“The Occupations” and Other Poem, by Antonia Taylor

The Occupations
Remember, how the first boy you loved 
held a gun to a nightingale’s throat.
Ask, was it always going to end this way?
                                                                               The nightingales won’t let you sleep … 
Most days you’re done by sunrise, 
stand barefoot to watch dawn aching,  
break a milk sweat & turn              		               in the breathing of the leaves. 
                                                                                                                                  
Late morning you miss your grandmother,           she was there, at the desert’s lip.
Her turquoise dress, kitchen heat. 				
All that she carried: a dowry, spilt salt, 

rosewater, her bed still smooth, 		               in the darkness of memory …
That woman by the seaside town.   
Kept her desire by the sink, to raise you homesick.

By three, your neck tells you, no amount of guilt 
can change the past. Welcome it. A houseguest. 
Leave two fresh towels, lavender soap –                those who know they will not return.
	
Tell me, is there a variation on partings?  
That time in Paris, May heatwave, pavements 
parasoled white, the cafe in Saint Sulpice,            shadows and smiles everywhere.    
                                                                
Count commitments bare on your left hand.
Evening grass wet with regret, still, 
you’d do it all again. A slice of longing –	         brought you here, to this shore.
                                                                                            
These sheets & songs & skin 
urgent with night, tongueless –	   	    the nightingales won’t let you sleep …

Remember, leaving is another language.  

End note – 
This poem uses lines from George Seferis’ Helen, translated by Edmund Keeley 


The Big Idea 

When the burning was too much I waited for morning’s blue light at my grandfather’s window. All he wanted was what was gone. Being golden, I plucked pieces of language, carobs to line my throat, folded history into linen squares. They told us this indigo flag was ours. Watched us carry it blindly on a borrowed Independence Day. My father measured weather by October 28th. Marching in shirt sleeves, he tied its stripes to every sailing boat for Saint Nicholas & his wolves.

Late morning. We greet each other in cracked earth. Call it a union. A treaty spells your god out & whispers in enclaves. Women yoke flower crowns for a mainland on the church’s collarbone. We wait for Christ to make it to midnight. At least he’s a man who comes back. Honey sticks the calendar. He rises twice. Light a candle, light three, it’s the least of it.

1824. A forceps scar birthed from a flat motherland. Emptied like a knotted shilling onto his temple. At the border, they turned us inside out. You know you can make a bomb from pomegranates & goatskin?Drive-thru a golden dawn where a black egg burns in oil. A bruise inside her arm means nothing.

The Big Idea (The Megali Idea ) was the concept of reviving the Byzantine Empire by establishing a Greek state, and influenced the Cypriot political movement of Enosis, meaning union with Greece.

Antonia Taylor is a British Cypriot writer, poet and communications expert. She lives in Reading, Berkshire and is currently working on her first collection.

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