Thursday, August 25, 2011

RETURN TO EDEN (a "Poemoir")

LALA, Evvia, Greece

I trudge up the familiar road to Lala,
the little mountain village
my Garden of Eden.
I used to say it wasn’t even a hamlet, just an omelet,
a cluster of stone houses,  100 people,  and 1000 sheep.
Past the lone church, up the incline that was once just a goat’s path,
I see desolate houses, shutters closed, doors boarded up.
Once there were open windows
village women  stood on balconies,
waved greetings,  “Kali mera! Good morning!”
Now when I call out
startled birds fly from rooftops.

Kyria Erasmia’s red geraniums still bloom
in clay pots on her patio
Has she gone too? 
Where are all the folk who used to
toil in the olive and citrus groves,
the old women with bent backs
who collected bundles of oregano from the mountain top,
the old men who sat on verandas sipping thick chocolate-flavored coffee?
Where are the shepherds and their shaggy flocks that
jangled up the hillsides at dawn?
On the dirt road I stand, listening…
Far away in the valley I hear a dog bark
I listen for the cackling of hens, a crowing rooster, the bleating of  goats
There is only silence.
Lala.  The name means “chattering woman”,  but where are the women

The day is beautiful, bright,
yet even the sun’s golden light does not penetrate the dismal shadow
that has cast an eerie pall over the village.
There’s not a living soul, not even an animal.
The iron gate that conceals Antonia’s courtyard is locked,
sealing all my memories inside.
I want to go inside,
walk along the familiar cobblestone path
past the stone bake-oven,
go up to the old wooden door of my spitaki.
the little house with its thick stone walls, 
shaded by the gnarled olive tree and grape arbor,
the porch where I slept under million of stars,
counted meteors and satellites in the night sky
I remember over the fireplace, 
the carved corner-stone with a Byzantine cross. 1754.
That house had been there all those years,
the roof and floor repaired,  its two rooms used as a storage place.
I whitewashed the walls, hung herbs from the rafters,
furnished it with things from Antonia’s horde.
A table, two cots, a couple of chairs, an old iron bed.
In the afternoon sun I’d  listen to the cicadas chirring,
watch emerald green scarabs alight
on the shell-pink petals of the roses.
Antonia said there was a ghost in that house
Her name was Evangelitsa
She died in the bed with the iron bedstead where I slept.
“She must look on you with a good eye,” the village women said.
Her husband, the village drunk, died
from a fall off the bridge into the ravine.
Mine had suffered a parallel fate. 
Evangelitsa and I were somehow kindred spirits.

One day a cat came. I named her Miss Kitty,
To me, she was Evangelitsa’s spirit. 
She gave birth to a litter under the bushes in the orange grove
later brought them to me, one by one,
laid them at my feet…a gift.
I want to go inside my spitaki one more time
I want to visit Erasmia in her flower garden
on the patio where the shepherds sat under the mulberry tree
Nobody is there now.  I remember the friendly banter
of the men over their glasses of krasi 
I want to sit on the  patio and chat with them, 
catch up on village gossip,
blush as they tease me when I make mistakes with my elementary Greek,
flirt secretly with Mitso while Erasmia sits knitting, pretending to be our chaperone.

One night Mitso sneaked down to visit me
We sat on the steps and giggled like teen-agers pulling a fast one on our parents.
“This is the best life,” he said. “the Zoe.”
The day I met him on the road to Karystos,
he was riding his white horse, so handsome and tanned,
That smile of his enchanted me.  
He asked me to marry him.
“Come and live in the village,” he said.
I hesitated.  Knew if I did, and it failed, I’d never be able to return again.
Now they are gone, all my shepherd friends:  Themistokles, Vassilis, Mitso
I listen for their voices,
hear only the faint, distant call of a kookovia
 and the mournful bray of a donkey.

I climb down the stony path to the old mill.
It is quiet and cool under the shade of the big plane trees. 
The waterfall makes a soothing splash
as it tumbles from a cleft in the mountainside. 

I pick a spray of myrtle, white flowers with fuzzy stamens,
dark green shiny leaves.
On the stepping stones  I cross the stream,
walk the dusty trail until I reach the hillside
 where a little chapel stands guard over Lala’s cemetery.
There, among tumbled tomb-stones and knee-high weeds,
I search for Mitso’s grave,
trace my fingers over the mossy stone to find his name
remember then, that after five years bones are dug up,
washed in oil, placed in an ossuary.
I put the myrtle wreath on the grave that now holds his sister’s bones,
keep one sprig for myself.

The Greeks say if you take a sprig of myrtle home,
it means you will return again.
There once was so much life here,  zoe.
Now it seems that the village has died.
and I know I can never return.

My last visit to Lala, where I spent several years living part time, I was disappointed to find that the village was deserted, almost as though aliens had taken everyone away.  It was a sad day for me,  a closure, ending all those happy days I had spent in my Garden of Eden.
I don't think I will ever return. What I didn't know the day I visited there, three weeks later, my friend Antonia, who had died of Parkinsons in the UBC Hospital in Vancouver, was buried in the Lala cemetary.
Reading "Return to Eden" at Poetic Justice


Dog Training Collars said...

What a beautiful place! Those photos are great. Thanks a lot for sharing.

Wynn Bexton said...

Thanks for commenting. This poem is full of nostalgia for me.