Patrick Lodge, “under the painted gaze of long dead bishops and saints” -poetry
At the top of the village, at the top of the day,
the caldera below is a cooling skillet in the sinking sun.
In Agios Charalambos a white-robed priest flits
between ikons, lighting the lamps.
Each gutter and flare of candle flame
reveals miracles performed anew:
hollow-eyed and churlish a corpse is raised to a second chance,
a dragon flinches before Agios Georgio’s sword.
Between lectern and ikonostasis,
word and flesh,
the priest chants this joyful mourning of the dying day
He looks at me, narrow-eyed and questing;
“Catholiki”, I mouth, as if this explains anything
about our shared presence here; we are
priest, chanters and people together.
Call and response have elided, have become one
under the painted gaze of long dead bishops and saints
A single bell chimes, the so und palpable,
a measuring–rod for the space between silences.
My steps echo its rhythm into the yard,
down the cobbled slope to the village;
For the congregation below the day is ending
in bars and tavernas,
in hopes of wonders to be worked
before next day break.
Tiresias the seer comes towards me,
stands in sun-faded red flowered dress,
transparent bag stuffed
with gleanings of street and shore.
He holds out a present of driftwood
bleached and salty, entwined like albino snakes.
Tells me what the birds have said today,
in couplets I cannot understand;
reclaiming this temple mound
from saints and sinners,
he dances off.
In the Café Caryatids an old man rests,
chair tilted in the doorway.
He sat there yesterday,
will be there tomorrow.
Teeth and pullover holed and brown,
he stares mute at the road,
a drone of tourists passing.
Bacchants and satyrs
they follow the umbrella thyrsos
snake through café chairs
and shop front T-shirts,
short-stepping in rhythm after a guide;
yellow tights, black ankle boots,
she is a queen,
finding honey in the columns and slabs
littering the temple site of Apollo.
The resid ue, a carved henge,
faces westwards, leads nowhere now,
admits to nothing – a lizard’s eye
unblinking red, through which
shutters click and cameras flash;
the moment when light folds
into darkness remains elusive.
The kouros at Apollonas reclines obtuse against the hillside,
breathes out asphodels in wave-froth to the edge of the cliff.
Tourists climb and slither in search of the shot
to validate memory’s convivial hyperbole.
Unrealised Dionysus, a marble moraine,
a black smudge against the darker quarry wall,
suffers them; but dreams of standing free of this rock umbilical –
the headland a plinth floating between sea and bluer sky,
arms raised in welcome to sail and oar.
When the gods went, villagers dropped hammers,
stopped chipping against the hard grain
returned to their goats and groves – their piss-poor soil.
Those terraces, tribal scars cut into the mountain-sides,
in turn abandoned for easier fleeces
each Summer boat disgorged;
a new mythology of excess is today’s orthodoxy.
Dionysus, be content to lie,
weeping ferns into the pockmark pools.
You can’t see the looky-looky men;
they are translucent, a slight
disturbance of light at table edge,
through which the bay can still be seen.
Shadow figures on clockwork rounds,
they flip-flop ceaselessly around tourist
cafes and beaches like waves rolling in from
Africa to break against a barren shore.
Wound up in some warehouse, circuited,
set off, staggered; each convinced they will
sell something – blinkered to the one a few
tables on, the one a few tables behind.
Specialists in cheap tat – headband
torches, fake DVDs, plastic souvenirs
that glow malevolently green in the dark –
their black faces take on a grave mien.
These men speak but are not heard;
“good stuff, looky looky, give best price”.
Knock off Prada, Chanel, Vuitton hang off
arms and neck dragging down like shackles.
Thousand yard stares quarantine them; they
learn a thousand ways of saying no. Still,
pour another glass of wine, fork the Caesar
salad, admire the view from the terrace.
© Patrick Lodge
© Santorini Caldera, photo by Josh Trefethen