Angela Costi: Seven poems

Gate

At the gate her crying starts
At that gate, my words crash

Her small hand grips and pulls me away
I fall into her grief but pull her back

Who is hushing, shushing, rocking?
Peace has tricked us and found somewhere safe

Then she covers her eyes: I don’t want to go, don’t leave me
Inside ‘care, diversion, transition’ replace ‘mother, daughter, love’

Her body becomes a strategic plan
Nappies and undies tallied

She won’t even look at the others… neither did my grandmother
They put her in a wheelchair, near a window

We left her calling out to her dead husband
Climbing the gnarled carob tree

A woman called Linda takes her hand
Steps between us, ‘What a pretty dress’, she says

I shut the gate, walk to the car
Check the time and drive away.

 **

Grandmother Maroulla

When she smiles, she is the dried fig to be eaten on special days
she is Yiayia all over again in blue and he is alive
telling her to shush, it is not a real snake at the back of the Teevee
there’s no trap door, nothing can slide out or in
all tracks lead to the safe place where food and thought mesh
she makes sandwiches instead of soups, today’s is simple
a yellow block of soap and toilet roll – who will take the first bite?
At Anglesea, she leaves her scarf to sweep the sand and she falls
madly for the waves, becoming the black clove in the rice pudding,
always plucked out before the flavour overwhelms the taste buds
of a baby, crying for something to lullaby the tongue
and frighten the sting away.

Only for Enzo will she break Easter chocolate into many pieces
mixing it in with spaghetti, opening and shutting his silent cavern
feeding back his dead wife, praying his children will visit,
Enzo’s eyes tell her living ghosts are the hardest to please.
No one can stop her from banging her fist against red bricks
blood must be crocheted into patterns with blue threads
making mountain lake village hills, flowers from ancient soil
look at my pretty doilies – a map of pillaging, a life of knives
rocks and bed pans.

She pole-vaults expectations to accept a maturity
only the blessed reach.
Tonight she will sleep with a painted egg under her pillow
it will be cracked
and the smell will weave itself into her dreams.

** 

Kakopetria

Legend and history fist their differences
as Anna scrambles the ridge of Troodos
falls then wakes from her Great Aunt’s bed
in a room shared with the village strays.
Questions hang like sons from gnarled trees
left to reek, for mothers to salt and dress
in Sunday-best, those freshly dug up dreams
of tattered creatures cradled by women
who dress like crows, cawing their censure:
since I gave birth, 24, 44, 64 years of knives
and bullets dapple our babies’ skins…
They roam the fields of scorched apples,
wade thigh deep in Klarios river
to soak but never cleanse old stains.

Anna stalks the escarpment of memories,
reads plaques, brochures, tombstones,
where tragedy is turned into fable:
about candles gathered like lost children,
wrapped in sacred cloth, blessed and set alight
in the last church left in peace,
how the tree at Paphos will grant you a wish
for cure of ailing health or heart
if you tie a white hanky to its branch,
how newly-weds once climbed the grand rock
to wish eternity on their lives as one,
how this rock toppled to kill a husband and wife,
the village mourned for years and years –
now honeymooners cling to each other
as they walk around the rock, reliving their vows.

** 

Golden apple             

It was no apple he threw at her feet
to make her pause from her race
and stop her from killing him
for declaring his love
for one gaze she gave
like a god assessing a child.

It was smaller than apple
sun-licked
blessed by divine love
for rich dirt found
at Tamasus Field.
One tree grew
a culture from stone to blossom
from green to gold when picked
making a juice of virgin and whore
of myth and facts that travelled
from Cyprus to Persia, Egypt to Asia
and now in my yard, challenging
the lemon tree to an annual race.

I stoop to pick up the fallen
that fill one bucket
I climb the ladder to grasp
as many as are allowed
to me and fill another.
I cradle the largest in my palm
soft and firm — a Cupid’s bottom.
I eat but crave another taste
made by grandmothers to mothers to daughters
who take pen before spoon.

Who wouldn’t stop mid-race
to chase the savour
of a spoon full
of treasure
served on a crystal plate,
a coat of syrup
a hint of tang and
a memory.

