Poems by Anna Couani

skype window

            taping people from her village
            The Peloponnese in an agrarian past
            collecting voices that will disappear forever
            then standing on this edifice
            to look backwards
            and then deeper, into the 18th century
            now like a roaring train, a novel
            the history of Greece, so tragic
                          she says
another she
doing genealogical research
first the family
the migrations, then back
back to the island
            becomes a whole history
the Venetians
the Turks
the Byzantines
very different, she said
            we had war
            in one of her windows
            the mandarin tree stands
            in the centre of a brick paved yard
            on another window
            the lace curtain
            shields the lemon tree
            180° of glass
            the vlita, the horta in the garden
this beautiful peaceful space
In another window
          Skype video
          I see them
          doing genealogical research
          and he also doing genealogical research
          and the search on our name
          a Byzantine tangle
          a clan under the radar
          maybe secret Turks or secret Jews
          escaping the Inquisition
they had records, you know
            the Venetians
                 so Ithaca is a different matter
I hold up the page of the book
to the Skype camera
          this proves there were Couani’s on Kastellorizo
          a page from this old book
          strangely printed in landscape orientation
          with the list of boat owners — Κουανης
and he
          on video Skype
          an English life
          reaching back to France, Egypt, Africa
          finishing an autobiography
I sit in her living room
a window opens
I see him



for Sou Vai Keng
The imaginary of
her Macao childhood
making images
               a school girl in a navy
               blue uniform
               with a white straw hat
               matching her
               with something French
               like Madeline
               independent and brave
an image of stones
walking on the black and white
paving stones
passing by the ruins of St Paul’s
the wrought iron balconies
the lovely yellow painted walls
an image of street vendors
assembled from tourist memories
a childhood image
her freedom and safety
small city, big town
walking to a school
in pre-casino Macao
               there are stones in this stream
               that I want to cross
               stepping stones
               or obstacles
her life as an artist
that determination
visible in her face
it’s like
brings up
my own past
sometime freedom and safety
but then this thing
               with a black tail
               suddenly swings around
hovers over the baby’s cot
soothing with silky words
then turns into something
               I had a dream of the stigmata
               but it didn’t help
               you can see it coming
               but you can’t escape
colour can drive it away
I see it in her work
the saturation
               the loveliness
representing the impossible


The Salty Sea/Sydney by Night        

I remember the time we watched the day break over the beach
sitting cross-legged on the road around midnight
(this is late ’70s, I was very physically fit)
looking up along the studs running up the side seam of a man’s jeans
still believing in the public performance of poetry
and in the efficacy of the lifestyle which sustained it
being out of touch with a domestic life, out of touch with men
and therefore out of contact with the normal ’70s woman

There’s the flash of a car’s headlights sweeping across the grass in the park
there’s the shock of the sight in the rearview mirror, those eyes —
what question are they asking?
well, everyone’s a foreigner to me
and the car, a longed-for oasis
thirsting for sleep, longing to be home at last
so far away now we might as well be in another country

Other countries seem so close
that now travelling and staying here are not dissimilar
I saw a real desert oasis tucked into its waddy
breath-taking, thirst-quenching, vegetation threatening to burst out into the desert
like the patterns of the mosaics and carpets in the Dome of the Rock
that fabulous building

I remember the way I felt about the boulders embedded in the dry creek bed
and the way the casuarinas all bent in one direction
as I sketched them
then understanding later that they’d been bent by floods
and the whole painting had a sense of aftermath
it was the biggest painting I ever did

And the woman who was there with me
must have been thinking very different thoughts
she and her husband setting up house together
in a different way from me
where their nesting instincts definitely centred on children
and in my memory the image of her stomach and her breasts
as we lay near our tents under the trees by the river bank
and the idea of embryos implanting themselves in the uterine wall
are connected

For me the painting, structurally a bit like blue poles
was more important
I could feel the sense of choking claustrophobia and boredom
in the other alternative
there wasn’t much variety of lifestyle in the ’60s

I remember looking at buildings out of interest in them
wanting to discuss ideas
being interested in male intellectuals for that reason
(being deluded about the nature of their interest in me
and not assessing them as husband material)
and being swept off my feet by their lack of interest in me
as a thinking person, their imperviousness
bearing down on you like a blistering wave of heat
over the point from the huge and inert silos of White Bay
inert by day and by night

I remember the inner city lifestyles of the ’70s
the kitchens, the tarot, the numerology
the herbal tea, things that are institutionalized now
my world straddling the women’s movement and the small press scene
when performance was the only way we could reach an audience
in times before the institutionalized creative writing courses
and the massive takeover by the multinational presses
marketeers reaching into our back rooms and kicking us out
whitewashing the whole thing, creating acceptable poets
acceptable feminists, acceptable ethnics

There used to be wild and interesting women around
articulate and heroic at meetings and in lectures
being politically correct, actually
not like now when people are too scared to say boo
as though the tidal wave myth actually came true
in a metaphoric sense, sweeping away everything in its path
and the survivors are the ones who retreated to the country
or just retreated into a defensive position

I remember a dream I had of a wide salty sea
the water shallow and whitish with salt
there was nothing but water, no land
and I swam up to a figure draped on a dead tree
an old female relative, so old that her body was like silky hemp
she had no clothes only long blond silky hair
she was more than helpless, she was no use
outside the water her body had the stiffness of hemp
but in the water she was amorphous like fine seaweed
it seemed like the previous generations weren’t going to be much help
and this proved to be true

In another dream we were forced to move way out past Woop-Woop
to apartments on the tidal flats
and once the tide came in at night we were trapped there
a metaphor for an oppositional upbringing and its legacy perhaps
but not just where you choose to be, exile is not it  

Trying to leap across fields across continents
to build up a sense of complexity and density
to simulate the experience of the metropolis we don’t have
to escape the parochial in a parochial environment
without denying the significant things
to locate significant work and become immersed in it
to make your life multidimensional
to leave the multitude of connections
to avoid tying up loose ends
to collage like a violent mosaic
where every piece is torn not neat
to expose the ruptures not smooth them over
to participate but refuse
like the old idea of seizing the available platform

The actions of the tradition-breakers persisting in our memories
alongside the fragments of the old traditions
and now difficult to disentangle

“Skype Window” and “Translation” have been published in Small Wonders (Flying Islands Books, Macao, 2012) and “The Salty Sea/Sydney By Night” has been published in Wombats of Bundanon (Macao: ASM Poetry, 2011) and Southern Sun Aegean Light: Poetry of Second-Generation Greek-Australians (Melbourne: Arcadia, 2011).