Patmos: Xora (old city)
Unlock the blue door late on a warm night,
step into a courtyard drenched in jasmine
and lemon blossom. Breathe.
These thick, white-washed walls are your refuge.
When you open the door next morning
in the blinding glare of the walled street, Yasas,
good fortune on your head, you say
to the few you encounter. Sometimes
they answer, as you turn left, then right, up narrowing
corridors, under arches, through small tunnels.
Punctuated by doors, double doors, enameled blue,
stained and varnished, or doors
which haven’t been tended but are locked all the same.
Half a millennium ago, merchants hid their wealth
behind these blank doors.
Pirates swept over the island like tide.
Afternoons you read and doze in your veranda’s
heated shade, but these harboring walls
still surrender cries of last resort. Women
rushed their children up secret passages
to the monastery fortress on the hilltop.
The same moonlight brushing your balcony with fire
discovered their dead—dashed babies
and clutching mothers, clothes half torn from them.
In one merchant’s house, now museum, you stumble
through a maze of rooms and courtyards,
arranged to dodge the sun. Rain meant life.
They dug their catch basins into the hills,
lined them with stone, piped the captured water
to each house’s buried cistern.
Look down—way down, before your eyes find blue.
These people lived by chance.
For you, the setting sun means evening’s patina.
Let it invite you into the stoa,
opening from the dark like a set from Carmen.
Your lightest blouse is enough.
You will be served lamb or moussaka,
and your waiter jokes in English.
The boutique across the street, planted
under a corner of stone, was opened for you.
In the shadows village men laugh at backgammon.
The dim beam of a flashlight guides you
to your door. You won’t need to lift the metal hand
shaped like your own. No sound.
For a short time, you still belong here.
Alice Derry’s newest collection of poems, Tremolo, was published by Red Hen Press in September of 2012. As manuscript, it received a 2011 Washington Artist Trust Award. Strangers To Their Courage, from Louisiana State University Press, 2001, was a finalist for the Washington Book Award. Derry has two previous full collections, Stages of Twilight (chosen by Raymond Carver) and Clearwater(Blue Begonia Press). A chapbook of translations from Rainer Rilke appeared in 2002 from Pleasure Boat Studio, New York City. Derry taught English and German at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Washington, for twenty-nine years, where she co-directed the Foothills Writers’ Series.