Anastassis Vistonitis was born in Komotini, Northern Greece, in 1952. He studied Political Sciences and Economics in Athens and Philosophy in Thessaloniki. From 1983 to 1988 he lived in the U.S.A. (New York and Chicago) and traveled extensively in Europe, America, Africa, Australia and Asia. From 1996 to 2001 he was a member of the board of the
E.W.C. (The Federation of European Writers) and from 2003 to 2007 he was its Vice-president. In addition to poems, essays, book reviews and articles contributed to many leading quarterlies and newspapers in Greece and abroad, Anastassis Vistonitis has published twelve books of poetry, four volumes of essays, five travelogues, a book of short stories and a book of translations of the Chinese poet Li Ho. He was the General Editor of the candidature file of Athens for the Olympic Games of 2004. His writings have been translated into 20 languages. He writes for the leading Greek newspaper To Vima and lives in Athens.
By Anastassis Vistonitis
AFTER THE BATTLE
The battle raged till sunset.In darkness they lay themselves downto sleep, the living and the dead.Searchlights swept.Dark tattersflapped in dusty wind.From a high casement,notes of a nuptial waltz.From ditches, palecorpse sheen.A steel firefly settled on the square.Pylades emerged, Clytemnestra,Aegisthus. In the gaze of the pilotI glimpsed Orestes staring skyward.Then the searchlights’ lethal glare
Beneath the star of deathwe went on living, gnawing bitter bread.Our dreams sprang upa sea of leaden groves.Foul, thick light.Days of mire and insects.Insects entered our houses,took over our beds.They claimed our graveyards,our ancestors.In the bowels of earth,in the cities of Hell,they built mausoleums.The iris of watergives birth to the sun.I offer my voice,my eyes, my flesh.In the language of the hawkI speak to you.In the rattle of the woodpecker,the sparrow’s flight.Their troops marched inthrough the north gate. Thenthe rituals of surrender:flags, keys, women.The enemy were great in number.
We called them thieves of an epoch.
Not like the leaveswindswept through the streets.Nor still in the sea,a tethered boat.A poem is not the sky’s azure,its lucid air.A poem is a stakethrough the world’s heart,a glinting bladedriven through the towns.A poem is pain,a bright splinter of steel,ice, a blackened wound.A poem is obdurate,its facets diamond.Graved stone.A surging Asian river.A poem is neither voicenor winged passage.It’s a rifle shotat history, the skyline.A poem is no withering bloom.
It is anguish, embalmed.
Beneath the bridgea blind man in the water,one star above the water lily,pale death in the grassand the fish of midnight
eating up the sky.
My whole life I had nothing.Now they’ve taken everything.Among thousands, I’ve become anotherseeking another, whatever I wasmere scattered fragments.My face a vague tracery,its lines indistinct, indiscriminate.Such spoilage flees his gaze,his recognition. The faintest frowncould smash the planet. I wokelast night to singing dark,a spring beyond all measure,huge blossoms devouring walls.
Bright wind swept me skyward.
Deep in the black gunpowdercalled memory,below the massive stone,blind fable, I’m still herewith a red barometer,my father’s shadow,last of a plundered kingdom.Amid these ruins,strewn peacock plumes.Snow stops the cave mouth,fissure in the grammar of basalt,
blinkered heart, dark freedom.
Years, then once more I see the stars.Moonless, monster-spawning night,eddying sky,valleys of electric rivers,fever’s shadows, behind the skullentrenchments.Blanched forms materialize,the pale shades of illusion.Summers of mold, dead cigarettes,the trash of fifty years.Your voice, your breath a silkenstrand of spider web, your soulan insect snared over the abyss.Inside me, an old dream
Translated from the Greek by Anastassis
Vistonitis & George O’Connell