A Monastery of Light
illustration copyright Karen Yule
The Sitochori Poems
A Village in the Mountains of the south west Peloponnese
Dedicated to Vassilis & Eleni Zambaras
On the Way to Kyparissía Beach and Back
The Track to the Orchard
In the Folded Strata
The Sea Seen from Sitochori
Lightly, as the shadows of clouds move over the mountains, I stroke your hair and
cherish you forever.
We grow accustomed to death, as the spring flowers steal upon our eyes once more.
But death is a stealth bomber under the roof of our radar.
Life is a radiant highway rippling through flowers, a patina of gold - over an
All glory then to algebra; it calculates death like the neon sign of a zero.
Death stumbled on a lilac iris, apologising for its grossness. The flower forgave it and
turned into heaven.
The fig tree was rooted in the foundations of the house. Funny how it flourished on its
pedestal of stone. The leaves were as green as Ireland, the figs as plump as plums.
For underneath the rock, death lay sleeping.
What are the colours of the garden of the sun? Purple, white, and yellow, daisies in
heather, gods waving to gods, with death on a leash.
Nothing has the advantage of spring in the mountains, a Grecian spring that is, where
the gods are roadside flowers.
The gods are lamps of God, lighting the day to paradise around us. Death is the
instructor teaching us to dance down the spiral of the poppy, the field of red
heavens by the church where God is worshipped.
So manners are observed by the nightingales of Greece, wonders are done here, and
wonders never cease.
Death is an acrobat performing in the skies. He doesn't need a net. He's dead already,
yet, he somersaults on stilts before our very eyes.
The sun is a day-torch blotting out the stars. What is it looking for in this world of ours?
Death is the answer. When the sun sets, taking death with it, the stars appear to
Death is the answer. I look in the garden where my sweetheart used to play, now a pigsty
with the droppings of a donkey in my way.
Death is the answer. The roof has new tiles. The balcony is new. The workmen on their
ladders are hammering it to you: the former occupants are dead and you will be
Death is the answer. Death is in the tears falling down my face when my daughter
Standing in the morning, she asks, looking all around, Daddy, will this house last
Tears are the pathos of death.
Tears, for all that exists will fail to do so.
Tears, because the time we shared together was so sweet, and now it is over.
Tears, because tears are the appropriate response.
Tears, because anything else is offensive.
Tears, because the glory of life is singing in the village, and the birds respond in kind,
and the sunlight is caught in the blossom of the pear tree, and the valley below
blooms yellow in the sunset, and the bees ride the honeysuckle-scented air, and
the goat bells chime.
Tears, because without them, such beauty is invisible. For tears are the lens-
brighteners of the eyes. Through tears we see the true and everlasting beauty of
transient life. For to create life, it is surely nothing extra to make it transient or
The sink was blocked with a question even more tiring than money. Where does the
detritus go in the larynx of the drainpipe? Will death make it a skylark?
Previous conceptions of death had died, and new ones took their places.
Shades of the pomegranate tree fell across the garden. The erupting vine was bathing in
the sky. Flowers serviced insects and insects flowers. And from nowhere came
the stone seats of the philosophers, all gone.
There was a great flock of white sheep on the green mountainside, their bells ringing in
the olive grove. A butterfly landed on the stone table and winked its wings.
Death was driving up the mountainside in a brand-new hearse, its engraved
windows twinkling in the sun.
No one walked on the green lane. The cypress trees were tilting at the sky. Bees collected
the nectar of the gods. In the valley of the shadow of death I wandered, with a
staff made of bamboo.
I smelt the coffee in the kitchen reconfiguring my days. There was boundless joy in the
moment. Nor did I fear to die. Heaven was in that kitchen and I went inside to
The glamour of the stars was in the star-shaped flowers, the Stars of Bethlehem. Nor did
the glorious anemone disappoint, the lily of the valley, the mountain windflower.
Only the magpie, bright black and bright white, priest of the joyless, rasped the discord
of the morning.
Geese were fattening. There were cockerels and hens in many a homestead yard.
Swallows flew through the house several times. There was a kitten on its back.
And somehow the cornerstones were pillars of the sky. Life was the gift of God,
death did not come into it.
The old men round the table playing cards at night, had hair as white as whitewash, and
all their eyes were riveted to the science of the game. Marvellous heads, as
conscious as consistent, the bright balls of laughter rolling in their eyes. Death
was an old story they all knew off by heart.
What mirror flashed an opal of light on the stone wall? It was the glass of my watch.
Somewhere intelligence was signalling to me. There are no signs from heaven
that a blind man cannot see.
An axe chopped the living flesh of a tree. Down she came, forever, where the builders
shovelled sand, cement, and lime. And the wind in the olive trees chanted her
away, exactly herself, forever, out of time.
There is a flat-topped mountain in the Messinian plain, where flowers obliterate the
dying in the brain. It is called Mount Ithome, the stepping-stone to God.
For God is in the dark blue sky, the strange halo round the rim of the village at noon,
looking like radiation, turning almost black, quietly cooking the village in a daily
The walnut tree is laughing in a spectacle of bliss. The builders' hammers chip the stone
walls. The fig tree gives praise. By a table on the mountainside the valley cups the
sun. Death is the vision of losing this, made for everyone.
