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2000 - Saloni M goes South

Angela Costi

I freelance full time as a writer and editor which involves completing many writing commissions for various organisations (such as City of Melbourne, TransPacific Press and Geelong Courthouse Youth Centre). A recent highlight, was the mini poetry collection on the painting, Charity, for the National Gallery of Victoria.

This year, I am writing a poetic narrative that is evoked from the slow rembetiko dance. The dance which was traditionally the domain of men but which women can't resist.

Grey Sundays and Unanswered Prayers

Sunnefiasmenh Kuriakh moiazeiz me thn kardia mou (1)

This poetic narrative was first performed at Saloni M goes South, September 26, 2000, and subsequently published in Cordite (Issue 9, 2001).


It took one song, the song of grey Sundays and unanswered prayers
a bottle of whiskey and two shots of Koumandaria, sweeter than whiskey
but the deeper diver, a plate of olives and bread
half a packet of Karellia and the mere smell of weed
the loss of half week’s pay on a poker game with greedy brother-in-laws
the loss of wife’s respect when she searched pockets the next day
and he moved in trance from corner table to the middle of the room
found himself in the sacred space where every table and chair parted
and the smoke couldn’t penetrate, nor the eyes or mouths of the watchers
he closed his eyes anyway
became awash in music and lyrics
grey Sundays and unanswered prayers
he knew the ritual of Zembekiko, better than a Priest knew the liturgy
hands raised just above head like they were nailed in midair
but those hands were fighting against life, not death
two fingers clicked the steady rhythm of wave against rock
an arm swung loose like a broken mast
then up erect again, a crazed battle over gravity
to untrained eyes he might have seemed drunk and disorderly
a dance of madness for sailors on a sinking ship
but the stumbles forward were timed precision
each hop, step and whack from hand to foot a chaotic sequence of storytelling
he is the eldest son, with mortgage-one to father and mortgage-two to bank
and the wife’s ten years younger, she’s into Beatles and the truth
money is made scaling and slicing frozen fish, the knife often plays funny tricks
pretends to carve into sea flesh but finds human, his
and the doctor throws him morphine when his stitching back the skin
but won’t give him any extra for those slow nights when the pain’s sunk in
and he wakes up to grey Sundays and unanswered prayers…


Outside the blue sky, swamped by the grey, turns temperamental
storming those inside shadows of candle flame, incense smoke
many heads tinted with years of prayer
bend even lower to receive the blessed chant

Doxa    Patri kai tw Uiw kai tw Agiw Pneumati
in the back pew he sits with others who hover between worship and sin
he’s there as eldest son, as husband, as father
his daughter is now old enough to cross herself from right to left
he tilts her head to the floor when the Priest passes by
dipping olive branch into goblet of holy water and flick, flick flicking
showering heads, he wants the water to bless her little soul
but he never bends low enough, his eyes get stung by the divine
the hanky is dragged out
to wipe away unwelcome tears, his little girl reaches for hanky too
to dry her wet curls, he puts hanky away
she says Please, he says No
he wants the holy water to stay with her as long as possible
she still has a chance.


The girl is nine but could pass as twelve, she thinks more than she talks
imagines more than she prays, likes to cross herself from left to right
when her Dad’s not looking
if Dad could just once take her with him when he visited the Priest
behind the altar, behind the wall of golden framed Christs, Virgin Marys and Saints
behind the sliding doors that look like Royal Gates, behind the large eye of God
that never stops staring at her
there’s the sacred space where men and boys can go and they hold these private talks
about … about? … she’s asked Mixali, her cousin to tell her,
It’s not your business, he says with the authority of his father, girls are forbidden,
another brat, Tony, will tell her what goes on if she gives him her entire stamp book
but the stamps are from Russia and China
and Yiayia gave her the old and young Makarios stamps, she can’t
so she’s never told
she waits with the widows, wives and daughters
some wondering more loudly than others,
ti kanoun meza kei, paizoun cartia
they drinking wine that’s what they do, holy business, it’s holy business, private, sssshhhhh
the men and boys slink out, silent, the Priest remains, chanting from scripture
the girl’s Dad takes her by the hand out of the Church into the bright…
the sun has now run away from the clouds
she lets go of her Dad and runs all the way to the car
never stopping to look back.


She saw her Dad rise from the table like he was being blessed by invisible hands
they drew him forth to the dance floor
the cigarette lay limp in his mouth, a forgotten friend
he raised his hands and became anointed with bouzouki and song
everybody was watching her Dad, nobody talked, nobody clapped
he was their guardian from the other side
he would dance the battle of life and death for them, he would risk his sanity for theirs
she wanted to help him, to dance the madness away with him
to search for the unsteady feeling and bang it into submission
she got up because the hands wanted to bless her too
she wished she was old enough to smoke
so the cigarette could hang from her mouth too
she knew there was feeling before there were steps
and this dance had no human teacher
she clicked her fingers like wave against rock
her Dad opened his eyes, his face became as stern as it was in Church
she had entered the sacred space, girls are forbidden, ssshhhhh, hide
she swung herself back to the corner
but Dad caught her arm in flight, held it to his
placed the hanky in her hand and nodded
she was Allowed In
the hanky flapped in her hand
a strong sail in a crazy wind
and they danced to sorrow and sin.

© Angela Costi, September 2000.


1. The first line from a famous Greek, rembetiko song (Tsitsanis, 1943), which translates: "Cloudy Sunday, you are like my Heart" back

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