The Manifest Station - March 18, 2018
At age 19 I fell in love forever, with Odysseus, with Yiannis, and most of all with Constantine.
My mother had said college would be a happier place than high school for me, a bookish would-be poet marooned in small-town Long Island, dreaming of a life of the mind. What better place to find it than Princeton University, the pinnacle of the Ivy League and my father’s beloved alma mater? But when I arrived in September 1988, the intellectual paradise I had naively expected shimmered out of reach. I was wait-listed for creative writing workshops. I floundered in philosophy classes I took instead. I drank cheap beer, discovering a drunken hookup culture my mother didn’t know had replaced dating. I was so unhappy, I nearly dropped out.
My parents wanted me to stay. So I did, enrolling sophomore year in a comparative literature class with an appealingly weighty title: Myth, History, and Contemporary Experience in Modern Greek, English, and American Poetry. On the first day, a dozen students crowded around a long table headed by an avuncular professor who opened a book and immediately began lecturing, engrossed in the text.
I can’t recall exactly which poem he read. I like to think it was Cavafy, encouraging Odysseus to keep his beloved lost homeland of Ithaka always in mind, without fearing the monsters or angry gods he might find along the way. “You won’t encounter them / unless you bring them along inside your soul, / unless your soul sets them up in front of you.” The poems we discussed that day, and Professor Edmund Keeley’s unassuming love for them, captivated me. I bought Keeley’s collection of translations, “Voices of Modern Greece”, a slim paperback with a plain cover that gave no hint the verse it contained would crack my life wide open. My passion for these poets—Constantine Cavafy, Yiannis Ritsos, and Odysseus Elytis—would send me on an odyssey thousands of miles from home, leading to a new language, a new home, love, betrayal, loss, and heartbreak. I didn’t know it then, but my personal epic journey began in that classroom with a few lines of Modern Greek poetry.
HIM, HER, ME
Arts & Letters, 2017
The first time our child sprouted wings, I pretended not to see them.
She was only an infant, three days old, none of us had slept since the 36-hour ordeal at the hospital wrenching her out of me, so what if I saw wings? I had given birth, traumatically. I was seeing a lot of unpleasant, unexpected, inexplicable things.
The second time she was two years old. I was better by then, mostly better, much better, at least as far as external appearances. Most days, I twisted my wild curls into a smooth chignon before leaving the apartment. I cooked simple meals for my family.
AN OBVIOUS SYMBOL OF SOMETHING
Sleet Magazine, 2009
While I have been sitting here trying to think what it means, such an obvious symbol as a picture frame with a photo of us together, breaking—it was not even our wedding picture or anything really special—just a snapshot cropped to fit a three-inch plastic frame, I think we took this picture three years ago when we visited your mother, but the background is indistinct, the colors blend and bleed away at the edges and whoever took it probably focused on your face because I am so much shorter than you, even though on that trip I wore my red leather gladiator sandals with the three-inch heels, “Not for the sake of fashion,” you said, “but to try to be as tall as me,”