- Cyprus -
Despina Pirketti was born in Cyprus in 1973. She holds a BA in Translation Studies (Ionian University, Corfu) and an MA in English Literature and Comparative Cultural Studies (University of Cyprus). She works as literary translator between Greek, English and French. Recent translations include: Ιστορίες της Αμμοχώστου/Stories of Famagusta by Dimitris Leventis (Armida, Nicosia, 2020); Η Μυθολογία της Κύπρου/The Mythology of Cyprus by Stass Paraskos (The Orage Press, UK, 2018); Ο Άνεμος κάτω απ' τα χείλη μου/The Wind Under my Lips by Stephanos Stephanides (Rodakio, Athens, 2018); Κουμπωμένα Σχήματα/Buttoned-up Shapes by George Tardios (Armida, Nicosia, 2017); Census/Απογραφή by Panos Ioannides (Armida, Nicosia, 2017.)
She has talked about her work in conferences and one-day events, such as: Borders and Bridges in World Literature and Art – UCY Conference: “Manifestations of Greek in the English original of The Wind Under my Lips: translating back into the mother tongue” (2018); PEN Cyprus One-Day event on Literary Translation: “Mother-Tongue Interference in English originals: the cases of S. Stephanides and G. Tardios” (2017); Language Professions-Future and Perspectives Event organized by the European Commission-D-G for Translation: “Translating literature: intratextual and extratextual dilemmas” (2014); Language and Translation as Means of Retaining One's Identity – Conference organized by Ideogramma: “Translating Cypriot dialectal poetry into English: the case of “Anerada” by V. Michaelides” (2012.)
Translated by Despina Pirketti
The onset / Το ξεκίνημα
The Gods were pretty clear:
Don’t look behind
until we reach the top.
Otherwise you’ll regret it.
I’ve always been prone to disobedience.
I saw everything.
At first as far back as thirty-five years.
Then even further back.
I exploded in front of them like a supernova.
And when I came to,
I was without a voice.
Oddly though, I can write.
The first death / Ο πρώτος θάνατος
I wonder what the first man thought
when he laid eyes upon a lifeless body,
the first man to experience loss.
What did he make of Death
when he was yet to grasp its very concept.
What kinds of games did he make up
to relieve his beloved
from this odd sleep.
How did he feel
while the body rotted in his hands.
For how long did it last -
the anticipation of resurrection
for the first eyewitness of death.
Fossil / Απολίθωμα
And if the Earth is truly
4,55 billion years of age
I’m looking for a crack in the vastness of ti me
to fit myself into
Perhaps, one day,
Palaeontology will include us
in its field of study
In such case
let this poem
make it to that time
as a fossil.
Erection / Erection
I just came
Homo Erectus is happily asleep
but Homo Solitarius has been awakened.
Oppression / Καταπίεση
So much semen,
so much global semen
going to waste!
So much that it would suffice, dammit,
to fill up a second Tiber River.
This is what the Pope of Rome was thinking.
In the meantime, I struggled to keep mine inside of me.
The priest was clear:
masturbation is a sin!
He had come to high school
to take our obligatory confession.
Why on earth did I tell him?
Thirty-three times repeat
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me”
holding the rosary beads
and faith will miraculously abolish your hard-on.
the Tiber overflowed and
broke down all my dams.
Poetics / Ποιητική
Now that I’m sick of buttering you up
here it is:
I am the one who placed
the first carnation into the muzzle
during the Carnation Revolution.
I am the one who stood unarmed
in front of the hordes of tanks
during the Tiananmen Square protests.
(I had run out of bullets
after centuries of conflicts
and came up with the option of non-violent resistance.)
Now out with it.
Dear poet, what did you do?
Aside from writing
do you also act?
Or does your writing suffice?
Suicidal Poetesses / Αυτόχειρες ποιήτριες
We sat by the Charles
On the river’s surface my life history played on.
