Dimitris Lyacos: Poena Damni, translated by Shorsha Sullivan

  Dimitris Lyacos
  translated from the Greek by Shorsha Sullivan

  Poena Damni
 

 
  JPR 07

Z213: EXIT (Poena Damni vol. 1)

Paragraph One follows — 1:

                                                    these names and that’s how they found me. And as soon as they brought me I stayed for a while and then they took me it was a building of four wards large yards and rooms the rest of the people were there four wards separate not far from the sea. And we would eat together sometimes and in the middle a log with cut branches on top over it an opening for the smoke, and ashes spread out on the floor black stains and ashes. And from the pores in the walls a little water would come and sometimes you could ask go upstairs and visit somebody else and when sometimes in the evening the power was out and we were sitting silent in the dark             but the wards which weren’t connected                   three four five among us fond of each other yet most of us there would die at some point all of us me too and then those who believed used to cry out others did not that right we had and we were in all those wards about a thousand and each day a man from personnel would come with a list and stand in the doorway right there in the entrance the main door to go in standing and shouting to them to come out and they would call them then take them from there and remained ten somewhere else fifteen depending on ward and they would take them to a special place from the evening of the day before and next day in the morning they would come and take them from there and you could hear at that time they were going in and calling their names hear those now saying goodbye to us we were about two thousand. And they were saying goodbye to us now I with all the others saying goodbye to us and the place sounding with their goodbyes. And then they would come out go into a car and round the back there was the sea and they were going. And as soon as they would come out you could hear now people shouting and from that place in a car from the back to the sea it was not very far it was from the back where they dug pits and sometimes the water would reach there and the town was woken by this noise. And they would lower them down into the pit. This is what comes to my mind most of the time. And to hear them cry as far as the last houses of the town where the wall was and everybody understood. And some used to get close to the pits and go back again and it wasn’t a secret it was under our feet but nobody. A whole town just about. And that moment indescribable moment when I went down past midnight and saw bringing them in that truck down to the sea.

 

 

2:

If I could, only from that place he told me about, that gallery which leads behind the wall to the abandoned fort and the tunnel through the mountain. Because all other roads were guarded to prevent anyone getting through. Lights overhead broken apart from one at the far end. And then that skylight, an open hole in the dark. Going inside that way you leave the city behind, the passage which narrows and narrows, you go up, hear sudden flutterings. Hear like a river flowing somewhere around. Soon you make out the end, light, you come up trees drizzle, leaves spilled at your feet. Voices and footsteps draw near then away. Then you start going down again as fast as you can, get there before break of day. More would die tomorrow. And some will know about you. Night cut in two by the yellow strip running through it. And he had told you to wait for the time they come and the way out is easier. And about fetching and separating them, two ranks — two ranks mingling together as they were pushing them forward. And many were falling into the sea or stumbling and the rest trampling on them. And I wore the cross like he had told me and passed by the side of the tower and came out on the road for the station. From there you could leave. If I could take a train from there. But I sat down then to recover for I was in pain.

 

 

3:

I got up, wandered about quite a while, then walked to the first platform on the other side. A soldier beside a niche in the wall laid on his side, eyes shut, a blanket over his legs, a pile of clothes beside him — uniforms — a kit-bag behind his back. I went, pulled out a pair of trousers and a jacket, eyes shut, a little blood under his nose, he raised his head gently, wiped it off with his sleeve. I returned to the toilets to change, came back left my clothes on the heap. Eyes closed, a drop of blood under his nose. I looked for a pair of boots from the kit-bag and put them on there, sat down beside him. Bent double, his side on the half-empty sleeve. A red beam held us inside it for a while and went away again. It must have been already past six. Cold, keeping my hands under my armpits, something hard, the little Bible in the pocket, I open the pages blank here and there a few notes, somewhere else parts written clumped together, could not make them out. It had almost got dark. I sat still for a while waiting for what — stood up, walked again, to the clock, the time-table, evening service 21.13. In one and a half hours.

