- Greece -
Translated by Orfeas Apergis
(Which of us perished first) / (Ποιος μας εχάθη πρώτος)
When my husband returned it was a hard winter,
The children didn’t know him, the stones had forgotten him.
I was the first to forget him, and his name too.
He crossed our threshold with empty hands.
Out of charity, I gave the stranger food to eat.
He asked me nothing about the thousand years we’d spent apart.
He asked nothing about his three younglings,
if they were hungry, if they were thirsty, if they went to school.
Off his plate jumps a cord, long and oily,
A cord, huge and strong, which wraps around his neck.
I pull the end of it, it strangles him, he dies.
The noose leaves him alone and jumps at me.
"Leave me," I say to it, "for I am of the underworld."
"Be thou dead," it says, "I’ll spoil thee still."
It wailed and tightened round my neck to undo me,
But my skin was tough, my veins were stumpy,
My blood was hard as snow, my breath hard as a lump of coal.
"Be thou a ghost," it says, "I’ll choke thee still."
"I'm not a ghost," I say, "I'm Helen."
"What kind of Helen are you, dead in the midst of Tymphaea?"
"Among the dead I’m dead, and Tymphaea is deader still."
No sooner had I spoken, it tied around my tongue—
"What do you want, you little noose," I ask, "what do you want of me?"
"I want to drag you to the foxhole by your tongue
That you may find no tongue, no dirty talk against our village."
"Run, noose, to the spring, go to the well
Draw water there, see if it comes out black.
If you bring back clear water, not black tar,
It means the germ of my heart is still alive,
Blood flows in my veins, and Tymphaea reigns."
The noose runs to the spring, thrusts itself into the well
And draws black water and dregs of tar,
It comes back dirty, and hangs me by the feet:
"If thy name is Helen, if thou are dead,
Why do you sit at home and not dive into the grave?"
"To my grave I shan’t go alone, alone I shall not go there;
In the grave my friends and loved ones will put me
And my children will have decorated me in white
And they will see me off with lemon leaves."
The noose rushes into the streets, runs up and down the alleys
To find where friends and loved ones live in the village
So they can come and put me under a tombstone.
But no friends and loved ones were found
Only the women of the village closed the door on me
and they cast stones at me, a bitch’s soul they called me.
For I, poor thing, had given away that they were dead,
That the whole village was dead, and life a carcass.
I am the Helen I can, in my mad drifting;
I ask no pity, I know no love,
I don’t flee the stoning, I seek no balm,
Out of my bowels comes the noose and the choking of my husband
and the plague of our village and the death of Christos,
My lover, now dead, whom dead I longed for still,
He’d lifted up his heavy hand upon me;
All of them spit their rotten innards into me.
No blood flows here, and none is shed.
You ask to know and there’s no answer
For the beginnings of this death and this here heavy crime.
Out of my sight, damn you a thousandfold,
No one can tell the tale who’s got no spit left;
Take flax and petrol, set Tymphaea ablaze
And go elsewhere to seek the wiles of Death
For in this village they're all dead
None will accept this, none will speak, no one shall tell you
Which of us perished first.Translated by Orfeas Apergis