Geraldine Green lives in Cumbria, UK and is writer in residence at Swarthmoor Hall. She has five poetry collections, The Skin 2003 and Passio, 2006, (Flarestack Pubs. ed. Charles Johnson); The Other Side of the Bridge 2012 and Salt Road 2013 (Indigo Dreams, ed. Ronnie Goodyear).
Poems of a Mole Catcher’s Daughter, under the pseudonym of Katie A Coyle, was published 2009 by Palores Publications, ed. Les Merton. She’s currently working on her next collection A Wing and a Prayer, a pamphlet collection in response to her post as writer in residence.
Her work has been widely anthologised in poetry magazines in the UK, USA and Italy where she has read widely, including: Dylan Thomas Centre Swansea, WoodyFest Oklahoma, Walt Whitman Birthplace Long Island, Laurel Bookstore Oakland California, International Women’s Arts Festival Kendal, Bowery Poetry Club NYC, Poetry on the Lake Orta Italy, Skiathos Rooftop Celebration, Brantwood and the Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere.
Green obtained her PhD in Creative Writing Poetry from Lancaster University UK 2011. She has wide experience as a freelance creative writing tutor and mentor and has worked collaboratively with musicians, artists and photographers on a variety of community projects. She is an Associate Editor of Poetry Bay.
You can find out more about Geraldine from her blog, Salt Road: geraldinegreensaltroad.blogspot.co.uk
Even on the plane I feel Andalusia
press against my head
smell mud from the swollen river
shouts of El Perro! El Perro! spewed
from the throats of many people
gathered on the edge of the Rio Chillar
that came bounding down the mountain
the day you and I were in the Caves of Nerja.
We were safe there
safe in the Chamber of Phantoms
when the lights went out
didn’t know the worst storm for fifty years
was bellowing over our heads
didn’t know what we’d emerge into
when we stepped out of the caves
where the air was warm and no wind blew
and no sound, only the hollow voices of tourists
only us, holding hands as we meandered
from cave to cave:
Chamber of the Christmas Crib
Elephant’s Tusk Chamber
Cataclysm Chamber –
didn’t know of the storm.
I press my forehead
on the plane’s cool Plexiglas
once again feel the ice cold bite
of hailstones in my palm
recall our drive
into the mountains
grilled sardines, eaten
inside a tiny café, watched
as the narrow street became a river of mud
and the dog that rose
from the Rio Chillar
front legs pawing
at the river
how it clawed its way
through the caramel stench
of swollen waters, burst
out of their clasp
onto the bank
to cries of Bravo Perro! Bravo!
from the mouths of onlookers close
to the crumbling banks –
I hear again the beggar
playing his violin
in the Square of Hableno
see myself genuflect
before the altar
in the Iglesias El Salvador.
Listen! the bells of the church
step down from the Albaicin
each evening to the Cathedral
walk through the Arab Bazaar
in their silver-belled slippers
through spices that spill
onto a small curved courtyard:
spices from Morocco and China
red, gold, saffron and ochre
from the walls
of the Alhambra
see a caul of stars
over the Rif Mountains
hear again voices
Bravo El Perro!
Recall the old beggarman
rooted to the soil of Granada
in his cardboard box
outside the Cathedral
he once saw his daughter
carry her coffin
down the Calle des Tristes.
I imagine her
made hurried with rain
hear voices echo
in those narrow walled alleys
cobbled with black
and white stones
from the Rios Genil and Darro
hear whispers of
No my dark child, never.
Yes, my lover always.
And always a river
of gracias and mercies block
the relentless wail
coming from the balcony
that I heard on the bus ride up
to the Calle de Tristes
where the dead are left
to carry their dead
where rosemary bushes line
the Avenue del Alhambra
where a woman I once knew
called to me.
Remember mud that poured into sea
the colour of caramel
recall how the soil of the Alpajarras
its wind, blue
and the sea
is the scent
from an open grill
beside the Playa Torrecilla
and how, in the gardens of the Alhambra
I ran fast, held my nose –
while the gardener sprayed insecticide
on the Rosa Gallica.
Now, wrapped in the thin blue
skein of sleep
a whole herd of them
a cante chico buleria
mask the rasp of traffic
from the Autovia
The blue air is
thin and high
as a scream
we traverse ravines –
– stones tumble
down on us
goats’ sneering eyes
We drive past viaducts
Viaduct de Miel
Tunel del Pinon
Viaduct de Tristesse.
On the coast
the afternoon around
we reach Castell del Ferro
turn, see Sierra Almijara y Alhama –
high crests that pierce
the blue Andalusian sky.
Skiathos Old Port
Wherever I turn, wherever I stand,
You will kindle in me only one desire:
to return to Greece.
