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  • Looking Out from the Acropolis, 1989, and: Waiting in a Desert Canyon, and: Varna Snow
  • John Balaban (bio)

Looking Out from the Acropolis, 1989

Each structure, in its beauty, was even then and at once antique, but in the freshness of its vigor, even today, recent and newly wrought.

Plutarch, "On the Acropolis"

In old-town Athens of date palms, of ferned balconiescascading canary calls, I walked with a Bulgarian friendup the stony, sunny path to the "high city" where tanglesof cactus and Spanish sword pocked the Periclean rampartsand packs of wild cats prowled the brush for mice as windwhipped the naps of their fur and Georgi's little son, Aleko,hooted after them as we trailed behind, plodding upwardthrough the gate of broken columns to the precincts of Athena,two poets, from West and East, here for the first time, awedby the lonely grace of stones fallen, stones still standing.

On the left, the smiling maidens of the caryatid porchwhose marble robes fluttered in blue sky;on the right, the massive surge of Parthenon columnscapped by a parade of centaurs, horsemen, gods,reliving dramas of who we are, who we might becomeas pediments marked our battles with beasts, our talkswith gods, our search for ourselves in philosopher grovesof this city on the hill that draws us by survivingPersian navies, Roman consuls, pasha's yoke, Panzer Gruppe-holding up like a Phidean model a senseof the examined life that is worth living, a placewhere gods and men can struggle with success, strivingto widen the wealth of the human soul, the size of heaven.All across the monumental rubble, trailing after tour guides,Japanese photographed this field of broken stone. [End Page 26]

As we looked out from the Acropolis, we sawthe New World Order the president praisedthat winter as caged canaries down belowsang in the sunshine of Athenian balconies:Both superpowers, bankrupt; the Japanese, our bankers.Looking east past Yugoslavian slaughter,the Kozlodui reactor was about to blow.Further east, in Tbilisi, the shoot-out at Parliament,the breadlines in Moscow, the dead rivers and lakes,the black colonels hopping in Rumpelstiltskin rageat loss of empire, as Chechens, Kurds, Azeris et al.went for their guns to settle old scores.How much has changed since then?Merely the killing fields.

Then it was Israeli rubber bullets and intifada stones.Holiday shoppers at Clapham Junction bombed by Irish Santas.German skinheads bashing Vietnamese and Turks.Bloated African bellies, fly-infested eyes.Shining Path Maoists beheading Indians in Ayacucho.And nosferatu warlords in Beijing sipping their elixirof cinnabar and blood. Pol Pot vacationing in Thailand.

Meanwhile, it was snowing in Chicago, snowing on the  cardboard hutsof the homeless in the land of the free, as more banks failedand repossessed midwestern farms lay fallow to the wind.Each in the cell of himself was almost convinced of his freedomwhen the Wall fell to cheers of freed multitudesand one could hear communist and capitalist gasps rise up [End Page 27] in a global shout that circled the earth for a yearthen disappeared through holes in the ozone layer.

The New World Order. The tribes of the Bookare still turned to wrath as the worst of uswould wind time back to savage pasts easier to imagine.The philosopher's grove is empty; the poet's words gone flat.Against this, aren't the Japanese, baptized in nuclear fire,clapping their hands for the Kami of the cash register,our safest, sanest neighbors?

                  These old stones cry out for more,surviving centuries, sculpted for all to see,declaring our need for beauty and laws like lovefor this tiny polis of a planet spinning wildly,for my daughter, snug, asleep in her bed,for Aleko who played in the Chernobyl cloud,whose father stood near Nike's rotting frieze,looking out upon the city jammed with cars. Georgiopened his flask of vodka and poured some on a stonebefore we drank our toasts to the new world orderand to whatever muse might come to give us...


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