Selected Poetry by Hephaestion Christopoulos


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Ammoniac Heart

Stench of ammonia and scattered pills

Shards of glass and nameless ills

That’s all her precious love could ever be

Fool’s gold and cheap moonshine

For weary ghosts who forever pay the fine

From the office window

Half blinded by the sun’s stinging rays

She’d see this old, gaunt and curved man

Every afternoon, two o’clock, five minutes give or take

He’d cross the highway

Dragging swollen feet on hot asphalt,

Atrophic arms waving to passing cars

Atrophic fingers clasping his cane

Tapping it on the burning ground

Tick-tock, just like a metronome

Her sight blurry from the blazing light

She’d shrivel her eyelids, move a little to the side

Hoping to catch a clearer glimpse of that man’s imminent death

Crawling like a turtle among a herd of rampaging bison

Be it today, be it tomorrow

She never knew

She just clammed up and looked and waited

Wouldn’t we all?

It takes a man’s death to set those hearts ablaze

For ammoniac hearts to shine inside their shells of clay

They say old seadogs never sink

They say they smell the storm like hounds

And so she’d wait

Late at night, still awake, eyes always red and wide open

Windows to a sandstorm that someone forgot to lock

Ears buzzing with the cries of whipped dogs and beaten wives

Horrid sounds that thrive in the dark and cower back by daylight

Wine dripping on the carpet from her trembling glass

She’d run her curved claws across her cheeks

She’d sink her curved cat-claws in her palms

The scars would be gone by morning anyway

The lines would vanish once lighted by the new day

Leaving behind just a tiny sting in her flesh

That tiny sting that keeps us from forgetting

He once drew a heart in the snow for her

She once whispered his name to the night sky

But snow melts and words fly

Never to be heard again

Now just an acrid smell remained

A lit cigarette can hardly scar a heart but you have tried

And you’ve dipped your curved claws deep inside your chest

But your shredded heart one day was whole again the next

You wish you could have been a cat and only had nine lives




A Razor’s Worth of Boats

Little Harry didn’t believe me when I told him how simple it is to make a boat

So I showed him

I guess I shouldn’t have, but I’m not wired up for this

To make a boat, I said, you only need a deep breath and a razorblade

Look—I already have three

Little Harry didn’t even flinch

I never saw him again

Pain is just a feeling

Sometimes maybe even a friend

Blood is irrelevant

Nothing more than tears down my cheek

Boats always float on blood

Seven more

I don’t know why I said I’d count up to eleven

Such an imperfect number

Sounds wrong

But eleven it is

So I carve one every morning, a little arc following the curve of my eye

My boats

My fleet

My caravan

People on the street look the other way

Mrs Jives says they should send me to the funny farm

And my landlord has been giving me those looks of his a long time now

But he always takes my money and never says a word

I guess it’s better that way

What could we ever talk about?

Six more

Five more

Four

Three

I just miss you so

And miss you even more because you’re always here

But it’s still you and not you

Where’s that golden hair of yours?

Your moonshine smile has set forever

And there’s this rattling in the heaving of your breasts

Like a broken machine

Even the serrated sadness in your eyes is now of a different kind

A dull kind

One I dread to describe

One I don’t recognise

One I’m afraid I might stop loving

So I carve my ships and wait

Just two more left

Then we’ll get all dressed up and paint our eyelids gold

Braid our hair or what’s left of it

And get drunk just like in the old days

I can carry you

There’s not much left of you

From up here the buildings look like the broken bones of behemoths

Or maybe the stained teeth of giant horses

This is the last boat

And this one can fly, all the way up to the stars

I’ll take you there

I promise


[God’s eye’s on the moon tonight

Shedding on Earth His loving light

God’s mouth’s on the ground tonight

Open to swallow up the coward kind]





Borderline Conscience

Balancing on the edge of the world you said:

“What if I let go?

There might be miracles you’ve never met

In the chaos down below”


I shook my head. “All dreams are dead

And monsters bellow there

The beasts that we ourselves have bred

In shame they cry and blare”


You shrugged and said, “I have no shame.

My dreams have breathed their last

Somewhere along this burning plain.

I came, I saw, I lost”





Her Lullaby Sounded Like Canned Storms and Cracking Teeth


The wall is scarred in a most violent manner

The grooves make the plaster bleed

like someone’s been trying to claw their way through

But there are no blood stains to be seen

and in the far corner, where all lines meet,

written in cursive with a feather quill,

one can read

“I am no stranger to your strange self”

I just don’t think we ever expected to witness that feeling again

No stranger

I just didn’t think we’d ever wade in these waters again

our strange selves

But the ink smears on the floor speak of

contrition

convulsions

contortions


Just perch on a scorched branch

paint your feathers black

and be a stranger

We never wanted these strange selves

we never wanted to hear the sound of thoughts forming

But this crow feather quill has scratched the walls

and all we can see is the curly ligatures

of ancient cursive

that speak of things best left forgotten

best left to be carried away

by a river of liquid cement


Strange selves

shelves

elves

Maybe it’s not the words that matter this time

Maybe it’s the cigarette butts piled up under the inscription

Maybe it’s the feathers left here by a passing dove

or swallow

I forget

or the rusty syringe no one dares pick up

The cement flows

but takes nothing away with it

So there we are

strangers within a strange self


We never wanted the lines to meet

We never wanted the river to freeze

We never wanted to claw our way through these walls

We never wanted anything

except for this cursed bird-feather-quill

to at last stop cawing

stop eyeing us

stop fluttering above our heads

Then maybe the bones that push through the concrete

will one day paint our dreams blue





Hephaestion Christopoulos is confused: part engineer, part translator, part linguist and part hopeless bassist. He also writes. He has published two short story collections in Greek and has participated in several anthologies. His latest book, The Whales on the Moon, mixes realism with speculative elements and has received very positive reviews. He lives in Athens with five women, only three of which are furry. You can find him on Twitter @CompsonsCurse