 

 

4:

Even if it didn’t make a great difference in the compartment, at least to some extent. Turned off the light, pulled the curtain, passed a strap hanging there two or three times as tightly as I could around the door handle in case someone came. Sat for a little, no one, went out again walked up and down the corridor, no one, lit a cigarette, it would be nearly time. Went in again tied up waited inside, a jolt in the dark, another one after that in about five minutes when we set off, one more cigarette, laid down, better now. As if I were awake and as if I were sleeping, suddenly something beside me, inside me, awake, asleep, dark changing landscape, day breaks, you turn your back to the light. We stopped, early morning, a little water from the tap in the toilet, then outside. Blue, and around the slopes of the hills. Old border post. Someone came out told us to get on again, same man came up to do the check, the papers were fine. I got off once more and got a sandwich — bread and beef — from a roadside vendor. Frozen hard. First light that opens your lungs all around and above and from here onwards the strong smell of the landscape goes with you all along.

5:

 

 

A few hours more, station, deserted, a dirt road leading into the town, mud, mud, blankets outside, mouldering corrugated houses, the shattered pylon further behind, not even a car, rubbish, two children setting fire to a heap, two or three other fires on the horizon, houses, the smell even more acid, tarmac pieces and pieces, concrete block houses, few people, half-open doors, half-light, the mattress as if it were soaked, that milk, the cramp in the stomach and dizziness, when I awoke, I hurried to make it before it got dark, a little by chance and from what I remembered, asked questions, the other side, back to the bridge, murmur of water, trees turning black but I could still see, it was in front of me almost as soon as I entered. What are you doing here, sit for a while beside you, if you could also back then, did someone bend over, hear you while still you were heard, your eyes that were gleaming, eyes growing dim, pain growing dim, with how many more did they bring you, the bell, silence as they lowered you down, stifled song and a pause, murmur of water. I am cold, I walk away through other names, photos that look at you and yet they cannot, the sun now again at its end. On the road back, on the plain, a tepid, breath, like the last, and a gleam, the river falling behind, the town mute as before, with some wine on the end of a table, the Bible being erased, between its pages the words of a stranger, among his pieces I write wherever I find a no-man’s land.

 

 

6:

[…]

Nobody is coming after me. Surely they have forgotten about me. Nobody will ever come here to find me. He will never be able to find me. Nobody ever. And when I fled they didn’t even realise. They took no notice of me no one cared no one remembers. Now they will remember neither when nor how. Not even I. Tracks only, a hazy memory and those images when I look at what I have written, tracks of footprints in the mud before it starts raining again. Uncertain images of the road and thoughts mumbled words, and if you read them without the names you won’t understand, it could have been anywhere, and then I spoke with no one and those who saw me no chance that they remember me. Every so often a face seeming familiar, from another time, someone looked at you, you recognised him, no, a part of another on a stranger’s face. Or the rhythm of the steps that sound behind you, the rhythm of your own steps, which occasionally you think follow you, they stop when you stop, or for a moment you think he is coming behind you, or you think that someone is breathing behind the door and will now come in. And then nothing, and then back again, and you suddenly turn your head as if you had heard him. But no one. You are far away, no one knows you, no one wants to find you, no one is looking for you. And tomorrow you will be somewhere else still farther away, still more difficult yet, even if they would send someone. But they don’t know the way and before they find out you have decamped somewhere else. They know how to search but they don’t know what way. And even if they set off from somewhere they will still be quite far. And they will not be many. Perhaps just one. One is like all of them together. Same eyes that search, same mind that calculates the next move. Same legs that run same arms that spread wide. Ears straining to listen, nostrils over their prey. Always acted like that. Two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, two arms, two legs. The symmetry of the machine that pursues you. A net that thinks decides and moves ahead. The head a fishhook the body a belt. All the same. Me too. One behind the other. Forward back further back, to follow the road. And even if you don’t know you run ahead anyway, because someone is always coming behind you. Sooner or later he comes. And sometimes there comes a hand taking you by the shoulder, or a worm that climbs up on your hand. It rolls on a pillow of saliva. Forward. And as it rolls it is growing and wrapping around you. A flat tongue on its saliva with two eyes that rise up to peer at you. Maybe not you, they check for a confortable place to start from. Like him that, that night we were hungry, that had etched an open mouth on his stomach. Likewise this tongue is also stomach and mouth, always open. From there you go somewhere else, on the inner road opening up, in the twists of the gut, there of course you are unconscious by now, unconscious you take the road of return and when you wake up they have brought you inside there again.