A fig leaf, waving through the window in the kitchen, signals the gates of paradise are
open, then shut. Locked out of Eden, sin and death now roam, searching out the
mind of man as their official home.
When the old die, the young forget them. Yet the daisies of childhood have not grown
old. Here before me now they ride the heliotrope of time. And when it comes to
rest, young and old are one. Death cannot undo them, nor the thunderous
I sit on a stone in paradise. The wind tosses the heads of a multitude of flowers. The
urgent birdsong tells of the time when death stalked this valley and all the men
were killed. Now the jets of Nato drill the sky, ferocious claps announce them,
the guardians of paradise.
The sun silvers the leaves of the olive trees, filling the clouds with a white light, and the
mountain paths with upright grasses. The smell of the washing on the washing-
line is just that: paradisial. It is what foreign travellers take home with them.
There is no sound but the cockerels crowing and the tyres of the builders' truck
The bodies mouldering in the graveyard all have names. Many were my friends. But their
true identities are alive in paradise, where God escorts each one with the care and
dignity of an usher.
God is great. It is nothing to him to do this. The identity of every star is not a problem.
Nor the fashioning of particles so small, they can pass through the earth without
noticing it is there: mu mesons is what I call them.
I saw the bread on the table toasted to a charm. Beside it tuna fish and green pepper.
Butterflies collided with flashes of yellow. The air was tangy with expectation.
Any moment the village might become the messenger of God, the angelic
presence already a tentative fact.
On the blue washing lines danced particles of sunlight. The steadfast moreas, pollarded
and sturdy, which once fed the silk worms of the silk route, now feed the chorus
of the trees, while a donkey thuds a hoof and a goat neighs softly.
Scoops of wind flutter the many boughs, their beauteous apparel. A cat treads daintily
through a bed of clover. Wheat grows in the garden, tall and green, neighbour to
the spiky artichokes. There is a wall of light on a crumbling house, and a
porcupine of cypresses crowns the mountain above the church. Death is seen in
a dead aravafna, once so pink and white, its blossoms like roses.
The ten thousand Stars of Bethlehem open at my feet, close in the evening, like the
cupped hands of prayer.
The sun embosses the mountains, a choreography of contours, of green and yellow,
and white villages, like A?tos and Chalkias, Artiki and Malthi, Rizochori and
Polithèa. As the last sun slips off the mountains, and the dark comes down,
the stars and the villages twinkle on their own.
Death is truly rated in the conscience of the just. It is the spur to the horses of
instruction. God will not be adumbrated by the minimind of man. God is in the
wine jars and the tablets of the bread. God is in the seahorses and the
resurrection of the dead.
We do not even know how we are able to digest our food. Socrates laughed at scientific
explanations of anything under the sun. And quite rightly, too, because he didn't
even know why the sun was there.
The gods of Sitochori are Christian and kind. They are not chronological, like Chronos.
They do not swallow their children. They are the flowers of the roadside and the
untrod village path.
Rhythm is what makes poetry in the language of the true. And rhythm is forever when
the pulse of life is new.
Death is a counter-movement, a cat on the prowl, where life is brought to zero in the
beak of an owl, gazing at catastrophe with a dismissive scowl, as a builder
remonstrates with his chisel and his trowel.
O give me a glass of the wine called Taÿgetos. For on those snow-capped mountains no
poet is at a loss. The wine is like water watering the brain, when death comes up
to threaten in the Messinian plain.
In my sixty third year of walking home to God, I met young Byron roaming the isles of
Greece, looking for something to die for, Arkathìa, the freedom of the Greeks.
Can there be a substance more substantial than the sound of eighty Greeks or Welshmen
harrowing their ground? The ground, of course, is suffering. Eternity, it seems, is
the choir of the lover, who won't give up until the suffering is over.
Give me the picture of my father on the wall, and my mother with her glass of wine,
when we were walking tall. O, but not the mortal dross!
O give me a glass of the wine of Taÿgetos!
The asphodels are out in force, the poppies have arrived. Stone is back in fashion for the
houses and the walls. The sunlight's on the mountains like a veil on a bride.
Sparrows flicker in the olive groves, hyacinths irradiating absorption into glory.
The sea stretches away like light blue silk. And the palm trees wave at the faint discus of
the moon. A long-leggèd hornet hangs before the delicate beauty of a red
valerian. The waves lap the geometry of the pebbles. The sharp igneous rocks are
stroked by the therapy of the sea. In earthquake territory: 'the cerulean line of the
horizon in a hue intense.'
A flock of white gulls flies low over the water. The engine of the sea is idling. Roses
rushed by Interflora are not so red as these, here at my elbow as I look around.
And in a tiny chapel on the seafront, where the restaurants are found, the candles
burn all day. An avenue of palm trees escorts me to my lunch.
The pink of koutsoupià, Cercis siliquastrum (the so-called Judas tree), outdoes Chantilly
lace, erotic, spectacular, outrageous, a miracle in pink.
A goat kid walks across the village square and kneels down beside a blue Mercedes.
