Samos 1964

You can taste the sea-salt
in the air
as you follow the old man
and his donkey
into the olive groves.

From his woven sack
he conjures up
a feast fit for
the Grecian gods
of ouzo and retsina,
pita and feta,
potatoes and olives.

You converse with gestures
and a worn Larousse,
he counts his sons
with three raised fingers,
his rocking arms become
their children,
he shuts his eyes
and leans his head against
his two clasped hands
to say his wife
has slipped away.

You drink to her memory,
to the three strapping sons,
to the babies they have made
until you doze off
with the empty bottles
at your feet,
a chunk of pita
in your hand.

When you awake beneath
the twisted olive boughs,
the noonday heat has passed,
the old man vanished
like an apparition.
Content to find your limbs
still straight and sturdy,
you take the shaded path
back to the sun-flecked sea.

(originally published in Illuminations)


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