the cove to lie among
the rocks again, to dip into the sea, careful
as the undercurrent pulls our bodies out
and the wind makes waves against the rocks,
a curl of surf along the beach, where I sit
but cannot lie down anymore, like a dead fish.
A Slice of Noon
A sly slice of noon balances on the head
of a pin. The sun is close to appalling.
Nothing can dissuade it. Soon the entire village
will come to rest. Even the tourists will slow.
Even the women, who know how brief summer
can be, who watch it come and leave
as they watch their children.
And on display, the tourists’ bodies,
their oiled naked skin shimmering
on the sun’s sickle of island.
Finding Myself at the Acropolis
Into my mouth, the water of the Acropolis rushed,
and the clepsydra forgot time. Why were the gazes
of the korai direct? I was as nude
as the hetairai. I was bronzed into antiquity.
Who would mistake me as I walked through
the Parthenon, a parthénos, unaware of the history
of sacrifice? The footsteps of men carved out
the stone beneath mine. I was not dismayed.
I chose my stone—white / black—and cast my vote.
I mocked the smiling votive statutes. I
challenged Athena to allow the women to enter
the business of her citadel.
I walked through time, the sun blasting the ruins
blessed by the gods. The winds of Boreas and Skiron
carried my voice, each word like an earthquake. I
heard the chitons of women brushing against me.
And the voices of men turning each century
on its heels now came softly upon the hammer
of my eardrum. I would not leave, but paused
as each passage of time transformed within me.
Poetry in this post: © Donna J. Gelagotis Lee
Published with the permission of Donna J. Gelagotis Lee