the day after you left was like
curly haired boys shouting from the back of a pickup truck,
souvlaki smouldering and hissing at the waterfront,
waves exposing their white flesh, moments before striking concrete.
like a girl’s hesitation before she boards the rickety bus to Athens,
like vagrant dogs sniffing at fresh graffiti each morning,
gold-rimmed glasses of ouzo slid carelessly over a wooden counter,
ripples of bouzouki music seeping into humid air.
like trading your last drachmas for olives under an amber sun
the scent of freshly-ground oregano woven between curls of cigarette smoke,
like pairs of bronze feet dangling from the edge of the sea wall,
milky sailboats balancing on wine-dark waves.
like visitors stepping onto quivering docks,
bewildered, failing to remember Greek phrases they believed they knew.
From the jury: A cumulative rendering of the poet’s feelings after an absent “you” has departed, this poem employs a series of beautifully crafted, vivid similes (“like waves exposing their white flesh”) which not only creates a strong picture of a parting and the longing it involves, but also gives us a warm, rich picture of a Greek seaside town. The images seem to conjure different emotional states, leaving the reader multiple ways to interpret the narrator’s state of mind: sad, angry (“souvlaki smouldering and hissing”), exultant (“curly haired boys shouting”), expectant about a new future (“trading your last drachmas for olives”), or, perhaps, freshly alive to his or her surroundings. Using the words “quivering” and “bewildered” in the last two lines cleverly introduces the feeling of insecurity at the separation and the idea that leaving may cause not only loss of a relationship, but also a diminishing of knowledge of one’s culture.
Find 2019’s other winning Jessamy Stursberg poems here.