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TOPIC: SOTJON VELO - A SONG TO CHILDHOOD HEROES

SOTJON VELO - A SONG TO CHILDHOOD HEROES 4 months 3 weeks ago #418

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A Song to Childhood Heroes
A collection of Poetry Sotjon Velo



In the end there is a silence which wraps around us
A silence which embraces our fears, pain, agony
A silence which embraces us all

to my brother

*******************

INTRODUCTION

by Matthew Francis

In the first poem in this collection, Sotjon Velo depicts a young man reading a poem of his own to his parents, who are politely appreciative but more interested in the late return of their other son, ‘his hair wet,his shoes dirty’. All poets will know the feeling. However ‘passionately’ we write and declaim, our readers and listeners o en have other things on their minds. Writing poetry can seem a thankless task, especially when one considers how difficult it is. It’s all the more so when the poet is not writing in his native language; Sotjon is a fluent English speaker and well-read in English-language poetry, but the challenge of writing in a foreign tongue is still a formidable one. Why undertake it in the first place, knowing that the audience for poetry everywhere is so small?
e answer, of course, is that he has to, because there are things he needs to say that no one else can say for him. These poems give us a glimpse into a life we couldn’t read about anywhere else, certainly not in English. e long sequence ‘A Song to Childhood Heroes’, my favourite poem here, is a series of snapshots, the emotion not hidden, but not over-emphasized either, each glimpse allowed
to linger in our minds for a moment before being replaced by another. We see a poor young couple in the park (probably immigrants, though we aren’t explicitly told) forced to move on when they want to rest; the sunburned workers in the fields, shouted at by their boss; a scene of domestic violence in the neighbourhood where they come to live. All this is harrowing, but there is room in the poem for happiness and the pleasures of family life, too, as their son begins to grow up:

The summer came at last.
He would run and slide on the load of dirt.
He was a soldier, a knight, a king.
His friend would follow:
They ate together, slept under the same
moon. They had the same clothes
They had the same wounds. They were
brothers, best friends and neighbours.

At the end of the poem, the boy, now grown up, is saying goodbye to his family as he leaves for ‘places they never imagined’ - in fact, for Wales, where Sotjon himself studied creative writing at Aberystwyth University. e poem, like the others in this book, gives us a strong sense of how far he has come. They can be wry, thoughtful, gently self-mocking, as in the opening ‘ e Poem’. But at the same time he never loses his awareness of where he comes from: from a loving family and
from the sometimes troubled but still vital and complex nation that is modern Greece. For me, as a British reader, that sense of a life lived in the sun (‘watermelon and cold beers on the table / the ash- tray is full of cigarette butts’) is one of the enduring impressions left by this collection.

THE POEM

he stood in the middle of the room
and proudly unfolded the paper holding in his hands
his father sat on the couch and concentrated on him
his mother was there but did not pay much attention
she was just happy that she finally removed a stain from
the window
the boy read the poem in a few seconds
his right hand was waving in the air passionately
the end
‘very good’ his father said and clapped
his mother just nodded her head
then the excitement was interrupted by the sound of
keys on the door
his brother entered, his hair wet, his shoes dirty
‘I’m home’, he announced. ‘What’s going on?’
‘finally’, the father said.


*******************

MEMORIES

the empty room terrifies, as there are no traces of human
touch in it
the windows are shut, in a desperate demonstration of
detachment
the curtains are yellowish; they used to be white
the smoke has deteriorated them; they remind nothing
of a wedding gift
not anymore
the silence starts to talk; the silence has become so loud
on the grey walls, painted fresh six years ago, framed
familiar faces
Insist to frequently frame your life
and on the attic, your very self is separated
Is carefully divided and placed inside boxes
your innocence and childhood has broken loose inside
the wings of countless airplane models
and you lie there, in your dirty, ripped of sofa, in the
huge apartment
defeated by your own memories, hanging on the walls,
on the windows
hiding behind blurry glass, inside carton boxes
they won’t go away
you take a sip of cheap Portuguese wine and you stare
at the screen of your computer
confused, dizzy, drunk
your fingers slide across the keyboard
you become a writer, a poet, a god.


