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Poetry Magnum Opus

Ithaca


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Death is now a welcome guest

When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs

Create no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me … but ahh, forget my fate.

 

-- from the libretto to 'Dido and Aeneas' by Henry Purcell

The chainlink fence prevented and defied all access

so you had to walk hundreds of metres up to the gate,

sweating in the sun, but as the suitcase, thankfully, had wheels,

it was no big deal; the same hundreds of metres back again.

 

You get used to these things: world travel is basically

one inconvenience after another: people scrambling through

windows on Indian trains, scrabbling, losing their grip

falling under the wheels, screams. The old grandmother

collapsing suddenly upon your lap on the bus in Guatemala

who turns out to be dead, eyes open, dribbling on your knees.

 

Afghanistan. No, we don't want to go back to that,

to that young lad dying in my arms. Allah … Allah… Allah ….

his last moments spent with an infidel Ferenghi. His eyes, his eyes

fixed on me to the end: pleading, darting, then frozen glassy still:

poor poor young boy, I held you, carried you into your death.

 

Some things you simply remember, others you cannot forget.

 

An iron ramp led into the bowels of the boat, which was

rocking and swaying, even on a very sheltered harbour tide;

there came angry shouts, brilliant smiles, the usual Greek confusion,

as passengers come stumbling aboard like sheep, and me

among them: this battered old tub will sink and drown us all!

 

When setting out upon your way to Ithaca,

Wish always that your course be long,

Wish for many adventures, many good stories.

And let there be many summer mornings

When with pleasure and with great delight

You leave a harbour for the very first time.

 

In a stink of diesel fumes and alarming shudders

we departed the harbour, farting on all cylinders,

and left behind Patras and the Peloponnese,

and all of Greece, as troubled now as in ancient times,

with its pride, corruption and underpaid military,

almost (but not quite) Balkanized,

a summer playground for backpackers,

for pallid northeners with better salaries,

our EU partner who cannot pay their bills …

 

But I have seen Greece in a far different light

after emerging from Turkey, across the minefields,

(Idiota! Did you not know the risk? No, I didn't)

but I knew instantaneously I was back in Europe

after pleasant then precipitately rather unpleasant

relations with the Turks ( a small matter of a smuggled car)

when they wouldn't let me leave, I left anyway.

I didn't know about the mines. Obviously.

The Greek customs guys thought it was great,

clapped me on the back and plied me with ouzo.

One in the eye to the Turks! I actually liked the Turks,

far more stable than the Greeks, a bit ponderous,

Oriental, Muslim, but solid, not so excitable.

I love Istanbul. Been back several times since,

no hint of that phantom car on an expired passport.

 

It's so good to be young, you know?

No matter how stupid you are you still survive,

unless, of course, you don't. Happens.

 

But do not rush your journey.

Better that it should last for many years,

And that when you moor at Ithaca at last,

An old man, enriched by all you have gained,

You do not expect Ithaca to give you further wealth.

I was a silly little creature when I was a boy

and that shaded, I fear, into my early years of manhood.

No doubt there was the lack of a good stabilizing woman,

since the tough ones put a rapid stop to your gallop.

I didn't seek out strange things, they just seemed to happen.

I like solo travel (companions pull you back, pull you down)

and all you need to do is wait: situations come to you.

 

Here on this boat, snorting, plunging and struggling,

we passed by the coast of unknown secret Albania,

home of the greatest criminal gangs in Europe, recently

spreading their tentacles into Italy and even beyond,

a total plague not unconnected to the KLA or KSA,

whatever, that crowd NATO supported against Serbia.

 

But that was a couple of wars ago:

after a while, you lose count of wars.

Vietnam is simply fading into history,

all the deaths, the wounds, the pychological damage,

all the aging warriors, the damaged surfers

surviving on drink and pills. Well, they will soon

have a new bunch of veteran friends

from Afghanistan and Iraq. It will never end.

 

I lay no claim: I have no claim to lay.

I believe in freedom.

I believe in travel.

I believe in all countries open to all men.

