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The Lesser Amazon

Last night I dreamt 

I was the salamander 

who does not burn in fire:

I swallowed saffron tongues of flame.

In South America, tree frogs live 
in the pooled water of bell-shaped leaves.
They never touch earth but make their choir 
in a ripe canopy, serenading higher
than the skulls of hunters.

Those very frogs leap from my rhododendron 
into the kitchen sink.
Shreds of jungle dazzle the old house.
Where are all these vines growing from?
This morning a parrot torpedoed over the table.
Yesterday afternoon in the bathtub,
after a surge of curious hissing,
I found a nest of baby snakes beneath
the bathmat, living red leather,
tongues flicking ancient orange.
They covered my feet in an exotic reptile weave,
wound up my shins, looped themselves
around my waist and neck, slid anxiously
through my slick hair. 
It took me an hour to comb them out
and send them slithering to the garden.

It can’t go on like this.
The neighbours gossip:
     Has she seduced baboons?
     Is she making love to panthers? 
Birds of paradise have chased away the sparrows 
and the problem with peacocks 
is the potency of their screams.

Creatures peer from the trees
of these turquoise nights, listening
to me rush through the rainforest of my body,
searching for you.

Deep into cardinal soil I plunge my hands,
praying to plant you in this jungle.

Love, my throat is the lesser Amazon.
I want you to slide in.

Carve a slim-ribbed canoe.
Learn how to swim.


Evidence of God

The colour of Canadian rye whisky
is not really the colour of amber
or liquid gold
but more the colour of my mother's voice
when she is drunk, 
too warm, embarrassing,
an out-of-tune guitar played in minors
so you know the player is dishonest,
not to be trusted, dangerous
as only the deeply sentimental can be,
because they dread 
the sandpaper hands
of the truth.

Not to say my mother is dangerous
but of course she is, we all are
when we hurt those who love us
when our own pain overshadows
the blessings and reminds us
of nothing but our pain,
our own pain, our own pain.
It's a boring litany, but popular,
difficult to unlearn, difficult
to forget, as the lines to bad songs
always are.

I can't blame her really,
but sometimes I do.
It wasn't so bad anyway,
though it was, and the badness
lives on and on, I can't kill it.
It's like one of those deathless Chinese demons
I've been reading about.
All demons are deathless, 
unlike sisters and brothers.
Demons are the colour 
of Canadian rye whisky
and weeping, the colour of
the turquoise scarf 
my brother stole years ago 
and sold.

He is selling again, not scarves,
drugs, though I believed for a time
he was home, in his senses.
When we talk now, it is once again
through fog, the ungraspable cape of a demon.
When he speaks I cannot hear 
his voice, I hear the little asshole 
gargoyle gnawing his heart.
My brother doesn't understand.
He opened his mouth and begged the demon in.

Of the body, I love the hands most, 
but I see my family is a family of mouths,
of openings and closings, ingestations, 
vomit, grunts, and howls.
Hands naked remind me of tree branches,
mouths remind me of graves, isn't that strange?

But that's what I see, my brother
breathing demons, my mother
drinking them, my father owned
by them now, hung in their barren realm 
like a scarecrow on a stake, still blinking.
My sister ate demons and ate them 
and finally choked to death on their bones.

And, I, too, am a creature of the mouth, the tongue.
But I am a lucky one, I learned the difficult 
late-night art of singing demons 
out of me, out of my body, away
into the wind
or onto paper

where they are
no longer demons

but gifts.


Late August on Lesvos

Late August on Lesvos, the garden thickens with seed.
A Babylon of butterflies seduces the flowers.
Dawn and dusk, nectar rises in saffron tides.
Even the sea shines like a giant's bowl of honey.

Yiorgos and I live in a chaos of watermelons.
Mikhaili heaves the green treasures to his pigs.
Panagos rolls them under every bench and bed in the house.
Goats trip over them and donkeys sink 
grateful teeth into the cool rinds.

Black seeds root in our bellies, send tendrils
of jewel up our spines.
Our dreams are vines winding us
into the astonishing red halls of dawn.

August, yes, I sleep outside and wake at five 
to fourteen goddesses setting the stage of the world.
They paint the backdrop of this extravagant theatre 
shades of ruby and violet, a flawless set, silhouette
of stone house and fence and grape vine 
sprawling black against the sky.

Beyond the road, fig trees stretch awkward white arms
above mauve thistles, yellow thorns.
A thousand years later, the desert souls
are still humbled by their fruit:
       green sea anemones hide crimson tentacles of sugar.

August on the island, before I open my eyes
I hear the kittens purring, feel the white dog curled 
in the crook of my knees, her fur a miracle of new snow.
Sometimes the black goat escapes and wakes me herself,
two cleft hooves knocking on my chest,
velvet nose at my ear.

Feast of late summer, the sun exhausts the gardens, 
the valley is an upturned table, spilling,
spilling, tomatoes like edible rubies,
almonds splashing into the water basin,
stars falling from the orchard-sky 
like lustrous fruit.
Heaven's mouth roves 
our naked backs.

Deep August on the island, the dazzling blade of days
pares the moon down until it hangs beyond us
like one bloodied fang of the tigress.

Always the light speaks first,
light, who writes her own chant in passing,
the way brilliance deepens as it fades.

The first day of September is still summer, 
old women say, but the heat stands up 
like a lover denied and walks away 
so slowly, glancing back, 
back down the path, pulling fistfuls 
of leaves from the trees.

The gardens fill with amber-red sugar,
     tangles of goat-skin in the dust,
     baskets barren but dripping dusk.

Still summer, the old shepherd says,
waving wrinkled hands through kindled air,
but what do we see in the skeleton-vines
and the footprints haunted by ants?

What do we finally harvest from gardens
but the gold weight of death,
that heavy fruit,
its frightening grace.



Rebetiko is a hypnotic, passionate style of music and dance which became popular in Greece in the 1930's and '40's. It was, and still is, the music of the poor and of social outcasts, similar in many ways to Gypsy Flamenco. Traditionally it is played and danced only by men. 

Little spot

is the meaning of my name,
but look at me, my life 
is big as the sun, I am Voula,
I am famous.

“She is ugly,” they'll tell you,
“a dirty-dog woman, a junkie 
covered in sores 
and a bitch besides

but look at my young lovers,
tekna-mou ,
Sonia from Brazil,
Katerina from the north,
Sinead from Ireland with 
all her silk and lace.

I am Voula
I am famous.

If you see me dance rebetiko
you too will love me,
you will watch and look away
with burning eyes.
Even Vaso's plates know
the disorder of love, they leap 
off the tables and shatter 
just to touch my feet.

With these scuffed boots
I sway hard and slow inside
the music, my arms in the air,
elbows crooked above my head:
I am balancing each star high 
above the plane trees.

I close my eyes to dance like this.
You have to close your eyes
to see inside music,
to see inside a woman,
and to see inside the gods.

The accordian and I 
breathe the warm night wind.
The mandolin has my curves, 
the same thin hardness and dirty
fingerprints all over her body. 

Sweat shines like oil on my forehead.
I dance so slowly, a snake
without legs, without arms,
held up by the taut nerves 
of music.

I have given my limbs to you.
I have given my eyes to you.
I am naked in my dance,
in this night
under the plane trees.

Na zeseis helia kronia!
Na zeseis panda! 

May you live a thousand years.

May you live forever.