Vasiliki Katsarou

Vasiliki Katsarou

Vasiliki Katsarou was born and raised in Massachusetts to Greek-born parents, and educated at Harvard College, the University of Paris I-Sorbonne, and Boston University. She is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet whose poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, wicked alice, Press 1, and US 1 Worksheets, as well as in two upcoming anthologies: Rabbit Ears: TV Poems (Poets Wear Prada), and Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place (Sundress Publications).

Of Memento Tsunami, Katsarou’s first collection, published in 2011, Aliki Barnstone has written: “Memento Tsunami is breathtaking and reads as sustained filmic meditation on the woman artist, ancestry, the immigrant daughter’s unfixed, hyphenated identity…We hear echoes of Sappho, Emily Dickinson, H.D., Mina Loy, and Lorine Niedecker, whose beautiful poetry, like Katsarou’s, is crafted with classical discipline, yet is not merely beautiful, nor merely classical.”

Vasiliki Katsarou has also worked in film and television production in France and Greece, and written and directed an award-winning 35mm short film, Fruitlands 1843, about the Transcendentalist utopian community. She currently directs the Panoply Books Reading Series in Lambertville, New Jersey.

The poems below are from Vasiliki Katsarou’s full-length collection, Memento Tsunami, published by Ragged Sky Press in 2011.

Seven Women

Londonienne nonagenarian
Missoni-clad with leather bag
contemporary of Bloomsbury
portrait taken by me

Australian of the lustral basin
architect adrift aloft
redesigning negative space
with Gaudí and Don Quixote

Anna from Iraklion
knows all there is to know
about sun, thong
and art history

Minoan goddess
your pattern spirals over
the real vessel

Iconographic Eleftheria
what is the difference
between freedom and liberty
your sister wants to know

Pier at Cannes

seen at a film (fish)

across the bay, a string of lights

never thought she’d find herself

in an Antonioni film

yet here she is and so is he—
mere witnesses to an abstraction

the dark sea and dark sky meet somewhere

she thinks,
directing herself to find a gesture
as apt as this moment

he stares back
in irreflection

The sea and sky may kiss at the horizon
Why not we?

She turns
a cartwheel instead
to approach him
and yet remain distant

absurdity strikes
at the very heart

of the proposition

What a child, an American!

He is of course a French polygamist
with several children by several wives in farmhouses
scattered about the French countryside

so fated to act out

two wholly different scripts,

he says

Un écrivain a dit…
[A writer once said]

là où toutes les eaux se mèlent, là où il y a un delta—
[Where all the waters come together, at the mouth]

la merde l’a créé.
[shit created it.]

But what about beauty
she wonders too late
doesn’t beauty equal love?

she wanders too late
the sky darkens further

La bêtise
is his reply

from the edge
of that shore
they part

Greek Family Myth

Hunter and barterer,
my grandfather
dances upon the waters,
unfurls his net

to gather up the sea-ephemera

shrimp and urchins,
and the eyes of fish
are his currency

Yiayia knows to set aside
a few morsels for you,

flanked by three brothers and an older sister
with whom you’d never fight,
never speak up, even,
for your share at the table

The sensitive one, wartime-thin,
and hidden
beneath the bed

if some unsolicitous word
rained down upon your head

Your sister recalls you to me now
as Yiayia’s favorite,

The pretty one, talented and lithe,
the one they let slip away for free,
across the sea

In our Greek family myth
you are the sacrificed

Seamstress at fourteen,
you stitch Gypsy wedding dresses
and suits for gentry on the hill

Before you marry
this money you make by needle-prick

Will buy a toehold in Athens
for your older brother,
his shoe shop,
a marriage, three strapping children

Is what pays the dowry
for your proud older sister,
her one-bedroom in a smart part of the city

that after forty years of marriage
and motorcycle exhaust,
remains pastel-colored,
laden with delicate lace cloths

I think of all those Greek keys
and spirals and monograms
that you and she stitched by hand
while waiting what seemed an eternity
for the bridegroom to appear

I, too, lay my newly-married head
upon those embroidered pillows

It was my fate,

my childless aunt tells me
to be a mother to my sister, to my brother,
to my nieces,
and even to my mother

As you, her sister, wait

but across the sea

Once and future sacrifice to your own husband,
destiny personally arranged for you
by our ancestors,

You who are my mother,
my other,

painter of plaint,

Modern Greek

I love you so
I work to death

I love you so
I work you
to death

I love you so
you work me to death

Don’t suppose we have time
to stroll among the ruins and sip
our cup of hemlock and brine

Hotel Eleftheria

*eleftheria is the modern Greek word for freedom

Where the barren mountain meets the fertile sea

Restless, foam-capped
shape-shifting she-

[Sea always
embodied by Greek non-
women poets as

Sea swallow seen

from the ship dipping
its nib

into the she-sea

[Eros and the mermaid
still play]

Where the barren mountain meets the fertile sea

Barren mountain written
on with traces of habitation

Each stone wall a sentence,
each stone
a vocable of sorts

The AE
of Mykonos as seen by me

decades later
a glimmer
of understanding

Where the barren mountain meets the fertile sea

The mountain has been spoken for

The sea, unspeakable

[The horrors gallop along the edges
The joy plays in full view of the sun]

Poetry in this post: © Vasiliki Katsarou
Published with the permission of Vasiliki Katsarou