Friday, February 19, 2016

The Living Dead

Honouring our poetic ancestors 

The Comforter

By Dimitris Tsaloumas (1921-2016)

So that's how the land lies?
You've no idea how I hurried in this heat
with not a leaf stirring in the poplars
and my throat as dry as a bone.
It's closed; I shut it.
Yes, the window too. Don't worry.
I've a good mind to put you out in the yard
so that he'll find you there, next to the tin-can
with the jonquil, where you can see the shore
crowded with sponge-boats back from Barbary.
All hell's let loose at Rebelos's place
with sponge-divers
chucking their money around by the fistful.
I can hear you. Your voice is a bit hoarse
but I can hear you. And don't turn to the wall
and curl yourself up that way.
You've never been scared of war or woman
in your life. What's got into you now?
It's nothing — you'll see.
He never comes with a taxman's satchel in his hand
or in a gendarme's uniform.
In fact, they say he's rather gently-spoken
so perhaps he'll just sigh a bit and say
come on, Nicolas old chap,
come on, we're running late and ought
to cross the border before nightfall.
No matter how often you take this road
you never get used to it.
You know, he's got his problems too.
I can see you, I can see you —
don't imagine I'd take my eyes off you now
you poor bugger!
And where's that no-good son of yours?
You can bet he'll be coming home now,
as soon as he gets the message,
to rip open the mattress.
Look, I’ll get the woman next door
to light the icon-lamp. I’ll be back,
never fear. I’ll go for a stroll on the beach
and I’ll be back.

From The Observatory. Brisbane, University of Queensland Press, 1985

Today we're revisiting Australian-Greek poet Dimitris Tsaloumas, who was featured in 'I Wish I'd Written This' in October 2012. The poem I chose that time was full of his undoubted love for his adopted country. He also continued to have great love for his native land, despite having to flee it in 1951 due to persecution for his political ideas.

In later life, with the political climate much changed, he spent part of every year back in Greece. He died recently aged 94, having spent his last three years on the island of Leros, his birthplace.

After migrating, he didn't start writing poetry again until 1974, but then went on to have a distinguished career, writing in both Greek and English. Wikipedia tells us that:

Among the many prizes he has received for his writing are the National Book Council Award (1983), Patrick White Award (1994) and an Emeritus Award from Literature Board of the Australia Council for outstanding and lifelong contribution to Australian literature (2002).

My previous column refers you to the article about him at Australian Poetry Library, where you can also read many of his poems. Today I'm linking you to an obituary by Jason Steger, Literary Editor of the Melbourne Age.

Poems and photos posted to 'The Living Dead' for purposes of study and review remain the property of the copyright holders.


  1. Wow! I am there with the one waiting and as the one waiting, feeling the love of the speaker as I begin to let go. Wow!

  2. I think, dear Rosemary, that you've made me fall in love with a new poet. I've never read anything by Dimitris Tsaloumas before, but this taste makes me want to experience more of his style.

    Love this line from the poem: "You've never been scared of war or woman". And I'm quite taken by the fact that the whole poem reads like a novel.

  3. Just love this Greek. Love the son coming home to check out the matress for the hidden money and the reference to the taxman. (Chuckles) I hope Nick our Greek Aussie poet reads this one. He will appreciate it.Thank you for introducing me to Dimitris Tsaloumas. I am off to read more now. Still chuckling!

  4. This poem rings so true of the vagaries of the human condition, the son who will come home to check the mattress...i, too, liked the line Maga lysine quotes. He creates such a mood, one is right there in the room. Wonderful, Rosemary!

  5. I enjoyed reading this poet so much. The obituary seems to sum up his life and talent very nicely. Greece and Australia have lost a good son.

  6. A very passionate and talented writer. Thank you, Rosemary for sharing him! I will look him up to see more of his work.

  7. A timely post. What a warm poem, it captures your heart and speaks to your understanding, paints the full picture, is so HUMAN. I too will catch on more of his poetry, thanks.

  8. what a great poem for us today Rosemary!...Truth spoken in simple and the strongest favorite lines have already been quoted...

  9. I agree with Magaly. The poem reads like a novel! In fact, if it were not written out to look like a poem one would think it is just plain prose, no? Sometimes the line between prose & poetry is very thin......

    1. Try reading it aloud. The places lines begin and end are crucial – though perhaps the nuances and emphases differ between Australian and American accents; we tend to forget that. To my perception, it is poetry despite the laconic tone. To set it as prose would not bring out the shades of meaning so exactly. It's a high degree of craft that manages that. (Robert Frost was another who excelled at it.)

  10. Nothing's better than poetry telling a story... and such a story.. I love how you find all this amazing poetry Rosemary...

  11. our pens gifted
    with just so many verses
    till we die
    and await a new pen


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