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Circe’s Isle

We had been warned not to go, didn’t care
and went.
Disembarked at night and slept on a beach
near the quay.
The bus driver stopped at the end of his route,
from where
a track ran away across blades of stone,
through a scrub
of juniper, myrtle, thyme and spurge,
past a small church,
white amongst cypress and carob,
then on again
to a ledge on a cliff of rubble and red earth
above the shore.

All Summer into Autumn we camped there,
walking to the village
for mail, music, rice and beer
and to watch the people
in the evening as the air cooled,
and the stars appeared
like tiny searchlights high above the moon’s
opening, silver eye.

After swimming, drying off on slabs of rock,
smoking crumbs
of Chitrali hash in acorn cups of Kermes oak,
unvisited and unseen,
except at night sometimes, a steering pole
knocking on a hull,
the hiss of lamps firing rays of light into
a well of emerald glass.

Crossing the island we met a youth
in a blue shirt,
who pointed silently at razor-wire
and watch-towers
enclosing empty hills, then turned away.
On the walls
of an abandoned school children had painted
low, grey warships racing
across a flat blue sea, the swastika and
the flag of Italy.

Sitting outside a cafe a man joined us,
explained he was
working on the island but lived in the capital,
invited us to his villa,
across the bay from our encampment.
On the terrace
we ate squid, cheese and olives, drank
yellow, acrid wine.

He gestured at the mountain high above
our tent,
too small to see until he offered
heavy binoculars
and looking straight at us said that his friend
the chief of police
and he agreed we were the only visitors
to Circe’s Isle that year.

The dictator went into exile with
his bank accounts intact.
We got away with a threat, and knowing that
even if our self seeking
had been punished we would still have caught
that midnight plane,
slept in the corridor of the Customs House
beside the dock
and taken the ferry south at dawn
toward the islands.

You cannot undo the past before it happens,
everything remains
including all I have forgotten,
as still as shadows
on the ground at noon, the sun for ever
overhead.

 

 

Here Weary Troops Were Sleeping*

3pm, the sun overhead unloading heat.
On the edge of the city, pale amber apartments,
dark windows, empty streets, take their siesta.
No one about to ask if this is where
to catch the bus back to the station,
we don’t want to ride out of town
into the fields, sprawling in the haze
like a weary soldier.

Buildings undulate slightly
in the simmering air,
insect sistrums rustle
in nearby gardens,
invisible people all around us sleep
the black deep sleep that appears
in curtained afternoon rooms,
coiling down from circling fans.
We are almost out on our feet
when the bus comes.

The driver says yes,
we rattle down the road
turn right
and are immediately in
a street of cars, trams,
buses, scooters
and people walking quickly
in and out of shops.

At the station
we board the train
and find it full of conscripts,
in loose camouflage tunics,
legs over tables, seat arms, heads
collapsed back, turned against
windows, resting on another’s shoulders,
mouths open and hands drooping
like ferns along the corridor,
dead to the world.

Sleep has shot them,
and as the train reaches
a long stretch of line by a river
we slide down the burning blue plastic seats
to join them in the abyss,
from which we later climb back up
into the dark, beneath a tree
of ice-cold stars.

* The Iliad 10.474

 

 

 

[Chris Hardy’s poems have been published in numerous magazines and websites, including The Rialto, Poetry Review, The North, Tears in the Fence, Acumen, greatworks.org.uk, poetrypf.co.uk, and nthposition. One of his poems won a prize in the National Poetry Society’s Competition, and another poem is in the 2009 Forward Prize Anthology. He has four poems in the new Eland anthology The Isles Of Greece and his collection A Moment Of Attention was published in 2008 by Original Plus. Chris is also a musician, and his CD Health To Your Hands is available from www.cdbaby.com. He plays in the trio LiTTLe MACHiNe performing settings of well known poems—see myspace.com/littlemachineuk.]

Copyright © 2011 by Chris Hardy, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.