When I dive into the writing of a poem, I am entering an altered state, inhabiting a world of remembering, reimagining and reconstructing that can transcend the world that already exists. In order for that to happen, I reach for the emotional components, the human pieces, the movement in the place or the event.
Great slabs of veined ice
still rim the shoreline
of Lake Skatutakee in April
while we work in our shirtsleeves
to push the car out of the mud.
In pounding, bone chilling, Icelandic rain
thousands of feet above the roaring North Atlantic,
the female razorbill
balances her soft white feathery bottom
on her new brown-speckled egg.
We are soaked, shivering and spellbound.
Two ants, just emerged from their winter nests,
wander up and down the sink,
their radar seemingly still inoperative,
while field hospitals are overflowing
with amputated limbs.
I do not need to return
to the old gray, splintered dock
that tilted precariously into the pond
one August afternoon
in order to know
the damp afternoon sun
still on my neck, my shoulders,
the smell of the murky, brackish water
that circles and strokes my submerged fingers,
the old sadness of my heart.
Between September and October, the light
on my small Mediterranean island
changes from hot white to a pale yellow
that says, yes, you can go into the garden now,
bend and lift, weed and rake.
Insects keep track of polarized light,
loggerhead turtles know the magnetic field,
and geese are good at path integration.
As they fold into my body’s cavities,
they become the bodies of the whole world.
“Once thought to travel at the speed of light,
[we now know that neutrinos] drift through the earth
and our own bodies like moonlight through a window.”
If we have our feet on the ground,
what do we do with the sky?
Are we standing up to our knees
in blue or has our skin become the sky?
How do we walk with moonlight
drifting through our bodies?
Those headstrong neutrinos have resurfaced,
this time as Nobel Prize material.
All along, we thought they had no mass
as they traveled through space
on their way to earth from the sun.
Now it has been discovered
that they change their identities on their way,
like spies on the run.
They oscillate, fancy that,
between three different flavors: electron, muon and tau.
Scientists are shamelessly in love with them.
They have been known to applaud with abandon
as these “tiniest quantities of reality ever imagined by a human being”
switch disguises on their way to the Super-K detector
under Mount Ikenoyama in the Gifu Prefecture.
That must be why, sometimes out of the blue,
I feel so light, so buoyed, so slow-motion;
it must be the neutrinos as they drift
through my arms, my ribs, my toes
on their way to their ghost-like home,
shy, elusive, shape-shifting into cones of light
we can only love.
Things Are Calling Me Away
a story in the words of Azize
Things. Water. Safety. Hunger. Home.
Away. Toward. Here.
Objects are gone. Water is nowhere.
The man at the border says:
…..if the sea seems safe,
earth must be hell.
My name is Azize.
The pain at night sits between my breasts,
the cartilage swollen, aching and aching.
I cannot even touch it. What is wrong with me?
Safety means our open front door, clean floors,
no confusion, my soft bed, the red chair.
I am hungry for my home.
A man pushes me up
against a stained concrete wall,
makes a small high yelp,
I am wet where he was.
I am away from good things
that are no longer.
What does all this mean?
My heart does not open
at the sight of mountains.
My prayers are in black and white.
This is not home.
This is a place.
I will unspool each day
then thread & knit
each knot once again
restitching our bodies
into a thousand years
our skin woven
into nets of scent
their random radiance
our mouths pressed
against closed doors
yearning for a renaissance
that will consume us
Departure and arrival
Before I set off this time,
the marsh maples graciously turn
a few of their highest leaves red
now dropping around my feet —
these we offer you until you return.
Throughout the marsh
slimy brackish water settles deep and still,
branches shaped like a man and a woman
entangle in the pool
above the falls we climb toward.
Water lilies scatter in the paused curves
like dancers waiting for their cues.
Flat boulders tether the rushing, rust-hued water.
You ask, how long has it been like this?
I arrive on the other side of the ocean,
south near other salted bodies of water
where men carrying their women wade
through black waves, weeping
when they reach the sand.
