James Zaferopolos

James Zaferopolos

James Zaferopolos is a retired professor of History and administrator at a small college in Cleveland, OH. His family is of Anatolian origin and he was born in northern Greece, in 1946. His father died when he was one year old, and he and his mother came to America in 1955. James Zaferopolos has been writing poetry since he was a boy, but have, to date, made no effort to publish. Now, a man of 72, who has undergone a stem cell transplant, a kidney transplant, and, recently, a stroke feel that now is the time to share his poetry with us.


O, beauty,
Served up on the half-shell,
Foam-borne, by Poseidon’s will,
Upon the white spume of a wave,
Delivered, by the sea-god’s hand
Onto the pebbled shore,
Abode of Trojans and Hellenes;
Small winds, like little clouds,
Like chubby cherubs, sing, as
The incessant tide
Conveys you to
The fated shore;

The polyphonic chorus of
These cherubs that
Accompany your grace,
Dance, all about you,
And they sing, so sweetly, praises to
Your great, unearthly beauty, to
The sweet allurements
Of your holy power over mere mortal

Sweet Aphrodite,
Spume-proffered beauty, you,
That approach
The dark, verdurous glen
Where, lazily reclining,
Paris, prince of Troy, plays
Pan-pipes, with
His back
Leaning against the corded,
Great, dark trunk of that
Sprawling tree of
Life, while he’s attending to
His father’s precious sheep,

As you approach him,
Hera suddenly appears,
The wife of Zeus, followed by
Almond-eyed Athena,
Goddess of wisdom, both
Of them your rivals, more
In the exercise of power, than
In vagaries of love, rivals, of you,
Jealous of all the praises
That the love-besotted youth
Heaps at your feet, but,
In the end, no match
For the allure of
Carnal love, you
Force upon that poor,
Young and lustful boy,
The humanly untenable
Selection from among
You three, by promising
To satisfy his burning need,
Not through a union with
Yourself, untouchable of man,
But through possession of
The comely Helen,
The most beautiful of
Mortal women in the world.

Up, in the sky,
Un-noticed by
Us men, here, on the earth,
The fluffy white clouds
Turn to a sullen black
They form what might well seem to be
The dark and tortured image
Of the thousand dead,
A city smoldering in ruins,
And the long, black ships of
The Hellenes, sailing away, after
Ten years of horror, and
The half-burned
Hulking wreck of
What appears to be
A great wood horse
That stands, its
Function of deception done,
Amidst the city’s ruin,

While, in the midst of
Smoking buildings
And the stench of death,
Mothers and wives within
The broken walls
Of Priam’s ruined citadel,
Tear at their hair
And pound their chests,
Leaning in grief
Over their poor,
Departed dead,
Cursing the Greeks
For the destruction
They have wrought
Over a stolen girl,
Who may, in fact, have gone
With Paris all too willingly,
And brought disaster
In their wake.

And what about
The woman, Helen,
That you offered as a bribe?
What, now, of her? What
If that tall and beautiful
Blond woman
Representing race
And homeland
To the Greeks, and,
Thus, the reason, that
They came here, to
Retrieve her—not
To preserve the honor, or
Affirm, the husband-right
Of an unworthy Menalaos–

Who can speak well of her?

Perhaps ten years of
Death and suffering
Serve history to prove
How difficult it is for any nation
To impose its will upon
Another proud, unwilling people.

Ariadne’s Complaint

Leave not, mine Lord, me, stranded thus, upon
This cursed, foreign shore, who hath to thee
Proffered all that there is of love, and more.
That power of love wherewith I led thee from
The gore-filled maze (my country’s boon,
Thy country’s bane) shall stretch all of my life
Across, and past, and though the years may shroud,
At last, all that I have of sense in an
Abysmal haze, yet, shall the thread of love
In me not strain, nor shall it ever break,
But bind thee, in my mind, to me the more.
I am become thy legal, and
Elective whore. And though my use to thee
May be no more, yet may thou not forget
What I should painfully regret; that, for
Thy terrible embrace, I sacrificed
All that our Cretan race had won in guilt
Of power and might.Therefore, I lay this claim
On thee tonight: that by whatever gods thou hold’st
In reverence, or in fear, do not abandon me, my love,
Here, in this place,
Alone, by mine own family despised,
And by thy should-be grateful people quite


What glory might be yours today
Had you but given heed to what I’d
Warned you of
                    My headstrong boy!

