Mennonite Poetry Home | Leonard Neufeldt

 

 

The Acropolis of Assos/ Behramkale

After the corpses' gluttony of positions
at Ҫanakkale* and the broad eddies of blood
overrunning the sea like oil at Izmir,
after the designs of nations broken like
wings and legs of pelicans by mirages,
after people cleansed themselves
of each other with binge and purge of words
that weary-winged empires had worked toward
for years, after the murder of many who left
or stayed behind, God gave the Greeks
the turquoise sea and Turks the land
with sea enough for brine-eaten rows of iron cleats
and nets and creels on the wharf, set out to mend
in front of stone-and-mortar hotels and red
pantiled roofs.
                        And after the old
dialects and alphabet were confiscated
for softer sounds and harder loyalty
to a new mode of remembrance,
its nostalgia for the future

ancient retaining walls behind the harbour
of Assos still eat into the gradient like old griefs
to keep some things as they were,
and alongside the walls a ribbon greying
with asphalt corrugations, the car torsioned
like a dinghy caught by sea swells. The route
floats on sunlight past archaeologists who have
stopped to let the morning hit up against
another day of digging out the Roman
road and the Greek arterial beneath it.
Our way rises to the smooth manifold
of a plane curve inviting infinity
but finding coordinates from half-buried
sarcophagi on the treeless steep,
the ancient necropolis where the world's heaviness
heard the treachery of voices deep inside
the earth, and the slope shook itself closer,
past walls, as if there’s always more,
as if nothing is real until it's covered

up, as if to house secrets for a road
to pass over before yielding to straight
into the town's geometry of unnamed
alleys. The unlikely one argues itself higher
and higher around rocks, maki and shriveled
Melissa, through mountain tea, brown
spear grass and the thyme's sweet breath
to the rockbound edge of our search,
                                                       an acropolis
against the sky, where young boys leap
with the mathematics of angels from pillar
segment to ruined capital and entablature,
over the local boredom of millennia,
the marbled breasts of the slave holding high
a trencher emptied eons ago, over
the high-hand commands of gods broken
like everything else, the leaps more daring,
over us down on our knees, over
and back, and we step aside

so much sun from Athena's ruined temple
all the way to Lesbos, the Aegean surf
below, each moment washing
forward into the next, the past running
ahead, looking back at what will come:

long before the Athena's favourite forsook
the far-off region of his mind and warned
against the new religion, and long before Paul,
unsure that a body painful as his
will ever be pure spirit, walked
the Roman road down to the harbour,
the Aioleis gathered on this foreland,
to sing Sappho's songs by heart, as many
as they had memorized, but some said
tomorrow to the one ready to recite
the soliloquy of ruin all Lesbos knew —
of the north Aegean marauding murderers,
Achilles and his men. The vast anthology
of stars waiting for the moon to rise
over Troy not many miles away

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*Ҫanakkale: Site of the Battle of the Dardanelles on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915-1916 in
which Britain and France sought to seize the peninsula and then Constantinople (Istanbul) from
the foundering Ottomans. This horrific campaign was a key factor in bringing on the Turkish
War of Independence.

©Leonard Neufeldt. Holm (Alfred Gustav Press, 2016).

 

 

   

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