Where, in their dreams, other men
still fight wars in Asia Minor,
wearing the wounds of never knowing why.
Where all these men will never sleep.
The seas have become the olive groves,
their leaves weaving silver through the air,
blowing through me, drowning me.
This time I have left nothing behind,
not even you, nor a memory
of what might not be there.
Wake me from this death walk,
this long sleep,
walk me into the night-blooming jasmine,
yellow as butter just churned.
Notice an indentation in the earth
beneath the stone steps where tiny green leaves
cling close to dead summer stalks
like just-wakened children
circling their mother’s skirts.
Drink in the blood red moon
leaking like a split pomegranate,
listen to the drying vine leaves
crackling in their conversations.
Stand beneath mauve-stained
that lean hungrily into the sea.
Hell did not fall out of the sky
Hell did not fall out of the sky
It arrived in human form,
black and furious,
aimed at our breasts,
our foreheads, our spirits.
The city wept
trapped inside the evacuation of color,
blackbirds gathered soundlessly along St. Anthony’s
curved gold and marble spires,
our beards turned suddenly gray
like the wasted desert sands.
Why, then, was everything I saw today
filled with wonder?
At dusk, water fell from the heavens
and washed the blood
from the bodies, leaving them clean, curled, quiet
as if just born.
The ribbed clouds released a band of last minute sun
illuminating our wet, scared faces
and a lullaby leaked from the edge
of shattered cobblestones.
Like the trout who thrives not in confinement
but in rushing, roiling currents,
I shall live in the water from now on,
not in the fire.
I may drown, but I will not burn.
Spooky Action at a Distance
In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected
so that actions performed on one affect the other,
even when separated by great distances.
Einstein was okay with messes, usually.
But he didn’t want them to last long,
he wanted to solve them,
sort them out, fix them.
When confusion occurred
in the midst of an equation,
he would stop, tear a chunk of bread
off yesterday’s loaf, and chew with vigour.
What’s wrong, honey? his wife would ask him.
I can’t make this one come out right, he would say.
Here, have some tea with your bread, she would say.
He would sip the tea, distracted, lots of sugar,
feel her hand on his neck,
and soon be back to his calculations.
But it was those entangled particles
that really spooked him.
The damned photons. each one
a stunningly single quantum of light,
remained entangled, like us, my dear,
when we lie together, she reminded him,
even when they were separated by “great distances.”
Whatever happened to one, would happen to the other,
especially when no one was looking!
How the hell does that work? he would mutter.
They cannot keep secrets from each other,
nor lie about their sins,
they cannot even change their socks
without the other one changing its own socks
at the exactly the same time.
I don’t have to imagine it, my dearest husband.
This is how we are, you and me.
We don’t need an equation, nor a solution.
Just come to bed.
off the margins contributors are asked to respond to three questions that will be asked of all featured writers to further articulate a collective response to the question: How do we step off the margins of convention and enter the wild terrain of our writing?
In what way(s) do you identify as a woman writer?
I believe I am always a “woman writer” because I am always a woman. And that, as we know, defines, informs and inhabits everything we do. When I was younger, the “standard” was to achieve the status of men which was considered the norm, so we strove and mimicked and failed, confusing our true and beautiful female selves somewhere along the way. These days, I am delighted to be female (except for the oppression and the discrimination) and like to celebrate it whenever I can. I cannot exactly, however, list what “makes” me a woman writer; the spectrum is unending. But there is something, sometimes. Something different. I feel it with my granddaughters (I had only sons) — something about our skin, how there is no distance between us, how we speak the same languages, how we “hear” each other. And I am pretty sure those qualities come through in my writing.
Whose voices have you carried with you for creative strength in order to arrive at this point in your writing career?
