Nora Nadjarian

Nora Nadjarian

Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning Cypriot poet and writer. She has been cited or published in the Guardian, the Irish Times and the Telegraph and has also won prizes and commendations in international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, the Féile Filíochta International Poetry Competition, the Binnacle International Ultra-Short Competition and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize.

Her work deals with the themes of women, refugees, identity, exile, love and loss, as well as the political situation in Cyprus. Best known in Cyprus for her book of short stories Ledra Street (2006) she has had poetry and short fiction published internationally. Her work was included in A River of Stories, an anthology of tales and poems from across the Commonwealth, illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski, Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011), Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017), Shipwrecked (Sampson Low, 2019). Her latest books are the collections of short stories Selfie (Roman Books, 2017) and Girl, Wolf, Bones (Armida, 2017).

The author Anjali Joseph has said of her work: ‘Nora Nadjarian’s distilled short stories are abrupt and intense, as invigorating and aromatic as a double shot of literary espresso.’

1. Tempus Fugit (Morphou)

The grandfather clock in the church was a Tempus Fugit. Its hands were stuck at ten to nine but time was running. I looked at the icons and had no idea what to do. The guide said Ayios Mamas, the saint, had carried the stones used to build the church. One hundred and one stones every single day.

I thought of stones we carry day after day, sometimes inside our own bodies, making our steps heavier. I thought of stones we pick up and throw away. I thought of stones we throw at each other. I thought of stones.

2. The Swan (Soloi)

It was a she, not a he. Seen in a certain light, it was a woman, not a swan, naked, and she smelled of lemons. The rest of us, fascinated, stared at the outline of her body, the flowers, the grapes. It was a woman who deep in the night covered herself with feathers of unknown birds and dreamt of being a swan. Her life was a mosaic, a fragmented narrative.

The air smelled of musk, lavender, bergamot. Today we entered myth, our feet crunched on gravel.

Where do you come from? Are you a Cypriot? Are you a Roman? Are you a woman or a swan? I have taken a photo of you. I have kept you, I will keep you. I have pixelised your life.

3. The Sea (Vouni)

The palace has no walls. Reconstruct the rooms which used to be. A military palace strategically positioned, 250 metres above sea level. Think of feet which walked this ground and eyes which looked out at sea to see a sea of faces on seaworthy ships.

Think about the men the sea brought or took away and drowned or saved, about those who were washed ashore, who ended up elsewhere, who swam, who didn’t swim, couldn’t swim, about the beat of their heart underwater, and how it stopped. Drowning voices swallowed saltwater, there was the muteness of fish talking. Conquerors smiled. Conquerors always smile.

The surface is calm. The surface looks calm, especially on this sunny December day. The only thing that’s never changed through centuries is the colour of the sea.

4. Berries (Lefka)

There was a woman standing at the corner, waiting. Waiting for a change, I thought. Her hair was long and grey. Dressed in a stained robe and dusty slippers, she held out a bough of berries to passers-by. She offered them the berries, as if offering sweets steeped in syrup.

‘Take,’ she said. ‘Eat.’

We looked at each other. Some looked down at their feet. Others picked a berry and stared at it for a while. Some took and ate. We ate the berries which in a fairy tale might have been poisoned or contained the elixir of life or transformed us into other creatures.

We took and ate the light green berries, the light green berries, which contained nothing but our own questions, doubts and fears. Nothing but our own questions, doubts and fears.

Poetry in this post: © Nora Nadjarian
Published with the permission of Nora Nadjarian