Dimitra Kotoula

Translated from the Greek by Maria Nazos

The Poems of Yes and No

The poems of Yes and No celebrate a key
moment in European history when Greece,
amid on-going crisis, was asked, through a 
referendum, to reject or reinvent its
fundamental role as an active EU member.


My experience takes the shape of anguish.
The bee's hum hovers low on the dry summer grass.
And so
we must walk hand-in-hand
away from the sign of rupture 
with the bitter oval of the homeland on our lips
towards the hectic uprising
of an—albeit still unfinished—meandering.


It’s all so theatrical—
They smile at me deceptively 
-–with snakelike smugness—
and I laugh. 
I don’t know Latin. 
I cannot answer. 
I’ve got a lot of sharp rough rage
a lot of anger inside me 
a mixture of adult wisdom 
and childish naïveté. 
I leave and return to the poem.
Now I write
these same staggering lines
the way my ancestors’ mule pulled the plow;
left to right in one line
right to left in the other.


This whole affair is a mess.       

The moment tightens—a formation of instances. 
The violence is foreseeable.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
I feel deep remorse for strange tautologies that unexpectedly arise;
meanings that suddenly morph into fairy tales
fairy tales that suddenly
—but so theatrically–
are transformed into meanings.   
Like a watchdog tracking the field for my lost language,
I weep.


Where my country is now
Mark the point that lingered before—
there is none.
Find the point that lingered before and mark it—
there is none. 

At least this country once showed up:
its adoring face
arose fitfully 
throughout History’s chaos.

And the numbers that now play before of our eyes 
hardly depict reality.
In each small ballot box
we mark a cross
the way we decorate the graves, 
the black and white monuments 
of those heroes left dead on our battlefields. 


These blaring images exhaust me.  
They strain to sound their trumpets blasts 
that command us
to obey.

Banish the selfishness 
the squawking
from your beak, Poet. 
Summon Mr. Seferis to speak
with diplomatic calm 
of our European Hellenism.       


The shrill robin calls—I owe a debt to my nation. 
The child is playing—I owe her an answer too. 
Now, in the voting booth, I knock my fist against the dry table, and it answers— 
I knock the hard table, and it answers—
Your soul,
hard and split from your body,
your soul 
is this table.


Therefore, it is impossible not to answer.
In the wooden cube, the horizontal dimension
clashes against the vertical 
like two swords in battle.
Horizontally and vertically interlocked
they form a cross in either one or both
of the ballot boxes.
The die is cast. 


There will be no chanting, no drumroll, no blast of cannons. 
No one will grab anyone by the throat 
to shake him a little. 
Everything will be done as it should                                                                                      
Of course, it is not proper to shake hands this way.
With heavy heads 
we will separate 
–in a final struggle for courage-
our steps upon the earth.


So, then, you walk, ignoring your ancestors’ sacred stone symbols. 
They once marked the way,
their holy meaning now lost in history.
This meal is artificially flavored.
The ingredients of this recipe were rotten. 
You prove this now, with your tears, 
hard and enduring and sharp 
enough to cleave crystal. 

Dimitra Kotoula was born in Komotini, Greece in 1974. She is the author of two poetry collections: Three Notes for a Melody (2004) and The Constant Narrative(2017). Her poetry and translations have been presented in literary and translation festivals and appeared on line as well as in poetry anthologies and journals in Europe and the United States, such as The Poetry ReviewMid-American ReviewThe Denver QuarterlyAnomalyPoesis International and Nuori Voima. She has translated and published, among others, selected poems by Jorie Graham, Louise Glück and Sharon Olds. Her work has been translated into nine languages. She now works and lives in Athens with her daughter.

Maria Nazos‘s poetry, translations, and lyrical essays are published in The New YorkerThe Tampa ReviewThe Mid-American ReviewThe North American ReviewThe Florida ReviewThe Southern Humanities ReviewThe Drunken Boat, and elsewhere. She is the author of A Hymn That Meanders, (2011 Wising Up Press) and the chapbook Still Life, (2016 Dancing Girl Press). Her work has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and scholarships from The Sewanee Writers’s Conference and Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. A Great Plains Fellow attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s PhD program, she studies and teaches creative writing. She can be found at

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