Stathis Gourgouris was born in Hollywood and grew up in Athens. He has published four volumes of poetry, one in English (Myrtle Trenches, 1985) and three in Greek: Πτώσεις [Falls] (1988), Αυτoχθνίες [Identicide] (1993), Εισαγωγή στη Φυσική [Introduction to Physics] (2005). He has translated in English the poetry of Yiannis Patilis and Argyris Chionis and in Greek the poetry of Carolyn Forché and Heiner Müller. His English translations of his own poetry have appeared in The Harvard Review, The Jacaranda Review, Compages, LA Weekly, Emergences, Modern Poetry in Translation, Mondo Greco and in various anthologies of Greek poetry, most recently in A Century of Greek Poetry (1900-2000), edited by Peter Bien et al. (Cosmos Publishing, River Vale, NJ. 2004) and Pomegranate Seeds, Dean Kostos ed. (Boston: Somerset Hall, 2008). His poetry has been translated in French, Italian, Serbian and Turkish. He has also written two books of literary criticism: Dream Nation (1996) and Does Literature Think? (2003). He is currently professor of comparative literature at Columbia University.
The following poems are his own translations from the Greek and form part of a collection tentatively titled Living in the Heart of the Ghost.
I throw myself
I sink at once.
I dangle handsome
before the eyes
I unhook myself.
I carry my dreams
in fish crates.
Poseidonians (fin de siècle)
We live in a peculiar time.
Around us gather heaps
of unknown translucent nights.
Within us flicker stories of life.
Before us, a visible black star
more black than the most red
more visible than the most deep.
(Someday, the national poets will name us
myth-divers vanquished by myth.)
There was a time we mastered
the infinitives of matter.
The substantives were lost.
Such voyages, such worlds
with mind forever flowing
not toward maps but verbs
toward the algebra of the flesh
the salt of sadness.
Captives of coincidence —
in other words:
gramophones out of control
Bedouins whose horse is the phrase of God.
As Greeks, we left behind
lonely and homeless columns
turning to face the sea
like still-voiced women.
To strangers we showed
what psyche means, what is infinity.
Without a compass, without purgatory
we took to the dark seas
out of sheer fondness
for studying stars.
Eventful ruins never caught up with us,
no matter what they say, how they admonish us,
these poets of misfortune.
Such catalytic fraud was known already
to the irascible Heráclitus –
that lyric goddess of the desert
who cast a spell upon Berlin.
To her we light these fires
on Patagonian rocks,
throwing all passwords to the sea
along with the grand shadows raised
by walls collapsing.
Indians always of our own dreams.
With a window flung open in our memory
so as to call on a few trees
a salty breeze over the branches
leafing through time’s wrinkled pages.
An earsplitting silence.
In the Manner of S.G.
The Ancient Egyptians believed
in seven souls, slingshots.
They embraced the orbit of every soul
not like prisoners who were about to die
but like winners in the Olympic Games.
How foolish they were sometimes!
But whatever they left behind
they really left it,
no matter how much it hurt inside.
With each flight, they gained new soul –
only this mattered.
So they could never understand return
and when exactly their last soul
was flung into the darkness,
they couldn’t quite tell you.
The other dead in the Other World
envied the Egyptians.
The Dream of Penelope Delta
The book cover of my pain
a smile that bound me tightly
as one morning
a bullet struck
love’s infertile breath.
You died as when I first met you.
Dressed in your linen suit
a naked country’s
monarch in rags.
The Dream of Odysseus Crusoe
|They are busy staging my drowning. The cameras have already filmed whatever casualties the sea will dredge. We sit and smoke, waiting, like unemployed Albanians. Penelope, Telemachus, Friday – an all-saints calendar of natives. We place bets on the dilemma: who will play the chorus? The suitors or the cannibals? At least, I know I will be recognized by the dog. An island all over me, this scar. A criminal wanted by the winds. The bow will rest next to the calendar. To be shipwrecked means to miss the target.|
Cool afternoon in August.
North wind on Béranger St.
An Albanian pondering desperately
the secrets of a lighter.
A hard sidewalk bending
the high heels.
Punishing the violators
of summer-leave who bathe
in the dusty city light.
The Albanian’s name is Edison.
His name marks the lightning birth
of the nation’s First Electrical Plant.
But now he flirts with fire,
a new Prometheus
bound again by a foreign gesture
in a world that suddenly goes black
so that the dark Acropolis now looms
whiter than ever
and in black cinema-parishes
new citizens from the East
sacrifice their patrimony
to the luminous screen, where high
over enormous mysteries
of the Wild West
rides the white priestess
|So, Aelius Aristeidis rose from his tortured sleep another man. For years now incubating the god’s insanities, apprentice in the technique of dreaming – what madness! so much vomiting and horror, delirium and dismemberment, and not one moment of his own. The god squeezed him hard (by the balls) and wouldn’t let him go. They thrashed around like fish against hook (the god was fish, of course; that made Aristeidis the hook – and oh! what a dream that sea!). Yet, he rose from sleep handsome and content; his eyes, just like the clouds, had this barely discernible movement. Had the guard looked him straight in the eye, surely he wouldn’t have allowed him to leave. So, he walked down the steps of the temple, his body straight, his hair perfumed, holding between his lips the history of pleasure, and once outside, he turned toward Pergamon, whispering: “the perfect ploy” – this is how the guard translated it. (No one saw him from then on, but this adds little to the story.) Down the road, he began his liberation from dress. One by one, he shed the emblems of propriety and left them on the dirt, until he stood stark naked with just a lonely ribbon on his hair, proposing his tired body to the emergent day, a gift, with this irrational generosity, as if he were young again, before he consumed himself in dreams, as if he were again the friend of Eros, as in the days of old, of carelessness, when he still had a hairless chest and would turn red at another’s touch. A strange smile lifted his lips: “the perfect ploy” (how could he, an ace in sophistics, in all these years not even consider this possibility?). And as he crossed the pistachio grove brimming with red seed, caressing the soil with his steps (for he had already left this earth), he encountered Charon, naked and free, and persuaded him that their two souls had grown impatient after all, and oh! did they long for an exchange of bodies!|
If only man was a cicada
And lived by feeding on the sun,
Thought one fine day
Apollinaire, the poet
Raising his eyes to the sky
Just as the shrapnel rained down
While he kept pissing
In the corner of a muddy trench
Next to those others digging madly
On the off chance to unearth
The final serenity
All poems on this post: © Stathis Gourgouris
Published with the permission of Stathis Gourgouris