Now and then the screen was rippled by fish jumping over the water.
Anne (Sexton) sat on one side
Sylvia (Plath) on the other
we drank beer
At some point
a woman was seen walking by the edge of the river
with an armful of big rocks.
“Virginia!” exclaimed the ladies (Woolf.)
Without second thought they ran towards her
and by the time it took me to decide what to do
they had already sub-
I didn’t follow them.
Besides, it’s not my fault.
Post-apocalyptical / Εσχατολογικό
It was the last days of the world.
Impossible to draw money from the ATMs.
They spat napkins.
The world was nothing but nonstop looting.
Every man for himself.
it was the last days of the world.
I met the last man on earth.
I asked him the last question:
- Am I waiting in vain? Will the end of the world come or not?
- The end of the world is us.
And he gulped me down.
As we speak, I’m in his stomach.
I’m fine, can’t complain,
but I’m still waiting for
Scream / Κραυγή
All night it resounded
under the stairs.
- Mum, what’s that scream in our house?
- It’s nothing honey, probably a mouse caught in a trap.
Lies. All lies.
But the scream lingered on for years.
No one could hear it but me.
Whale-watching / Whale-watching
We drifted out to sea
to see the whales
but apart from the waves
there was nothing there to ripple the crust
of the Atlantic.
I was cold and you gave me your knit
and I don’t know,
was it because it was so soft?
Or because of your perfume?
I thought I owed to follow you to Geneva.
With all the lives I haven’t lived
and all the whales I’ve never seen
I have put together an entire photo album.
Is it my fault it’s thicker
than my life’s photo book?
Resilience / Ανθεκτικότητα
We’re not worried.
You, as always,
will be saved by writing.
It’s been some days now
I have ceased to write.
to show everyone
I too am breakable
even I can still
break any time now.
But perhaps with this poem
I have accidentally become a strikebreaker.
People / Πρόσωπα
So many times I have had to patch me up
with everything that came in handy × * # ¥ ● ▒ ╗∆
that I have come to be
of my patches.
There’s nothing left from my prime matter.
And even though I’m still the same person
there are no leftovers
from all the people I used to be.
Probabilities / Πιθανότητες
There are keys on this bunch
that I’ve never discovered what it is they unlock.
I’ve tried various things.
Doors, attics, letterboxes,
cars, keylocks, briefcases,
people, people, people.
As though my keys have expired.
I won’t throw them away.
You never know.
There are factories that make the keys first
and only then their matching latches.
Swallows / Χελιδόνια
The immigrants are gathering
in the field across from me
playing like little children.
I can’t tell what their game is.
Cricket, rugby or baseball?
I can’t tell their country of origin.
Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or India?
I can’t tell their residency status.
Economic, illegal or asylum seekers?
The only certain thing is that their game
announces the arrival of Spring.
Secret visitant / Μυστικός επισκέπτης
and it is always midnight
that holds the colours ripe
– nocturnal blue within a royal frame
encloses my head –
he sits enthroned upon the pillow
twirls me between the covers
pokes me in the eye
until I say
The Slaughter of the Century / Η Σφαγή του Αιώνα
I will cut him up into slices
and divide him into chunks
I will saw him up and
I will hide him in the shed
I will strangle him and
I will wear his eyes
just as he goes past.
Doggy / Σκυλί
At dawn a
time took me
from behind dragging
his frayed leash
I brought water, food
and stretched my palm
for him to sniff but
he wouldn’t eat nor drink
nor my palm
he asked for three letters
on his left ear eight digits
inscribed on the skin
Can Love Fail?
he barked Canis Lupus Familiaris I refused
eighty million two hundred and twelve
we say we die, but
each time we are born and breath out
Skein / Κουβάρι
If I don’t deliver it
I will die.
In the barn of my womb
with myrrh and ash gestates
akin to a star it convulses and
in the midnight hour it is born;
fine little skein
pricking the body
onto the floor I drip like blood I eject
to the ceiling and to the lamp fiercely
shudder, suffer, slay.
