Black Angel – A Life of Arshile Gorky, video

Interesting video on the Tate Channel about Arshile Gorky by fellow Armenian Nouritza Matossian, writer of Black Angel: A Life of Arshile Gorky. Her family, like Gorky’s, survived the Armenian genocide. http://channel.tate.org.uk/media/26093514001

Please feel free to add your comments, impressions, views about the film in the comments box below.

For more Reading Room Blog entries click here http://www.stellapierides.com/blog

How do languages die out? And why?

How do languages die out?The last member of a tribe that survived for over 65,000 years has died, taking a unique language with her. Bo had been one of the indigenous languages spoken in the Andaman Islands when the British colonised the islands. Initially the islands were used as penal colonies to accommodate survivors of the Indian War of Independence. The tribes were moved, forced to occupy a different, smaller island and subjected to so-called ‘civilising’ policies. Several were forced to live in the ‘Andaman Home.’ Interestingly, though not surprisingly, out of 150 Bo babies born in the Home, none survived beyond the age of 2. Food for thought. Read the article:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article7015540.ece

Or this one in The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/04/ancient-language-extinct-speaker-dies

Which diseases do languages die of? Colonisation, present and past, ‘civilising,’ paternalistic policies may be the most virulent and aggressive ones. How many people speak the indigenous languages of the American natives? How many languages are threatened by blind prejudice?

How many great poems, stories were lost when the Bo language became extinct ? How much knowledge about history, ancient perspectives, animals, plants was lost, we will never know. In our arrogance, we are comfortable in the belief that our knowledge is the best, that we know better – and thus lose our connection with our roots, history and common humanity.

From another perspective, globalisation, time, culture, technologies are great equalisers, disseminators of information to the great Social Darwinian battlefield of humanity. The stronger language, community, culture wins. In an article in The New York Times, this process is seen at work in China:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/18/world/asia/18manchu.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

On the other hand, many languages have also been saved. The Hebrew language was actively revived as a spoken, everyday language in the late nineteenth century, when Classical Hebrew and its later developments, together with other spoken Hebrew became the Modern Hebrew used today. Latin was saved from extinction through its use in the Holy See (but not the Vatican City State), apart from being preserved in classical education. Barely recognisable variations of Ancient Greek might (!) still be spoken by small pockets of descendents of Alexander the Great’s army in remote parts of Asia; Doric Greek is often uncovered in dialects spoken in the Peloponnese and other Western areas of present-day Greece. Welsh (in the United Kingdom), Maori (in New Zealand), and other languages came back from the brink.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8311000/8311069.stm

Though the work of digital archives is commendable in preserving dying and/or dead languages in digital museums, such as “Open Language Archives Community” (OLAC) – it is, sadly, helpless in keeping them alive out there in the world.

Luckily, there are are other means of helping: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/5509 and
http://www.survivalinternational.org/weareone

Carry a Poem

Responding to the “Carry a Poem”, Edinburgh’s city of literature reading campaign 

question: “How do you carry yours?” I sent in the piece below. I also enjoyed reading
other people’s poem stories. Have a look, you might find something to your heart’s
liking: http://carryapoem.com/category/stories/

Blue NightSTELLA’S STORY: BLUE NIGHT Thursday, 28 January 2010
I have different poems to suit different occasions. Poems,
fragments, even lines of poems I keep in my books, notice-board, notebook, iPod,
in my heart and head. And I keep renewing them, thanks to the wonderful output of our poets.
Last Christmas, I loved Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’;
last year, for rainy days, I carried Don Paterson’s ‘Rain’; the last few years,
Mary Oliver’s ‘Wild Geese’, hearing their ‘harsh and exciting’ cries as a wake
up call to the world. For decades, I pondered over Giorgos Seferis’ ‘In the Manner of G.S.’. So many others… Whenever I need reminding of my place in nature, in the order of things, whenever my expectations become too great, I reach for Sean O’Brien’s
‘Blue Night’. Downloaded from the Guardian, it lights up my computer screen. Therefore. Therefore, I become small, or tall. I draw strength and inspiration. Thank you Sean O’Brien. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jan/14/tseliotprizeforpoetry.awardsandprizes1
from Blue Night by Sean O’Brien Therefore. Therefore. Do not be weak. They have no time for pity or belief,

Who are the real Greeks? in The Guardian

Reading Room Blog

Reading Room Blog

To suggest something for my Reading Room Blog, please email me and I will try my best to follow it up. Otherwise, pick an entry, sit back, and read!