Not a recipe but a way of life
to welcome whoever dares
to invite themselves
into a storm or a haven
into a blessing or a curse
Sit down, eat! You know
even the past can pause,
remember it’s always
the fastest sprinter.

** 

Orexee

Men the colour of honey
suckled from Athena’s breasts
tight-butted, open-mouthed,
awakening a long rested libido
awakening a closed bud
swelling the appetite for avkolemono
served by their women
on a bed of fire with a sprig of wild flower,
blossoming belly and a stroking step.

**

The English Missionary

She extended her arm like a lead
and I, being trained to obey
knew we would end in the scolding room
where her tone would inflict
the ruler’s sharp pain across knuckle.

My body inclined to her tendency,
it knew to brace and restrain
to pretend remorse with blushed cheeks,
eyes lowered to her heels, to curate
my shadow in the shape of supplicant.

I preferred this exercise
as new words flew into my face
like ‘insolence’ and ‘impertinence’.

Her other practice
brought true disease to my heart,
when she used her thick ink pen
to rape
the careful planting
of my letter by letter,
of my word by word,
the careful creation of my sentence
turning into the wonder of the paragraph
into the miracle of the story
to make sense
of me.

** 

When the Hill’s Hoist became the Wishing-tree

With a peg in her mouth,
Maroulla walks the circumference of the ‘clothes tree’
looks at each pillow case, sheet, table cloth, Taki’s singlet,
reminders of the white handkerchiefs
tied to the wishing-tree at Vasa.

When she was eight, she tried to reach the branch
with her hanky,
there was no-one there to hold her up,
she didn’t whisper her secret dream to the tree that day
and the next morning she left
stuffing her flag of surrender
into her suitcase.

Taki’s out for the day,
she’s alone
with her waving, white promises
she touches them one by one,
the pillow case, sheet, table cloth – his singlet.

She reaches and holds onto the bar
swings herself into the wind
at peace with spent wishes and dreams.
She is a flying stream of coral, rose and black
she is laughter spilling itself into the sun
she is the fragile wires of affection
she has come to know
as home.

**************

Acknowledgements

‘Gate’ was originally published in Lost in Mid-Verse, Owl Publishing, 2014. http://www.owlpublishing.com.au/chapbook-series.html

‘Grandmother Maroulla’ was orginally published in Dinted Halos, Hit&Miss Publications 2003, and an earlier draft in Divan, No.4, 2001.

‘Golden apple’ was originally published in Lost in Mid-Verse, Owl Publishing, 2014. http://www.owlpublishing.com.au/chapbook-series.html and was partly inspired by the Ancient Greek myth of Atalanta.

‘Kakopetria’ was originally published in Honey and Salt, Five Islands Press 2007, The title of the poem, Kakopetria, is the name of a village in Cyprus and literally means Wicked Rock Pile. The poem was also runner up in the Woorilla Poetry Prize 2007, Woorilla Vol. 16 No. 1, 2007.

‘Orexee’ was orginally published in Dinted Halos, Hit&Miss Publications 2003. In Greek: Orexee means appetite; avkolemono is a soup made with egg yolk and a tangy taste of lemon, it has a white creamy appeal. ‘Orexee’ was also published in Melbourne Festival of Poetry Anthology, 1999

‘The English Missionary’ will appear in the yet to be published collection An Embroidery of Old Maps and New.

‘When the Hill’s Hoist became the Wishing-tree’ was originally published in The Blue Nib Literary Magazine, international section, online, Issue 39, 2019.

 **

Angela Costi’s poetry collections are: Dinted Halos (Hit&Miss Publications, 2003), Prayers for the Wicked (Floodtide Audio and Text, 2005), Honey and Salt (Five Islands Press, 2007) and Lost in Mid-Verse (Owl Publishing, 2014).  An award from the National Languages Board in 1995, enabled her to study Ancient Greek drama in Greece. She has also received funding from the Australia Council to work in Japan on an international collaboration involving her poetry. Recent funding from City of Melbourne is enabling her to document parts of her current poetry manuscript titled: An Embroidery of Old Maps and New.