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MR. STRATIS THALASSINOS DESCRIBES A MAN ι But what's wrong with that man? All afternoon (yesterday the day before yesterday and today) he's been sitting there staring at a flame he bumped into me at evening as he went downstairs he said to me: "The body dies the water clouds the soul hesitates and the wind forgets always forgets but the flame doesn't change." He also said to me: "You know I love a woman who's gone away perhaps to the nether world; that's not why I seem so deserted I try to keep myself going with a flame because it doesn't change." Then he told me the story of his life. 2. CHILD When I began to grow up the trees tormented me— why do you smile? Were you thinking of spring, so harsh for children? 73 I was very fond of the green leaves I think I learned a little at school simply because the blotting paper on my desk was also green. It was the roots of the trees that tormented me when in the warmth of winter they'd come and wind themselves around my body. I had no other dreams as a child. That's how I got to know my body. 3. ADOLESCENT In the summer of my sixteenth year a strange voice sang in my ears; it was, I remember, at the sea's edge, among the red nets and a boat abandoned on the sand, a skeleton I tried to get closer to that voice by laying my ear to the sand the voice disappeared but there was a shooting star as though I were seeing a shooting star for the first time and on my lips the salt taste of waves. From that night the roots of the trees no longer came to me. The next day a journey opened in my mind and closed again, like a picture book; I thought of going down to the shore every evening first to learn about the shore and then to go to sea; the third day I fell in love with a girl on a hill; 74 she had a small white cottage like a country chapel an old mother at the window, glasses bent low over her knitting, always silent a pot of basil a pot of carnations— I think she was called Vasso, Frosso, or Billio; so I forgot the sea. One Monday in October I found a broken pitcher in front of the white cottage Vasso (for short) appeared in a black dress, her hair uncombed, her eyes red. When I questioned her she said: "She died, the doctor said she died because we didn't kill the black cock when we dug the foundations . . . Where could we find a black cock around here . . . ? Only white flocks . . . and in the market the chickens are sold already plucked." I hadn't imagined grief and death would be like that; I left and went back to sea. That night, on the deck of the "St. Nicholas," I dreamt of a very old olive tree weeping. 4. YOUNG MAN I sailed for a year with Captain Odysseus I was fine in fair weather I made myself comfortable in the prow beside the mermaid 75 I sang of her red lips as I gazed at the flying-fish, in storms I took refuge in a corner of the hold with the ship's dog who kept me warm. One morning at the end of the year I saw minarets the mate told me: "That's Saint Sophia, tonight I'll take you to the women." So I got to know those women who wear only stockings— those we select, in fact. It was a strange place a garden with two walnut trees a trellis a well a wall with broken glass along the top surrounding it a gutter singing: "On the stream of my life." Then for the first time I saw a heart pierced by the familiar arrow drawn in charcoal on the wall. I saw the leaves of the vine yellow fallen to the ground stuck to the flagstones to the humble mud and I started to go back to the ship. Then the mate seized me by the collar and threw me into the well: warm water and so much life around the skin . . . Afterwards the girl, playing idly with her right breast, told me: 'Tm from Rhodes, at 13 they got me engaged for...


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