Matina Stevis, in The Guardian, asks: Who are the real Greeks? Sparking a thought provoking debate, she discusses the proposed legislation offering citizenship to the children of immigrants:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/20/greece-citizenship-immigrants-debate

I copy below my comment on Matina’s article from the Guardian website:

20 Jan 2010, 9:14PM

Greece is not an island. Unlike the UK, it is a country at the crossroads of the East with the West, at the intersection of three continents. It has a long history of wars of occupation and independence; of expansion, contraction, populations mixing, fleeing, persecution and exchange. In such an environment, the question ‘Who are the real Greeks?’ becomes either irrelevant or plays into the hands of those who try to manipulate history and race.

History helps us understand, though by no means justify or excuse, the state of a country and its people. Today, history is alive in Greece, and knowledge of the country’s past – the four hundred year Ottoman occupation, the Balkan wars, two World Wars, the war with Turkey and the resulting ‘Catastrophe’ of 1922, the treaty of Lausanne, the Civil War, the Junta –  helps us trace the roots of the divisions in modern Greek society. Unfortunately, large chunks of this history are kept in different places because they are being disputed, not accepted as true by the still warring parties in this country, as well as Greece’s neighbours. A quick read through the responses to this blog will illustrate the diversity of histories, ethnic woes and, really, the whole problem.

The Greek fault line may nowadays be seen in the reactions of some Greeks to foreign workers; in a feature shown on Greek TV some time ago, one could see footage of Greek migrants to America in the early twentieth century and the negative reactions to them by Americans that paralleled Greeks’ reactions to Albanian immigrants. The schism is also expressed in Greece’s policies towards some neighbouring countries  and now in the opposition of Greeks, thankfully not a majority, to the legislative proposal to allow citizenship to children born to immigrants.

Let us hope that those interested in Greece will feel encouraged by Matina’s article to trace the threads of this regrettable reaction to Greece’s history and the countless conflicts and migrations that made it a country and constructed its identity, and its fears of losing its recognizable format. At the same time, let us applaud the Greeks who, by proposing and supporting this progressive law, demonstrate their affinity with ideas of shared humanity and acceptance of the other.

2 Writers, many years later:

Reading Room Blog

Two writers writing about the refugees:

Renee Hirschon, Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

Hirschon draws on her research as an anthropologist in one of the refugee areas of Piraeus, Kokkinia, in 1972. Living within the refugee community, Hirschon was able to observe people’s customs and traditions, listen to their stories, and witness their lives. The fact that they referred to themselves as refugees and they were addressed as such in 1972, fifty years from the 1922 catastrophic events in Asia Minor, becomes the pivot of the book, and underpins the facts she discusses.

Hirschon was able to follow the grievances, alienation, marginalisation and suffering of this group of people living in Piraeus, and their attempts to cope with their situation by forging a separate identity within the Greek nation. While later years brought prosperity and the option to move out of the area, large numbers decided to stay in overcrowded properties for economic, socio-political, and to some degree, psychological reasons. Hirschon’s work focuses on a moment in time in the lives of this group of Mikrasiates, which tells a story of their continuing need for an identity and a way of coming to terms with their situation.

From the iconostasi (icon corner/alcove) to the proxenio (the procedure of arranging the marriage), to the dowry, to the seeming contradiction of religious practice with left-wing commitment, and to the surprising ratio of chairs per head, the book presents and explores a society both alive and struggling to maintain its identity. Hirschon relates a woman refugee saying that while the catastrophic events in Asia Minor and their consequences were traumatic experiences to the older generation, they are heard only as fairy tales by their offspring.