Damosels and dragonflies drink the gorgeous gorge, where green and yellow water is
translucent to the rocks, boulders of white limestone like the spine of an ox.
There's a chapel in the mountains drowning in flowers.
The trunk of an olive tree is like the mind of a monk, a contortion of rigidity and
strength, holding up the olive branch and the olive of God.
The golden-eyed goats by the blue beehives chew the rich grasses in their long brown
The news is everywhere. It's paradise today. Crowds of orange poppies confirm it on
Easter is the celebrant ringing the village bell, hanging in the plane tree above the
Out come the villagers in a canticle of black. They're coming from the graveyard, they're
going to the church. Beyond the iconostasis, the priest is making prayer. The
chanting has begun in all-embracing Greek.
O for the smell of wood smoke when it comes from the olive tree! Ten hens and a
cockerel all flick their heads. Up climbs the vine in the dressing of new life.
Crows caw in the cypresses. And the bright yellowy green of triffid-like
Smyrnium perfoliatum amazes. Among the scented pines, the cones are dropping.
The garden is hedged by frangosykià, Opuntia ficus-indica, a spiny cactus. I'm told
Christopher Columbus brought it back with him. Because of its fecundity, like
the impressive yucca Agave americana, it could also be called, but isn't, the
deathless one, athànatos, everlasting.
There's nothing to match Christ's blood like the red of the red anemone, deeper,
richer, purer than the illustrious poppy, where dialects of daisies dedicate the
ground. The ground is a tapestry of blue and yellow, pink and purple, white
and green, so intricate no needle stitched it, nor felicitous hand.
The flowers are the gods of the hillside. The birds are its choristers. The bees in the
purple vetch, the white and yellow saxifrage, the violet-blue gentians, occupy my
eye. The garden door is open. Spring walks in.
And here among the filigree of the flowers, she shows me the original patterns, the
natural ones, of all erotic lace-work.
I take her by the hand and we walk into the house. From the scrubbed pine tabletop, we
drink the wine of Taÿgetos, and break the bread from the ovens of Kopanaki.
So great is death, it seems silly to be alive,
Unless the spell of death has been broken by the Redeemer.
At the touch of a finger, the loo flushes perfectly. The shower is the best in the world,
raining down freedom. The bed is totally out of order, an orgy of the sweetness
of sleep. And on the balcony, at breakfast, the music of Mozart brings on the
complexity of happiness.
Mother of God! The asphodels adore you!
And in the village of Avlona, it is written on the road, kalo taxidi: have a good journey.
The fields are strewn with stones known to the Mycenaeans, and the sun at noon
is perpendicular, as it was to them.
Of the makers and the singers I name: Nikos Kazantzakis, Mikis Theodorakis, the genii
of the Rembetika, George Seferis, Nikos Kavadhias, Maria Farandori, Yannis
Ritsos, my favoured one Odysseus Elytis, and the nightingale of Greece herself,
Maria Callas. I notice the cats come round in the evening, about 7:30, to be
charmed by them.
There is an olive grove in town, by a bakery selling whisky. Children play basketball in
the school foreground. Next to it is a football pitch of green astroturf. Hanging
like lit globes in a tree, oranges light up the street, assisted by a hedge of pink-red
There is no clock on the wall. The icons are made of sea shells. The fridge gives off a
startling whiteness. Flying in and out of the house, the swifts are tumultuous.
Crushed ice in orange juice soothes the topical messages waving from the vine
leaves in the blue azure.
Children manage the alphabet with a prophetic surety, indicating the next generation of
car and house insurers.
Boats float by on the sea somewhere near Kyparissìa.
The beach of Kalò Nerò is a crescent of golden sand, empty of people, taking in
Sergiàni, where the Arkathìkos meets the sea, and the protected turtles breed.
There is not a soul here. The sea is a transparent light green, just like the Arkathìkos
coming down from the mountains, through its estuary of tufted reeds.
The Arkathìkos ripples like a poem where it runs over the white stones. The flat sea is a
capacious novel lipping its sentences in tiny waves.
Sand between the toes admits of the nature of childhood, when the eye of the mind
dilated on the gorgeous grains.
What of the corncrakes crexing? And the luminous pebbles on the lapping beach? Press
me into silence, as I walk the sand, the silence of infinity in the promised land.
What are these rocks? Where are they going? On the shoulders of God, they sail through
time to build the foundations of heaven started on this beach. There is no toil
here nor trade of any kind. The tender waves caress the sand.
The Arkathìkos flows into the sea. The salty sea drinks the pure river water with an
oceanic thirst. On comes the river with the opulence of God.
The songs of the swifts batter the ear through the headphones of the sky.
Stereophonic sunlight sings to the blinded eye.
Sidiròkastro is set in a cup of mountains, a village crescent around an olive grove of
buttercups and sheep. And there is the graveyard bedecked with crosses. And just
above it a field of beehives. Wisteria falls over walls.
I come to the church to pray for the martyrs of Greece, for whose blood Christ gave his
blood. Both give me the ground I walk on.