Hetairos / Εταίρος
Immortally they blaze
- the stars
immortal chariots anew of gold and silver.
For as long as Heaven and Earth shall be locked in a tireless embrace
for as long as cities shall crumble, cities be set ablaze,
eros and thanatos shall define our hearts with
blood and dust.
upon metallic chariots forged eternally against the skies,
plunder and weapon sworn to battle,
a coin redeemed solely
with the fulfillment of the sacred oracle:
“Only if Achilles goes to war
shall Greece be victorious;
should he stay in the homeland,
he shall be joyful,
firm and forgotten”.
Life, brief and precious,
a gift of the gods and forever theirs,
as they play heads or tails
at their time of boredom;
this, the mightiest, envious life,
brought Patroclus as a small child
years ago to our court
and now left him, a soulless corpse
beyond all recognition unburied in foreign land.
Hand in hand, as young boys
we picked lithe branches to make spears
piling the dried ones outside for firewood;
in July we’d lay an ancestor to rest
and every Sunday we’d collect urchins,
to taste water with salt
through our pricked fingers
and the primordial broth of life;
but she, like a spectrum,
welcomed us to virility’s doorstep
pulling at the rope of an imagination
as though slain years ago:
one of us dead in battle,
the other wasting in woe.
Life bitter, immortal,
upon the new chariots of gold and steel
I would if I could refuse their war,
craft an ornate deathbed
for your unanointed body,
to keep your wounds from gaping,
the wounds of bronze-thrust,
lest you fell prey to dogs and flies and locusts,
before your blood tasted sour, your lush skin,
for you were soft and sweet, yet you perished,
and as death took you,
he introduced himself as mine own:
Patroclus lies in death,
and around his bare body are they combating.
You, reduced to lowly flesh
defenseless before the mighty Nothingness.
I said be wary of the flush of war
and of the blood of slaughter,
mind the weapons for glory like a mortal
and by night return to me weary
with your combat boots bemired,
so that I may kiss your pure thighs again;
but you, worm-defiled and bare,
you dressed alone for the Underworld,
when all I wanted was for life to keep us clasped tightly together.
Now even if I tear my hair out with divine wrath,
this ache within me is greater than everything ahead,
until I have built a pyre
for a lavish memorial
with oxen, sheep and honey
proud devoted horses and stallions
twelve young Trojans mauled by Argive hand
one for every month, to keep you company
akin to sweet wine’s delight in Hades.
As for me – ashes,
an alien corpse facing my own life,
that used to be you,
with your sweet-savoured juices –
you should know, kind companion,
that my precious one breathed his last today.
candles and bodies
aligned still clocks
boundless mourning and endless wailing,
from my bosom upon your bosom,
the one bitterly doomed;
I shall not bury you
before your murderer’s lifeless head
here I fetch,
hot blood dripping down the nape of the neck,
libation to the unperturbed earth,
as horror indelibly
upon the forehead of the foe.
Thus from my mēnis
and the glorious bloodshed
was I reborn today as son of Thetis
ready to war and ravage.
Is it the pulse of lust or a rattle,
this thudding within my entrails
my veins, electrified cables
sparking for the last battle,
though with sweet water and ambrosia
they said I would forever be undead
glorified across the centuries,
instead of forgotten,
I, a rock of the Styx, a lion of Phthia,
I, who shall be called a demigod,
- I, whom you shall call a demigod -
I never lose,
I only conquer
armies and soldiers.
Because I live for the war
and the war lives off me.
As I had been destined with
life knows that
the war is me
and with my death I shall further fulfill the divine oracle;
by spearing away to conquer:
Heaven and earth,
the land and the stars.
In the Trojans
up there one night,
and countless other nights and days,
there we shall meet again,
your spear glowing from afar
617 times you shall say you love me,
588 times I shall kiss you in thought,
an asteroid myself
never able to reach you,
as my limbs had been destined by the scriptures
to forever erase
our life’s slaughter.
