old greek men on bicycles

That town, that time, was full of them.

Skullcapped, gumbooted, flowers & fishtails

sticking up from handlebar baskets of wicker,

a slow-motion stand-up-fall-forward pedalling in one low gear

from houses blue-white like the home-flag

to netsheds whose haloed spill of light

in the soaked dark was ouzo in the glass,

they drifted through the fresh-fish smell

of the streets, they brought the smell

to the streets, grinding it to powder

as their legs revolved. Stamatiou.

Demosten. Polymenakos. In rain

or sun, any season, at all hours,

one was out there, spinning the wheels,

as if there had to be one to keep

the town alive, the river flowing,

the salmon coming home.


Old men,

you failed. That town’s as dead

as your language in the throats

of your daughters’ children. The wheels

of your bikes, wheels in your pilothouses,

searching gazes of love for the past

in your women’s eyes? Underwater,

under grass, under the terrible scales

of the blossoms of the vanished years.

Without your sweat to grease the chain

there’s no going back. I see you coast

again down the slope of the dyke;

the salt air flays the flesh from the spine

till you are nothing but spine, spokes

for the greater wheel that crushes

the laughing shouts you hurled

from your back-alley Attica

and the spittled thread of tradition

so naturally unwound

to lead the hero of your people to safety

as all the rest of the world

creeps like the Aegean

over your bone-rimmed

circles, down the generations