I can hear a bee in the vetch. It is the siesta. Green and gold smyrniums sway in a
shadowed orchard. A crow flaps the expanding sky. This is a land where the
donkey carries Christ every day.
Here are the mountains and the valleys to make a shepherd cry out in delight. For here
the sheep and the goats with equal dignity graze, where the calls of the birds
sanctify the sky. Magnificent the brown coat of the goat beside the white iris.
This is a place to die for under an oak tree in the spring. For here God has extended his
hand to help us on our way - kalo taxidi - the vast orogenies, the millions of
buttercups, gently persuading us to see things more through his eyes.
On the Way to Kyparissía Beach and Back
Look at that rain puddle. You'd better be quick. It's hitching a lift on the wind.
You see that signpost to the necropolis? Aye, the bodies once there have
hitched one too.
There's a lone crow in the milk palace of the clouds. Cypress trees sway
gently in the breeze. An old gate swings by an abandoned field.
The corridor through the mountains is hazy with mist.
You can rely on the bougainvillea to hit your heart where it hurts. What could be
more painful than never seeing it again? It is the loved one in planet form.
Leaves race about in the sunny air. The claws of cockerels tread daintily over the
stony yards. Music is just out of reach, as a fly interprets the world.
There's a lizard on the road ahead warming its back in the sun. Six blue beehives
integrate with the finest orders of mechanics, the proof of which is honey.
Vertigo enters the mind of the man who sees the abyss of God. So much space to
fall into with no gift of flying. And because there is no bottom, the fixture is
permanent. Goodbye forever, is what it adds up to.
The mountains are arrested in an expensive coat of green. There are more fir trees
per square kilometre than there are local eyes to count them. And there is a
solitary olive tree playing to the gallery.
Many are the nights when I lay here, on the sandy beach not far from the
discotheque, listening to the stars and the soul of Mozart. There was a
profusion of shooting stars almost every night. The watery wine at my side
was the inspiration of my children, dancing the night away in the purple
glow of the dance floor.
Now children on bicycles ride past the unspecial place.
The white walls of the waves play the instrument of the beach with such a musical
care for the courtesy of our lives, I am thinking of drinking it in.
How many steps to heaven? Three, I think. I forget them all, on top of the starlit
stair. There is no gloom to accompany me. The race to outer space has
come and gone. I am a man awake on the beach, with Bach in all his glory
more alive than dead.
The seashore roars with the hidden depth of scale, like the depth of things felt in
the tremor of an earthquake.
The smell of seaweed entrances a girl on her knees.
I smell the fragrance of a rose uniquely unfolding in being. That's some sort of
bribe, I think, and one well worth the taking.
The girls laze about looking like a million dollars. And every one is fairer to me
than the ink blue line of the sea in the sketches of an artist, under a large
straw hat, drawing his inspiration from the Greek horizon.
Inhaling a cigarette, one sends me a smile. A light from the gaze of creation filters
through the trees. I hear the talking, the words of young women, as the
waves keep thrashing the beach. Surely they are right, these words, for they are engendered in the fertility of the sea.
It is not appropriate to endure the sunlight tip-toeing the terrace in the form of
evanescent leaf prints. The code is: love it, for this is the time of your life.
How sweet is the custom of the barefoot walk on the beach, so nonchalant by the
branches of palm trees, shaped to make shady shelters, as the white sail
of a yacht perfectly investigates the cerulean hue.
For the time comes, when going for a walk is a thing of the past.
Heaven is all about us. Only the people build another world, one they can see and
understand. Then they buy up the artist's vision, to say how sorry I am I
did not recognise it before.
Heaven is all about us. The sun-scripted dialogues between old adversaries put a
spice in the ice-cold beers, chip a thought to a sharpened pencil, stamp a yes
on the magical days.
And the nights. Do not forget the nights. Do you remember the one... ? Do you
remember... ? Ah yes, heaven is all about us.
The fish swim into the net. The seed corn multiplies. The grape crushes itself in its
haste to become a glass of wine. Sparrows confirm it all, with a hop and a
skip and a flight.
Heaven is all about us. The hands of the clock slow to a sleepy stupor. Oranges fall
from the trees. Leaves bat the sun, while drinking it up. Cicadas are the
typists in the trees writing it all down correctly.
Heaven is all about us. The ice-cream van has arrived and the beach is full of
children. Mothers are young once more. And the young prince, walking on
sand for the first time, publishes the triumph of infancy over the cruellest
hand. No hand dips like a mother's to scoop up her young Buddha.
Everywhere the relics of the mind of man are found. Take this quad bike, for
instance. What do you make of that? And how about that plastic bag caught
in the thistlegrass? And what of all those stones lying under the earth, which
used to be Mediterranean cities?
Is it too much to ask how we escaped all this, and came to our present senses? Did we sail on the back of the coelacanth through the seamless seas of sex?
As the waves pound the igneous rock, the long-established discourse between water and fire continues. And air and earth are in this too, as you can see. I am not making this up. I am writing it down.
The Greek flag is out in Kakkaba in the Messinian plain, while all around are the mighty orogenies turning a luminous yellow, as the shadows of the clouds move slowly over them.
