Poems from «Ripe Old Age»

Translated from the Greek by Yannis Goumas

Poems from «Ripe Old Age»

La vie punit de vie.

Both of us are old now/ and I even older
since I write poems
Y. V.



A title is always
a problem.
But in this case the dilemma
burdens you.
In the process of publication
you will have decided
between the two:
“Ripe old age”
“At rest?”


You should have gone
years ago.
But now I fear lest I should
consider it a natural happening
lest I paid you in advance
for those tears
or even if, who knows,
you should prepare yourself
for one, without me,
unbearable survival.


Then again I don’t know
how unbearable
your survival would be
without me.
When one dies young
oldsters say it was God’s will
when one dies old
they say he was advanced in years;
yet those really old fogies
now nurture
a hope of immortality.


You gave me a life
and one language.
Then I undertook to learn
foreign languages
of other, exotic people.
I studied even their most extreme
that I may recognize their deepest grief.
But while you are still alive
no one
not even imagination
can say
what will be
that certain moment
my exclamation in Greek.

You are swimming

Now you are swimming
in your old large clothes
whereas Time
your belt.


I grew up with you
with the heavy black telephones
like Negress beauties
the receiver like their hair
and the dial with its ten erogenous zones
at the fingers’ disposal.

The years passed
phones and cellphones
were fashioned with
passionless keyboards
and I left you living at home
phoning from your old appliance
to my new world.
We talk as we did before;
only what unites us
is what divides us.

Phone calls

I am thinking of you  
and I have a poetic idea
about you.
But I sacrifice it
in order to phone you.

Are you sleeping?

You tell me not to call you late at night,
for you are asleep.
But I phone at ungodly hours
if you are asleep
or dead in your sleep.
– Go to sleep now, goodnight.  

Con… con… computer

Well-nigh automatically you passed from the drachma
to the new to us all euro
and now you want to know what
a computer is, what a mobile phone
whereas I am pressing you to tell me
exactly how it happened with Venizelos*
and then Metaxas**
Civil War and Papagos.***

I live in a past future
whereas you passionately embrace the present
– the only way to secure whatever future.

*Elefthérios Venizélos (1864-1936): Greek statesman.
**Ioánnis Metaxás (1871-1941): Greek general & dictator.
***Aléxandros Papágos (1883-1955): Greek field marshal & statesman.

Holy bread

Even as a teenager
I may not
have gone to church with you
never fasted
never received holy communion;
yet on Sundays when you return
from the divine service’s
enviable peace
I always take from your hands
the white holy bread –
a sort of an ancient milky nipple
for years now dormant.

Idée fixe


It’s not loss of recent memory, as they suggest.
Never did she forget that I asked for coffee
and yet she brings me
a glass of milk again.

Ripe old age, I

How I look everything in detail
how I invest in feelings
in commonplace events
of her remotest past
how I get angry
how I am moved
by her now ripe old age

This is how passionately at times are spied on
ordinary, insignificant and righteous

Ripe old age, II

How she looks everything in detail
how she suspects my stares
how she remembers and comments on a few events alone
how she forgives me
and how so instinctively
she is on the lookout for
nonexistent or existent dangers
even a fleeting escape
from my norm  

this is how men are spied on
by righteous tormenting women

between their birth
and their burial.

Provident mourning

Go inside
I can’t write your poem.
Walking slowly as you are
your figure gives the impression
of a final departure
and here am I mourning again
whereas you are simply moving
to the next room.

Standing and sitting

Hopeful for sure
is this postscript vivacity of yours
and the time-belied
persistent mobility.

However, come
be seated in the armchair
because standing you are mere shadow
while sitting you are
mother again.

Body in a dream

In the bathroom
and wherever you must undress
from everyone
and even me
with comic persistence
you hide what remains
of your former body.

You undress only
for your long-departed husband
when as such you bring him to your dreams.

Re the opposite

He loved you, you tell me, deeply
never was he unfaithful to you, you affirm.
I have evidence
but the strongest
is that I must leave you in love.  

Passez, madame passée…

At your age
you insist on voting.
And at the polling station they all
let you through, of course.
I voted at my convenience, you tell me.
You have no inkling
of what sort of priority
they granted you.

This small world

Banners across newspapers
operetta emotions, epic soap operas
restaurant leftovers to be packed
wars and coups, elections, dictatorships
always on the winning side
they didn’t come to our name day
why should we go to theirs
weddings, christenings, Shrove Monday feasts, lamb on the spit
always there;
funerals exceptionally only;
finally, this partial Parthenon
somehow spoils the sunlit scenery.

Advantageous majority

Now and then she mixes up
my namewith that of my father and my son.
She is right. I am one
and they are two
– her past and her future.

Retrospective baby

Now as I am looking
at photos of me taken in the font
I notice how frightened my look is
it seems that I knew what was in store for me.
And yet your maternal love showed no fight
only you could have
taken the child from their hands
and gone out in the streets.


The odds and ends
she keeps on collecting
is a treasure
to be rid of.

She has no idea
how much it’ll cost me
the disposal of this treasure
one day.

In reverse order, I

Whenever I can
without asking you
I throw out things
of little value
that in time will remind me of you.

One way or another
since you are still alive
if I told you the reason
you’ll have agreed.

In reverse order, II

Every day goes by
along our street
the same wise junk dealer.
No one has ever told him
and yet
he publicizes what he will collect.



Today is an anniversary.
Thirty years
without him
all alone.
I am calling you but the line is busy.
With whom are you talking?
If you were talking, that is…

False declaration

I am looking at your ID card.
I am aware of your false declaration
as to the date of your birth.
In the past we squabbled over this
but now
I try to believe it.

Burnt archives

If the occasion should arise
the years concealed
in your identity card
I shall demand
that you live them.

National anniversaries

We all celebrate 1821
somewhat vaguely.
But I still have 1940
in the house.  

Second Cemetery

Every year the Cemetery
requires us to pay dues
for the family grave.
A small amount that you always want us
to go together and pay it
at the nearby post office.

Law-abiding to the core
you hope for extensions.


On our family grave
the dates of birth and death
of all our folks.
But you insist
that only the date
of your death
should be carved.

And how am I to decide
in this coquettish clash
between a dead person
and a marble slab?  

Staying up all night

You were always worried and sat up all night
waiting for me to return usually in the morning.

You lived lived
lived lived
people of my age
no longer make a night of it.

Flourishing passport

He is entitled to age
and age
and age
since he is still
watering flowers.

Effortless effort

Of books
I give you a paper knife
to uncut
pages for me –
promotion of old age
to usefulness.

Afterwards when I start reading
here and there I find
pages forgotten, uncut.
Thus will I leave them –
for your effort.    

Scent of lavender

Whereas you quite naturally pronounce
old coined words such as
“réclame”, “futurity” and “robe de chambre”
each time I hear them as new
in one of their latest sounds.

The “rain”


Festive days.
Though she’s alone
there is the usual Christmas decoration
and illumination because I am coming.

We are again as in the old days.
And the rain
subs for the absentee.

Superterrestrial tunnel

It seems magical to me
that many a time you trip up
but never fall.
Life enjoins
that obstacles be swept aside
and you pass.

Mountain and sea


We are going on an excursion as in the past.
Do you want from the bedroom
to the mountain drawing room
or do you prefer
to the veranda’s deluge of people?


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