This book paints an alive picture of the people and the society it describes.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Leyla Neyzi, ‘Remembering Smyrna/Izmir: Shared History, Shared Trauma’ in History and Memory, Bloomington: 2008, 20:2

Gülfem Kaatcilar Iren, a woman from Smyrna/Izmir, born in 1915, talks to Leyla Neyzi about her experiences of war, and the destruction of Smyrna and Manisa in  particular, events central to the history of Greece and Turkey. These events are referred to in Greece as the Smyrna ‘disaster’, while in Turkey as the ‘liberation’ of Izmir. This paper provides a unique account of the co-existence of two contradictory discourses framing the identity of the witness interviewed, as well as a wonderful illustration of shared humanity between people on the opposite sides of the political divide of the Aegean.

In a sensitive manner and with an ability to hold conflicting approaches in balance, Neyzi identifies two separate discourses in this narrative: a nationalist discourse which rationalises the events in Izmir and the ‘silence’ that followed them, and a discourse based on personal experience, which empathizes with those who lost the war and were forced to emigrate to another country (in this case, Greece) for safety.

Neyzi explores the coexistence and intersection between the two discourses while placing them within the wider socio-political context of the discussion about identity and history in modern-day Turkey.

Girl

Girl

I wrote this poem in response to the painting titled Woman by Robert Campin. The painting can be found in the National Gallery, London. Here is the link: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/robert-campin-a-woman

My poem, Girl, can be found in the print Journal Off the Coast, International/Translation Issue, Spring 2009.

Girl

after ‘Woman’ by Robert Campin, 1378-1444, National Gallery

She rarely smiles. A thick, white veil
frames her face, stops her innocence
from straying too far;
remembering the world outside.

Here she lives, here she is
and here she stays: four walls,
bench, Bible, rosary, Cross,
pair of clogs, glass, pebble,
compass, chair, table.

She would be lost, but
for her little pleasure:
a bowl of coconut ice
refectory Sister leaves
on her windowsill.

'Girl,' in Off the Coast

Of Love and Fish

IMG_0762.jpgIt might be true to say that Lakis, the seventeen year old new arrival to Athens, was born with an innate distrust of women. That, or it was his mother who influenced him. Without indulging in cheap psychology, let us give the idea a try. His history provides more than enough evidence. Lakis often goes over it, again and again. Do not be deceived by his job, and its meagre demands on his intellect. Crying daily “Sardines. Lovely sardines!” at the fish market may be simple enough, but it is what hides behind it that informs his character.

The weak muscle of his eye was the first thing his mother disliked. Born of a good family, her father a sea captain, she had always lusted after his men. She admired strong muscles in every form. She fell pregnant by one of them. Her father beat her with a chair and then locked her in a room overlooking the sea.

“He is an old-fashioned, hard-headed Greek,” her mother told her. “What can we do? You should have kept your skirts down, my girl.”

Out she pressed her tongue, in defiance. But there was no defying the will of her father. “I will show him, I will,” she repeated day and night, greeting her teeth, biting the insides of her cheeks. “I will show him.” And when her “muscle” man did not show up, when she heard he had sailed to Africa, the saying changed to, “I will show them!” Which she did. She “showed” everyone, including her son Lakis, of the weak eye muscle, by depriving them of her presence. By hiding away in her head.

The boy was starved of love. His mother was bent on revenge, his grandmother on mourning her absent captain of a husband. The boy played on his own and spoke to himself. All day, every day, in that lonely room, on top of the sad house overlooking the sea, overlooking the abode of his father. Sometimes he drew lines on the wooden floorboards. With his little finger. Invisible lines, like the lines ships draw on the surface of the sea. Sometimes he hummed songs he never heard in reality, rubbing with his index finger his favourite nail on the window frame. Sometimes he looked out of the window, like his own mother had looked at the sea, when she was longing for love herself and lost her mind to revenge. A ship passed every now and then. Clouds passed often. Boats passed every day. Boats with solitary men, escaping their pregnant wives. He tried to see if one of them was his father. But no one looked up at his window. No one seemed to look for him. Some boats were laden with catch. Fish that shone and trembled. Lakis felt sorry for the fish. Each one outside the water it loved. Each one like him, lonely, frightened, not knowing where it would end up. His grandmother, who never knew the names of fish, told him they were sardines. She brought him the food that someone from downstairs cooked. She stayed with him for a few minutes, by the window, looking out to sea.

