Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
an online journal of literature and the arts
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They Don’t Want You to Forget Who’s in Charge

It’s their schtick to vandalize even this remote quiet evening
when you sit side-by-side with friends on the twilight shore.
From the blur of dust and dusk, the sky inks space around glimmering galaxies
and the Milky Way hovers over the motherland like a veil,
safeguards you, even exiled as you are.

The lighthouse spans its Cyclopes eye across the harbor
as it did when the goddess warned Odysseus of the Sirens’ song,
the song whose notes they stripped down
to some dumb jangle, some vulgar irritant you brush off.

They trespass borders, their emblems emblazoned on every roadside berm,
the schoolchildren’s workbooks, matchbooks.

You cannot drive without the soldier’s threat.
The children will not learn without the phoenix’s long-necked lies.
You cannot even light a damn cigarette or a lantern
when the electric lights die without seeing their fire.

Their secret police take up residence uninvited
in every home where we love the stranger,
entertaining angels unaware with coffee and spoon sweets.

They dull your carmine, your canary yellow, your ultramarine,
your apple green, the colors delicious in your mouth.

Your sleep they flood with mercury lights.
You already know their interrogations.
You’ve known since before your birth
how they’ll shape asylum into barbwire cages,
embitter your kindest inklings,
take your alphabet if you let them.

Your rooms remain the same, the same arrangements,
the same desk by the same window, the same pillows—
embroidered with liberation codes, passed mother to daughter—
soften straight-backed chairs.

You place a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter,
as if the commonplace were commonplace—the ikons, worry beads,
cobalt evil eyes, photos of the ancestors are still arrayed
as they were before, on the narrow table by the door—
the lidded ceramic bowl where you leave your keys to escape
in case they’ve bugged the place while you’re gone.

You and your friends peer out past the swimming buoys,
trying to stop the fishing boats puttering into harbor
from morphing into patrol ships.

You murmur among yourselves and hum
your grandmothers’ lullaby with different words—
hear forbidden messages snuck by, forbidden messages
folded and stuffed deep in a disguised friend’s uniform pocket,
ferried across, ferried across, ferried across—
the ferries stay on course on the same sea,
slow their engines in the same ports,
the poets keep singing from prison islands,
their cramped handwritten pages guards can’t stop
from reaching your open hands.

Greek Junta, 1969–1974  

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