The Pindos Mountains melt and fade
In morning haze across the lake.
On Ali Pasha’s flowered tomb
There lands a copper butterfly.
The crumbling stones which smell of sun
Are carved with verse from the Qur’an
And warm a lizard’s fretful skin.
It trembles as the air is still.
Before this rock became a Mosque,
Before this town became a town,
The mountains rose and shrank away,
The people came and built their graves.
The shadow of the minaret,
The silence of the fortress walls.
Down by the spring the lemon trees
Had grown and died and grown again
Since well before the town was built,
And no-one knew their real age.
Each year the sparrows filled the trees
With squabbling hoards of hungry mouths.
They fed and roosted, fought and bred,
And no-one thought how long they had.
Between the trees the old man worked.
He watered courgettes, melons, beans.
He flicked the flowers clean of flies,
Just like the old men had before.
The lemon trees stood by the spring,
And no-one heard the flowers fall.
The black and cobalt damselflies,
The green and silver damselflies,
The black and copper damselflies,
The red and azure damselflies,
The gold and umber damselflies,
The bronze and carmine damselflies,
The green and lemon damselflies,
The blue and orange damselflies.
The ice and summer damselflies,
The sky and mountain damselflies,
The grave and ocean damselflies,
The marsh and ruin damselflies.
The river takes them to the sea
On wings of water, wings of sun.
Outside the time of human facts
The dead come calling from the swamps.
The birds and butterflies don’t change.
The rocks once cast and carved remain.
The fears and sorrows flow like springs,
All down the ages stay the same.
And yours and mine are never lost:
They’ve found their place and blow like dust.
And these emotions, streams and hills
Are flesh beneath our shifting skin,
Are sight behind our blinking lids,
Are answers lost to truths and gods.
The swamps are deep and thick with snakes,
It’s there – in peace – we lose our hopes.
Before your long descent you bathe
In waters drawn from Acheron.
You feast and light the fires of death.
The shadows start to move and speak.
The first few steps into the dark
Will take you from the world you know.
These final minutes of your life
Will shred all sense of what is real.
The dampness of the walls and air
Has soaked your naked, puckered skin.
The deeper in the maze you move
The louder come the shadow’s taunts.
You stagger in your final room,
And here – where echoes cease – you see.
On Crete he dreamt of Epirus,
Of crossing through the stream of death,
Of drifting through the fields of hell,
Of casting off his monstrous form.
He dreamt one day the sword would thrust,
And free him from his prison walls,
Would let his eyeless soul see light,
Would kiss his throat and end the dark.
He ran his hands along the walls,
And felt the music of the stones.
The songs they sang of other worlds
Beyond this hateful measured place.
On Crete he dreamt of Epirus,
The mountain springs of Acheron.
The mystery ends when life ends
When eyes can see beyond this light
When fields are mountains, seas and skies:
A labyrinth of passing states.
The limestone springs which burst from cliffs,
The hawks and snakes which flow like streams,
The towns which grow and crumble back,
And through them all the binding thread.
Beneath a slope of sage in bloom
The monster licks his face and stares
Into the darkness of his lair.
He waits to take another life.
As all the other creatures here
He ties the strands of many fears.
The hawkmoth flew on silent wings
Around the dancing moon of fire,
With pink and tessellated eyes,
And scent of oleander brier.
A jackal prowled the maze at night.
She stripped the flesh and stole the bones.
She spoke the language of the hills,
And cowered when I cursed her moans.
A whipsnake sheltered from the sky.
It coiled and wound its way this deep,
To prey on rats and sleeping bats,
It warmed its scales on rotting meat.
They came as innocents, unplanned,
Like messengers of other lands.