Donna J. Gelagotis Lee
The Coastal Road
A strip of island,
paved only in well-traveled village-
to-village stretches, slid
into beach and sea, rose
into mountains, then dipped into
long sea-worn tracts
to mountainsides. Here
in the village, it was the
Sunday promenade, the test-drive
for teenage motorcyclists, the receptacle
for tourists left at bus stops and taxi drop-offs.
It was the breath of an island
struggling to free itself and on this
road I breathed, salt on my tongue,
summer on my face,
the long afternoon biding
time and all the while,
behind a row of white houses, women in black
labored in the cloaks of their ancestors. The wind
pushed me and pulled me, like reluctant sea tide.
It glided along, playing with my hair,
touching my shoulders. I would do anything it wanted.
I could dance like the olive trees,
my arms a flurry of leaves,
my fingertips dripping fruit
with bitter juice. I could wrap
my arms around the limbs
of the trees, moonlight
draping a silk shawl onto
my shoulders, my legs moving
so freely you could not
We put leis around our necks.
The native Hawaiians bowed to us
and to each other. And we accepted
kindness, and a formality we might mistake
for innocence. Only, the birds are crashing
into the window, looking for the breakfast tray—
no longer guests but full-time residents, the wings
of the ocean, a breeze from Molokai at our room
with a partial view. And while I dine on Ono
or Hebi, I know that the locals
favor Spam musubi and malasadas. So I am
their deep-fried fool, as I sweep
the train of my dress across
a marble floor while the tree frogs,
who can torment sleep, sing
their bridal song to me.
So slow in our arrival, the ferry parting the water, gulls
waking, remembering their jobs. The port appeared
empty—one large slab of paved earth—but as we approached,
families emerged, car doors opening and closing, Greek men sipping
their coffee or lighting their last cigarettes before the ferry docked,
its huge mooring lines tossed to ring around each post,
the dark features of the sturdy dock workers brightening
as the sun pulled itself up
over the island and rooftops it had skimmed for hundreds of years.
The air warmed. The scent of the city skipped off the sea. The plank
dropped. And we lined up on the steps as cars rolled from the belly
of the boat. We hurried to reach land, to greet family who had prepared
for us with large meals and clean sheets and full cupboards.
The city busied. Taxis queued. Tavernas filled. Smoke started to drift
over the streets—and accents thick as Turkish coffee. I took one last look at the sunrise
just merging into day, its bold yellow muted orange
now hardly recognizable. The ferry empty for another trip. And we,
having left its steerage, began our own into the mountains. At every
turn, I looked through a clearing to glimpse the water, crystal full
of reflection, like thousands of diamonds under so much pressure
we had to leave them so that we could travel on air that wrapped around
the mountains, free of all that light.
|Donna J. Gelagotis Lee’s book, On the Altar of Greece, is the winner of the Seventh Annual Gival Press Poetry Award and the recipient of a 2007 Eric Hoffer Book Award: Notable for Art Category. Her poems have appeared in The Bitter Oleander, CALYX: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, Feminist Studies, The Massachusetts Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and other journals. Visit her website at www.donnajgelagotislee.com.