 

 

7:

[…]

You sleep at night. At night you wake up. Not even the shadow of a tree, a sign, something standing upright. Desert. Sand. Like you they are sleeping. Night. Every time you get up you expect daybreak, it is night, you sleep wake up it is night. That continues many days while you are travelling. As if you were pursuing a light which recedes with the speed you advance. For days it is like this. Then it dawns a little, a little. A line on the horizon, light, sky or sand or ash, more light, you do not know where from, goes on for a couple of hours, then again night. And then all over again, you can no longer keep count how long does it last either the day or the night or the light. At first, each day almost the same then shorter and shorter, in the end it seems to you that the sun rises and sets within a few minutes. As if time fading out as if nothing perishing here. Day like a train moving in front of your own, waits a little, then slips away ahead. You just about hear the whistle ahead like wind that goes through a pipe. And while you sleep you don’t know what happens either, what could have been changed while you have been sleeping. If things are different when you woke up just now, it could have been different before and you might not have remembered. Or if it is the same, the scenery, one way or the other you don’t see much of it. Or, it could be that you do not remember this, something else you remember, you sleep, you wake up so many times, so often, you don’t know when you are asleep and when you are awake, why be awake, now you may be asleep, what you remember you may remember in sleep, wake up in a dream, remember inside a dream, different memory other things you remember when you are in a dream, and you can have a life of your own in the dream, you remember who you are what you did, and even though you may not be the person you were when again you wake up you don’t doubt who you are in the dream, even when you are changing and you are changing continuously, you don’t wonder, things are naturally so, it is not strange, you are changing continuously, your body, around you, everything everywhere, you are somebody else, but you are the same, you are him. This is continuity, you travel, perhaps in your mind, a paper world real, God reeling up and down landscapes and buildings, knocks down, opens new roads, doesn’t like it, changes again, but there isn’t a seam, His world is onefold, and you perceive neither seam nor contradiction, continuity only. An injection you have forgotten at once, a skin slowly settling over what you remembered, they change, all things, memory changes, you change yourself, some woman you search for, you don’t know if you were seeking another, if you had some other hope, some other aim. Tomorrow perhaps something else might erase those things as well, the new veil of the world, but you will never know it, you won’t be able to know it. What have you done, if it is indeed what you remember. Who is to tell you. Or even your story to now. Or if the name, the one you are hiding, if it’s a name at the end of a series of names.

8:

Anyway, if I can think of myself right here, there ought to be something else outside, some place else. Now, if this outside is part of my mind, my mind then is not made of one single piece, it isn’t onefold, there’s here and there’s there, outside and inside, that is to say, in a way, there is something in it that is outside of myself. Something outside of myself. Somewhere else. Even if I don’t know where this happens to be, where i am myself, where I happen to be on the map, which place is here, which is elsewhere. Thought by itself tells you. Even if it is all otherwise and I don’t rightly remember, even if all things around me are fake. I am here, I am not there: two worlds alien to each other. And then, the space, distance, the road, even if I didn’t travel myself. The road exists.

 

 

9:

It began with something like drowsiness. I could see what was happening but could not move, not even open my mouth. Not even think about simple things, where, what day or what time. I was not sure. In a confusion I couldn’t shake off. I was very hot. I wanted to take off my clothes. I lowered my trousers. There was someone stretched out beside me, fallen down, I wanted to piss on him as he was fallen there. I went and kept trying but nothing would come.

10:

Could be from something in the food, could be from something we had inhaled. But nothing smelled bad. I was beginning to see in a blur. Mouth completely dry. Suddenly my heart was beating louder and faster. Skin burning and growing red. Burning. We were madly thirsty. And a weakness and arms and legs not to obey and not to coordinate.

