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.

A Wayward Scratch

A wayward scratch
Against the shiny
Picture postcard of
The great white tower of
Proud Thessaloni’ki,
Inexplicably reveals it
Actually to be

The palimpsest of blood
And pain, the lurking shame
Of centuries,
That lies beneath
Its slick bright picture
Of our glib forgetfulness.

Nor does the poor mind’s
Sensitive recoil achieve
Its need to give the lie to

It can’t permit us, now,
Removed in time,
To shield the inner
Eye of shame
From what transpired
Within those
Shining walls;

To blot out
Of the mind and heart
The soul’s insistence
On a gruesome truth.

Indeed, the Janissaries
Served the Sultan and
The Sultan’s house
As fighter-slaves, and,
Surely so, abused,

Both Sultan, and
Their kin, the very people in
Whose loins
The spark of life
First struck, and set
Ablaze that slow,
Eternal mystery by which
A mass is leavened, and,
Eventually, becomes
A life, which, in
The very being, would,
By the grace of God,

Our study of
Their history reveals
The exploitation that
The privileged place
Their slavish service to
The Sultan let them
Exercise to earn,
Against their
Very master’s will,
The very wealth
And power that they,
Those very slaves, amassed,
‘til they became a force,
A power onto themselves;

A power
Even the Sultan came to
Fear, and, it’s for this,
That, finally, the Sultan had
All of them put to
Gruesome death, behind

The great tower’s
Whitewashed walls,
Which, so serenely stand
Next to the second city’s
Harbor, as
The night lights
Glitter on the surface of
The post card’s placid
Harbor-scene, which might
The self-delusions of
Romantic modern
Sensibilities, manage to

Blur our conscious knowing of
What we, all, surely know,
But never dare to speak.


A bald man
with a fringe of hair
coming to points in front
like little horns
leads laughing children up
a gentle slope
playing his violin
as they, like Hamlin’s young,
dance to his jaunty tune.

It is our school’s annual field trip, and
The aging satyr, Mr. Theodora’kis,
With his brown entrancing violin,
Smiles as he sways and dances,
To the hilltop, where he turns around
And says, this is the place, my children;
Enter the valley just beyond; play
For the day is ours.

What faces us astounds us and we gasp.
The shallow glen before us is a sea of blood.
He laughs. The poppies are in bloom,
And swaying gently in the warm Spring breeze.

We shout and roll pell-mell, the bunch of us,
Into that sea of red, and swim in it,
As though, by magic, the Aegean Sea
Had turned a different color, as
The power of his enchanted violin,
Which spins its tune like Dionysus’
Pan-pipes, put the world into a trance.

When, finally, we tire, he says to us,
Come children; I have things to tell you.
This, my children, this, this awful place
That I have brought you to, is, actually, a very special
Place. It has a history. It is a painful tale, but one
You have to learn.

You see that cylinder up there? During the war,
The Germans brought the city’s men up there,
And, one by one, they placed them
In that thing, and then a motor turned
And spikes inside pierced them to death.

The blood ran out the bottom ’til
The valley filled with blood.
We left it there, after the war,
In order never to forget.
Each spring the valley fills with
Paparou’ness, poppies, like a lake
Of blood, again, and we recall the people’s

I want you to remember this, he said.
It is important never to forget.

But it had been a long and tiresome day.
And we all sank into that sea of red, and
Slept like we were drowned, and never heard
A word of what he had to say.

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

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