“You have the best view, you lucky one!” she told him. “What do I need a view of the sea. My husband sees it in his travels all day.” His mother never came. Not once after she was allowed out of that room. She scoured the four corners of their house, she haunted its creaky staircases, its corridors, speaking to the walls and their ceilings. But she never spoke to Lakis or anybody else.

When it was time for him to go to school, he simply did not go. He did not know anything about schools. How was he to know? Nobody told him. Nobody saw him. Nobody knew of him. Except a few close family members and they pretended not to know. They turned a blind eye to his existence, because it meant shame. So he grew up on his own, unschooled. With the sea, the silence and the sad, dying fish for company. Until, just around ten, he ran away.

It was so simple. He could have done it years ago had he known how simple it was! He just did not let his grandmother go out and lock the door behind her. He pushed past her and ran and ran till he could no longer breath. There he stopped and stood. He looked around him. It was a big opening of the sea with many boats standing still. Men were sitting on the ground, like he sat in his room, mending their nets. He went and sat next to one of them. The quietest one, the one sitting furthest apart from the others. Neither of them spoke. Much later, the man turned to him:

“You are a quiet boy. What is your name?”

“Lakis.” And that was the beginning of the love story that kept the boy alive. He answered the questions well enough for Kyrios Nikos, a refugee himself, to understand the tragedy of the situation.

“My name is Nikos,” he said and shook hands with the boy. “You can stay with me.”

Lakis stayed with Kyrios Nikos for a few years, helping with the fishing and the mending. Helping with the loneliness and the desolation of an uprooted life. It was during those years that he learnt about the world.

“Another capital, Kyrie Niko? How many capitals has the world got?”

“Many, Laki mou. Many. The world is a big place.”

“How do you remember them all?”

“I remember the important ones. Smyrni, the Paris of Anatolia.”

However, despite the best intentions, Kyrios Nikos was not that good a teacher for Laki. The problem was he kept mixing metaphors with facts.

“So, was Smyrni a capital? Your Smyrni?” Lakis tried to clarify things in his mind.

“Yes!” Kyrios Nikos exclaimed. “The capital of my heart!”

Eventually, Kyrios Nikos, with the extra pair of hands that Lakis provided, managed to get enough savings together for both of them to travel to the undisputed capital of hearts and Greece, Athens. There, they opened shop, or stall – it is a matter of perspective – and sold their wares. How proud Lakis was of their achievement. “Sardines, lovely Sardines!” he could shout for days, if it had not been for the limitations of his throat.

“Boss?” he had started calling Kyrios Nikos. “Boss? Another coffee? Water, Boss?”

Kyrios Nikos adored him. The son he never had. The family he had missed out on having. This is why he kept asking the boy about his lodgings at Alexandrias 40.

“They treat you well, my son? The women respect you? They lower their eyes?” he asked Laki a few days after he started lodging there. Worried that his boy would be mistreated once again. Kyrios Nikos had lost trust himself in the world, especially in its women, who seemed to respect money more than they respected a soul. “We are both refugees, my son. You from your family, I from the greed of Greeks and Turks. We have to support one another. At least your  landlords are refugees themselves, they know all about pain.”

“They treat me well, Boss. I don’t need anything.” Kyrios Nikos, unable to run a shop and pay an employee at the same time, not to mention paying the refugee mafia that plagues the market, sleeps in the shop. Which means he sleeps rough. But he does not mind. After all these years he is used to it. In addition, he has made some very good friends there. Poor, but honest and hard-working, and above all with hearts like his. Big.

So when it comes to questions of love, of trust, of loyalty, Lakis turns to Kyrios Nikos. He has not met his mother since he left home, anyway. He has only a confused sense of her presence, a craving for love fused with violent repulsion. Poor Lakis. Hard as he may try, he cannot see her in his mind’ eye, he cannot feel her on his skin. “Mother,” he tries speaking to her, at night, in his small room, his candle flickering from his rocking on the floor. “Mother,” he says louder. She never answers him. He never gives up.

