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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

The Railway; Tread Carefully, Johnny-come-lately; Terminus of a Migratory Route

By: Marilena Zackheos

The Railway


had first taken 

our brother in 

from the craftsmen streets 

where he begged 

to learn a trade, my brand new socks 

for a day in the shade

and gray clouds spread 

over the goat herd pasture!

on days he was found 

wanting—hammered ego, 

in bed sleepless 

from the wrath of God, beaten 

back, lacerated arms—he still    

thanked his lucky stars 

to be the stonemason’s 

apprentice, chiseling 

headstones—an all the more exquisite one 

for Master! four shillings 

four and a half piasters 

Ma saved up and even 

borrowed for that 

non-transferable ticket 

of her thirteen-year-old 

the oldest, the last

cereal harvest happened 

before I was born, before 

the war halted the price of barley

dried and crushed 

by starvation 

thus the station 

filled primarily 

with onlookers, present solely 

for the spectacle of steam 

chugging along 

with dreams 

of someone else’s 

strife! last time Ma had waved 

goodbye, Pa was headed for the protest 

and what irony 

that the railway brought 


to destroy the railway’s fathers 

with stones 

he threw 

at the Government House 

in civil disobedience!

stones that in the end 

would mark Pa’s death 

and become 

our family’s 

legacy, taxed 

with elegies

for grand ideas

for that fated mechanism  

of the beloved 


to the big city 

from the great plains 

Ma’s labor 

pains started 

as the steam trumpet soloed

adults asked 

each other 

and their kids 

if they heard it

baby sis 


for her life

Ma rushed back 

to the rest of us girls 

with a bundle 

of supine 

credit line 


the horrors

moving through 



driving rods


changing tracks 

leaving the rails 

till the 



flowed again

Tread Carefully, Johnny-come-lately

The way a bumblebee assails 

in the mugginess of late summer the hibiscus 

               a poet forgets 

in the process of elated composition the physical needs of a body 

and a mountain slope avalanches in autumn 

under the cleft hooves of mouflon 

rams rivaling for a mate.

Eight three one 

                             had placed the Indian* deep into the chute. 

Then he walked away casually to wait at the corner as he had been instructed. 

The only sound 

                             the widow-maker in the adjacent tunnel 

               raising dust.

His first kiss was in Cave Carefree: 

                                                                   How his core scurried out of him 

                                                                   as their lips neared!

On top of the world                              past the arthropod-rodent militia

turning back round the corner toward the chute

               in Orphean sympathy 

Headless John** got blamed for everything 

but the rats and roaches 

will sense it seconds before the ground moves.

* Dynamite

** Ex-miners of Queen Copper Mine in Bisbee, AZ tell of the haunts of a Headless John.

Terminus of a Migratory Route

There are more words in this reef 

than in the language I speak. 

Once a rambling and fickle island of 

water in the desert, now 

a plain of ocean-born carbonate sediments—a microsecond 

in evolutionary time. Except for a few straggling acacias, 

little of the original vegetation is left. 

Little earthquakes reverberate. 

I drift closer toward the ground that journeys 

in a steel nest across the horizon—imagine 

lugging those burdens along the cliff, too fast and they 

sink. Putt-putting along, the newcomer on its stamping ground. 

Only later do I perceive the rest of the animal, the color of the rock itself.

He turns to face me, then, thinking again, withdraws. 

Coming and going, from gorgonian to gorgonian

the Human Signature one sunset to the next 

impetuous activities equivalent of a creeper

fetching more creepers and when their scattering 

becomes too great, the trees snap.

They nest and nest on soil, 

assembling. This is how the herd keeps in touch.

They are, by any measure, parasites.

Night brings a changing of the guard.

The moon seems almost to reach to the earth here, 

as if this were a binary planet. 

Source: David G. Campbell’s Islands in Space and Time. 


Marilena Zackheos is an Anglophone Greek-Cypriot scholar and poet. She grew up in Moscow, Beijing, Nicosia, Geneva, and New York City. She studied philosophy, creative writing, and English literature in the USA and the UK. She has published on postcolonial literary and cultural studies, psychoanalysis and trauma, gender and sexuality. She is co-editor of "Vile Women: Female Evil in Fact, Fiction, and Mythology" (2014), "From Cyprus With Love" (2016) and "Education in a Multicultural Cyprus" (2017). Her poems have been translated in Greek, Turkish, Serbian, Albanian, and German. They have been featured in regional journals, anthologies as well as literary magazines in Europe and across the Atlantic. She is the author of the poetry collection "Carmine Lullabies" (A Bookworm Publication 2016).

The poems above are part of a yet to be published sequence titled “Arizona.” The work draws connections between this Southwestern U.S. state and the poet’s birthplace of Cyprus, articulating real-life stories of conflict, hardship, and environmental damage via an empathetic link between similarly lived experiences.

“The Railway” refers to the Cyprus Government Railway set up during British colonial rule of the island. It also alludes to the 1931 Cyprus Revolt when a group of 5,000 ethnically Greek identifying Cypriots attacked the Government House calling for “enosis” or union with Greece. Nonetheless, these historical details are not made explicit in the poem so that the issues of poverty, hardship, loss, and alcoholism can erase distinctions between the Cypriot, the Arizonian, or any other regional experience.  

“Tread Carefully, Johnny-come-lately” is inspired by stories of miners at Queen Copper Mine in Bisbee, Arizona. It also dramatizes the first love-struck intimate moment between the poet’s grandmother and grandfather. The latter had himself been a miner to make ends meet in Cyprus.

“Terminus of a Migratory Route” includes a combination of original verses and found elements from David G. Campbell’s text "Islands in Space and Time." The poem urges us to assume the identity and perspective of the falcon, to become other than what we are, to assess our own activities and behavior from a perspective other than our own. The aim is to highlight other realities and possibilities such as the final notion that the poem puts forth that this may be “a binary planet.”  


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