The Railway; Tread Carefully, Johnny-come-lately; Terminus of a Migratory Route
By: Marilena Zackheos
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
in bed sleepless
from the wrath of God, beaten
back, lacerated arms—he still
thanked his lucky stars
to be the stonemason’s
headstones—an all the more exquisite one
for Master! four shillings
four and a half piasters
Ma saved up and even
borrowed for that
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
thus the station
with onlookers, present solely
for the spectacle of steam
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
at the Government House
in civil disobedience!
stones that in the end
would mark Pa’s death
for grand ideas
for that fated mechanism
of the beloved
to the big city
from the great plains
as the steam trumpet soloed
and their kids
if they heard it
for her life
Ma rushed back
to the rest of us girls
with a bundle
leaving the rails
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
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.
** 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.”