On one face, the cistern built by the Turks,
now holding only dust and darkness
below its stone vault, where Monemvasía’s
rocky catchment once caught any rain
with its bare hands. On the reverse, my mother
and her small brother carrying a brimming
pail filled from the stand-pipe at the top
of Tregonhawke cliff: down the path they come,
balancing the sun between them like a coin.
Flasks and phials, blue-green glass,
an amber unguentarium: nothing
more lost than the scent they held –
Attar of roses? Chypre? Civet, musk?
In a sideboard drawer, a four-inch empty flask
breathed out that scent I’ve never found again;
in the same drawer, the Milk Tray box of shells
she kept – I’d gathered them for her –
with beach-glass, scoured by tides, blue-green, amber.
High above Monemvasía grasses stir,
seed heads like minute discs of honesty;
fenugreek scents this arid hill, and the path
yields a piece of earthenware, Byzantine
yellow glaze with two dark lines like waves;
I hold it, and see the willow-pattern china
on their dresser bright with Atlantic glitter.
Above this sea, butterfly-blue, grasses
and wind confer; a slow intake of breath.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2013. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2013 was David Robinson.
This is the last quarter of a 36-stanza poem sequence of consistent quality in which Anna Crowe finds echoes of her Cornish grandparents’ lives in a display of ancient goods in a Greek museum. Using those objects, she carefully stitches together that distant past and her own memories of childhood in a delicate but unshowy meditation on history, domesticity, and parental – and grandparental – love.
These are the final poems of a sequence that meditates on the lives of my grandparents, Will and Violet Kane, where the landscapes of the Peloponnese and Cornwall come together. I spent two weeks in Greece in July 2011, as a consequence of winning the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award for my Mariscat pamphlet, Figure in a Landscape. Visiting the Archaeological Museum in Nafplio, I saw how similar many of the grave-goods were to household objects in my grandparents’ little house on the cliffs at Whitsand Bay – amethyst necklace, beads, comb and mirror, glass, pottery, oil-lamps (there was no electricity or gas at Whitsands in the 1950s). The sea, too, was a powerful, abiding presence. This led me to reflect on the enduring simplicities of human life, and the numinous quality objects may acquire in a child’s mind, mostly because they are transformed by love.