Congregations and constellations
could science afford us,
but it is our earthly passion that epically seals
the memories of men
and is immortally engraved
upon the new chariots of gold and silver
within a perennial circle
like war over eros and thanatos
defining our lives
with dust and blood.
The only thing I have yearned for
on this day on earth
is to be joined with you once more.
Spring in 2nd singular / Άνοιξη σε δεύτερο ενικό
My life has vanished
within dimly lit rooms
where shadows blend
than the people
within cold spring sunsets
where cigarette smoke
blends with the grey of the sky
and the grey of the city;
along the fingers of maimed moments
and existential questions
always hiding behind
the second person singular… You?
Judgment / Κρίση
Surrounded by banking institutions
amid the city’s grey clamour
I’m asking for life insurance.
They need me to take out a mortgage on my dreams,
two zeros that have grown weary of representing
go to bed together and conceive infinity.
I negotiate their worth
Sometimes I become zero other times I become infinite
Sometimes a lottery seller wishing you
“Good Luck” and other times a banker
rushing across the street
because “time is money”.
And sometimes a passing vehicle roaring
“Count no man happy until the end is known…”
War / Πόλεμος
I’d like to know –
Do people fall in love in Aleppo?
Who is the first person you think about
after the explosion?
At the brother’s funeral, did you feel life streaming down
with her tears?
Do butterflies still flutter inside your empty stomach?
Can you make out the sunset through the dust?
Listen: it takes just one person to fall in love
in all this mayhem,
just one “I love you” to survive
though left unsaid…
And the whole earth will be saved.
2/12/2016 / 2/12/2016
Jokes jokes jokes
the clown in Aleppo died today.
I wept until I could laugh no more.
Phallus-shaped balloon bombs
are mirrored on cried-out eyes.
There are no more bad jokes.
Laugh, already! What’s funnier than that?
Starve as much as you like, but bloody laugh already!
Are you afraid of clowns?
Well, I’m afraid of people.
Dentition / Οδοντοστοιχία
There are those of us
who cracked our young teeth
against a crescent moon
and now, in our old age,
we regurgitate the same soft
using our spoon
to a pulp.
News / Ειδήσεις
Prematurely progressing, an abundance of departures
from the country
where they slither and linger –
faint and quaint questions
on the fixed and flimsy
transubstantiation of the equation:
of accepting with expecting
of wandering with wondering
and naturally of the metanatural paucity
with the supernatural and willfully
completely compliant authority…
Confession / Εξομολόγηση
As a child, I was afraid of the dark
always slept with the light on.
Now a grownup, I howl at every
dawn-break and cross myself
As a child, I dreamed about spreading wings
and flying over the flowering pavement
in my neighbourhood.
Now a grownup, I perch: a stuffed
on the wall of an unknown café in the new cemented
order of wonders.
Last year, I was a hungry worm in the graves
of Adam’s forefathers.
This year, a rabid dog hunting myself
in the dreams of my childhood.
Next year, the corpse of a consumptive man, streaming myrrh
Agoraphobia / Αγοραφοβία
to make the city fall
asleep so early? You could say
it’s still a time of afternoon
and silence travels through
across the mouths of many
to reach my own and I don’t know:
this colour grey
still holding sway
how can it die without a body?
And then without delay I break down
into red fire, water and earth
as I exclaim to myself
waking up from a coma
“Like any notorious notion
so too the grey doth perish.
Just as the unsaid perishes
so then you too shall perish”.
Whatever happened do you think
that made the city fall asleep?
is by the Exodus fazed?
LEFKOSIA / ΤΗΣ ΛΕΥΚΩΣΙΑΣ
Who’s afraid of walking the city?
A dead zone
zoning the city
for years now;
squeezing its lungs
paralyzing its every thought.
