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Donna J. Gelagotis Lee


It would have been helpful to know

that winters on the island
seize the breath and hurl it
over the sea, which
sends it back again to lodge
in the throat. It would have
been helpful to understand
bitter autumn, its fruit laboring
on the tree, fat, black-
blue, the strange green of spring
still lingering. In the fields women
curl, down on their knees,
combing the earth for olives,
branches swaying overhead
from force, the arms of men,
the arms of trees, all strength
and heaving. It would have been
helpful to know summer’s
undertow and the tenuousness
of the black sea urchin,
only its needles moving with the waves
but ready to release. While I ate,
iodine-red stained my fingers,
the caviar of the sea urchin
rolled on my tongue like clear
words, raw, antiseptic. I
scooped them out. It would have
been helpful to know
how to hold the probing
needles back, to keep them
from stinging.



Island in Limestone

Small houses,
cool beyond the olive groves
and the sea, white-rim the villages
and towns that meander
down the coast and up
the mountains, through farmed
fields. In each village
old men and women remain
tied to stones that
pebble the paths to
houses they wash
with limestone just before
Easter, a whole white
village cleansed
with a natural
purifier of
outward appearances,
of the walls of
homes, and tree
trunks from the point
where they hit the soil
to halfway up the trunk,
this fine line between the
outside and the in.
What can be left
to chance?
What unclean thing
will find its way
if they do not
wash themselves of
unknown sin?


Donna J. Gelagotis Lee's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Bitter Oleander, CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, The Cortland Review, Crab Orchard Review, Feminist Studies, The Midwest Quarterly, Wind, and other journals. Donna lived in Greece for many years. She is a freelance editor in New Jersey.
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