“The slow expansion of the crack in the ancient Rift Valley will tear away the Afar desert and the horn of Africa from the rest of the continent. That alone doesn’t make an ocean but it gives us pause as we navigate the traffic of our lives, trying to imagine right behind our house a massive chasm more than 50 feet deep . . . .”—Becky Dennison Sakellariou
Where Words Go
By Becky Dennison Sakellariou
ATHENS Greece & New Hampshire—(Weekly Hubris)—1 July 2021—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring: Poet Becky Sakellariou writes: “I have lived most of my adult life in Greece. I start with this statement because of the unexpectedly vast impact and weight this fact has had on my world views, how I ‘translate’ and survive in my surroundings, and, naturally, what—and even how—I write.
“The cultural and physical landscapes of New England, where I was born and raised, and those of the Greek/Mediterranean where I have lived for so long, mingle, merge, and even coalesce in intriguing and often inexplicable ways in my poetry. I might begin with a winter New Hampshire image, and a thread of Greece will attach itself to the image and pull it in another, surprising direction.
“I always trust these interventions, these visits; they inevitably create rich narrative tapestries. I believe they are also a large part of why I write, not only what I write. In the past few years, world political events have also empowered my writing, infusing it with tension, contradiction, and sometimes even mystery. Most recently, my writing has centered around the refugee situation in Europe, specifically Turkey and Greece, and my own experiences in the camps and with the immigrants themselves.
“I have worked in teaching, writing, editing and counseling; I have also published seven books of poetry, one of which, The Possibility of Red/Η Πιθανότητα του Κόκκινο, published by Hobblebush Books in 2014, is a bi-lingual edition in English and Greek (translated by Irene Theotokatou and Maria Laina). I have won a number of poetry and chapbook contests and prizes and have been nominated for the Pushcart Poetry Anthology twice; my book is Gathering the Soft, an art/poetry book that circles around the subject of cancer, was put out in 2016 by Passager Books.”
Writing since she was seven, Sakellariou has, over the past two decades, published poetry in a wide variety of journals, including “Common Ground Review,” “White Pelican Review,” “Dos Passos Review,” “Beloit Poetry Journal,” and “Passager.” Her chapbook, The Importance of Bone, won first place in the Blue Light Press Contest in 2005 and was published that year. Her first full-length book, Earth Listening, was chosen by Hobblebush Books of Brookline, New Hampshire in 2010 as the second in the Granite State Poetry Series. Her third book, What Shall I Cry?, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013. In 2014, Hobblebush Books published The Possibility of Red. In 2017, Blue Light Press released No Foothold in This Geography. In 2018, Kelsay Books issued Undressing the Earth.
For readings by Sakellariou and interviews with the poet by NPR’s Peter Biello, go here: “The Bookshelf: Poet Becky Dennison Sakellariou,” and here: “The Bookshelf: A Poet Reflects on the Migrant Crisis in Greece.” For the poet’s amazon.com Authors’ Page, go here.
The following four poems are from Sakellariou’s collection titled until the tree grows, towering.
I did not know that a bird’s bones are hollow, that they fill with air so she can defy gravity, that the weight of her bones is less than that of her feathers, and that her backbone is fused so she can fly straight alongside the horizon. I do not know if her landscapes are in black and white, nor if she eats locusts and wild honey. I cannot tell if there are stones in her mouth when she flies over the sea, or if her eye sockets are empty. I do not know how she sees the world or what inhabits it, or if she hears the rustling of bird spirits around the edges of the empty places. How do we know which tree is the one that will catch her, hold her, or if she will ever surrender to the flaming sky?
The Great Deep
Clouds form on the wing of a plane like ice, like silvered-gray wrinkles of someone who has given up or long finger bones of an intact skeleton in an unmarked grave. Here, many things come to mind, mostly to do with death, in one form or another. What the day says. My poetry. The news. Music on the radio. The loon chicks are late to migrate, cannot get up enough speed in the few bits of open water to be airborne above the early iced-over pond. They will become easy prey for eagles or die in the cold. * Yesterday. My friend in the ER. Sudden Hearing Loss. A vestibular schwannoma. * The slow expansion of the crack in the ancient Rift Valley will tear away the Afar desert and the horn of Africa from the rest of the continent. That alone doesn’t make an ocean but it gives us pause as we navigate the traffic of our lives, trying to imagine right behind our house a massive chasm more than 50 feet deep and 50 feet wide, weaving its way through prime agricultural land, new faults and fissures, fossils of early hominids and their great horned beasts. * The tiny, fragile bones in my middle ear have shifted, leaning against the acoustic nerve strangling all sound and song, whispers and tuning forks.
. . . still awaiting the fire Why, then, do we not despair? Anna Akhmatova The landscape I come back to is sepia, lean and measured, moving from color toward colorlessness, the mosaics of fading russet and copper oxidizing under my boots, the years, repeating and repeating. I have walked this one before. I leave behind humans dragged from their moorings, wandering half-blind through bedlam and turmoil, lost in the terror of who am I now? a language shattered in pieces by deafening smiles. Memories drown in deep-troughed waves, cold, metallic blankets handed out by Norwegians, unfamiliar words breaking from their lips. Today, those rescued are warm and dry sitting on the dull blue carpet eating nan, drinking pale tea, gesturing their lives in circles, calling to their missing dreams. The quiet symphony of decomposition fertilizes the season to come, the woodpile dusted with dried ants, sleeping spiders, desiccated bodies of baby mice, still awaits the fire, the ash to be shoveled into the wet earth. Unseasonal thunder is muffled around the roof of my mouth. We imagine stews of thick meat sauce, round-cut potatoes, parsnips and carrots. We know there will again be a radiance shining through the blanket of coming snow, a shroud for the next world.
As Martha Goes
As she moves toward death, she begins to hold my hand as if to comfort me, to steady my erratic heart. As she passes, we turn back, straggling, struggling across the bridge we had entered to go to her, to cradle her toward death. We are facing what we had left, a world going on with its business with or without us, benign, routine, quotidian. The archeology of her life calls as we restart ours after this long walk with her. We do not forget, we inhabit her houses, we stand at her windows, her voice catches us. I remind myself, Martha no longer has to do any of this, not the dishes, the checkbook, endless relationships with the children, not that massive tempest of being.
Editor’s Note: The black and white photograph illustrating this column derives from a portfolio of images of Lesvos titled “Monuments: 2009-2010,” created by the Greek artist/duo Panos + Mary. See more of this work here. About “Monuments,” they write: “The following images are our contribution to a project about the Byzantine, Paleochristian, and Ottoman monuments on the island of Lesvos. The project was an idea and was assisted by the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities of Lesvos.”