Theo Dorgan is a poet, prose writer, editor, translator, documentary scriptwriter and broadcaster. These poems are taken from his 2010 collection, GREEK, published by Dedalus Press in Dublin.
Here I am come to Hania again
but now, suddenly, full of years.
The bronze girls go by in pairs,
almost they walk through me.
Am I a ghost in this evening air?
This morning I woke in Piraeus to catch the boat,
and thought as I dressed of that other ferry
I must take before long. Amazed, I hung
between one mouthful of coffee and the next.
Old bones, dear beating heart,
how many laughing women
once laid their faces to that pulse —
some are already gone to dust, others
are mysteries now, mothers, grandmothers!
It has not been what we expected.
It beggars breath to speak of it; such lives
we have led, who were lithe as the bronze girls
or the quick young men who throng the square,
eternity in their every breath and glance.
I thought my life a catalogue of loss —
now, without meaning to, I see it all as gain;
I am dizzy with hope, stunned — so much laughter
and love, such joy come round again!
A woman calls, Alexandros! Alexandros!
Silence flashes through the cavernous market.
A boy comes backlit through the entrance arch,
a carefree, sunny child, all smiles and puppy fat.
Nevertheless we search his eyes as he ambles past,
we who have seen tyrants in their youth before now.
Yannis shouldn’t drink in the afternoon,
it makes him dull and querulous, morose like me:
What do I care about Actaeon in your eyes,
this cultural tourism? Tell me about Ireland,
what you see when you walk the streets,
what ghosts prompt your murders, what shades
your executioners send down out of daylight?
You have your poor and your policemen,
your crime and politics and lawyers —
affliction is real, write about that.
He’s right, I think, he has a point…
and Artemis bumps the table, Tee shirt and blue jeans,
a diamond glinting in one ear, phone to the other.
She stalks past, imperious and aloof,
radiant in her first flush of immortality.
UNDER A BLUE AND WHITE STRIPED AWNING
That time between the heat of day and evening,
when cats thread between rickety chairs
and the waiters are gossiping, smoking at the bar.
Maria is opening the minimarket door, the lock stiff
as ever; she nods to you, we have been here that long,
and you wave back.
We’ll need bread, grapes, water,
but now we need coffee. Zesto, me gala.
Giorgos embraces an older man in a pressed shirt, grey straw hat,
offers his hand gravely to the man’s lithe companion.
The heaven Cavafy dreamed of, love acknowledged.
for Leonard Cohen
When you set out from Ithaca again,
let it be autumn, early, the plane leaves falling as you go,
for spring would shake you with its quickening,
its whispers of youth.
You will have earned the road down to the harbour,
duty discharged, your toll of labour paid,
the house four-square, your son in the full of fatherhood,
his mother, your long-beloved, gone to the shades.
Walk by the doorways, do not look left or right,
do not inhale the woodsmoke,
the shy glow of the young girls,
the resin and pine of home.
Stand there and hold their gaze,
they have been good neighbours.
Plank fitted to plank, slow work and sure,
the mast straight as your back.
Water and wine, oil, salt and bread.
Take a hand in yours for luck.
Cast off the lines without a backward glance
and sheet in the sail.
There will be harbours, shelter from weather;
There will be long empty passages far from land.
There may be love or kindness, do not count on this
but allow for the possibility.
Be ready for storms.
When you take leave of Ithaca, round to the south
then strike far down for Circe, Calypso,
what you remember, what you must keep in mind.
Trust to your course, long since laid down for you.
There was never any question of turning back.
All those who came the journey with you,
those who fell to the flash of bronze,
those who turned away into other fates,
are long gathered to asphodel and dust.
You will go uncompanioned, but go you must
There will be time in the long days and nights,
stunned by the sun or driven by the stars,
to unwind your spool of life.
You will learn again what you always knew —
the wind sweeps everything away.
When you set out from Ithaca again,
you will not need to ask where you are going.
Give every day your full, reflective attention —
the rise and flash of the swell on your beam,
the lift into small harbours —
and do not forget Ithaca, keep Ithaca in your mind.
All that it was and is, and will be without you.
Be grateful for where you have been,
for those who kept to your side,
those who strode out ahead of you
or stood back and watched you sail away.
Be grateful for kindness in the perfumed dark
but sooner or later you will sail out again.
Some morning, some clear night,
you will come to the Pillars of Hercules.
Sail through if you wish. You are free to turn back.
Go forward on deck, lay your hand on the mast,
hear the wind in its dipping branch.
Now you are free of home and journeying,
rocked on the cusp of tides.
Ithaca is before you, Ithaca is behind you.
Man is born homeless, and shaped for the sea.
You must do what is best.
Poetry in this post: © Theo Dorgan
Poems appear by kind permission of Dedalus Press
Published with the permission of Theo Dorgan