I don't like war. I've seen it.

No thanks.

 

I believe in a rollicking great shag.

I believe in friends and family.

I believe in little children,

desperation, love and honesty.

I believe in ... disappearing things

(well, fucking won’t be one of them).

 

You do not expect Ithaca to give you further wealth.

For Ithaca has given you the journey.

Without her you would not have set your course.

There is no more she can give.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The quoted poem is from Cavafy, an Alexandrine Greek (1863-1933) and it's my own rather lame translation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavafy.

Edited by dedalus

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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A fantastic adaptation, Brendan. I enjoyed your focus on a complicated, troubled part of the world. The close geographic proximity of the differing groups has always amazed me; I liken it to a city (like Boston) in which upscale parts of town are but moments away from blighted ones -- different worlds whose orbits rarely intersect (though occasionally they do). And, in the case of the region you examine, there's the further complication of the Anglo-American puppet masters who are always willing to yank on the strings.

 

Perhaps because my own travel outside of North America has been limited (some Europe, and not even recently), when it comes to elsewhere I imagine exotic and uncontrolled areas where almost anything goes -- great freedom on the one hand counterpointed by oppressive restrictions (and corruption) on the other. And perhaps that's why I love a good adventure movie (or poem) that involves travel to exotic lands.

 

Tony :)

 

PS -- Thanks for the fascinating link, too. I love that it contains a couple of holographic manuscripts of Cavafy's poems.

Here is a link to an index of my works on this site: tonyv's Member Archive topic

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Bren,

 

You've got talent- of that there is no doubt- I really want your book, to fully engage in your long ever producing stories, to sink into your tales instead of simply dipping in....A rollicking relevant write- beautiful as it is profound;-)

 

 

DC&J

Gate(less.thumb.png.dc23b19d2478d37a9f6fcdc563973026.pnghttps://conjurd.substack.com/welcome Come on over and check out my poetry substack y'all;-)

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Aleksandra

Wow, Brendan. This was a real journey. You wrote this poem in the best way. I re-read the poem and how nice you write about my dear neighbors :) Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Albania and I know the issues between all of them, my country is connected to it also - somehow :), as in the middle. The Balkan story is long :). So I'll give you an advice. Don't dig dipper next time you go around this areas :) we have years and years digging and still in confusion, but when you are in Greece take ouzo, in Turkey order a baklava, in Serbia - have a barbecue, but if you come in Macedonia also, then have all of it :D.

 

Anyway, I like the poem's construction and the points that you make at the end.

I have some more thoughts about your poem, but in some other occasion :).

 

Much enjoyed.

 

Aleksandra

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth - Jean Cocteau

History of Macedonia

 

 

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Dear Aleks,

 

You know so much more than I do about the Balkans. I was a young guy then. I was just passing through. I had little money. A lot of things happened (not in the poem) but I was never afraid. I was ... thinking back ... a healthy young guy, fresh out of university, my body was in good condition from sports, I was arrogant, optimistic -- and come to think of it, very stupid!! When I think back on all the things I did in those years between 19 and 25 ... actually up to about 32 ... I am shocked and amazed that I am still really here. I was such an idiot. I'm getting old now. I still travel and get into strange and slightly hostile situations even now but I can just walk out of them. Been there. I know how it's done. One day you'll read I've been murdered in Borneo. Either that or run over by a kamikaze taxi driver in Japan -- never my own guy, I always give them tips which nobody else ever does.

 

Take care,

Brendan

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Aleksandra
I was arrogant, optimistic

:D How nice you said that, Bren. Is that means to be optimistic, you should be arrogant also :P? -- I am joking of course, I know what you mean.

It's wonderful to have such an adventures in your life, the experience makes the person. You was younger but you learned a lot. Now you can look back, and to make comparisons. But nothing will change your advantageous spirit, which I respect because other wise the life can be so much boring...

 

Nice that you gave us a glimpse in your exciting life.

 

Aleksandra

The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth - Jean Cocteau

History of Macedonia

 

 

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