the sacrificial knife in a woman’s hand
Wall painting: ‘Perseus and Andromeda in landscape, from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase,’ last decade of the 1st century B.C., public domain

Language: Greek
Poet: Liana Sakelliou
Translator: Don Schofield
Region: Greece

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the sacrificial knife in a woman’s hand

Three poems by Liana Sakelliou, translated from Greek by Don Schofield

Liana Sakelliou has published eighteen books of poetry and criticism, as well as translations of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, H. D., Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder. Her own poems have been translated into eight European languages—including, most recently, a volume of selected poems in Rumanian—and have been published in a number of anthologies and international journals. She teaches American literature and creative writing in the Department of English Language and Literature of the University of Athens. The recipient of grants from, among others, the Fulbright Foundation and the Department of Hellenic Studies of Princeton University, Ms. Sakelliou is a member of the Coordinating Committee of the Greek Writers’ Association, as well as a short story judge for the European Union Prize for Literature. Ὅπου φυσᾶ γλυκὰ ἡ αὔρα (The Greek original of Wherever the Sweet Wind Blows) was a finalist for the Greek National Poetry Award.

Don Schofield was born in Nevada and raised in California, and has been living in Greece since 1980. Fluent in Greek, a citizen of both his homeland and his adopted country, he has published several poetry collections, the most recent of which are The Flow of Wonder (Kelsay Books, 2018) and In Lands Imagination Favors (Dos Madres Press, 2014), as well as an anthology of American poets in Greece (Kindled Terraces, Truman State University Press, 2004), and translations of several contemporary Greek poets. He is a recipient of the 2005 Allen Ginsberg Award (US), the 2010 John D. Criticos Prize (UK) and a Stanley J. Seeger Writer-in-Residence fellowship at Princeton University. His first book, Approximately Paradise (University Press of Florida, 2002) was a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award, and his translations have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Greek National Translation Award. Currently he lives in both Athens and Thessaloniki.

‘Ολονυχτία

Νύχτα θυσίας στὸ ἱερὸ
προέκυψε ἀπ’ τὴν ἐπίπλευση—
λύχνοι φώτιζαν τὸ τελευταῖο φαγοπότι.
Τὰ ζῶα κοινά—χοῖροι, ἀμνοὶ
καὶ μόσχοι.

Κάποια κομμάτια τοῦ σφαγίου
δόθηκαν στὸν ἱερέα
καὶ κάποια στὸν θεό.

Προσέχω τὸ θυσιαστήριο μαχαίρι
στὸ θραῦσμα—
χέρι γυναίκας τὸ κρατᾶ.

Μὰ τὰ παιδιὰ τί γύρευαν
μὲς στὶς θυσίες;
Ανάμεσα σε περόνες και λόγχες
τί γύρευαν τὰ ἀγάλματα
τῶν παιδιῶν;

Και τον μαῦρο ἐρωδιὸ
ποιά τὸν φορεῖ;
Ψάξε, ψάξε.

Vigil

The night of the temple sacrifice
emerged from the sifting screen:

Lamps had been lit for the last banquet.
The usual animals for the sacrifice—
pigs, lambs, and calves.

Some parts of the carcass
were given to the priest, some
to the god.

I notice a shard
of the sacrificial knife
in a woman’s hand.

But what are these children
doing at the sacrifice?
Among the broaches and spears, axes and weights,
why are these statues of children
here?

And who was wearing this ring
with a gold-black heron?

Let’s go look for it. Let’s go.

Λουτρὰ καὶ κόρες

Τὸ θαλασσινὸ μπάνιο ἦταν τὸ γεγονὸς τῆς μέρας.
Χάριν αὐτοῦ ἕνα ἰδιωτικὸ θέμα κοινοποιεῖτο
χωρὶς νὰ τὸ καταλαβαίνουμε. Δὲν κάνει μπάνιο σήμερα,
εἶναι ἀδιάθετη, συνοδευόταν μὲ τὸ κλείσιμο τοῦ ματιοῦ.
Ἔτσι ὅλοι οἱ μεγάλοι ἤξεραν τὸν κύκλο τοῦ σώματός μας
καὶ τ’ ἀγόρια ἔνιωθαν πόσο εὐαίσθητες ἤμασταν στὸν καιρό,
πόσο εὔκολα κρυώναμε στὴ θάλασσα
καὶ μᾶς πονοῦσε τὸ στομάχι.
Κλεινόμασταν λοιπὸν στὸ σπίτι,
παίζαμε ἐπιτραπέζια καὶ
προσποιούμασταν τὶς λυπημένες.
Ἀπέξω ἡ ἄλλη θάλασσα
σάρωνε τὰ μυστικὰ τῶν λουομένων.

Menses and the Sea

Swimming in the sea was the high point of our day.

Because of this, without us knowing, a really private matter would get around. “She’s not swimming today. She’s got the curse,” one adult would say to another, winking. So all the grownups learned when we had our time of the month. And the boys sensed how vulnerable we were to the weather, how easily we’d catch cold from the sea, how much our bellies hurt.

Shut indoors, caught up in this little secret, we played board games, pretended to be miserable, while outside, that other sea swept away the secrets of the bathers.

Σφαγεῖα

Κάποιες μέρες παίρναμε τὴ βάρκα
ν’ ἀγοράσουμε γαριδάκι
γιὰ τὸ ψάρεμα λιθρινιῶν.
Βάζαμε τὴ μηχανὴ στὸ ρελαντί.
Περνούσαμε πάντα μπροστὰ ἀπ’ τὰ σφαγεῖα καὶ
συναντούσαμε τὶς βάρκες μὲ τὰ μοσχάρια δεμένα
ἀπ’ τὸ κέρατο στὸν σκαρμό.
Τὰ ἔριχναν στὸ πέτρινο σπίτι
ἔμπηγαν τὸ μικρὸ μαχαίρι στὸν σβέρκο
κι ὕστερα τοὺς ἔκοβαν τὸν λαιμό.
Γέμιζε τὸ κανάλι αἷμα.
Κοκκίνιζε ἡ Πούντα,
κοκκίνιζε ὁ Σταυρός.

Τὰ τσιγκέλια μὲ τὶς βοϊδοκεφαλές,
ἡ ἀποπνικτικὴ μυρωδιά τους,
ἡ αὔρα ποὺ τὶς κουνοῦσε πέρα-δῶθε.
Μοῦ ἀπαγόρευε νὰ κάνω μπάνιο.
Καμιὰ φορὰ κρυφοκοιτώντας πίσω
βλέπαμε τὰ σκυλόψαρα.

The Slaughterhouses

On days we took the boat to go buy shrimp and fish for red snapper, we’d let the engine idle as we approached the slaughterhouses, passing the skiffs with calves tied by their horns to the oarlocks.

Boatmen hurled the calves up to the stone houses, where workers stabbed them in the nape with a small-blade knife, then slit their throats.

The channel would fill with blood, Punta turn red, Stavrós beyond.

Dangling from hooks, with a suffocating stench, calf-heads swung to and fro in the breeze.

Sneaking a look back, we could see, sometimes, packs of dogfish.