*******************

I DON’T MIND LONELINESS

I don’t mind loneliness
It is good every now and then
It is only that at times is so hard to deal with it
and you blame yourself
those days are so unbearable
they bring you to your knees
you can’t recognize yourself on the mirror
the beast inside you wants to go out
‘no, I won’t let him....’
then you squeeze your teeth and you find the power
to stand up
It won’t beat me, I won’t let it
sometimes my determination amazes me
I leave my apartment to go to work
I smile at the friendly old man who lives next door.
he is lonely too
but he hasn’t given up, has he?


*******************

DEATH IS A WOMAN

death is a woman
a beautiful one
it has to be
there is no greater death
than when you love a beautiful woman.

*******************

A SONG TO CHILDHOOD HEROES

1

With their rugs and a suitcase, they stood on the
harbour.
There were no trees, no clean sky, or friendly neighbours.
A deep feeling of nostalgia, burned their insides,
Reflected by the empty expressions on their faces.
The plain landscape was surrounded by tall and ugly
buildings
And their eyes couldn’t take this much hostility, so they
lowered them down.
There were others brought by the same conditions,
looking dull, frightened, lost.
But his eyes moved upon his shoulders, to the only
treasure that he had.
A kid with blonde short hair, tired and hungry, dressed
with an old red jacket.
He seized the hand of his wife and together they walked
into an unknown direction
With only their rugs, a suitcase and a hungry child.

2

A broken bench. They sit around it. The park is dark
and dirty.
As they lie tired and thirsty an old man approaches.
‘Go; get away, not here, not here...’ he screams looking
distraught.
‘Not here my friend. Here is dangerous. Do you speak
Greek? Do you understand what I’m saying?’
Not an answer, just an agonising face struggling
to understand.
‘Go. Run away from here. Oh God you are so young
and with a kid...’
A gesture with his head and the young father signalled
their departure.
They were lost between tall terrifying buildings,
decorated with dirty flower pots.
They start to whisper, and then they kissed.

3

The cars are speeding fast.
the highway pierced the tall mountains and took them
elsewhere.
More cars behind them, faster, smaller, better
The door opened, the driver gave directions
‘For how long we’re travelling?’ he wonders.

4

A day in the fields.
There are men and women, all bending down, behind
the big tractors.
They sweat and moan, they sing, they tell stories
and they laugh.
They are tired and they all want to go home.
The sun burns their heads, the boss screams.
He screams and swears. He doesn’t want them to sing
and laugh.
He wants them to work. Faster, better, longer.
They don’t care. They pretend that they don’t
understand.
They feel close to each other. They are brothers and
sisters.
No matter where they come from...

5

A small photograph is standing next to a vase,
decorating her window.
She looks at it from time to time and she smiles. She
feels secure.
Then she takes her son, puts him to sit on her lap and
reads him a story.
He is happy. He smiles at her. He feels secure too.
And then she smiles back at him and plays with his hair.
By the time the sun goes down, he is asleep and she
stares outside the window.
He comes back the usual time and she is safe again.

6

Outside in the yard there are many kids, playing hide
and seek.
On the first floor there is a horrible scene he witnesses.
A big looking man is screaming at a woman.
The boy can see because they’re in the balcony.
The man screams and curses at her. She screams back.
A little girl is at the stair, crying. ‘My dad is mean’ she
says.
The screams continue for a few more minutes.
Then blood drips and stops it all.
The man picks up the girl and locks up the door.
An old lady calls the boy over her window.
The boy is not afraid, just shy to ask what happened.

7

The darkness cannot stop them from caring for each
other.
They always find a way. Even if they have to move
blindly from wall to wall, they’ll find each other.
Their hands will touch and she will know that it’s her
darling.
Their lips will meet and he will know that is his
sweetheart.
Even if the apartment is huge their fingertips eventually
will meet and whisper all together.
They don’t need light at nights. Their light is enough and
can be felt even by a five years old boy,
Who secretly smiles at his King and Queen.
Why would he need more than that? That’s the only
light he needs.

8

They would have to separate now, for a decent amount
of time.
The woman looked good even with a swollen belly
Oh, how he wished she didn’t have to go.
She waved goodbye and left them there.
Her mother would now take care of her.
He stayed to seek a better future and no one knows what
his thoughts were at those moments.
‘We have to catch the bus tomorrow too’ he announced
to the boy.
The next day they were heading to the capital.
Sun forced the flowers to blossom, but he was worried.
They were just two months away from the summer.

