"Fatherland" by Liana Sakelliou, translated by Aliki Barnstone

September 15, 2022 


Liana Sakelliou
translated by Aliki Barnstone

Marathon is an ancient city,
almost Elysian, I say,
as we climb the hill
that holds the dead,
saffron bulbs everywhere.
Here is the tomb, white as bone,
the sea cobalt blue,
the day naked.

Marathos means root, I say,
as we pick the green root
that bears Marathon’s name
for our food—fennel’s fragrant spell.
How quickly things are forgotten,
losing shape,
losing their names,
turning into something else.

There are words in your mouth
instead of screams:
Yes, you passed through the checkpoint.
No, you did not have a passport.
No, you were not an adult.
You were unfit to travel.
You stuttered as you spoke.
You stumbled as you walked.

You misheard instructions.
You consigned the secret to your brothers—
they kept you alive, after all!
You borrowed their boat.
The Coast Guard ordered you around
like a metronome.

Now the light is switched on,
punishing as snow.
For me it’s a wingspan.
For you it collapses into your spring
like a heavy construction.



Πατρικό έδαφος 


Ο Μαραθώνας είναι αρχαία πόλη,
σχεδόν Ηλύσια, λέω, 
καθώς σκαρφαλώνουμε τον λόφο 
που περιέχει τους νεκρούς,
παντού βολβοί σαφράνια.
Ο τάφος είναι εδώ, λευκός σαν κόκαλο,
η θάλασσα στο μπλε του κοβαλτίου,
η μέρα γυμνή.

Μάραθος σημαίνει ρίζα, λέω,
καθώς μαζεύουμε την πράσινη ρίζα
για να τη βάλουμε στο φαγητό– 
ξόρκι ευωδιαστό.
Πόσο γρήγορα τα πράγματα ξεχνιόνται,
χάνουνε σχήμα,
χάνουνε όνομα,
γίνονται κάτι άλλο.

Λέξεις στο στόμα
αντί για κραυγές:
Ναι, πέρασες το σημείο ελέγχου.
Όχι, δεν είχες διαβατήριο.
Όχι, δεν ήσουν ενήλικας.
Ήσουν ανήμπορος να ταξιδέψεις.
Τραύλιζες όταν μιλούσες.
Παραπατούσες όταν περπάταγες.

Κατάλαβες λάθος τις οδηγίες.
Εμπιστεύτηκες το μυστικό στα αδέρφια σου–
αυτά σε είχαν άλλωστε κρατήσει ζωντανό!
Δανείστηκες τη λέμβο τους.
Ο Ακτοφύλακας σε διέταξε 
σαν μετρονόμος.

Τώρα το φως είναι αναμμένο,
τιμωρητικό σαν το χιόνι.
Για μένα είναι άνοιγμα φτερών.
Για σένα καταρρέει στην άνοιξη σου
σαν μια βαριά κατασκευή.

Copyright © 2022 by Liana Sakelliou and Aliki Barnstone. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 15, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

Subscribe to the Poem-a-Day Podcast 


I live close to the ancient site of Marathon. To me, it represents victory as announced by the ancient marathon runner to Athens. Many refugees live there and cultivate its fields. We eat its produce daily. When we ride the train, we see many hopeful refugees going to Marathon. Some are not adults yet. Survival, not victory, is the essence of this poem.”
—Liana Sakelliou, translated by Aliki Barnstone

Liana Sakelliou is a Greek poet and the author of Portrait Before Dark (St Julian Press, 2022), translated by Aliki Barnstone. The recipient of grants from Princeton University, the University of Coimbra, the University of Sussex, and the British Council, she is a two-time Fulbright scholar and a professor at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

Aliki Barnstone is a Greek American and Jewish American poet and translator. The author of Eva Poems, forthcoming from Vakhikon in 2022, and translator of Portrait Before Dark by Liana Sakelliou (St. Julian Press, 2022), she is the recipient of fellowships and residencies from the Fulbright Program, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, the Anderson Center, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Portrait Before Dark
(St. Julian Press, 2022)

“The Other Side of Nowhere” by André Naffis-Sahely
read more
“This City I Come From” by Agnes Lam
read more

Thanks to Cynthia Hogue, author of In June the Labyrinth (Red Hen Press, 2017), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Hogue’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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