Is it mistrust he suffers from? Is it withheld love? And if so, is it his mother’s or his father’s withholding? or is it him born mistrustful, his squinting eye not letting him get hold of the depth of the complexity of this world? We may never find out. Though we do know he has known love and, by now, he knows fish too.

A version of this story was published in Spiked, issue 15. It is an extract from the novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree.

Other Writers

Here I collect notes, poems, articles, pictures, news I find interesting, exciting, thought-provoking – without necessarily agreeing with them.

New Poetry Book, Hyphen, by Tania van Schalkwyk

A wonderful meditation on origins, place and the spaces in between. Tania has the gift of writing poems that refresh the soul. Here is a link to her book:

http://www.uctwriters.co.za/hyphen

Gabriel Josipovici, ‘Borges and the Plain Sense of Things’  in readysteadyblog. A great read:

http://www.readysteadybook.com/Article.aspx?page=josipovicionborges

Carol Ann Duffy’s poem 12 Days of Christmas makes my day, everyday. What an alive, current, all-encompassing ode to reality! Thank you Carol Ann Duffy!

http://www.radiotimes.com/content/features/carol-ann-duffy-the-twelve-days-of-christmas/ and article

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/dec/06/poet-laureate-duffy-christmas-poem

News

Novel Alexandrias 40: In the Shade of the Lemon Tree

to be published in 2010 by Vox Humana Books http://www.voxhumana-books.com

“In these tales of love, loss, and survival, Pierides embroiders a tableau detailing the lives of a refugee family in Athens, circa 1957. The novel is set in the house of the family on Alexandrias Street, where they came to settle years after their flight from Smyrni, now Izmir, Turkey. Framed by this house — a concoction of tin, cement, wood and mud, a paradise, a refuge and a prison to those who nestle in it — they struggle to come to terms with their predicament, attempting to establish themselves in Greece. Without idealising its characters, the novel unfolds — a tragicomic story, full of ethnic colour, warm sensuality and psychological insight. The book encompasses the “Catastrophe” of Asia Minor, the Greek Civil War, accusations and blackmail, adoption and betrayal, as well as the refugees’ love and bitterness towards their country. The characters’ traumatic past and struggle for survival, in a country that is both home and hostile to them, requires their ability to tap into psychological resources of generosity, masochism, denial and ruthlessness — and above all — humour and forgiveness. In a quick-paced narrative straddling both the genres of novel and short story, Stella Pierides recreates a world within a world, miles apart from the well-trodden tourist trail to Greece.”

“…Vox Humana Books…eclectic literature with a human voice”

Soul Song, in Poetry Monthly International, issue 15, January 2010 (p. 18). [Poem] http://www.poetrymonthly.com/15 PMI January 2010.pdf

The Refugee, Winter Picture, and Mystery Train, to appear in  Vox Humana Literary, Spring Issue, 2010. [3 Poems] http://www.voxhumana-lit.com

Girl, in the print Journal  Off the Coast, International/Translation Issue, Spring 2009. [Poem]

Song of the Aegean, in Poetry Monthly, issue 150, 2008. [Poem]

Reading Room

Renee Hirschon, Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)

Hirschon draws on her research as an anthropologist in one of the refugee areas of Piraeus, Kokkinia, in 1972. Living within the refugee community, Hirschon was able to observe people’s customs and traditions, listen to their stories, and witness their lives. The fact that they referred to themselves as refugees and they were addressed as such in 1972, fifty years from the 1922 catastrophic events in Asia Minor, becomes the pivot of the book, and underpins the facts she discusses.

Hirschon was able to follow the grievances, alienation, marginalisation and suffering of this group of people living in Piraeus, and their attempts to cope with their situation by forging a separate identity within the Greek nation. While later years brought prosperity and the possibility to move out of the area, large numbers decided to stay in overcrowded properties for economic, socio-political, and to some degree, psychological reasons. Hirschon’s work focuses on a moment in time in the lives of this group of Mikrasiates, which tells a story of their continuing need for an identity and a way of coming to terms with their situation.

