As published in Volume 11, NO 1, March 2014
NOAH IN THE CITY
Excerpt from Noah In The City:
It just so happens that sometimes when the city yawns, it also rains.
It is then that the city reeks like the mouth of a sick man or the breath of someone famished. Having made it to dawn after a night like that, I thought I’d give this medicine a try: I roamed every alley; and I thought I’d blame it on the fact that I didn’t see a single woman sweeping her doorstep and watering a flower pot. Or a window opening, with a housewife leaning outside to beat the sheets clean, or a carpet, a rug, a patchwork rug even. I only came across some woman with her sagging flesh spilling indecently over her bathrobe. It was a street of bars and hash houses. She was rolling a cigarette and drinking coffee. And she was bored, like a sin caught in the morning’s untainted gaze. Next to her, a young girl with her evening dress still on, was feeding the cats. The tableau was engarlanded by an arcade.
It used to be that arcades were a place of shade, like trees in the countryside. Now they’ve become the shadow where there had been a body.
When the city stays up, accompanied by the gnomons of the stars, or if it happens to be hazy, with car lights roving like lost, then they emerge – as if from either a sea or land – houses of old, drenched in the opium of modern usage.
It is a barfly staying up late, both poetry and music, and just when you make to approach with hope, you realize at the end that it’s all a set. People sit there all night. A songster comes, he opens a phrase of light to the riddle of the dark room of the souls and has this to tell akin to consolation:
– I have a perfect plan, he said, and made to pick up a glass, the moment when instead of that, he should’ve opened a window.
What if he decided to first cool down his broth by blowing on it?
I have a perfect plan, he said, and the small gestures that followed sidestepped him once more. I have a plan. And he goes back to sitting in absentia.
A woman is looking through the window glass, outside, to the schoolyard across the street, and regardless of the moment and condition, she speaks of the rain:
-The weather is heavy, my mother used to say; she would observe the signs to weigh up the impending rain; and I thought it was my eyes out there, heavy with the moon. Unrestrained they are, both time and weather.
The weather is keeping busy again, mommy! Don’t leave me by myself to the fingers of its wrath.
They sit there all night, mannequins in showcases. Where you find joy, there you shall find sorrow. A tail as high as heaven, the cry of life and the silence of death, hugging one another, they are infused into chests of marble; time is subcutaneously injectable.
And so they all sit there with their small feet, their short hands retracted, and when at dawn they step outside to walk, their heads grow these huge balloons and there’s nowhere they can fit in, other than the vast loneliness of their sleep.
Everything keeps the slow rhythm of a turtle within. The sky, a tortoiseshell, as if having absorbed their dry entrails and sluggish thought, falls over the city.
Their denial, sulfur on the charred end of their cigarette; and their forlorn suicide, hovering on a still pedal.
He shuts his door each dawn. He was kicked out of the village for seducing the men. In awe he is now, here, where he is received with his blues and outbursts, by painters, poets and students. When the men take him to their beds, his eyes open up like red faucets, thirsty for love and tender companionship.
Akin to a sacrament they are, the five pale women underneath the moonlight. The thirty rose-leaves open suddenly like a giggle, they spit it onto the face mockingly, even as they are bathed in the light of the black limousine. They get in and are driven away. One black stain is left behind, the look of sensuality, until it is swallowed by the flushed breath of the wind. The next morning, there on the same pavement, before becoming forever silenced under the first footsteps, something blooms; had it been given time to become a hum, it would have been the voice of a pained animal that knows not the source of its pain.
Rinsings from the rented den are spraying the paving slabs. Foreign workers move about, when they are not working, and lock themselves in for the few hours they take turns to share the bed, the light, the water, and on the first day of each month, the rent.
It stays up amidst its loneliness. Hidden players in a hidden room. Poker is harder on the abrasions of their wounded homes. But they know nothing other than bluffing, and so they come here every night. Always the same players. A coffee-bar; chess, books, paintings and drinks, it sways under the light. Which music should it follow, which journey to sail? The frequenters are sleepy, but they’re scared of sleep, it comes without bearing gifts. Like a deceased Santa Claus of a past century.
Behind the closed door of an old house, she grows old honourably with the honest manners of the wrinkle. In the dimly lit window, they glint side by side, like tapers in the candelabrum of the neighbouring church. Melting away.
A woman of olden fashions.
She whispers to herself, like praying, that it can’t be, somewhere there must be two people sleeping in each other’s arms, forever in love. It’s become so much rarer, that she should run into couples in the street.
Not even one baby was born here this year.
There’s not a single all-night chemist open. Some day there will be no one left to die here in this neighborhood.Translated by Despina Pirketti
“Noah In The City” was awarded the National Prize for Poetry in 2013. The following is the rationale for the award:
The poet employs the allegory of the Deluge of Noah in order to commemorate the drama of a storm-tossed city, adopting the multifarious genre of the “prose poem,” rare in the Cypriot poetic output. The city, in which we recognize old Nicosia, is mangled by the accumulated blows of history, akin to those of a Biblical calamity: war, displacement, economic indigence, old age – they are all delineated on the deserted buildings as they are on the human landscape. Marginal people, whores, immigrants, soldiers, loners, invalids – sketched in small portraits which encapsulate pain and persecution. The poet, turned to this world of the humble and scorned, traces in low-key lyrical tones the human ordeal, reverberating the symbolic language of the Scriptures. Mournful and suppliant, the collection functions metaphorically as an Ark of words wherein human sensibility for the fellow sufferer is preserved.
Efrosyni Manda-Lazarou studied Greek Literature at Athens University and worked in secondary education in Cyprus. Her work in prose includes “Without Ariadne: In the land of autism with poetry as a companion,” Novel, Govosti, Athens 2006, and “My friend, I am not like you: The letter of a lonely child.” Her work in poetry includes “Weaver Days, Naked Nights,” 2002, “…to Love or Death we shall go…,” 2005, and “The Inner Dress,” Aphi 2011. In 2013, she was awarded the National Prize for Poetry of the Ministry of Education and Culture for “Noah in the city”, Planodion, 2012.