9

The warm summer made the life in the terrace even
more difficult,
But he could see the lights, which were expanding far to
the old seaport.
During day he could even see some ships, blurry, parked
to the horizon.
He would often think of his mother. His father would
too.
They were both waiting for the early afternoon, when
they would rest and eat a warm sandwich.

10

‘You can stay here if you want’ said the son of the boss
He tried to smile and he received a look of surprise
then the bed was fixed, the broken windows too.
They lied on the old deck, but it wasn’t the same.
He remembered of the old days back home.
How many friends...

11

No one dared to tell him what happened, or what
to expect.
He was a grown up now and could understand by
himself
His father with his legs stretched in bed, hiding away his
regrets and his shame.
His father, the one who looked him in the eyes and felt
responsible
He would never move again they said and that made
him angry
‘Then, will you feed them?’ he asked
He went down the stairs creeping. is man wouldn’t
fall.
The world was too small for him and he would crush it
down and under his will.
The boy was about to receive the greatest lesson his
father ever gave him.

Evil knocks at the door and delivers a baby
So, beautiful that people thought it was a girl
They gave him the name of God, as he was born
the same day
He measured everything and everyone, with his eyes
Under his skin was an abyss, which swallowed his
beauty and left only pain
They all knew the name fit him perfectly. He was the
only God among them.
He never sinned, or judged, or hated. He only laughed and cried.
He was Christ on earth.

12

The summer came, at last. He would run and slide on
the load of dirt.
He was a soldier, a knight, a king. His friend would follow.
They ate together, slept under the same moon. They had
the same clothes.
They had the same wounds. They were brothers, best
friends, and neighbours.
The sun would hide and they would separate. Just for a
few hours.
There was no next day. They read together the
adventures of Tom Sawyer
And they thought that it was possible.
So, they built a tree house, strong enough to last for the
summer.
Then, when they mastered the craft , they built more.
Until every tree that could host a tree house had one.
That was the summer. It was never enough.

13

He would never tell his father. Instead, he would protect
himself.
The other foreign kids too. His father would never know.
He thought he was brave enough. He was indeed.
He was strong too...

14

A map fell on his head. It was too big and it came of the
wall.
The teacher came and she looked like a demon
She started to swear. She started to scream.
She talked of his father. None of it was true.
Oh how he wished she knew none of it was true
His father was nobler than she was.
Oh, how he wished she knew.
Then, he understood what nobility is and added it to his terms.

15

The news were heard by a phone call.
There was silence and grief.
‘Now,’ said his father ‘you’re carrying no one’s name’
He left the room and hided to himself.

16

What is this sound, like a baby’s cry?
Don’t turn o the lights, I’m afraid
Make the cries stop.
Is he in pain? Does it hurt that much?
Is it sorrow? Is it sadness?
What is it mom?
Why can’t he talk?
The other kids can.
Can he hear me now?
Does he understand?
What are you doing?
Why are you singing to him? He is not a baby anymore.
Dad, why is he crying all the time?
Why doesn’t he listen to you?
I don’t like him dad.
I am sorry.

17

The summer brought happiness.
Flowers were popping out from the pots
All sorts of colours; red, purple, blue,
But white always looked the perfect one to his eyes.

18

Bubby was following him to school every morning.
Once they arrived at the gate, he would go back.
His eyes looked at the boy with a sign of gratitude.
Eternally thankful, that was Bubby, just as only a dog
can be.
He lied on a pile of cartons and didn’t make a sound or
move.
He had accepted his fate.
But then, everybody would witness the bond between a
boy and a dog.
His eyes looked tired and blood was dripping from his
skin.
He found, however, the strength to lay his big head on to
the boy’s hands.
And then, silence. Nothing happened.
Eternally thankful, that was Bubby.

19

There was an upsetting phone call that morning.
He was a grownup now; he knew exactly what it meant.
Then, a white marble, soulless, dead, but still innocent.
He then considered death. He never did before.
He felt its present now, its greatness, its shape.
His flower was not white. White stood for innocence and
justice.
His flower was yellow.

20

He fell from the ladder leading to heaven.
He had nothing now, just a blurry memory.
The best of their moments, the best of that summer.

