To the Piraeus 2015

July 12, 2015 10:13 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

How can your eyes be shut so tight and you not see me sob?

Yannis Ritsos, Epitaphios

A man in a tattered shirt, I went down yesterday

to the Piraeus with the few coins that I had, hoping

to buy bread, cheese, fish and maybe a little wine,

but the supermarket was bare and the corner shop

where I had bought groceries for the past five years

had a sign saying Closed for lack of trade, sorry to go.

I asked round the neighbourhood Where is Gregoriou?

What has become of him? but no-one knew anything;

there was no explanation – a shrug, and a finger laid

to the lips were the only response. So I walked on

a step further and came to the old market square,

a desolate, ruined place that looked like a bombsite

with paving blocks lying everywhere and trestle tables

turned over for barricades in the last uprising still

scattered about everywhere, the ground strewn

with spent cartridges, shell cases, canisters, car tyres.

A young woman once had a stall here selling olives,

the largest and tastiest olives, I swear, in all Greece.

Her name was Eftychia, which in English is Happiness;

she would stand by the tubs and sing, often giving

people who stopped by samples of olives and feta,

and always with a smile and a song or a kind word.

Nothing remained. The doorway to the cafenion

where only last week I had argued with Eucris,

Pausanias, Glaucon and other budding philosophers

was a dingy space boarded with plywood, reeking

of piss, vomit and excrement; over the entrance

someone had sprayed an enormous robotic figure

armed to the teeth, the mouth of its rocket launcher

pumping banknotes into the air and the legend

I’m coming to get you beneath. I walked through

a group of abandoned shops, past an old bakery

into Prosperity Square. The banks were all closed,

their doors gated and padlocked; queues stretched

from near-empty cash machines, and the air buzzed

with ambulance sirens, the whirr of propeller blades

from overhead helicopters, the clamour of citizens

like myself who had grown desperate without means.

I turned to go home, but then caught sight of a man

whom I recognised on the steps of the National Bank.

It was my neighbour Gregoriou, sitting towards the top

of the flight, hands round his knees. He was sobbing.

I went over, put my arms round his shoulders, helped

him back to his feet. We made our way homewards.

Out in the harbour, a magnate’s yacht slipped away

to the islands; in the Parliament Buildings, Theseus

rose once again to confront the Minotaur. He said

he’d wear creditors’ loathing with pride. Gregoriou

and I picked over my last few olives, and as night fell

looked out onto the city. The Parthenon gleamed

high above us, resplendent as ever, and I thought

as always at that hour of our obligation to wisdom

and our betrayal of Pallas Athene. Around midnight

lights on the Acropolis failed, and showing Gregoriou

to his door I found the hoot of an owl gave no comfort.

John Gohorry


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This post was written by John Gohorry

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