– ‘The Soil of Greece’ George Drosinis
The whole village pours itself
its families fishing nets its hunger
poets and hope into the sea.
Farmers carry their meagre
loads down to the boatmen
by the harbour, where
the Aegean sings itself to sleep
where stars’ phosphorescence
lightens the horizon.
Morning pulls itself open
cats slink uphill
to the churchyard.
In the village square
the fountain murmurs
its prayer to old women
clothed in black –
their hands clutched
by grandchildren, who
dip their fingers
into the pool
around the fountain
as though into the font
of holy water
beside the church door
before their grandmothers
drop a coin into the box
for offerings, light a candle to
sniff the incense
and kiss the glass
that hides the Saints.
Gulls preen themselves
ready for evening
when they’ll flock to the harbour
perch on wings and silver-
painted railings, wait for scraps
thrown overboard from boats.
Old men beat kalamari against
rocks, their faded denims rolled
their tough, brown hands
and arms still strong enough
to pull on oars, they sit
outside the Cafeneion, listen
to the soft click clack of their
remember themselves as boys
remember sons and grandsons
gone to the mainland
gone to America,
gone, like the picture brides
who, in nineteen twenty five
left Skiathos and landed
on New York’s Ellis Island.
Blood of this place gone now
fish through torn nets.
Today I swam with a woman
who sang to the seagulls
she sang of midnight
she sang of poverty
she sang of fear
she sang to the sea.
Today I swam with a woman who sang of the broken
she sang to the sparrows
and she sang to me.
She sang of winter, of hunger and starving.
She sang of sorrow, she sang of greed.
She sang of hope, the fallen and dying.
Today she sang her song to me.
She sang of the spring that lives in her island
she sang of its wars, its people, its famines.
She sang of Athens, soup kitchens, hunger
of people queuing for food from Crete –
onions tomatoes bread and water.
She sang to the seagulls she sang to me.
She sang her song of cleaners and soldiers
she sang of the sailors, the driven, the hopeless
she sang of her sisters and brothers and poets
mothers of children whose lives hold no future.
She sang her song of the sea to me.
She sang of workers unpaid for their labour
she sang of shipyards, of builders and teachers
whose spirits were crushed, whose lives lay in pieces
she sang of her country she sang of the free.
THE BLUE ROPE OF MANDRAKI
The blue rope of Mandraki swings between two pine trees
that are the trees of Pan and Artemis
and sing koukanaries.
The blue rope that hangs low and makes the air explode.
The blue rope that cicadas cling to singing kill me kill me!
The blue rope that is the arm of God.
The blue rope that a man hurled from the sky before he lay buried
and burned and fatigued in the sand.
The blue rope of Mandraki causes women to become swans
with the clasp of a pearl necklace in their hands.
The blue rope makes the sea swarm with bees
makes the sky fall into the ocean
butterflies become mandrakes mandrakes become minotaurs
minotaurs become gulls gulls become spots of blood
Persian armies become triremes
become become become the blue rope that swings
become the blue smoke of the island
become the two pines that form
this arch into mad beauty
that is Mandraki
Alway a whisper
my love is a whisper
my sea calls me
in the trees,
the sea is caught
in the pulp of the agave.
My nisi medendra
always out of reach.
Sand whispers between my toes
as I walk to the sea,
light falls quickly,
the sound between night and day
an incessant dropping of bells
the sea is an all-night party
below the orange path
that leads to nisi,
Day drops incense bright
from the mouths of swallows,
pulling light across the island,
opening green shutters.
From this station I see a wildness of sugar
and green-crossed shutters
sweet as nightingales burning in forests,
shaded blue of diamonds on water
a hot, dancing whore with promise of succour
when a pine compromises the ocean
with hair of a woman and teeth of a minotaur
with sugar-cubed offerings of rooftops and swallows
tonguing beauties and ants on balconies.
A harbour lies like a woman’s thigh
with boats moored against strong limbs of land.
Skiathos, with your cigarette ends and bins
and your succulents battling with Archangels and Moses.
Ela ela lama sabacthani!
Your aerials of electric goodness and rapid voices
pick their way through groves of oysters.
Dionysos sits laughing on top of the clocktower,
his hands haul the bells of the hours that haunt.
With oleander beside me and Thanatos before me
a surge beneath and a belief in hunger and hope.
Pines are not pines here on this island,
cicadas are not crickets, but a calling of madness
that licks the land like a cat in the morning.
Your white-tongued ships
slip into the Aegean
like a lover’s tongue easily sipping
the juice of his honey
like a bed in the sea and a fish and a moment
and a cranking of chains and Poseidon is calling
my god Thanatos
my god Eros.
