Stephanos Stephanides

Stephanos Stephanides

Stephanos Stephanides was born in Trikomo in northeast Cyprus in October 1949. He went to the UK as a child, where he lived until finishing his education at Cardiff University. He has traveled widely and has lived in several countries; he has worked and lived using English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and as such his native language ceased to be his dominant tongue. He writes in English but other languages reverberate in his writing.

As well as poet, he is a literary and cultural critic, ethnographer, translator, all with a commitment to and interest in cultural translatability and memory. Years in Guyana (South America) in the 1980s had a profound impact on his life and work, especially his close friendship with communities of descendants of Indian indentured labourers in villages and sugar plantations.

Selections of his poetry have been translated into more than ten languages. His publications include Translating Kali’s Feast: the Goddess in Indo-Caribbean Ritual and Fiction (2000), Beyond the Floating Islands (2002), Blue Moon in Rajasthan and other poems (2005), Cultures of Memory/Memories of Culture, and he has produced two documentary films, Hail Mother Kali (1988) and Kali in the Americas (2003).

Stephanos Stephanides is now Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Cyprus where he has worked since returning to his native island in 1992.

Larnaca Oranges

from the sea of Larnaca many years ago
you set off on a dream for me and you
and took me by the hand onto a ship
for my first crossing of a sea;
and now to this same sea you have returned for your
   last dream
once my father you return and become my child
so that now I must dream your dream for you
while I dispatch you in a casket
as you leave behind for the last time
the city of Lazarus and of Zeno
and cross the sea to your funeral pyre

Before preparing for departure
you bid me find you Larnaca oranges.
Why are they late this season? you asked
eager to sweeten your blood
and become the school child you once were
jostling through the date-palm promenade;
no mourning no black no bearded priests you oft declared;
keep the windows open and let all the light come in you said;
and now you have relinquished your memory to me
giving me your final gift;
your body abject becomes once more a rhythm in your
   mother’s womb
while I pursue the taste of your dislocated oranges.


Augustan Days

The First Goodbye for Katerina
(After Derek Walcott)

Days as august and as large as the sea
And nights as wide as the rooftops

Here I lie

No use for the shirt on my back
Nor the walls of my house
Spread before a relentless sky
That will brood and puff up
A tease or a promise of rain
The lion raised to the stars
A daze with a spray of fierce light
As Perseus climbs high, or hangs low
In tears, for the days we will lose
For the days – sun burnt red with moon

And the month passes by
The cat slips away
And the marigolds fade
Leaving only a touch
Like tender dust
And a daughter ready to fly

And with Derek I sing
Days I have held
Days I have lost
Days that outgrow like daughters
My harbouring arms

August 2008

Broken Heart

on a twilight pilgrimage
I cross Venetian ramparts
I journey inward
seeking a language of lament
a muffled murmuring of old heart
graffiti on old walls
our dreams are in the tombs
tombs are in our dreams

eyes blind and eager
jalousies hiding light of white courtyards
ghosts of mustachioed men striding wicker chairs
muddied destinies at the bottom of coffee cups
shadows of grandmothers in the memory of lemon-trees
arthritic hands still joining my quilt piece piece

shielding my body
stone uterus of weeping icons
Byzantine saints whose names I don’t recall
only a memory a fragrance of ancient smoking leaves
and wailing prayers of unseen hodjas to the north

warm countenance of youth in cold helmets
is the lifeline of this ailing heart
fluttering banners
that banish me from severed arteries
and I move outward through the city gates
while I dream of east and north
of apparitions of community
a communion
with sea citrus milk of sheep
and olive
in a dawning waning earth
fragile trophy of my quest

1993 (slightly revised 2000)

Expecting Nightingales

At the smallest hour
I awake and wait
In expectation
The nightingale will sing.
The roar of the sea
Absorbing whistles
Of the passing trains
Hoodwinks me into slumber,
So I do not even sense
The rooster’s crowing.
The pink light eludes me
Stealing silently through slats
To soften Kathy’s sleep
And I hear a warm smell of fresh focaccia
In Rafaela’s buzzing at the door

Villa Rincon, Bogliasco, Liguria, March 2009


For equus asinus, careta careta, and the other
rare species who accompanied me on the journey
or who I met along the way

Do you remember
when the sun moved into Virgo
and we were pulled against gravity

To a thin place
careful not to tread the rhizomes
of the calamint by the rock

Where the Holy Friend found his sacred spot
and where there is too much sky
as sea swallows the sun

And in the purple hue
turtle midwives come from far away
to bring the science of nature

To the nature of departure protected
as the whorl of shell in liquid turquoise
embraces a flesh of fragile green

And when night fell with a torrent of rain
and the lightning struck
the defi drum

while the candle flame
danced the leilalim
And in response

our bodies swayed
as the island’s hull was turning
till day cleaned the fields fresh

For the wild and wide-eyed donkeys
bashful as they sing to us their kin
Olmaz Olmaz να με πεθαίνεις πολεμά

And with gravity we turn to ask
is this the homeward way
toward a fertile Mesaoria lying fallow

The air, so thick you cut it with a knife
and houses waste like time itself
or space ships that have lost the ground

not sure if in this place
their time is long or short
this plain was once

the old sea
between two islands
was once

my dwelling
till the horizon lifted
to let us through

so I still wonder
how to write thick poetry?
how to chant for a thin place?


I will sing to you before the night is over
Month of dust and dirty sweetness
Mother of the rosary and red square
Time for Papa Benedictus to chant
Rosarium virginis Mariae
for the infidels
And for Octobriana fucking Vladimir
in Lenin square
people’s popular party
turning into progressive political pornography

And I recall that Indian summer when
Gurgench pissed in every river
From Rome to Rimini
Leaving graffiti under every bridge
Tras Tyberis
Erranti eretici erotici he hummed
A feast for Fellini’s eye

My October
Tyrants Iulius and Augustus
Have turned you to the tenth month
And now like you I find
My days of the dog-star left behind

So this year let us make a truce
Month and mother of calendula and tourmaline
My brain has lost its sequence
Scorpius still chases my tail
And I still ferry the stars into the sky
Do save my vitality for another Indian summer

Lamenting a lack but daring to hope
Between a mountain too stolid
And a sea too restless
Days are too brief
We all shall be
What this is now
Time is only in the heart
In this my time of vintage

So let me tell you
The world is still crazy
And there is more to Octobriana
Than I can still
Or ever imagine

October Eve, 2006

Poetry in this post: © Stephanos Stephanides
Published with the permission of Stephanos Stephanides