11:

Two letters the second Z, I think, and then some numbers. Why do I remember this? I don’t even remember where I saw them written. Could be simply the way they had divided us, the section perhaps and number of people in there. I crawled to a corner and was looking around. And then, every so often a fear suddenly seizing me I don’t remember why. I was looking and at first couldn’t believe it

12:

And came out, he, of a manhole cursing and had burst into laughter. And then took a stone for a pillow and fell down and slept at my side. And like a tooth that was sprouting from his head. And the sun went down red and giving off smoke. And we slept. And we woke and a beam of light a ladder that was coming down from the clouds down to the earth. And it had like feet, as it were, braced on the earth and a head in the sky. And they were going up and down on it. And they were going up and down on it, angels with the faces of our own. And behind me he said: don’t be afraid. And angels were going up and down. Don’t be afraid, because I will protect you on your road

13:

And he said, you go up and you go down and when you are down your own are burning and your memories and you don’t want to leave them. Everything will burn to the end, you suffer, but nobody is punishing you, they are just setting your soul free. Don’t be afraid, because while you fear death they will rend your soul like demons. Only calm down and you will see the angels who are setting you free and then you will be free. And he took the stone and poured oil on top.

14:

                    surely, they were taking them so as not to kill them in front of us. Bringing, taking. Then my own turn. Days came and went and they were staring at me eye to eye. Panic. I was sleeping deeply and when I was up I could not understand again where I was, I was crawling further away and looking about, I was waking from one place to the other, I was waking, was waking, was waking, I couldn’t remember, I could, later as if nothing had happened, but like a lie slowly fading and coming again. Exhaustion.

 

 

WITH THE PEOPLE FROM THE BRIDGE
(Poena Damni vol. 2)

 

 

15:

Night had already fallen when I crossed to the other side of the station and came out on to the road. It was still raining, a little. I would find them in one of the arches under the bridge, as he had told me. I would see light. I arrived outside, I waited. We waited. They opened. We entered. We were given a handout. Inside you could see up to a point, then dark. I sat on the dirt floor among the others, ten, more or less, some of them with their dogs. On the left the wall crumbling. Two more coming from there. Three. Lights, high up opposite blue, green on the right and white lamps hanging, five or six, from the ceiling exactly above us, lit except one. On one side the women. Three around a cut-down oil drum, another one fetching newspapers. They tore some up and threw them inside. Fire. It went out. Again. When they moved back for a moment, close to the wall, you could hardly discern them, was it their clothes or the light that was making it look like that. And they kept opening and closing their eyes all the time, like spasms reaching as far as their mouth — apart from the one on the left that was probably younger. Now this man, passing them naked to the waist with a broken brick or stone? in his hand and coming our way. A scar like a word on his chest, from his neck downwards. Sits down, takes two pieces of wood, hammers, he made a cross. Sticks it in the mud. To the side a glass and a bottle. Further back, the shell of a car half-buried, front door missing. On the bonnet a cassette-player and a television, the wind-screen covered by a sheet of iron. A woman comes out from the car. It had seemed empty a few moments ago, you wouldn’t have known she was there. From her nose down, like a mask made of earth, mouth hardly visible. Goes inside again, pulls a wooden cover in front. Drags it shut but can’t altogether do it. Old bits of iron around. Engine-parts. And another man walking about, coming to us. Haggard, torn pullover, book in hand, some papers inside. Four names on the handout they gave me: Narrator — the one holding the book. Like a Bible. Turns the cassette-player on and off. Hum. Goes and helps the women. More newspapers, Chorus — the women. LG — further back, he was hammering something again. NCTV — her in the car. LG, NCTV. These were the names. Title: NCTV. That is how I remember the name of the station, vaguely somehow. Nyctovo. No. Nyctivo. Nichtovo. No. Another hum, louder, going on from the time I came in. Cassette-player. Narrator. Turns on and off, goes away, comes again opens the Bible, tears pages from there and goes and glues them on the wall to the right, one beside the other. Then he waits. He waits. With his back turned, almost. On one side and on the other crosses sprayed on the concrete. He comes here to read. Narrator. Lights above turned out.

16:

And always, night
and day in the tombs
and in the mountains he was crying
and cutting himself with stones.
But when he saw Jesus afar
off he ran
and worshipped him,
and cried with a loud voice,
and said; what have I to do with you, Jesus,
son of the most high God?
I adjure thee by God,
that thou torment me not.
For he said unto him; come out thou
unclean spirit from the
man, and he asked him;
what is thy name? and he answered
saying; my name is legion
for we are many.

He turns and signals the women to start. They start all together.