From the iconostasi (icon corner/alcove) to the proxenio (the procedure of arranging the marriage), to the dowry, to the seeming contradiction of religious practice with left-wing commitment, and to the surprising ratio of chairs per head, the book presents and explores a society both alive and struggling to maintain its identity. Hirschon relates a woman refugee saying that while the catastrophic events in Asia Minor and their consequences were traumatic experiences to the older generation, they are heard only as fairy tales by their offspring.

This book paints an alive picture of the people and the society it describes.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Leyla Neyzi, ‘Remembering Smyrna/Izmir: Shared History, Shared Trauma’ in History and Memory, Bloomington: 2008, 20:2

Gülfem Kaatcilar Iren, a woman from Smyrna/Izmir, born in 1915, talks to Leyla Neyzi about her experiences of war, and the destruction of Smyrna and Manisa in  particular, events central to the history of Greece and Turkey. These events are referred to in Greece as the Smyrna ‘disaster’, while in Turkey as the ‘liberation’ of Izmir. This paper provides a unique account of the co-existence of two contradictory discourses framing the identity of the witness interviewed, as well as a wonderful illustration of shared humanity between people on the opposite sides of the political divide of the Aegean.

In a sensitive manner and with an ability to hold conflicting approaches in balance, Neyzi identifies two separate discourses in this narrative: a nationalist discourse which rationalises the events in Izmir and the ‘silence’ that followed them, and a discourse based on personal experience, which empathizes with those who lost the war and were forced to emigrate to another country (in this case, Greece) for safety.

Neyzi explores the coexistence and intersection between the two discourses while placing them within the wider socio-political context of the discussion about identity and history in modern-day Turkey.

Sources and related material to Alexandrias 40 and my Greek Short Stories:

Online

Alice James, 2001, ‘Memories of Anatolia: generating Greek refugee identity’, in

http://balkanologie.revues.org/index720.html

Thalia Pandiri, 2007, ‘Narratives of Loss and Survival: Greek voices from the Asia Minor Catastrophe’, in

http://www.interlitq.org/issue1/thalia_pandiri/job.php

Raymond Bonner, 1996, ‘Tales of Stolen Babies and Lost Identities; A Greek Scandal Echoes in New York’ in

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/04/13/nyregion/tales-of-stolen-babies-and-lost-identities-a-greek-scandal-echoes-in-new-york.html

Print

Bruce Clark, Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey (London: Granta Books, 2007)

Dimitra Giannuli, ‘“Strangers at Home” The Experiences of Ottoman Greek Refugees during their Exodus to Greece, 1922-1923,’ in Journal of Modern Greek Studies, 13:2 (1995: Oct.)

Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City (New York: Newmark Press, 1988)

Esther P Lovejoy, Certain Samaritans (New York: Macmillan, 1933)

Leyla Neyzi, ‘Remembering Smyrna/Izmir: Shared History, Shared Trauma’ in History and Memory, Bloomington: 2008, 20:2

Arnold J Toynbee The Western Question in Greece and Turkey: A Study in the contact of civilizations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1922)

Fiction

Louis de Bernieres, Birds without Wings (New York: Random House, 2004)

Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (London: Bloomsbury, 2002)

Ernest Hemingway, ‘On the Quai at Smyrna’, in The Short Stories (New York: Scribner, 2003)

Nikos Kazantzakis, Christ Re-crucified,

Dido Sotiriou, Farewell Anatolia

Films

Theo Angelopoulos The Weeping Meadow

Costas Ferris, Rembetiko

Elia Kazan, America America

History is on His Side

This poem was written on the tenth anniversary of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death. It  is included in the anthology Dance the Guns to Silence, edited by nii ayikwei Parkes and Kadija Sesay, London: Flipped Eye Publishing, 2005.

History is on His Side

‘No,’ he said, No to oppression, No to injustice,
No to violence. Even as he stood before the guards.
The sun was rising proper in the East, blushing the soil scarlet.

