The surrealist poets were really onto something. Especially Nanos Valaoritis who was born back in 1921 in my mother’s town, Lausanne. He lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for a while and that is where I became acquainted with him. He’s one of Greece’s most distinguished contemporary writers, the author of novels, plays and poetry and he was twice awarded the Greek national poetry prize. He opens doors that might otherwise remain closed. Yes, we like that. He has been a huge literary influence—personally, I mean.
I am sharing a bit of one of his extraordinary poems, “The Jaguars,” from My Afterlife Guaranteed.
Dark and funny, but this is just an excerpt. You’ll have to read the whole poem for the full effect …
The Jaguars (excerpt)
for C. P. Kavafis
The Jaguars are coming. Yes. They are coming, closing in on all sides. It is high time for the Jaguars to arrive. They are all coming tomorrow. Very early in the morning before breakfast. Not just a few but many. Perhaps even thousands if not in the hundreds of thousands. They are coming for sure. That’s what they said when they said they were coming. Tomorrow at three o’clock, to be more precise. The Jaguars. Many of them unspotted. Others just striped or black. Grey and pink Jaguars are unlikely to come. All kinds, all sizes, all shapes. Green yellowish eyes flashing in the night. Those who say they’re not coming are fools. All the more fools are they, since they don’t know what they’re talking about. They have been sighted already not so far away from the town. I mean the city, the walled city. For we are still unattached to any form of civilization that’s not ours. The everlasting bones chewed to death. Not a single letter still to tell the tale. The Jaguars although somnolent are hungry for letters. And for music too beneath those stubborn skulls. It’s been said they were overcome once by music. But that’s long ago and they don’t appreciate music any more. The telegrams have all stated it clearly.
They are arriving in great numbers over rivers and forests, over steppes and tundras, over deserts and uninhabited areas. They are converging here. What are they seeking? What reeking rotting flesh are they after? Some people say it’s all right to give them parchments to eat. Other say they demand salads, or honors. Only a few suspect the truth. …
by Nanos Valaoritis, from My Afterlife Guaranteed
—Erin Orison, DEAD LOVE/the Daily Slice