Two Poems

Theoklis Kouyialis was born in Deftera, Cyprus, in 1936. He has published eleven collections of poems, and three anthologies of Cypriot poetry (two of them in English). He has held a variety of positions in Cypriot education. The Cyprus PEN has published a literary profile of his work.

The Turkish Woman Bahire

While the sun was filtering through the leaves of the walnut tree
and shifting our hearts from light to darkness and again back to
light, the Turkish woman Bahire unwrapped her apron to treat us to
transparent, deep purple plums.

And then, just as the sun enflamed with the brightest scent of a dream
the jujube trees, the jasmine and the honeysuckles around the wheel
of the water-well, it was Bahire, with sweet eyes the colour of ripe
olives, who opened her heart, itself an amber quince, and handed out
to us children a sureness of colours, sounds and smells.

Such was Bahire, wife of Salih the grumbler.

Bahire ascended to heaven on the white wings of doves.

It was at the moment when the sun was about to set and the clouds,
resembling fluffy rose petals, had scattered across the evening sky,
that Bahire, like the fragrance from the heart of a pure white lily,
flew on invisible wings among the pearly warbles.

At the same time, from the neighbourhood of Chrysospiliotissa, an
extra gentle breeze transformed the green malachite of your orchards,
my Deftera, into a deep, misty feeling and left behind in our
childhood souls low, dream-like voices, asking so many questions.

These days, now that the dark wind has taken everything away and
the rhythmic, metallic lullaby from Salih’s wheel at the well resounds
as nothing more than a harsh echo, the Turkish woman Bahire has
come alive again to swell my heart with a cooling, violet-coloured

For I catch sight of her descending from the sky-blue orchards of
heaven, with her apron full of rounded juicy amethysts, to share with
us once more the treasures of her heart.


Mosphilo Jam

The fringes of the mist are pulling back from the roofs with the
movements of a snake newly awoken from winter hibernation.

And while the dawn is unfolding its yellow-brown mantle from one
horizon to the other Varvarou, now deceased, sets off with her little
cinnamon-coloured goat to pick mosphila.

With a woven basket crooked on her arm she stoops down among the
bewitching iridescences of the last flames of autumn and brings alive
my memory, that same memory which is struggling not to blur your
crystalline mirrors, Deftera.

In the midst of the vegetation, within all this your scented image, I
see the honey-coloured eyes of Varvarou and their wistful shadow.

And as she takes the trail leading from the west, which is the level side
of the Pedias, to climb up towards the naked precipice, she appears to
me to be gathering all the gifts which that time of the year encloses.

Now that a melancholic tenderness threatens to crush my life I
can hear once more the dry rustle from the trodden stalks that her
footsteps awaken.

And that sweet, sharp-flavoured taste of mosphilo jam brings to
mind the same mellowness of the autumn dawn when, from time to
time, the sun was hiding behind the clouds like a lost smile.

Fields are still plunged in shadow. The October morning, like an angel
wounded from struggling with demons all night long, surrenders to
the chilly breath of the south-west wind.

And Varvarou of the honey-coloured eyes, black woollen shawl and
small cinnamon-coloured goat saw me all quite alone on the river-
bank and she waved her hand.

It was a tender but at the same time airy gesture which contained in
its fondness both a farewell and a gentle abandonment to fate.

The very next morning Varvarou journeyed to heaven, carrying along
with her a little bottle of mosphilo jam in her woven basket.

In the midst of the velvet that the summer’s dust left in my heart,
another woman started taking shape very gradually, a woman with
hair like ripe ears of corn; and she took from my hands the flower of
my childhood years.

From that time on a novel and mysterious feeling has been born in
my heart; it was going to guide me far, very far, much further than
logic should normally dictate.

Translated from the Greek by Nora Lassis

Both poems and their English translations have previously appeared in Theoklis Kouyialis, My Own Deftera (Nicosia: Moufflon Publications 2007, and are here published with the gracious permission of the Press.

Nora Liassis teaches English Literature and is Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the European University Cyprus. Her areas of research and publication include Romanticism, Byron and the Near East, English/French symbolist poets, the language and literature of topos, Eastern travel writing (16th-19th century), and language networking.