Sotirios Pastakas, “a tongue-tied apology” -poetry


to Daphne Georgiadou

A cockroach resting
between the washbowl 
and the mirror, motionless,
there, half-way up
the grey wall.
In the cobbled streets
the same old footsteps,
the feet going pit-a-pat
along the alleyways,
the trot

of a woman passing and gathering
pitter-patter men’s
glances, she gathers them 
pitter-patter and tucks them
into her midi skirt.
They climb up
her thighs,
they turn into a cockroach,
they halt on her hips.
glances slithering up
to her pliant waist,
her lush bust,
her protruding tits
that break first 
men’s hinting 
tape. Men
tipping the wink 
men devising 
the same old 
tricks, ploys,
The cafés
are full of men
sitting on chairs
in fours.
Men erect
on the pavement 
in a state of expectation,
leaning over to stamp out
their fag-end.
One is bending down
to do up his shoelaces,
another comes to a sudden stop
and bids you a simple “good morning”,
another turns round as you are passing
and whistles at you,
yet another is standing stunned
at the butcher’s entrance
and is slow getting out of the way
allowing you to pass, mumbling 
a tongue-tied apology.
The baker smiles at you.
The haberdasher tells you:
“You look lovely today,
The greengrocer offers you
a split pomegranate.
Someone else greets you
by ringing 
his bicycle bell,
rhythmic and melodious.
Same streets,
same men,
same distance
for twenty-seven long years,
the glances mercury
on you, and some others
red beads
round your neck.
The trip on your back
in a low-necked blouse 
since October’s 
voluptuous sunny days 
allow it.
The birds are singing,
the cars are speeding by,
the men pause and look around,
your buttocks are swaying
on high-heel boots,
the days are shortening.
In the streets and squares
your yesterday’s admirers
are aging adolescent
in the same cafés.
The province is an inexhaustible
supply of enthusiasm.
Transplanted vision
always leads us 
to the same streets,
and when we lose our way,
a couple of steps further on 
there’s a half-open 
window, jasmine 
in bloom, you arrange
your hair,
a slim-waisted, stylish 
at the War Memorial
to avoid the machine gun’s
She dabs her lips with lipstick 
on the sly, on the quiet
she sends an SMS
on her mobile phone
under the table.
She ignores a call,
she is either not connected to this line
or has her phone deactivated
for one-third of the time.
She receives flowers from strangers,
red roses,
mouths half-open for a kiss,
red lips, 
greedy lips that know 
how to bite an apple,
to cut a thread
with their teeth, to sew up
silence and smile,
dyed conversations,
kisses on a bench,
a butterfly at rest
on the tip of a leaf,
your face once again
an outlet for pedlars
and beggars in the hum
of the streets.
Your face, 
an embroidery 
on a shop window,
in a shop window.
Behind a café’s 
glass windows dozens
of man’s faces.
Your face on
a glass window, you pause,
you straighten your eyelashes somewhat,
you try a smile,
you start walking again,
you rise, travel,
get lost, arrive,
your face deforms,
your figure is nondescript,
only your eyebrows 
and your eyes will be ours.
Your father’s nose is
that of our fellow-citizens,
the mass of hands
that have yet to touch you,
words have not wounded you,
hugs have not made you dizzy,
lovers’ shapeless profiles,
flat excitements,
inexplicable passions, stickabilities ,
unforeseen love affairs,
offhand flirting, 
rough and ready sex as usual,
unexpected love.
Start walking,
share out your body,
stop and listen
to the country’s music,
sense a musical phrase,
a note announcing
a Hadjidakis** instrumental piece.
Admire your lissome shadow
in men’s looks.
Hear the masculine confessions
from one who weans away
from the crowd and follows you
step by step, keeping a lover’s distance
as far as your house, 
because your house is built
of stone, lips and arms,
an untidy girlish 
bedroom, sheets in a mess.
She undresses 
in the steamy bathroom,
the cockroach having 
traced out its route,
the mirror naked,
my daughter bathes 
after her stroll
to the Xanthe 
Progressive Union. 

©Sotirios Pastakas
The town of Xanthe, vintage photo 1930 


*Xanthe: The capital of the province of Thrace.
**Manos Hadjidakis (1925-1994): Internationally famous Greek composer.

Translated from the Greek by Yannis Goumas