Stephanos Papadopoulos
    Now we are in for some culture shock. Stephanos Papadopoulos is a Greek American poet who studied classical archeology and was raised in Paris and Athens. He has published three books of poetry. Earnest, lofty and cosmopolitan, Stephanos’s poems—like those of his mentor, Derek Walcott—seem to have traveled here from a distant time and place. In fact, his poems are as different from work usually read here as the Himalayas are from the beaches of Waikiki. Absent are easy confessionalism, crowd-courting witticisms and all references to pop culture or mainstream Americana; present, in abundance, are the merciless elements, seasons, landscapes and seascapes that seem much nearer to Homer’s aesthetic than to Anne Sexton’s. Maybe he’ll write an epic some day. I know that he’s made an epic journey just to visit us this evening, so without further ado, here’s Stephanos.

Memento Mori

There was sunlight deep as punishment
in your eyes when the dogwood trees burst
like party crackers and it was April
with the squawks of magpies and cardinals
sharp as a phone ringing with news of death.
The shovel fell from my burning hands
and I stood under the cornflower-blue
sky while the dumb spring kept unfolding
like a slideshow someone left running.
Better sometimes to stay in the dream,
stand fast and stoke the fire
while the disappearing light still holds.
The worst arrives with stunning grace,
like an usher who suddenly appears
on quiet feet to lead you through the dark
as gathered thoughts burn uselessly,
lights switched on by accident.
And on the same street of secret gardens
the cherries and ornamental pears
were screaming “see me! I’m beautiful!”
while the trucks shifted on Hillsborough,
people talked, bought newspapers, parked their cars
and like hourglasses filled with sand,
the girls rode by on bicycles.

Notes in Gratitude
For Derek Walcott

Don’t be astonished
when the poem demands
your organized suffering—

when you pin the black band
to your shirtsleeve
you inherit the conscience of death.

Take notes: blue sky, green trees;
read Montale when the horizon
threatens at times to disappear

and your own brown islands,
like the gas ring turned low,
hover and go purple at dusk.

When the poem equals the love,
when the poem surpasses the love,
you have brushed the saddest flame.

So be tough and humble
as the stones of these islands
poured from the same brown earth.

Go fall into a dark-haired woman
like the elegiac rain—
work early, don’t complain.

2011 Stephanos Papadopoulos
Stephanos Papadopoulos was a Featured Poet who read his poetry at the July 2011 Second Sunday Poetry Series