Sunday, November 22, 2009

Poems from the Village of the Five Senses: Pentakomo Cyprus, by Irene Koronas

(Poet/Artist Irene Koronas)

Poems from the Village of the Five Senses:
Pentakomo Cyprus, by Irene Koronas

article by Michael Todd Steffen

On the central south coast of Cyprus, two and a half kms inland from the bay of Ayios Yeryios Alamanou lies the small village of Pendakomo, or Pentakomo, with a church, a tavern, sleeping villas. It’s not likely to attract droves of tourists, though those who visit the village come for particular reasons, even for pilgrimages, such as the one recorded by Irene Koronas in her new book of poetry, Pentakomo Cyprus.

Our parents go on ahead of us, curving time, sending us on a quest for them to their (and our) roots in the land and people they came from. This is the deep mystery that leads Koronas to Pendakomo, to observe, to take in the people and their customs and rites, to hear

relatives say my father’s face shined
like easter, the day he was conceived…

everyone loved grandmother erini.
when children need a place to call home,
she lets them sleep on their dirt floors.
well water inside. father left
this land where all his fathers died
where all the village girls loved him.
(“land where my fathers died,” p. 37)

Yet this stay in Cyprus, this pilgrimage of nostalgia, bizarrely presents Koronas with the company of a loveable albeit strange man. The poet doesn’t deliberately confuse her father with the villager, john, though the reader might. Has the father become, in death, a likeness to who he could have been confused for, standing before her there? Traditions help us place those who go on before us in the solemnity of churches, religious orders and literature and art, in our prayers with the angels. Yet is the new strange villager, john, who keeps animals and drinks and eats too much, a phenomenal argument for the other terrestrial embodiment that so partook of incarnation after incarnation of fathers on this earth?

Despite his earthiness, john (as with e.e. cummings, all names in Koronas book as well as the first personal pronoun i, are left in the minor case) has a numinous quality with a wounded leg that prophesies omens, weather. Even when he is not present in his home with her, his extended being as it were, in the house’s animals chaperone her:

john is not home. his pregnant dog follows me
when i try to leave. i come back. leave. cat
follows me, so i come back again.
(“thursday,” p. 12)

This passivity of being led by affectionate suggestions is recorded as instrumental to the patience of the poet’s work, allowing time and surroundings their hand in her composition.

taped onto painted cement, oil pastel drawings.
white wash wood, rusty nail, blue plastic rope,
and small stones, assemblage hangs over couch.
the couch works as a guest bed…
(“sunday,” p. 13)

There is pain in that couch. The rusty nail and blue plastic rope are survived only by waiting, as the poem proceeds with an intimation that reads like Psalm 22:

there are no answers that will
comfort my rage at having to be alone.

For the process here is not alone art per se but grieving, in that impossibility, for its subtle fruition.

It is in this more ariel, introspective manner that the traveler defines herself as different from her host. With a filial inspiration and the expectant eyes of a visitor, Koronas SEES this world in her own new light. She sees with unusual simplicity that the rustic life of the village is self-sustaining, without the elaborate technology of the world we so depend on for all things, from food processing to life support.

We’re in April, Easter time, time not only of resurrection of the spirit from the death of the body, but resurrection of the spryness and grace of the surrounding animal and plant life, all splendidly catalogued:

pheasant hurries from one olive tree
to another. women prepare cheeses to stuff into kneaded
dough, wood beside ovens in every court yard. we broil
barley/… this wait for christ to rise.
this stroll through foothills, moving aside for tractors,
wild wheat, morning sun, bugs, birds, chickens,
dull yellow touches blue sky, blue powdered snails
cling under orange palm trees, bright pink queen anne’s lace,
purple thistle, wild geraniums… (4/13 monday)

From the first page, Koronas’ language is at once powerful and subtle, to be read like inches in a mine field, or you won’t see what she’s saying and nothing explodes. It is all again opened and closed and reopened, beautifully with that dread under-song of an old landscape welcoming you home:

fuchsia daisies, orange trumpet flowers, new birds coo
with distant dog barks. black and brown long hair goats
climb rocky hillside, their master wears black rubber boots,

navy sweater, his thick stick in hand…
(“avivos’s mountain garden,” p. 3)

Against the soft wisdom of what the poet affirms in this first pristine passage, there are wafts of a cross-draught underscoring the point of view with a self-criticism lending objectivity to the landscape:

…rain taps corrugated aluminum roof, the garden shed.
tall blond grasses dust branches like sheer white curtains

comb our room. black hose spouts water around new trees.
only new trees drink what older roots no longer need.
avivos tells me his mother loved noise…

Once this first poem has yielded something of Koronas’ delicate character and signature, to the reader’s attention, the book holds itself away from and then back close to you page after page, in a haunting poetic voice that bridges the there and then of the pages of the book and the here and now intimately in the reader’s ear.

Pentakomo Cyprus by Irene Koronas
is available for $15.00 from
Cervena Barva Press
P.O. Box 440357
W. Somerville, MA 02144-3222 or visit

Life Happens While We Are Making Other Plans. Terry Romanoff

Life Happens While We Are Making Other Plans. Terry Romanoff (

Somerville author Terry Romanoff was born in Maine but moved to the Paris of New England: Somerville, Mass as a mere babe. She has lived in Somerville her whole life and has worked as a social worker, outreach worker, resource counselor, and as a director of a senior center.

This is a collection of stories that concerns the wide variety of people she worked with in her role as a social worker over the decades. Like Studs Terkel, (The late, acclaimed Oral Historian), in his book “Working”, Romanoff celebrates the common man and woman, their struggles, their joys, and their search for dignity. The book is simply written, there are no purple flourishes or any evidence of training at an MFA mill. But the stories are moving and genuine, and at times even spiritually uplifting.

In her story “Grampy and Grammy,” Romanoff recalls the time an African-American family moved onto her block in Somerville when she was a young kid. This was quite an experience for her because her exposure to blacks was limited. As it turns out, the grandparents were actual slaves on a plantation. The young Romanoff wondered why the Grandfather always walked with his head down and his shoulders bent when he greeted her. His wife explained to the young writer.

“She sat me down and explained to me that she and Grampy had been slaves in the South many years ago…. Since the slaves weren’t allowed to speak or interact with the white people on the farm without the master’s permission, Grampy learned the best thing to do so as not to get into trouble was to walk with his head bent and just touch the tip of his hat brim and say: “How do.”

Also included in the collection is the story of Gus, a down-at-the-heels alcoholic, who late in the game turns his life around. When he is on his deathbed he asks Romanoff what in his life made it worthwhile. Romanoff provides just the right answer and gives the man a chance to sing a peaceful swan song.

This book has accounts of Holocaust survivors, people struggling with the wounds of racism, etc…. This is a moving first collection, and I hope we here more from Terry Romanoff.