So it was—in the time of dim light.
I remember 1961, asking during
the oceanic swirls of my bath,
Who created God, Yia-Yia? My grandmother,
stern with a five-year-old. That’s a sin
to even think about.
And so it came to pass
that starlight entered the mouths of the dead.
That I was warned never to lay a hat
on a bed. Not to open an umbrella
in the house. To never give away a knife—
sell one for a penny if need be—or someone
might cut themselves. Never leave a pair
of scissors open to invite bad luck,
or give perfume as a gift without receiving
a coin. And when you say Yeia mas—cheers—
you may do so with wine, water, even milk,
but never do so with coffee.
of understanding my newly formed body
were awkward. Dim. Winding into me
like every snake I was told to fear. There was darkness
in every corner. Weather to ward off.
Animals lurking I had not yet known
to name. But I remember the clean scent
of Ivory soap. The bathtub on Chicago’s
South Side. Even the rubber stopper
Yia-Yia would place in the drain, carefully,
like the great stone across Christ’s tomb.
But if God created everything, Yia-Yia,
I persisted, who created Him? Again, I was warned
to mind my thoughts. To never even think
And I was taught to make sure
I never mistakenly gave the evil eye, careful
to say, Ptou sou, while giving a compliment—
short for Ptou sou na min se matiaso,
meaning, I’ll spit on you so I don’t put
the evil eye on you. To never cross
my legs at a funeral, or leave my shoes
lying on their sides. Careful to never
let salt, bread, or eggs leave the house after sunset.
And to always leave through the same door
of any house through which I had entered.
Yes, we enter many homes in the dim
light of our knowing. Our trying
to find out. From caves and lean-tos,
to rings of stone with animal hides
and still-smoldering fires. Our unknowing
walking arm in arm down the aisle
with what we think we know. Many rooms
into which we should spill salt into doorways.
There is much to be feared, I learned over
and again. Many stars to weep. Cloth filaxta
charms to be pinned to a dress. Placed in a pocket.
Garlic to be hung. Spitting to be done.
Pots of food never to be eaten
directly from. Pomegranates each New Year’s Eve
to smash. The creation of God
to be a question dutifully ignored.
Many slices of bread that if dropped to the floor
must quickly be picked up and kissed.
*This poem first appeared in George Kalamaras’s book, To Sleep in the Horse’s Belly: My Greek Poets and the Aegean Inside Me
George Kalamaras is former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014–2016). He is the author of twenty-three collections of poetry—fourteen full-length books and nine chapbooks—as well as a critical study on language theory. He is Professor Emeritus of English at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he taught for thirty-two years. George and his wife, writer Mary Ann Cain, have nurtured beagles in their home for nearly thirty years, first Barney, then Bootsie, and now Blaisie. George, Mary Ann, and Blaisie live in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and spend a portion of each year in Livermore, Colorado, in the mountains north of Fort Collins.