I am not sure about the voices. I can tell you poets I have loved, treasured, and read and reread: Maxine Kumin, Mary Oliver, Leslie Ullman, Adrianne Rich, Adrianne Kalfopoulou, Kiki Dimoula, Alice Walker, W.S. Merwin, Sharon Olds, Rumi, Elizabeth Alexander, Patricia Fargnoli. I return to their work as I would a prayer book, to remind me, to lift me up, to hold close to my heart, to gently push me on. I do not carry men’s voices as I do women’s; I can gasp in joy or surprise when I read or hear a man’s poems, but I do not share skin or voice or narratives with them. I also carry my mother’s and my maternal grandmother’s voices because I am them, they live in me and walk with me always.
What do you want our readers to know about your process of becoming a writer that might be helpful in further articulating their own individual process and growth?
My process of becoming a writer and how it might help others: I have always written since I was a little girl, mostly stories. Later in high school, writing became an additional and meaningful way to articulate my feelings and thoughts. I had no “training” until I returned to college as an “adult” student and took some poetry writing courses. Those classes were transformative; I was pushed and challenged and believed in and encouraged, and I produced some work I was quite astounded by. After that, I just kept writing since it seemed exactly what my spirit and heart needed. And eventually I moved toward publication and some recognition.
What I would say to a reader/writer, is that everything you are, have seen, have experienced, have heard, have crossed paths with, have read, can be a poem or a story, the beginning, the end or the middle of any piece of writing. Do not denigrate your self or your experiences. They will always have a light in them that can be the seed of a piece of writing: walking up steps, holding a baby, smelling your mother’s hair, listening to a refugee, waking up, hearing something on the radio, feeling a familiar or unfamiliar feeling, reading the title of a book: everything that comes to and through you is a possible container or genesis of a poem or story. Trust yourself, believe in your very own way of seeing and being in the world. Use it all.
I would also admonish you to use fear to write beyond your “limits.” Whenever you find yourself afraid or cautious about putting something in a poem, do it. It is calling to you to leap into the hard stuff, and when you do, you will feel different and the poem will speak in a fuller voice. Charles Harper Webb said in a workshop I once attended that poems need to have passion, humor and impropriety. I often use this as a framework or even a checklist, and it usually opens up one more door into a mystery or a miracle.
When I was thinking about my “artist’s statement,” I realized that I write to make some sense of what I am feeling, seeing, or living. I am drawn to writing about scientific concepts I don’t understand, horrible human tragedies and natural catastrophes, and, at times, writing in the voice of a person experiencing one of these events. When I dive into the writing of a poem, I am entering an altered state, inhabiting a world of remembering, reimagining and reconstructing that can transcend the world that already exists. In order for that to happen, I reach for the emotional components, the human pieces, the movement in the place or the event; I poke around the edges and the cracks for the colors and the smells of the physical surroundings, I desire to paint the picture so that what it “says” carries new and surprising meaning, not only to me, but to those who hear the poem.
Becky Dennison Sakellariou was born and raised outside of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, and in 1965, she moved to Greece where she married, settled and thrived for more than 40 years. Her passionate attachment to Greece and her strong, abiding roots in New England have given her the gift of two extraordinarily singular perspectives on peoples, cultures, geography and daily living which inhabit and enrich her writing. Sakellariou has written and published poetry for many years; her chapbook, The Importance of Bone, won first prize in the Blue Light Press (San Francisco) competition of 2005 and her full-lengthed book, Earth Listening was published in 2010 by Hobblebush Books of Brookline, NH. In 2013, Finishing Line Press (Tennessee) brought out her chapbook, What Shall I Cry?, which was followed by a two-year long collaboration, The Possibility of Red/Η Πιθανóτιτα του Κóκκινου, a bi-lingual (Greek and English) edition of eleven of her poems, also published by Hobblebush Books. In 2015, Passager Books (Baltimore) brought out her art/poetry book, Gathering the Soft, a meditation on cancer illustrated by Tandy Zorba. Sakellariou’s latest book, No Foothold in this Geography (Blue Light Press), is a collection of the last five years of her work. Her writing reflects her endless amazement at both the power of memory and the persistence of the mystery of all things.