Vasilka Pateras

Vasilka Pateras

Vasilka Pateras lives in Melbourne Australia. By day she works as a Commonwealth Public Servant. By night she writes poems in between the demands of family life. An emerging writer she has been previously published in n-SCRIBE; and regularly reads as part of the Melbourne Spoken Word community.

 
Theodora I

Judas-trees in bloom
release scent of toffee apple
at the Hippodrome ink blue sky
stars swirl luminous
soldiers gather for backgammon, drink posca
torch light flickered caramel skin
Theodora the bear trainer’s daughter
black ringlet curls hang
striking emerald green eyes
beckons the audience to her melancholy song:

– a dutiful wife waits at the gate
for a husband who lies in the arms of another

Justinian invites Theodora to the Palace
table laid with roast meats, wild greens, pomegranates
aniseed liquor warms her body, loosens her tongue
              a childhood in Cyprus
              like my sister Komita I became an entertainer
              beguiled by the appearance of love
              I followed Hecebolus to Syria
              quarrels then beatings
              my only happiness – a daughter
              eyes as blue as the Euphrates

 
Theodora II

The ripples of love across classes tantalises
Justinian visits the Emperor
his uncle sits curled in his throne
troubled about succession
his head lowered
a wisp of hair falls forward
a tap of the finger
laws change allowing them to wed

tailors are ordered
Theodora runs her hands through woven silks
dazzled by crimson and amethyst
embroidered roses of gold thread
she wraps the cloth
around her torso
Justinian notices her pleasure
orders silkworm eggs
to be smuggled in the robes of monks
from the far east
For 900 years
the looms of Constantinople warp and weft
in a rhythmic clacking

power brings dissent
the city bursts with riots
palace surrounded
Theodora refuses to flee
‘royalty is a good burial shroud’
Justinian is roused by her resolve
thirty thousand perish.

the streets are hushed
air thick with the fatigue of battle
the Haghia Sophia a jagged charcoal lattice
Justinian and Theodora set to rebuild
a Cathedral – audacious in geometry and design

At its consecration
the Archbishop chants
swings the thurible
gold cross in hand
through the smoky canopy of incense
Theodora sees
a friend from her stage days
cast out by her husband
with three children
as chronicled:
she was naturally inclined to assist women in misfortune

 
Theodora III

Late summer 1989
three trains from Firenze to Ravenna
my pilgrimage to the Basilica di San Vitale
I gaze at Theodora
adorned by a jewel-encrusted halo
backdrop of lavish wall hangings
courtiers by her side
she looks directly at me
a choir begins
a chant for the Eucharist
I break bread with Theodora.

posca – a vinegar based drink consumed in late Roman
and Byzantine times by the lower classes

 
The Black Madonna

monastic caves of Kalishte
stone crevasses of solitude
on bare floors
a monk’s prayer in worldly denial

Inside St Holy Virgin
candles lit, temjan drifts
icon of Madonna
plunged leagues under Lake Ohrid
protection from the looters of war

she arose from a watery bed
with a charcoal patina
sediments of history
plaintive in her call of duty
she waits

as infertile pilgrims
leave gifts

temjan – frankincense in Macedonian

 
Heraclea Lynkestis

(Bitola, Macedonia)

ruins framed by poplars
against verdant hills
Philip II’s city
lies broken
pieces of sculpture
foot attached to torso
doric columns stand like headstones

a grey half circle expanse
Emperor Hadrian’s amphitheatre
animal cages below
a legacy of bread and circuses
on the Via Egnatia

Early Christian mosaics sun bleached
two deer meet at a fountain
wild cats skulk
a swan cocks its head
a celebration of abundance

I wonder about the patience of archaeologists
the search for fragments
relayed through time
sifting and brushing
the buried
decoding a muddled history

past the dry city fountain
the museum guide slumbers
from the heat
I head to the taxi.

 
Poetry in this post: © Vasilka Pateras
Published with the permission of Vasilka Pateras