You walk through the narrow streets in Athens and you see churches,
half churches, maybe churches, bricks with icons leaning,
old women with wet eyes begging, you might look away,
you see gold plated watches hanging from bent nails inside dirty glass cases,
charms and silver, bribes and pleas, do not judge these beggars of leniency,
because chances are grace did find them, the way it found you.
A pretty girl who looks like me smiles shyly at you, wink and smile back, give her a dream to tuck silently behind her ear, a curl of dark hair.
You see a priest, he looks at you, says irini pasi in serious manner,
because he is a priest and you are an American, a xenos,
he’s heard it a thousand times from your kind, hey, it’s all Greek to me,
a knee slap, and he is never amused, but he doesn’t know you are different,
doesn’t know you are not in his homeland to strut American, to screw the women,
to buy worry beads, evil eyes, cheap vases bearing faded images of Zeus or Calliope.
Kiss his hand, but do not look him in the eye, light a candle, drop a few coins
in the chipped tray on your way out.
Later, after making love with someone who isn’t me in a dark, rich hotel room
near the ancient ruins that fashioned my bones from a whirlwind of ashes,
tiny fragments of the Parthenon still swim in my vertebrae, its dust my caul,
you will think hard about what that serious priest said to you,
and you will know it’s the answer you have been running from amid
the churches and the sea and the smog, and it will make an odd and perfect sense.
The answer, like a riptide, will propel you toward me with the compassion and mercy bestowed upon the souls of the saints, and then you will know why you are in Athens.
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