21

“But, death my son will always be your shadow.
It comes at nights, to disturb the peace of your sleep.
It makes life meaningless and itself a higher purpose.
Who are we a er all? It doesn’t matter.
You see, you see? ere is no justice in death. Don’t go
out there to seek for any.
Death bends them all. Strong become week. Big become
small. Invincible become vulnerable.
Death bends them all. Yes my son, even the wise ones.
All you can do is spread his word. All you can do is
continue his life from where he left it.
Make sure they learn about him. His name will follow you.”

22

On the table there was fish, bread and a lot of meat.
A humble meal to say goodbye; who knew when they
would see him again.
They all went to the bus station, sharing the last
conversation.
The day had come. The boy grows up. They were proud
of him.
He would now carry the flag of their family.
He would take it to places they never imagined;
far away to Wales
And it would wave proudly among the green hills.
A father’s tear and a farewell...


***************

FATHER

his hair rested on his head, giving away his age
he still had it all.
his eyes were sharp and wide open most of the times
his eyes, by which he measured everyone and everything
he ever saw
but you could tell there was honesty in them, yes you
could
and then, his hands.
thick and tired hands, resembling labor, resembling
struggle
he beat it all with his thick and tired hands.
Injustice, war, years of uncertainty, it all fell by his fists.
hands that bent iron
hands that cracked wood
an extension of a restless machine, whose parts wouldn’t
give up
his fingers wrapped around the hammer, owning its full
power
the place echoed of determination
the machine vigorously would work
the machine would inevitably bend it all.

***************

IN THE HOSPITAL


when I open my eyes, it takes me a couple of minutes to
remember where I am
around me there is a curtain, surrounding the metal bed
on which I lie
I feel the needle fixed inside my veins
my eyes follow the tube which ends in a bag on top of
my head
then I remember the accident and the stitches on my leg
the broken window and the bucket in which my father
and I put the big pieces of glass
how my leg sank into it
now it doesn’t hurt anymore
I raise my head to see the stitches
they look disgusting
then, the curtains open and a nurse appears
‘did you get a good sleep?’ she asks and I say ‘yes’
my leg hurt, but I lied. They will give me pills and
injections
I just want to be left alone
‘when am I going home?’ I ask
‘when the doctor says so...’ she answers and writes
something on her notebook.

***************

MY FATHER’S EYES

I see my father’s eyes sometimes-
two flaming stars, on the sky,
shining.
their energy
and flame,
consumes me sometimes.
they’re mysterious
and mystical,
sometimes...
I see my father’s eyes sometimes-
their shape
and color
I can’t really tell.
are they dark, brown,
when anger shadows them?
are they bright, grey, light brown?
when he’s calm and happy?
I see my father’s eyes,
when I dare to do so
determination,
bravery,
honesty.
LIFE.

***************

SUMMER CAME


summer came
and the bell rung for the last time
there is a minute’s chaos in the classroom
as the children are running towards the door
the teacher screams
he’s trying to be heard
he is wishing them a nice summer but the children don’t
even care
the classroom is empty

summer came
the swings on the playgrounds won’t be abandoned
anymore
the mothers will have many clothes to wash
they should be patient now
because summer came

summer came
the parents are on the balconies
their worried eyes are over their children
watermelon and cold beers on the table
the ashtray is full of cigarette butts
the older brother is out with his friends

summer came
the clothes will be constantly dirty
and football would be the excuse
the knees will be bleeding
the face will be muddy
summer came

***************

DO YOU LOVE ME?


we sat on a bench
our naked feet touched the sand
we stared at the sea
the small waves splashing on the rocks
you did not talk
you gave me the time to stare at your beautiful face
your blond hair
shining under the summer sun
and when I nally found the courage to ask you
‘do you love me?’
you turned your gaze away

***************

MODESTY

my mother told me to be modest in my life
‘modesty’ she said
‘is a feature of the smart and successful people’
with these words she raised me and I believed her
my desires were not many but my hopes were always big
I keep my voice down but my head up high
and how confusing it is to see oh dear mother
a world ruled by ignorance and fools
how disappointing it is mother
to see all those I was avoiding to be like
bragging of their stupidity
modesty mother, is what kept us poor and hungry
modesty mother, is what lost us the war
modesty defeated us

***************

THE SOLITUDE OF THE BIG CITY


a big city spreading to the horizon
waves of concrete metal and garbage
busy avenues traffic commotion
dark alleys during winter nights
enigmatic people of all sorts
tired angry misbehaving scared
under the lights lie their shadows
they follow them everywhere so does their loneliness
their dark and immaterial shapes
which they carry with them into miserable bars
where they drink cheap miserable booze
and the crowded city witnesses its perfection at its peak
its solitude
the legs drag the body into the pub
the hands reach for the glass
the hands reach for the pills
their souls reach for immortality
an unresponsive friend.