The road ekes out a course up the mountain. The breeze polishes the olive trees. A horse flicks his ears. The cypress trees taste the silent juice of the light. A hint of birdsong ushers in the evening.
White cloud erupts over the mountains. A flock of sheep ambulates in an olive grove. Vertiginous drops fall away from the roadside. The long grasses sway. The setting sun lights up the face of a fig tree. There are tortoises moving about.
Ringfenced goats natter as the car glides past. A lone dog barks outside a well-worn kennel. There is majesty over Platánia to fill up the hungry eye. The passion under question here is encyclopaedic. What the mind cannot see, the eye cannot tell.
Here is a sight to knock you out of your noodle. For here above the gorges of the Neda, and below the vast orogenies and the erupting clouds, is a Greek village like home on earth. For this is the village Platánia.
A tint of autumn is in the air. That touch of valediction. Over the sea comes the sky. The sun is falling into his hammock. The stars wave through the diminishing blue. The cooks are prodding their kitchens.
And so into the village of Sitochori an entrance has to be made. Taki's café is the target. There sits Rathana with Leonidas, Giorgio and Taki himself. Thanos has come from Florida, and his brother Dimitri, 71, is just off the jet from there.
Oh, what a kerfuffle there is, as Dimitri displays his skill with politics, just a tiny bit bombastic. Taki winks, and the evening takes on the beer and the chiparo, while the stars congregate in amazement to oversee such human intercourse.
The full moon rises over the eastern mountains. The many cats embarrass my door. There is nothing to do but feed them, as my hand turns to the playing of music, under the ecliptic heavens.
Days. What are days? Are they links of time? Do we make them up?
There is no doubt a light wind is wrinkling the water, as caiques float on it in the
But is it today or tomorrow?
And what does it mean to say it is yesterday?
The sleep of dreams divides them, and who will say that is reliable?
The sun bounces off a windscreen. A chicken wanders through an olive grove. A
swift swoops under a telephone wire.
There's nothing on the road, before or behind.
Is this day a beatitude?
Does the Sleeping Lord wake up and walk among the olive groves?
Is there room enough here for the living God?
Who will dispel the songs of the sparrows?
The sight of light basking in the branches of a palm tree?
The bamboo drinks from the hidden river.
The road is a hairpin bend anticipating the river.
There is a trickle of more sparrows in the luxuriant foliage.
Tempus fugit, uncurtaining the mountains.
What is the clematis doing, blowing blue, sun-irradiated trumpets on the edge of
Shall we untangle the trunk of the olive tree to see what jewels are hidden in it?
Do I mean money?
Who will dispose of the sea transubstantiated into sapphire?
The carpets of the olive groves are sun-inwoven grass.
The palm trees of Marathópoli accept the sky with the open arms of a friend.
There is nothing tó the restaurant by the sea, except all you ever hoped for, served
with a winning smile by the tall owner.
The pace of life accelerates to a standstill.
The worthlessness of ambition sings the hymn of the sea; so as the waves splash
over the rocks, all its dreams are fulfilled. It has turned into achievement.
Look at the island of Proti. The sun does. And the sparkling eyes of the bay.
Could the planet be more mysterious, if Proti got up and danced?
There's octopus for lunch, drunk down with the liquid grape.
The places where we went together are warm with memory.
Is there a serenity more serene than the recovery of love?
Love is not the noise from a conversation. It is the conversation, walking hand-in-
hand by the sea.
The fir trees bright with Mediterranean light confirm it, as a great freighter crosses
the horizon from north to south.
Proti does indeed dance, on the evidence to the contrary.
It is a singing rhythm in the particles of the place.
It's the pet of Marathópoli, now sun-bathing on its belly in the garden of the sea.
Hang on to your laptops, as the light skids into town.
Was ever a place so illuminated, with never a finger lifted?
Pour on the shore, O welcome wavelengths, there is more to redeem than the
continents heaving in death.
Give birth to the spirit of life! Of rapture!
For this is Marathópoli.
The blue horizon is sharp enough to shave with.
The great freighter is the carborundum sharpening it.
Reach out your palm and look at the light floating in it.
Twenty-five Euros per gram?
The mallet of the sun bonks you on your brainbox.
Men swim across seas, dying to get to it, paying whatever price the journey may
For once that light is in your palms, you can splash your face with it, and the back
of your neck.
There is nobody to stop this, this side of sanity.
Carved Byzantine rock is strewn about the place, some of it in the church.
You can hear a file putting an edge on steel.
A man with a shovel shifts a pile of sand.
The neon light on the pharmacy blinks all day and night.
It's time for a look at the mulberry tree, the blueblack ink of the sea its willing
'I am building a house,' it speaks, 'of solid golden stone.'
The house has a tower with a turret to one side;
And a mason with a hammer, in the middle of a huge pile of rocks, thinking it
A bus flies past, shaking the air.
'What is the point of your story?' inquires the blueblack ink.
'It's this, quite simply,' says the tree. 'The mind of man fashions the chaos of
shapeless rocks to that magnificent golden mansion you can see over there.
The mason is man the artist, the maker of beautiful form out of the
Come with me down the bamboo road to hit the brilliance of the sea.