It cancels time around it
even as “natural” development spreads out.
They walk the city and write words
to take back to their own land,
discern tourist attraction in the remnants of life.
Nicosia is encumbered by
a Siamese sister
that feeds on its body and its memory
Helpless, we prescribe
on occasion a few poems too.
Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?
I walk the city – he knows where to find me.
AMSTERDAM / ΑΜΣΤΕΡΝΤΑΜ
Queues of jovial faces
in line to see the refuge
of the girl from the synagogue.
What fates had determined those other queues
for little Anna?
Her days are inscribed on the walls
and breaths of dread
are still lingering on the window.
Further down, at the painter’s, queues again
as tour guides
make introductions unbeknownst to him.
At times he nods from a portrait.
His breathing ebbs away
receding under the crowd
but now, you see,
it is a question of honour;
he will endure.
No, it was not unwittingly that fate brought them together.
At dusk the painter holds Anna by the hand,
they walk the city streets
the years of confinement
and before dawn, they go back to their places
introducing the passersby and the unsuspecting
to aspects of the monster
we hold within us for all time.
THE GARDENER / Ο ΚΗΠΟΥΡΟΣ
In your eyes
pomegranates bear fruit
on the eve of a harsh winter.
Your words –
the life I have left unlived
the spoils of my own treason.
I collect seeds
as I depart.
One day they’ll find ground
or even me as a gardener
two handfuls of toil
without the slightest guilt
or mostly yearning.
It won’t be your eyes of course
but they will pledge
a parcel of spring
owed to me by time.
The supper of the body / Το δείπνο του σώματος
Before he ceases
he will carve up a piece of intact shining.
None of his suitors
will know him
and so eagerly they will devour
the brilliance it has cost him.
Their palate will light up
their smile too.
they will cast their eyes upon him
for the exquisite meal,
unsuspicious of the offering
for good reason.
As for him, free and bleak
without need for a garment
or any other raw material
he will only have these words
to spare for dessert:
“For the journey
I have been Odysseus
with Penelope’s grit”.
Expectation / Προσδοκία
My life still untouched.
I’m still dreaming of it, losing it still.
Pier Paolo Pasolini
it is remarkable
that I am sad.
when I embroider my flesh with needles
it’s not for the sake of good poems.
I am rescued by the art of sewing
or at least sustained.
It always helps me declare
by my deaths.
Within the seams I still keep
installed onto my face by time
a body without needles
without need for a mother.
Once we were / Υπήρξαμε
Me? A desperate vitality
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Have you ever seen how the light pierces pearls
or how childness dries up
when I’m writing about you?
Silence states we have existed once
as a word
as a feeling
or at least as a quest.
Without touch I measure time
and I’m still tracing light
in the hours when you rise.
I wonder what amber means
in the month of May
What “I love you” means
if I don’t sling it around your neck?
I type the name every morning
In the evening I hold back
with some pretext over spelling
But deep down I lose myself
amid alliterations and vowels
yearning for your voice
I’m left with nothing
but my sins.
I have become the predicament of my glamour / Έγινα η μοίρα της λάμψης μου
for Maria Kallas
You rose from an old picture
to unfold your body
along my furniture.
Hair quickly grew long,
the gaze advocated ancient Greece
and the silence, Bellini’s frail words.
“I’m tired”, you said without my asking.
The dream accommodated neither light nor a lie.
Tired but fierce
I thought, but kept to myself
and then you vanished.
Wherever you reached, you would reach fierce.
Wherever you reached, you would reach tired.
If only I had the time to ask
whether love was worth it.
Sacrifice / Θυσία
The day will come
when love will be vindicated.
They will sit at the same table
Abraham and Agamemnon
Frangogiannou and Medea
to account for their dead ones.
We, innocent, they will exclaim.
Some God has shorn us of crime.
Medea will nod
they will croak
until our gender is cleared.
Some God has shorn us of love.