Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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The Theoktistria
You could speak Greek the word Theoktisti in which case your hand will follow.
—Odysseus Elytis, “Theoktisti,” trans. Carson & Sarris, 2004

My hand will follow to filch figs, to catch
the holy water lapping kitten-like

the altar’s underside, the abandoned-
because-of-pirates temple where she lived

for thirty years. My hand will make the sign,
“I have to pee,” I’ll run from Naoussa and

my kidnappers, I’ll never see Lesbos
again, the nunnery they took us from.

Like her, I’ll have the island to myself,
my skin burn-blistered black and raw, my hair

turned white from shock and age. When hunters come,
I’ll remark that I am close to death, ask

in politest terms to have the sacrament,
to wrap myself against one in his cloak.

I’ll rebel when after I am dead he
takes my hand as relic. I will get it

back. I can anchor boats even against
the Anemoi—I have her, she’s a saint

gone wild in the Paros pines. I lived
near here once, when I was my happiest;

I take her as my patron saint of then,
her name that translates “made by God” from Greek—

redundant, isn’t it, if you believe?
(My son’s, “gift of God,” perhaps the same?) On

proscenia her prosthetic metal
hands dance and sparkle in the votive light.

If I speak her name my hands will follow,
clasp a child who wasn’t there before.

If I speak her name my hands will follow,
they’ll buoy a boy’s body in the sea.

If I speak her name, I won’t need what the
museum next door says that amphora

was used for: “the burial of children,”
earthenware worn warm below black palmettes,

two oxen with plow, an archer’s quiver
with four thin missiles fletched in brown finish.

It’s probably how they lived, but could just
as easily be how they died. My son

abides the field, the forest, his falls.
My son I’ve claimed was a gift from God when

howled down by insomniac stars, when
Theoktisti caught him in her gilt hands

and grew him like a wasp in a fig’s womb
and I plucked it from the roadside. Nights, I

shake awake my Theo, see he’s breathing.
The moon is shaped from fontanelles closing.  

Greek Orthodox St. Theoktisti lived in the ninth century C.E. As a young nun on Lesbos, she was kidnapped by pirates, who stopped on the Cycladic island of Paros on their way to Africa. Theoktisti took the opportunity to escape, and she lived on Paros, then abandoned, alone for the rest of her life.

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