Diamonds are jewels which sparkle.
But this sea sparkling under the sun makes diamonds look tame.
What the sun does to the sea, and the sea to the sun, is another order of being.
This is the wealth that money cannot buy.
From tycoon to beachcomber is a small step.
But what to do about death isn't, is the picture.
The sun shines on my T-shirt and I am ablaze with a kind of warm infusion.
For I am anyone who is listening to this.
This is the fabric of the world, before the unkempt mind of man tears it to pieces.
There's a single yellow parasol on the golden curve of the sand, with a woman
lying under it, inheriting her paradise.
The sound of the sea is a madrigal in her ear.
The light breeze blows the low herded clouds into her dispensation: she sees what
she has come for, and she likes it.
Hang onto your T-shirt, Archie, this blue sea will kill you.
There is an intensity to it - which is what it is doing in you.
This is the blue that makes sacred.
It burns you up inside and makes you a nobler spirit, the old one dead.
Here is a chapel by the sea, painted white and light blue.
Out on its little promontory of rock, the sea washes its feet.
There's not a person anywhere. The sun warms my page.
The chapel folds me in devotional spirit.
I am its animator and it is mine.
I wake up and see a bit of blue heaven in a white arch.
They are right above me. It is the truth.
I am awake in my house, and this is my morning window speaking to me.
The Track to the Orchard
There sits Mount Ithome on a sightline to the mouth of the Nile.
The apparatus of a leathery sky saddles the noon. The sun mounts the
saddle and the hot light draws out further the juice of the grape.
There's a long scar on the mountain where the vehicles of thought travel up
and down. Mine's a Daihatsu. Rathana's old Toyota has grace about it yet.
There's a suggestion of understatement in the wind in the olive trees.
A classic autumn day in the Messinian mountains rises to the climax of
serenity in the light mist on the Taÿgetos.
A massive fly lands on my page and looks at my writing. I see his brain take it
all in, before the eventual take-off.
What a glorious glide by a grey-backed crow, who voices herself to another as
she lands on the ground.
There is a grain to the fallen walnuts, cracking open at my feet: it is the
unseen opulence of the spirit of the tree.
The arbor philosophica rises in the oak raising itself to the sky rooted in the
The stone walls of heaven are cemented by nuns, with the help of falling
raindrops out of a sunny sky.
The houses in heaven aren't painted with the azure light of the dawn. There is
no need, for the stones are of that quality.
The cars are jets. The banks cathedrals. Money is blades of grass. And
The angels have all converted from left to right hand drive.
And God is a chef cooking up lunch in the fruit of a cactus. There's
oodles of such fruit about, on this God-given mountain track.
For this is the deathless plant, Opuntia ficus-indica. Its prickly red fruit, oval to a
nicety, swamps the mountainside.
Dimensions of beauty spring out of the seasoned rock.
There's music in the hills and iron ore.
Who can see the gold trickle of a well?
For the creator of the gold trickle of the well is the carpenter of the bolster of
being - this plain before me, where the Spartans cropped their slaves.
The asphodels are like the silk mantles of the tilley lamp. The breath of God
blows in them and their response is a constant inner glow.
There are old rocks and young ones in the family graves of the dust.
There's a tight-knitted body of oak trees where water comes down to the
And many quills of bamboo.
How green is the lip-reading cypress, the chaperone of the land.
Rock melts into mud.
In the forest of the bamboo, it's like a learnèd tent, as the long stalks curve
over the track from either side: the shade here listens to microscopic
raindrops teaching the art of silence.
Now the full rain comes, in answer to the thirst of the erudite.
Can you hear the birds sorting out the debts of anxiety?
Here is the stoniest olive grove confronting a village farmer. It looks like
rocks have been raining, some of them rather large.
I'll take a rest here, as the vibration of the mountain is going to my head.
The cars wind up and down the mountain stitching families together.
O lilac cyclamen under the thorny bush, speak to us all on the mountain of
No orchard was ever so planned, nor tucked away so neatly.
It's on the end of the track near the summit of the mountain.
The chances of meeting a raptor are pretty good.
And rapacious is the appetite of the gnawing jaws of time.
One by one each of the trees is plucked of its fruit.
The timeless hands of better men than me feed the jaws with an affection
often seen in the young.
Who are the timeless men? And are they visible?
Each one is the original from whom the visible was formed, the time-wearied
character, who ate and drank and died.
God, being ingenious, felt it was better this way, for upon death the
resurrection of each man was made so much easier.
So this is how the orchard is cleaned of its gorgeous fruit.
You can lie on the sunny grass.
You can drink the falling rain.
There is only one stipulation you must not ignore.
Thinking is not permitted except between the hours.
So you must save all yours for those happy moments when time, like infant
writing, is not joined up.
Drift on a cloud away. Dreaming is essential.
In the Folded Strata
The rain washes away the folded strata.
Where did the rain come from to manage this?
How did a ball of fire acquire such stupendous oceans?
And what are oceans? They are more than fishtanks.
Who will put a price on the meaning of the sea?