Sozaboy was with soldiers, arguing with the heart
of darkness. We all stand before history, he thought, and
‘No,’ he murmured through cracked lips. ‘No.’

He could not wipe his sweat mimicking sorrow’s tears.
His tied hands tried. His crowded heart pounding with the fear
of the unknowable. He mouthed ‘No,’ just before
their fifth attempt to hang him. Who will claim
the corpse of free speech, but those with a pen
to their name? History is on his side. And ours. Yes.

It Could Have Been Love

Looking both ways, she crossed the road. Jeeps buzzed like insects. The brown earth sizzled.

“Don’t look around; keep your eyes lowered! Walk fast! Don’t speak to foreigners!” she heard her mother’s voice repeating in her head.

“Yes, Mother.”  Since her father’s death, she stopped arguing with her mother. Poor woman, she often thought. It’s no small thing she suffered – her husband blown to pieces! Rana hurried her step, pulling her headscarf to shield her face from the relentless sun.

“Miss, Miss,” she heard the foreign soldier’s call. Glancing sideways, she checked he was calling her. He was. Leaving the cover of the date palm grove, he walked towards her. Rana continued walking away, her heart pounding with fear and pleasure. In that instant, she thought him handsome! Underneath the heavy armour, behind the gun, she saw the young man he was.

“Miss,” he called urgently, and started running towards her.

“Don’t speak to foreigners,” her mother again.

“Miss, Stop!”

Out of the corner of her eye she saw him near her, his eyes cooling blue oases; and then a surprise. A stillness. She can remember nothing else.

The doctor at Rana’s bedside says the American was killed by a sniper.  He had been trying to warn her when he was hit. She was lucky he took the bullets.

She can only see the young man running towards her; she can feel the fluttering of her own heart.

This story was short-listed in the Fish publishing inaugural VERY Short Story Competition, 2004.

A version of it appears in the print issue of Another Country, A Journal of New Writing, 2005, Munich, Germany.

If Trees, Then Olive Trees

This poem was published in the Big Pond Rumours ezine, summer 2006. It won second Prize in the Big Pond Rumours Poetry Competition.

I wrote it for Tania and Jaque’s  house-warming party and it is dedicated to them.

If Trees, Then Olive Trees

You ploughed the seas. You crossed the skies. Saw the shipwrecks. Gathered
your wealth in words. Then, like Odysseus seeing the smoke rising, you decided
to become trees. To grow roots, you wrote. To grow. And while the bulldozers

work round you, while the Fates, the Wars, the Envious, the Arrogant,
lay siege to you, as they always do and always will, remember to stand your ground
like thousand year-old olives, twisting golden brown trunks and holding hands. Expand,
burrow deeper and fashion a silky smooth quilt, a glowing oil lamp, a warming hearth,
a spacious kitchen, a deep well and a cool, vine-clad terrace.

Odyssey is a memory. A treasure and a well-kept secret. Your home always yearned
for you. Your olive-tree bed rooted to the ground. Penelope with outstretched
arms will hug you. The lyre and the xylophone. The drum and the flute will lead you.
And you will dance, and dance and sing the life she could only dream of.

And if, like the man of old, you find your journey not yet over,
embark on each new voyage with zest. Plan each trip in language,
build your boats with words. Thread your sails with rays from your joyous souls.
And for fuel, for fuel employ the subtle beating of your hearts.

Dance the Guns to Silence

Stella’s poem History is on His Side included in Dance the Guns to Silence: 100 Poems Inspired by Ken Saro-Wiwa. Edited by: Nii Ayikwei Parkes & Kadija George. Published by Flipped Eye Publishing, African Writers Abroad and SableLitMag, the Anthology commemorates the tenth anniversary of the writer’s execution and celebrates his life. More information about Ken Saro Wiwa and his work on http://www.remembersarowiwa.com/poetry.htm

Poems by George Seferis

I am reading “In the Manner of G. S.” and “Thrush” both poems by George Seferis, in George Seferis: Collected Poems. Translated and edited by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, Princeton University Press, 1995.

We shall see what comes of it. Very soon!

Literature, Art, Culture, Society, and lots of Haiku