AT THE FOOT OF A WALL
My hand moves below
in the bright element, turning
a page. The deck chair’s bleached
arms, my feet bare on the flagstones: all
mute, opaque as at home.
Nor are the cypress, the lemon, though trimmed with bookish
eager to break their poses and dance.
I thought sun and the island’s beauties would dive
into my eyes, out of my mouth in poems.
Nearby, small lizards are skirting
the foot of the wall: quick
Overhead, the Grand Prix. Burly helmeted flies come
whining down the blue straightaway over the mulberry tree
and smack the sun-covered house,
drop flat bullets around my feet. Tiny,
terrible headaches. Twiddling legs.
The lizards scribble, licking them up.
Green, independent flames.A Word about the Poem by John Steffler
I wrote this poem on the island of Naxos, in Greece, where I’d gone in the hope of returning to writing after a long exhausting year of teaching. There I had the fairly familiar experience of reaching a longed for, idealized destination — expecting in this case that the beauty and history of Naxos would somehow revive my imagination and my sense of being excited by the world — only to discover a place with a surface of factual reality that was no different from home. In a sense I did find strangeness there, but not of the sort I’d anticipated — more a foreign opacity or silencing mystery than the vestigial Arcadia I’d stupidly hoped for. Partly it was as simple as discovering once again that I couldn’t escape from myself. Partly it had to do with needing to come to terms with a place as it really was, not as I’d visualized it beforehand. The disturbing energy stirred up by these collisions was in the end reviving and exciting in unforeseen ways.
I wanted the poem to convey and evoke a perplexed, estranged, almost convalescent state of mind.
Excerpted from That Night We Were Ravenous by John Steffler. Copyright © 2007 by John Steffler. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.