The road runs circles round the mighty Neda gorge, getting swallowed in the
The boundary lines between human, natural, and divine melt in the meeting of
mind and mountain.
There is a kind of terror in the air, the euphemism of which is panic.
What on earth are we doing on earth?
Before a single answer suggests itself, be careful you are not brain-washing
Nothing is obvious to the well-trained mind.
Who could transpose the contours of these mountains into the sketch of an
ordnance survey map?
You need a genuine feebleness of imagination to walk through Kephalórisi, not to
mention Platánia, without getting vertigo.
They say the native Americans, who built the skyscrapers, quite got over vertigo,
and walked on them as securely as this column of ants on the mountainside.
But what if you're out on a limb of the body of Christ?
What if mind has mountains and mountains have mind?
How can I prevent Christ walking off the mountain with me on his arm?
Hold my hand and lead me. Lead me to my rest.
Like an anvil trembling under the constant thwock of a hammer, my deepest
senses are shaking because of an awesome presence.
I am not far from home. I wouldn't dare be.
There is too much at stake to risk another inch.
Down from the sky flies the thought of an eagle.
The look in his eyes makes it clear what he thinks.
Is it so very different with Christ, the raptor of the conscience?
And look how his lady nests their babies!
This is Christ, too, I know.
For now the sweetness of his presence renders the mountainous drop to the
comfort of home life.
The folded strata are the ironed sheets of God.
Time and the patience of a housewife have done a good job.
You can see the layers of time husbanded into geological order.
There is a bankruptcy in our understanding which stares us in the face.
As the mountains keep on moving, so I feel it in my bones.
What shall we do but melt into what we are?
And how unhappy it is to be gone forever.
The sky is too large for me to sit on the holy hill.
It would lift my brains off in a jiffy, like an eagle lifting a fish.
So strapped down by hoops of steel, what can I see in the distance?
Are those merry-go-rounds, by the camel trains on the Silk Route?
Are there children in rabbit fur chasing ducks to a river?
What can that possibly be, but my mother and my father joking over wine in the
evening by an open fire?
And who's that playing a piano under the cherry blossom?
Do I see through Greece - through a crucible of holy water?
The villagers do not think I am mad. Or a smuggler. Or a spy. Although they used
to. For it is said the British dropped gold and guns here in the second world
Why did I come here? To write a poem I said. To myself. For who else would have
believed me? Until the thing was done?
O Dimitri in the café under the roof of the rain! Where is your Florida now? Your
grand new house with its swimming pool? Or your huge house here
Everything has vanished, except the chiparo in your waterbottle.
There is nothing to do in the mountains, when your mind is truly empty, like a
mystic condemned to contemplate dross, out of which the light of God has
There is nothing to do, but argue with your childhood roots in the rock.
America gave you money - and a hole in the head for your troubles.
How wretched success! And that day in the Reno brothel!
You gambled away your life and sit in the café alone.
But I congratulated you. Because you have a spirit as generous as a friend.
Tough as an old goat, and never grumpy, you walk home barefoot in the rain.
So appoint me a computer to calculate the facts of the matter.
How many lives in the union between the living and the dead?
In the folded strata?
What terror, what adventure, what meta ta physica, pass through me into the day-
How tightly packed are the graves; and well walled in from the world.
The horses graze in the fields, the shadows of their tails flicking
Brushing the grass, in the Messinia Horse Park.
Who would suppose this was Greece? It looks like Virginia.
Various herds mind their own business.
Most of the noses are touching the grass.
Birds chirrup from tree to tree.
The acorns in the oak trees are falling to the ground.
There's a large flock of sheep below unworried by this.
A few bells gongle.
You can hear crows in the distance, the corporate managers of the plain.
The baahing of the sheep echoes in the eucalyptus trees.
A silver taxi slips past and out of sight.
And now the flock has gotten up and come to have a look at me.
Hello, my fellow mortal! they speak as one.
I reciprocate with a wave, and provoke a baah in response.
Away they go, in the hands of the good shepherd.
The crucifix on a shrine advances towards me, followed by the mountains turning
into the believing in a solemn procession. Kyrie eleison.
For the mountains are the congregation that has gone before us - and returned to
give us strength in our present company. Kyrie eleison.
Order returns with the olive trees taxing the earth for its oil.
I can see the Myceneans looking out from the high mountain village of Chalkias.
There's a mist gliding between us.
What are the upper reaches of understanding in their stony tholos tombs?
The shepherd's hut to my right is a stony room.
The tufted top of a bamboo stalk paints the sky.
There's a grey cloud heading south.
The heart of the world has been removed and replaced by a new one.
This is the heart of the healthy whole of heaven, ticking in the body of Christ,
swallowed on Sundays by the Christian crew - sailing between earth and the
holy land in that grey cloud heading south. Christe eleison. Christe eleison.
The kingdom of heaven is within us, as confirmed by this heart carved in the bark
of a eucalyptus.
There's a butterfly in a vineyard reading the newspaper of the sky.
Drops of rain tinkle on the tin roof of my car.
There's a black dog wandering about, who has finished with despair.
How did the host of Psári account for that?
And where is the church where the fact was authorized?
- The fact that we do not die in the body of Christ.
