Paper and Glue

For Peter Carras and Voula Hartokoli
“αι, αι.”

Pappou, I don’t remember if I told you about the Turkish fort
encircling the peak of the next mountain
over, or if you told us to look for it.

It was your niece, who we met without telling you
after your departure from Athens, who taught us
your mother’s name, Hartokoli, translates to paper and glue.

Was she alive, then, when the Hartokolis
wrote the daily news and plastered it to the town center?
Would she smile to see me, generations later, trying

to write myself back to your family name?
You must know by now,
I can’t often tell these little stories without crying.

Reverence, I call it,
because this warmth leads me back to myself.
These days, we cut tomatoes and eat them

with salt, reaching
for that scent of dirt and heat.
You didn’t want to drink coffee

with the only man in the village who knew
your mother’s name, and I daydream
conversations that would have led us back

to her house, up the mountain you can no longer climb,
with the dirt floor and cracked jug
from the photo you took before I was born.

The wind and the music of Village Karvelas are whistling
at the open door, waiting for us to arrive.
I dream it’s all still there.

Reverence, I call it, because each story makes trembling
larkspur of my mouth. Every name
— Καρβελάς, Γόυλα, Χαρτοκόλι, Δόμνα, Καρανικόλας —

is sunlight I cannot stop reaching for.
I don’t know if you learned the Zeimbekiko,
the dance to release your sorrow.

But you told me I am full of Spartan blood, even on the days
this heart has only salt to give.
Pappou, these days, I am pyrrhic.

Need I say more?
Only we know how to dance
ourselves back home.

Reverence, I say;
I would follow your word up mountains,
where ancient walls sit like crowns.

Grace Carras was the 2019 winner of the Mark Ritzenehein Emerging Poet Award, and her first book, Quiet Kid, was published with Finishing Line Press. She has served on the organizational board for The Artist’s Umbrella LLC, cofounded The Poetry Room reading series, and was a semifinalist in the 2018 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.

Note: Peter Carras took the photo at Voula Hartokoli’s old family home (long-abandoned by the time the photo was taken). The house was in the village of Karvelas (Lakonia, Eastern Mani).