                                                  But, no,
Think not such thoughts as these,
Old man of grief. Your conscience chides you,
For it’s you, that made the wings,

And you are, now, a blackguard and a fiend
To dwell thus, morbidly, on things like these that are
The evils of your own devising.

Was it not by your artifice the boy was tempted to
Defy the gods?

Rail, therefore, not against the boy.
He did what youth and fate directed him to do,
And such black sentiments as yours
Reflect upon you badly with the gods.

Gather, then, the pathetic scraps the sea brings back to you
Wherewith to chide your wretched soul of guilt,
And blame your fertile intellect, instead.

Your grief taunts like a willful creature taunts its prey
Prior to tearing the bleating thing apart.


Many’s the time, many’s the men and women,
Over centuries, who’ve trampled mindlessly, over
The sainted sleeping boy who
Rests in peace, at last,
Buried beneath their stumbling feet,
In Roman baths, where he was killed,
Washed clean of sin by his allegiance to
The living god, and in the
Knowledge of our saving faith endured
The pain he suffered in
Those pagan baths, on whose
Foundation we
Had built this church, with
Hope and faith in him,
The city’s patron, and defender,
To protect us in this life, and,
In the life to come, vouchsafe our passage
To the promised land.


This church has ever
stood a citadel of faith
And place of safety, on
The saint’s good name.
Nevertheless, has fallen, twice,
On evil times: first, into the hands of
Infidels–only to rise again, in
Imitation of our Lord, the Christ–
The second, fella victim to
The raging operation of
A cleansing fire–so, to be purified
Of the profanities of history,
Yet here, it stands.

The last–and only–time that I have
Walked into
That sacred space,
I lit a candle, and
I said a prayer before his icon, as
I did my cross and pivoted, troding
The corridor over his resting place.
I walked out of that church, and
Left the country of my birth, seeking
A new patri’tha, in the new place, called


I’ve lived in this place, now,
For sixty years. I’ve never gone back
To the country of my birth.
I have a worn old icon of my
Patron saint, Demetrios, which
My mother left to me, as a
Memento and phylactery against
The vagaries of life abroad.
I guard it jealously, as I recall,
In fading memory,
My poor dead mother’s
Longing for that land we left, and,
Most especially, the city
That the saint, Demetrios,
Protecting her, as the icon shows,
For centuries, against the dragon,
Writhing, in his seething death throwes,
On his scaly back, which she
Equated, in her mind, with the most evil thing
In all the world. Exile–
What Greeks call xenetia’– vanquished,
She thought, by bold Demetrios, like
The Englishman’s Saint George,
Mounted in glory, on
His noble steed, had done; a
Fearless warrior for God, rising above the fiend,
As he bears down to skewer the heart of that
Infernal thing, upon the sturdy lance of
Our belief, our faith, and justice in the name of God.

His picture calls upon us, in
This place and age, my
Mother thought, to
Gird our fortitude within the
Word of God, for which
Demetrios fought and died,
Promising humbly to return, to
Save the people from
The tempter’s
Long, forked, tongue, which thrusts,
Shouting his screeching death throes,
As his scaly carcass gives up life,
Succumbing to the spear-point of
God’s saving grace against that fiend
Of sin and error, exile, xenetia’,
Redounding to the glory
Of the nameless one,
Our Lord and God, who
Needs no name, because
He simply Is.

I must confess.
I never did go back, and
Am not likely to
Before I die.

For other contributions by James Zaferopolos, please follow the links below:

Poetry in this post: © James Zaferopolos
Published with the permission of James Zaferopolos