We die outside it.
So into the body of Christ drive this Daihatsu.
Here in the streets of Psári the office of God is open for business.
A woman talks to a man. The rest is silence.
A cat walks past calor gas bottles. The square is damp.
Green umbrellas sanction an empty restaurant.
I recognise the war memorial, presided over by the goddess of memory, writing
down the names of all those killed in battle, to well before Homer.
It's a work of art in marble, a frieze of modern, middle, and ancient Greek
An oil lamp burns on a carved pillar, to light up the understanding of the goddess,
who is surely beautifully drawn.
There's a mountain range behind making up the backdrop of the truth.
When did a basket hang in a tree quite so majestically? an orange geranium asks, as
the sun returns and a butterfly crosses the street to let the bus go by.
The wet patios feel no feet, for it's the siesta.
A column of cornerstones resembles a zip.
A trailer full of firewood looks good to me. For the jaki is the fireplace where the
tales are told, to the children who become the parents, who become the
A pollarded morea nods in agreement.
The mountains range like the rhythms of molten rock.
I'm in a tiny boat below the massive waves of a sea of stone good enough to let me
float for a moment.
Christ puts out his hand and the mountains feed from it like lambs.
Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.
Time climbs into his hammock.
A thousand years pass.
Keeping vigil over the village of Psári, its guardian angels have not budged an inch.
The love and praise of God is inlocked into the system.
Archangels stroll the streets at night, and especially during the day.
Psári protects its magpies, who hop from hope to hope.
The Sea Seen from Sitochori
I am by the church where my son, Daniel, was baptised; and where I go to Mass.
Rathana, his godfather, is the regular cantor, sometimes chanting for three hours at
There are new frescoes on the walls and an iconostasis respected by all.
Athos, the husband of Demitrula, was laid out here, where we all kissed him
He was a barber and my neighbour, who delighted in giving me wine.
An old brass bell hangs in a plane tree, to summon the faithful to God.
What was that? A lilac anemone, a purple bougainvillea.
The path climbs through the village.
The sun is delightful.
It is the first of October.
My house is known to the Listed Buildings Service in Athens.
I can see it from here below me.
Above me is Rathana's house, with a garden full of cats.
I'm on my way to see the sea from the mountaintop, stopping in the cool shadows.
There is no shortage of splendour, shining out of prehistory.
The mountains are covered in scrub oak, but their massivity irradiates naked
Thalassa! Thalassa! The beach of Kyparissía!
Only a shallow mind would not gasp.
Here is my destination, my beginning, and my end.
Kaló Neró. Sergyáni.
A milky blue horizon.
The jets of Nato vigilant for snoopers.
There's Africa over there and Italy to your right.
Sitochori is the toast of Greece.
See it in my uplifted glass tonight.
'To Sitochori.' 'To Sitochori.'
The breeze in the scrub oaks murmurs a like opinion.
The sky blue sky is washed with delicate skeins of white taffety.
To sit on a stone and observe is to be grateful for life.
The sea seen from Sitochori is grounded in love.
For love is grounded in God.
No hasty metaphysics brought me here.
It was the study of a scholar gypsy, as my father dubbed me, waiting for the spark
from heaven to fall.
Well, here it is.
The sea seen from Sitochori is grounded in love.
The spark from heaven lights up the welkin.
The dead live on in our memories and these in the body of Christ.
The Messinian plain flows to the silky sea.
For Christos anesti, Christ is risen, and the evidence is here before me.
Crowds of binoculars won't see it.
It does not register on the photographic plate, chemical or digital.
It is a presence.
Take the presence of your husband or your wife or a friend - of your loved ones.
Each is unique and obviously so.
This is all of them put together, and many more, multiplying endlessly into
The presence of Christ, sensed by the intelligence of Christian faith.
Walking on water, the light of the sea caresses each burning forehead.
No responsibility is lost on it, warming the broken backs of the mountainous
Not a particle of being escapes notice in this landscape, where the holy terrors sniff
out every pigsty.
There's one right here beside me. It's like trapped lightning in a jamjar.
Everywhere - acorns. The oak tree spills a seed to nourish the planet wisely.
There is grace in a carpenter turning it into a wheelbarrow.
Picture-framed by paradise, the Sitochorion eye sets the prospect in perspective.
It is the mountains running down to the sea, nursed by the many freeholds, with
the unique of the Greek bussed in from the stars.
Look from here tonight and you will see what I mean.
Somewhere in London a mind dreams of this reality.
I witness it now.
I cannot take my eyes off it, as the singularity of history and the present meet.
I have friends in the picture, good and living ones.
They move about in the intricate patterns of their freedom.
My mother was still living, when I first came up here alone.
She was in bed in the house, with a tray of flowers on her lap.
She knew all their Latin names, although they were new to her.
My last shot of her was a picnic we had in the stadium in Olympia.
She'll be around somewhere, in a prospect rich as this.
As you turn away, villages cradled in the mountains greet your gaze, always
understating their case.
It seems a miracle they are there.
And so it is.
For man to be born and to live, in such a place as this, is indeed miraculous.
This becomes more obvious the closer you are to death.