17:

It’s a while since you’ve been out.
You sit inside and
wait. Sometimes as if heard
or so you think. It seemed this way,
when you went outside and came
to the door.
Nothing. You live with it though.
Same every day

They stop, look at each other and round about

18:

                                    sometimes more so.
              like voices somehow, more or less.
It is inside you.

19:

That. Afterwards, though, comes the day
they come outside
you wait for them in the house.
Same day every time.
Sometimes in the morning when
you wake up it is as if you are stuck
and you prise yourself off them.
You want to stay a little more
you don’t want to get up. You turn look
right left in case they came. No.
They haven’t come. But get up
                                          it’s today.
Today. Get up.
Another year gone by and we will

They stop suddenly, for a few seconds, again, who is this?

20:

be all together.
A few hours still. Then we will sleep,
wake up
will wait. Will sleep.
Wake up. Will wait.

All together. Narrator wipes his hands on his pullover,
signals to them, they stop, they would have continued.
He reads.

accounting that He
was able to raise them up

Smiling? As if he smiled. LG, with the cross, him also with papers, reading from there. Bent over then leans on his elbow, as he reads he stretches out on his side.

21:

                                                bricks.
              one more kick but then
          you stop because you are in pain.
Wait a bit until it goes.
The whole arm going in. Opened.
It wasn’t hard. Like that. Then
the mind stops for a little
stops

He stops, wonders

22:

                              I remember
the last time. I left after that.
After some time I thought I heard something.
After that Him.
Every now and then He would come,
behind me all of a sudden. Telling me go.
She is there. Waiting for you.
I would turn my head.
Nothing. Then again. Then
every so often, many times it would not stop
at all.
I wouldn’t believe it. Then it was starting again.
Like a needle inside my ear
Here.

stutters

23:

                        and steps.
then nothing. I am sweating. I mop my brow
These hands are not mine, I don’t feel
that

Stops, thinks about it. Starts again suddenly, as if in a hurry.

24:

I put my head inside for a while, to see.
Hurts again. Wait a bit until it goes.
Sometimes you hear her clearly, now
the others cover her.
One on top of the other.
You hear her.
Like a wave inside you, all of a sudden.
Now I am above
I know she is there waiting for me
I hear her. She wants to come out.
A box and something moving inside it,
open it. Bones, earth. Close it.
Open it. Same again. You leave and
go back to it again. Why though.

I was coming and going. Seagulls.
Wouldn’t leave me alone.
I found a cloth and wrapped it
around my feet because they were
swooping down
and pecking me. I got up again
to go. Going as far as I could.
Someone coughing
behind me, would stop start again,
but I wasn’t turning around to see.
He stopped, finally.

He gets up to leave, Narrator signals to him, he sits down again, continues

25:

                                          I had found a blanket
to cover myself. I was sleeping outside.
Then I came and settled here.
It’s a bit better here.
They might leave me alone.

Until now, every time I used to wake up,
every time

a towel on my face.
They were pouring in water on top.
I was drowning. They were taking it off.
Then I could I breathe for a while.
Then again. Then they would leave,
the others would come.

Night. Long shadow with an eye
behind it looking at me.
Shadows. More. Shorter and darker.
Digging. Stopping. Digging again
A little beyond

He holds the cross.

26:

hammering on top and then
lowering them in. Somebody shouted.
What if they came this way.

The other signals him to stop, stops for a moment and then continues

27:

It hurts but I keep my mouth shut
because they might hear me.
Don’t let it come out. Then they left and I slept
a bit. Silence. I hear her in there. She wants
to get out. Then again
silence.

Narrator, goes and stops him. Train, like a heart beating inside the bridge, we wait, it’s gone, now the women, in their turn or nearly so.

29:

A dog had come up outside the door.
Scratches and wants to come in
a little light in the window
but it is still early.             Out on the street
nobody yet. Let’s go in and prepare. Fire.
They like it. But they will say nothing.
They will sit at the table
like always. They will eat huddled
over their plates, silent.
Last year he was holding a stone     
some papers             he was wiping
his lips all the time                         there was
something wrong with his lips
what is he saying

30:

Water. Corn. And a little pomegranate.
They can’t sit properly the body is hard
doesn’t soften. The arm-pits closed.
They can’t hug you.
Eyes cast down. They will stand up and go
over there to that corner and will stay for a while 
and then out in the garden and stand there,
at the same spot.
They will stand still, for a moment it is as if
                they wanted to say something,
as if something rose in their throat,
but it’s nothing.

