The Black Button is a series of short prose pieces that function in poetic fashion by Kostas G. Papageorgiou, a poet with a long career.
The book is a roll call of the dead, but there is nothing grim or scary about the poet’s conversations with the inhabitants of Hades. It is a gesture towards those who are lost forever, but who remain engraved in our memory and consciousness. Papageorgiou’s dead may be interpreted as a powerful metaphor for the difficult reality with which we come into daily contact. The pieces reveal influences from past Greek poets (such as George Seferis) as well as from surrealism, elements of which emerge discreetly at many points in the collection. The tone is evocative and conversational, as low-key as a whisper. The absence of any sentimental or melodramatic aspect renders the poems intensely dramatic. His lines do not fear thought and contemplation since have already ensured their lyricism.
Kostas G. Papageorgiou, The Black Button, Athens: Kedros 2006
THE BLACK BUTTON
Stunned I stand in the doorway as if ready to go out and in fact it’s true – I would have gone out but I stand as if stunned and quite still. For my mother is bent before me there, sewing a button on the spotless white shirt I’m wearing and with great care so as not to hurt me as she holds the garment at a slight distance from my breast. But the button is black and she sews it so naturally, maybe because she hasn’t noticed that its colour doesn’t match the white. And as she’s bent before me there sewing without looking at me she asks “who am I sewing for here?” – several times; but because I don’t answer, she asks again mechanically raising her eyes towards my face for a moment “who am I sewing for here?” – but once again without seeing me. Whereupon with great sadness, perhaps because I was sad about the colour of the button – the black one – I said to her “a dead man”. “A dead man”, I said again with tears in my eyes as I saw her bent before me there sewing, and crying and imploring she kept saying “don’t say dead again”.
THE FORGOTTEN NAME
She comes often in my sleep and always sad almost unrecognizable, I hardly recognize her if I don’t first hear her voice; walking only on tiptoe and slowly because she’s afraid lest she wakes me before reaching my bed. She leans over and I feel her lips like fluff tenderly upon my ear while her breath touches me with the faintest touch of a warm feather; and leaning over she whispers to me “that’s not your name, I baptized you differently and I still keep safe the hair a tuft of ash behind the icon,” this is what she says to me and she utters it so softly that I don’t hear it, but what a gentle name, I reflect in my sleep, what a gentle and lovely name, but in the morning I’ve forgotten it.
LIKE A TREE
Like a tree undecided
I don’t burst into branches I remain a sob.
Translation: David Connolly
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