Three poems by Carol Rumens, Michael Marks award-winning poet

British poet Carol Rumens, this year’s winner of the “Michael Marks Award for Poetry Pamphlets” participated in CHS’s Michael Marks Poets in Residence Program this past spring. During her stay in Greece, she arrived in Nafplio, where she participated in several cultural activities and met with renowned and aspiring Greek poets. After a few days, she joined the HAA – CHS travel study program for a week and traveled together with Harvard undergraduates and alumni, visiting Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi and Athens.
In an evening dedicated to poetry reading in Delphi, Rumens read the three following poems to fellow travelers.
Threnody, with Depleted Uranium
My love, I loved you well, I kept you well.
I kept you as musk in the box and as wire in the reed.
I kept you as a silver lamp which lit up this home.
On the day when our fingers and lips were broken mirrors,
I stayed in the kitchen, though I wanted to see
as they packed you in a long bag. They wheeled you past me.
Then they hid you in a long box of pale oak
and out of the flames they brought me a little salt
in a cardboard tube printed with pastel flowers.
I keep your arms and shoulders in a wardrobe of old sweat-shirts.
Your feet are wrapped around mine as I walk in your shoes.
Your head moves shyly in small photographs.
I will send you into space, to flirt among girlish moons.
I will bury you in a mine as deep as the nights
when I think the words ‘never’ and ‘not ever.’
My hand passes through concrete, and brings out mud and ash
and the intermittent sparks of atomic decay.
I will keep you well, Ouranos, my silver-suited darkness
and live with your death unburied at my core,
as the planet lives with the half-life of a great metal
that creates deadly hazards when used in anger.
(Note: the first stanza quotes three lines of a modern threnody from Kynouria, quoted in The Ritual Lament in Greek Tradition, Margaret Alexiou.
      My love, I loved you well, I kept you well.
      I kept you as musk in the box and as wire in the reed.
      I kept you as a silver lamp which lit up this home.
      Now the wire has rusted, the musk has lost its fragrance.
      Now the silver lamp has fallen and shattered.)
Metamorphosis in Nafplio
Once, a schoolgirl-tourist
in a secretive harbour-city,
left the tour-guide, wanting,
as usual, to see for herself.
Bouzouki music was tangling
its cloisonné of strings and air
towards her from an arcade.
One day, she’d discover the words –
George Seferis, Mikis Theodorakis,
“Sto perigiale to trifo” –
tonight, she knew nothing.
She wandered into the shop,
parted the vines and shadows
of a forest of dresses, chose one,
took it to the changing-room.
It smelled of wild thyme,
and the weave lay coarse and cool
against her skin;
Greek-key pattern mazed the hem.
She blushed like Persephone
and counted out her drachmas
for the careful man who’d never
stared or grinned at her
from behind his counter.
She re-entered the light
and the crowd. She didn’t boast
to anyone about her purchase.
When she put it on that evening
she saw she was different:
but it wasn’t simply the dress…
It was the finding and wearing
that had formed her into a woman,
and, perhaps, a citizen.
Guide to Learning
We must begin each other’s history, open
The gallery of half-formed pictures, strip
In the wet-skinned changing-room behind the day,
And sit there, baldly shivering. No thought
Of ‘who we are’, no looks or language-pride
Should drip into these cells of other-learning.
For exercise, embroider enemy flags.
Try out the scariest warriors’ chin-lifts, breathe
The gas that wreathes both runners and the dying,
But in the blistered cages which were not
Metaphor, place no candles. Undertake
Responses lighter than an ash-key, swallowed.
The forest is already undertaken.
The strangers un-estranged are old as sunlight.
Physic this transmission; know that knowing
The subway doesn’t make all journeys ours.
For more poetry and information on the poet’s work, visit the CHS dedicated webpage for Carol Rumens.