31:

It has boiled. A table-cloth.
I will spread it myself.
Flour. Alright. Mix. A bit more.
Corn. Sugar. Alright. And some wine.
Turn on                                    turn on
Bring chairs. They will sit
where they used to

Barking. Someone comes in, sits beside me. We go on, LG down on his face now. Gets up puts his hand inside his trousers, sits down again. Takes off one shoe.

32:

then I would hear footsteps again and
like somebody chewing.
Same thing every day.
This pain is like the clock that is heard
every time you pay attention to it.
Take it and throw it away.
The sun in a blur.
Closer to one eye than to the other.
You hear them above. They left again.
Silence.
Then again rain, no time to dry
the blanket. Then I went out
because I was hungry and
I went to find something to eat.
When I came back
they had put back the bricks
and had closed again.

Stops, carries on

33:

hit harder and knock out the bricks.
Once you are in put them back in place.
Put back the blanket on top. Tear it a bit
for the light to come through.
I sat at your side
I knew you were there. Time passed.
As if I could see you. Half-opened mouth
eyes like then, in the end

Time passed.

 

34:

I went out again and fetched some water.
A sip. Helps my stomach, it soothes me
and I can lie down for a little.
In sleep again, your voice coming strong.
I couldn’t. I stood up
and was banging on the lid until it broke.
I took it out. I pulled her
and turned her on her side.
I lifted her up. She fell again. Again.
Time passed.
In the end I got her out. I let her down and
went to see the blanket in case the wind
had blown it away. I went again and laid down
beside her. I was tired.
Enough light. A white worm, long.
A finger digging all by itself.
Leave something for me.
Something will be left in the end.
A tooth from her mouth.
something for me
a tooth

 

broken

 

Takes the glass from the floor and drinks, leaves the papers, now by heart. My head aches since yesterday, today no water at all, nor did I eat anything. After it’s finished. LG, continues

35:

Hairs stuck on her skin.
She had sweated a lot.
That smell beside me and
I couldn’t sleep.
Then I slept a little. When I woke up
I was holding her in my arms.
Later, again I was searching for her in my sleep
the way I used to back then. A hand
that was drawing me in. Didn’t know how.

Stops and starts again louder, pacing nervously up and down, close to me something like laughter, but it was not.

36:

Earth had got into my eyes
and they were smarting.
Then I slept and was woken again
by the dogs that had come and were
barking on top
I shouted to them.
They were startled and fled and
then I went back to sleep.

Narrator, interrupts him gives him another piece of paper prompts him: they lie down then, LG carries on

37:

Then. On their backs. In a line.
One to the side of the other.
They shut them in carefully
in case they went out.
Not quite. I pay attention
in case I hear someone.
                No one.
What I hear has nothing to do with this.
There it is again. I heard it.
No, that’s not it, it is them on top.
Someone shouted to somebody else
to go away from there. Same thing every time.
If they find me they will catch me and
won’t let me go. They will take me away
to lock me up. The whole wall full of drawers.
They are about to open.
I went and pulled one.
And another one after that.
One under the other and to the side
and below. I close my eyes. You. In a haze.
Then I was again on top and
I was opening the hole again
just as He told me, don’t stop He had told me.
I am not sure when this happened.
Opened. Here. She is just there.
She is waiting for you.
Dig and
you will find a door
underneath. And He told me she is in.
A tree growing downwards.
The others outside had lit a fire.
Tonight they have come, almost above us.
I saw them and sat still inside.

