On A Foreign Line of Verse
For Elli, Christmas 1931
Fortunate the one who has made the voyage of Odysseus.
Fortunate he who starting out felt the rigging of a love
strong in his body, spreading on it like the throbbing
blood in his veins.
A love of indestructible rhythm, invincible like music
as though it was born when we were born and when we die
if it dies too neither we know nor anybody else.
I ask god to help me say, at a moment of great happiness
what that love is
when I sit sometimes surrounded by exile I hear its distant buzz like
the soft echo of sea joining with the inexplicable hurricane.
And again and again Odysseus’ phantom appears before me
his eyes red from the wave’s salinity,
overwhelmed by his yearning to see once more the smoke climbing up
from his warm hearth and his old dog waiting by the door.
He stands in greatness, murmuring through his whitened beard
words in our language, as it was spoken three thousand years ago.
He extends his palm, calloused by the ropes and the rudder, his skin
weathered by the dry north wind the heat and snow.
You could say that he wants to expel the superhuman one-eyed
Cyclops from among us, the Sirens who make you forget once
you hear their song, Scylla and Harybdis
so many complex monsters that stop us from remembering that he
too was a man who fought in the world, with soul and body.
He is the great Odysseus, he who designed the wooden horse and
the Acheans captured Troy.
I imagine that he comes to advise me how I can build a wooden
horse to capture my own Troy.
Because he speaks humbly and calmly, without any effort
as though he knows me like my father
or like some old seamen, who leaning on their nets
when winter approached and the wind raged
teary eyed they narrated to me, in my childhood years,
the Erotokritos song when I shudder in my sleep hearing the unjust fate
of Aretousa descending the marble steps.
He tells me of the deep pain you feel when the sails of your ship
swell with memory and your soul becomes a rudder.
And you are alone, dark in the night and helpless like the chaff
on the threshing floor;
of the bitterness to see your comrades one by one foundered
and pulled by the elements and scattered
and of how strangely you regain your strength talking to the dead
when the living who remain are not enough.
He speaks of…I still see his hands that knew how to feel
whether the mermaid of the prow was ideally carved
gifting me with the wave less blue sea in the heart of winter.