Learning Greek

Betty Adcock

BPR 47 | 2020

                    —Sifnos, 1985

First learn the touch of April light,
a shining that is also a singing
warm as wine and sharp as the music
drifting from the tavernas.
Your eyes will drink this, your life
will never forget the taste of it.

Figure the churches, the scattered holy
confusion of saints in every village,
among the fields, at the sea’s edge.
All their candles burn with tears
and practical prayers.

Count the windfall of wildflowers at Easter, thousands
wearing all the blues of antique skies, the purples
borrowed from icons. Every day they open to echo
pink, yellow, lavender sunrise and the orange and
red wheels of voracious sunsets.

Understand the donkeys.
They speak a nuanced language of pleasure,
refusal, and dream. The drum of their useful hooves
on uneven stones in the streets is another
kind of wisdom

Notice the air so clear that midnight’s stars
are multiplied over and over, nourishing as the fishes
that fed the multitude. Listen to the spare
clarity that allows room for an argument
in the next village to fly, easily heard,
through your open window along with conversations
of goats, roosters, and turkeys wistful
on the next mountain.

Barter for a Sifnos bag from a village woman.
Of handmade cloth, these are present in all colors,
made to tie into a bundle worn on the back or over
the shoulder. Farmers take their lunches in these,
workmen their small tools, draping the tough, soft satchel
over a donkey’s saddle.

Your bag will become its own state of being,
even the wide sea lives in white stones
you collected from the waters that polished them.
Press a blood-red poppy to tuck beside the stones
and the folded voice of the fisherman calling his wares.
Put in the startle of church bells, the turns of the paths,
the heavy, sharp-thorned roses from dooryards
keeping a powerful heirloom fragrance all summer.

Save the noisy bustle of black-garbed women
crowding the village bakery soon after sunrise
when the warm loaves are brought into life
from a stone oven and handed out by a boy
with flowers in his shirt pocket.

Keep the rented whitewashed house
and its garden full of artichokes. Bring
the kitten who came and would not leave.
Harness the song played by the barber one volatile
midnight and his dance on the taverna table.

Take it, all of it, in a few words and some colors singing
sunlight, the topaz dusk, a swarm of stars—
bright bag with its drawstring.