In pink confetti and bins overflowing
in the soft slip-slop of sandals and moorings
in the slow, sway of gulls following behind me
waiting to pick at my bones and my eyes.
I have touched the ice beneath the heat
of this island that will always haunt me
in its lamplight and flowers dried grass
shrivelled life in a land like a woman’s
hazed-blue gown of evening.
In Dimitrios’ hand on the tiller of my soul
I cry for the armies that meet inside me
like a mad dog howling as it snaps at the ocean
under the composition of pines
under the limbs of gods
beside a pebbled beach
like toasted marshmallows
where sewage and rose petals
float into the water.
In the distance a man lies on a cloud
in the distance
Ela! Ela! Yassou, yassou!
In the insistent burn of the engines of gods
that a man sometimes touches when he raises a woman
from his hand in a moment of madness
blue heat becomes a blanket of silence that breathes
beneath the incessant cries of
and the walled-chimes of bells that call to the sky
cool cool down
cool cool down
doves croon their own song of evening
the gratings of geraniums
the notices and orange lotus’d boats.
A man on a bench wears black. Reads a book. Looks up for his rose. She is there, I want to tell him, but am afraid to disturb his longing. It would only offend. An offering to a stranger must be given with caution.
There is a wash of walled sea, here. There is a soothing breath that comes from the pines.
My mouth tastes itself. It has not forgotten the madness of the west. It cannot forget the taste of burnt saints.
A white umbrella against a blue table waits for rain.
Now I am at the level of succulents
my body is Cleopatra’s aloes —
a dangerous place this!
A temptation of sap and spines.
A long, row of white rocks point like the finger of a ghost
whose knuckles have calcified with salt.
This finger will never scratch its left arm.
This finger will never point at the sun.
This finger is frozen by heat and melons.
This finger is a line of sugar cubes, piled by the hands of a god crazed
with gripping his mind.
This thumb blocks out the sun.
Apollo is setting behind me. The night owls of Skiathos will soon surround me.
In a slow wave of squid-inked blue the heat refuses to go.
There are warnings here, nailed like drops of blood cut from a child’s finger. Rubies trapped in white-ironed railings.
They are there to prevent an accident of fate when a pilot is Ouzo’d and a man steers his small vessel home with his unerring foot.
Oatgrasses scratch my back.
If I was a horse I would turn and graze
instead I sit writing words
my pen an extension of my body
as though, a woman, I have grown a penis.
A small boat tugs at its moorings, like a dog hungry for freedom.
There is a scaled-down ecstasy of peace here
(if only I can avoid the ants)
(if only I can resist parentheses)
tongues of aloe vera
whose juice heals
pierce the sky.
A wastepaper bin designed to look in place
a boy kick-boxes an aloe vera leaf
a van collects waste
on the calcified finger
my back is still scratched.
Nine is a fig tree.
Nine is not there
it is here.
Nine is a configuration of hands
holding unripe figs
green as a boy’s new fallen balls.
Through the fig’s fingered leaves a glimpse of boats.
To the right, a small yellow broom grows from the rock
a young girl’s hair
her head thrown back to the Aegean like a broken melon.
The tongue of God licks the land in the saliva of his sea.
Here is a forked tree
the oleander’s pink talks to me.
Is the design of plants in the pattern of humans?
Boats thread through small islands
eager to be in a wider ocean.
I am no longer green amber.
I am no longer in the land of a crazed god.
I do not feel the forsaken terror of heat.
The sun no longer tears at my back like a lion
evening slips into me like a lover.
I am nearly home now
in the fierce shape of aloes.
I am a reminder of the shyness of swans
aloes would not grow without my voice.
I am almost home.
I can feel it in the soft wash of foam.
I can taste it in the cappucino of your mouth.
I can see it in the dance of Syrtaki’d pines
who stand naked under stars
listening to tourists.
I can hear it in the music Zeus has chosen
to play on his juke box.
There are nights in white satin waiting
if I can believe in a Twelfth Station
here on this island.
The boat remains
the small bay of laughter
tongue of a tower
in the Cafeneion beside me a song is ending
and I love you.
A hand rises beneath me as the land does the ocean
and if I never return to this island of shadows
I will remember the agony of sunshine
and the long, slow drop of honey drunk from the thread of wild woodbine.
- Al Andalus
- Sierra Nevada
- Skiathos Old Port
Published in ‘The Other Side of the Bridge’ Indigo Dreams Pubs. 2012
- Greek Woman
Published in ‘Salt Road’ Indigo Dreams Pubs. 2013
- The Blue Rope of Mandraki
- Nisi Medendra
Published in ‘Passio’ Flarestack Publications 2006
Poetry in this post: © Geraldine Green
Published with the permission of Geraldine Green