38:

Us. In this room.
And those at our side and the others on top.
And us in between.
But you can’t stay here for long
and there is nowhere to go.
Smoke coming in from above.
They will start to take them out again.
Eventually they will get
to us

 

 

 

they will separate us

He comes our way, they fill his glass, returns sits down and drinks. Comes and gives us to drink as well, I drank a little. Now the women

39:

Take a log and throw it on. I’ll go down
and fetch
some more so for them to dry.
They are hard to light because of the rain.
Went out again.
Wait. Soon they will come.
They will eat with us at
midday. Later the afternoon light
will stoop for a while
through the window.
When it gets dark they will leave,
and they will take something with them,
you don’t really know what
but you will be missing something.
A log, you light it and it goes out again.
Together. When the light fails the walls rear up.
A hole as if the fire had opened it.
Bring some more wood.
Go down to the garden.
Some more wood.
A spider underneath that is waiting
to pounce on something. Pounces on it.
Pounced on it.
She will suck out
the inside. She wrapped it and left it
to tug a little and goes
                              there as far as
she knew
You have understood. It grew dark
for a moment. The rain got stronger and then
it stopped altogether. You can’t see,
then you see again.
Light again, same. The door
opened closes closed yes
open they came yes they come up the stairs

[…]

THE FIRST DEATH (Poena Damni vol. 3)
I

40:

Sea of iron. Moon silent as pain in the depth of the mind. A body swept here and there on the rock like seaweed or a lifeless tentacle, fruit of a womb ship-wrecked by the winds, ensanguined and flesh-filled mire. The left arm cut short, the right to the end of the forearm, a rotted stick raving amid the water’s lungs. Of the ravaged mouth there remained only a wound which closed slowly. From the eyes a blurred light. The eyes without lids. The legs down to the ankles — no feet. Spasms.

II

41:

Judgment of the sea,
shackles from broken sobs
beneath the dry bowl’s split eyelids
an unseen prey —
plunder from passions’ tombs, litanies to the senses
on the point of crumbling, inarticulate melodies, lava
from beheaded rivers
blades of the waves cut deeply into the screen;
development of an hour-glass, epidemic
unmixed visions of heroes leaning
into the drunken veins of the light
the tempest that winters on the marshes —
shedding its leaves the return
of a dismembered body in the spring.

III

42:

Dead jaws biting on wintry streams
teeth broken under the victim’s tremor
that disinterred their roots before kneeling down to the hook;
mouths all over around suck through the earth
empty heads searching for some drop of flesh
they have begun. Reeled off the net,
the sky has descended.
Regiments of the dead whispering unceasingly
in a unending graveyard, within you
too you can no longer speak, you are drowning
and the familiar pain touches
outlets in the untrodden body
now you can no longer walk —
you crawl, there where the darkness is deeper
more tender, carcass
of a disemboweled beast
you embrace a handful of bed-ridden bones
and drift into sleep.

[…]

X

43:

Because you can no longer stay
because your vision allows the idols to writhe
until the lake congeals, until your hand ceases
to poke among the gizzards and the burning coals
seeking a useless axe
and let the sea scratch the dried blood;
Dismissal.
Because you are looking for the mountain and the nails beneath the stars
black crosses leaning towards the triumph
and once more you crawl and
scramble on the earths wounds
spitting sulphur which cauterizes your limbs
panting as once upon the whores,
watering the lustful sandbanks
and the croaking of the birds of prey accompanies
the defilement; ecstatic on the mountain.
And the moist stings of the scorpions
show the way
and the mind a map dipped in wine
and the soul within its muzzle
suckling
the further horizon of pain.
[…]

 

 
Greek poet Dimitris Lyacos, photo by Thomas Langdon.
 

Dimitris Lyacos is the author of the Poena Damni trilogy (Z213: EXIT, With the People from the Bridge, and The First Death). The text in its current form developed as a work-in-progress over the course of thirty years with subsequent editions and excerpts appearing in journals around the world, as well as in dialogue with a diverse range of sister projects it inspired — drama, contemporary dance, video art, sculpture installations, photography, opera, and contemporary music. So far translated into six major languages and performed worldwide, Poena Damni is one of the major examples of postmodern literature in the new millennium and the most widely reviewed and best-selling Greek literary work in translation of the past decades. The second English edition of Z213: EXIT appeared in October 2016, while the second English edition of The First Death will appear in October 2017, and a new French translation in November 2017.

 

Shorsha Sullivan was born in Dublin in 1932. He studied Classics at Leeds and has spent most of his life in England where he has worked as a university instructor, archaeologist, and librarian. He has a special interest in Modern Greek theatre and poetry and was responsible for setting up the Modern Greek section at the Brixton Tate Library. Since 1996 he has been working on Lyacos’s Poena Damni trilogy in close collaboration with the author.

 

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