***************

THE KILL


he follows the tracks on the snow
follows the smell
carefully
with small steps
a few meters away the brown beast sleeps under a tree
around her the small ones
four of them
he places carefully the rifle on his shoulder
he checks if it’s loaded
he aims through the scope and shoots
the bear jumps with the roar
slaps and hits the trees around her
then she falls to the ground and the blood spreads
around on the snow
the small ones cry
he has to kill them to

***************

MY AUNT’S HOUSE

my aunt’s house was small and old
but there was always food on the table
the kitchen was where she was spending most of her
time
as though cooking was her only activity
what a loving place my aunt’s house was
the windows decorated by flowers
old paintings hanging on the walls
the kids were always welcome and we were all leaving
with pockets full of sweets
her husband always in the living room
spent his days watching football games
even to this day I don’t know if he was working or not
when people came by she would run to the kitchen
bring out some of her finest glasses and fill them in with
liquor or raki
my aunt’s house was the best place to be a guest

***************

FATHER AND DAUGHTER


a big man appeared at the park
he held his daughter’s hand
she was around eight or nine
the father was holding her balloon in his other hand
he also had a newspaper under his armpit
they sat on a bench
he unfolded his newspaper
the little girl running around him in circles
he tries not to pay attention
he covered his face with the paper
then the most amazing thing happened
the little girl found a rose
she cut it carefully and presented it to her father
‘do you think mom would like it?’ she asked
‘she’d love it...’ the father said and moved away the
newspaper
he grabbed her hand and headed towards a florist near
the entrance of the graveyard
searching in his pockets for coins

***************

I ALMOST LOST MYSELF


I used to wake up every morning around 6
go to the toilette, dizzy and disorientated
pissed, because I wanted to sleep more
pissed that I had to do this every morning
I was getting dressed, sometimes smoke a fast cigarette
Walking ten minutes to the bus stop
and wait for it on minus temperatures
while I was feeling like a complete moron
doing this every day, wasting my time like this
for a minimum salary, on which we barely survived
I was travelling with the bus around forty minutes
to go and teach kids
to a place that wasn’t pleasant at all
mostly women worked there
and by the end of the day they would have brought me
to my knees
then I would come home
with extra work to do
prepare tests, review the material
until one day it all stopped
I got my life back, my pride
and I returned to my books
I sat down on the typewriting machine again
and heard the sweetest noise.

***************

LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS


I thought you were my light in the darkness
my nights needed a small candle
I thought of stealing some of your stardust
It was only then I realized
I had a huge burning star in my backyard
there is light in the darkness
you just have to find it
some of us do
others don’t.

***************

I DON’T CARE IF I DIE

I don’t care if I die
but I want to live
and not just live
I want to live in chaos, in anarchy
I want to breathe that air
I want to see what can’t be seen
go where I should not go
do what can’t be done
I want to live
and if I live I don’t care if I die
I want everything as no one ever wanted something
I want to live like no one ever wanted.

***************

THE LAST WORDS


These eyes are too big
You can’t narrow them
A few rays of sun are not enough
They want to see more

These lips flap all the time
they say a lot
But still
They haven’t told you anything

This heart is huge
You can’t fill it in with ordinary love
Don’t try to compromise it
And when it hurts
It hurts too much
Because it’s huge

I am a lonely man
And not because I chose it
Because the world is too common
And taught me nothing

Don’t be fooled
I am not a free man
I only pretend at times
Like all the rest of us

But sometimes I find light
Even in the darkest parts of my soul
And it is at those times
I truly laughed

Don’t confuse me with anyone else
I’m not average
I don’t settle for average
I want the whole world

My hands want what they cannot touch
My legs want to walk mountains
The mind wants more
I cannot help it

One day I’ll let you see
How the trees grow old and become taller
One day I’ll let you see
The universe my eyes have seen
I riu me i ri,
I bukuri me i bukur,
I shendoshi me i shendoshe,
behet kur viziton Dardhen.
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