Back to Issue Thirty-Nine




I show up with my convincing accent and a middle-school vocabulary

my love of the sea, the sun, terraced hillsides, olive trees, the motorbike’s tilt, luminous hunks of watermelon on a white plate, the same things tourists

imagine make them special

not precluding a quickly built hotel

a sewage treatment plant 2 km east of the popular beach

and I mean, you have to burn the garbage somewhere

with my haphazard grammar sprung from the refusal

to gender myself in a language

in which the requirement for being a person, for speaking –

we aren’t precious about the sea when we stop to bathe on the return trip from Vathy

we aren’t perfunctory either

we pull off at a small – you could call it a beach – you would never notice

in one gesture you peel and fling your shirt

right next to the ring road

diagonal waves, minimal plastic

smooth dark stones huge as loaves of bread

walking on them stretches your foot soles

if unaccustomed it can hurt a bit

a gender neutral word for living creature is “plasma”

plasmata can do what people can’t

a friend tells me

you have to shoo cats from the fish restaurant if you want to eat in peace

if you give them even one scrap

they don’t leave you alone






it is easy to use a word
like ‘breathtaking’

to describe the idea
but not the feeling

of water you don’t touch

you stand on a bluff
watching cargo ships slide on it

in mid-size port towns with no tourists
starving cats see it sparkling like this

from the other side of his life it sparkles
next to the cement plant next to the waste processing facility

four kilometers away a chain of cafes and an ouzeri
with narrow cane-bottomed chairs that hurt your ass overlook it

on windy days the whitecaps resemble distant sheep

from the yard it’s new each time she sees it

a phrase at the tip of her mind she meant to say, did she already say
like little sheep? but today it sparkles

until conditions change it sparkles like this

officials don’t mention it

when they cite the bounds of territorial waters
to prohibit rescue boats from docking

in their personal libraries
some of the poetry describes it catching light

it is easy to imagine

using certain phrases
avoiding others
to deflect what doesn’t sparkle like this

it is easy
to imagine one such poem recited at a future occasion

in honor of an influential donor
or a dead politician

where you can be sure
from most angles the water will



Ari Banias is the author of A Symmetry (W. W. Norton, 2021), and Anybody (W. W. Norton, 2016), which was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the PEN Center USA Literary Award. He lives and teaches in the Bay Area.

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