The Eager Interpreter

by Reginald Gibbons

Reginald Gibbons

for Gloria

Imagining, on a long walk
between two Greek towns,
those Turkish prisoners the guidebook
says were sabred where they crowded
together on the stone dock;
and then imagining—still walking,
anxious to see some worker
in the fields or another old couple
like the last one (he riding
the donkey, she leading it in black)—
the Greeks whom the Germans shot;
and as the road after rising
leads down again, at last to
the town by the bay, imagining
all the feuds given license
by the civil war, the woman
whose husband, forgive him
his faults now, steps
dead through the doorway one night:
imagining, imagining—is there
a way out of this brooding ahead
to the hollow thud of the first
dirt thrown down on his coffin?

What is the word any tongue
can make good for the boy—
let someone else name his country—
who speaks to his sleeping wife
when he leaves at night,
his brother tagging after him,
one puny gun between them?
If his cold spirit can still
speak her name tomorrow, won’t she feel
even more alone?
Aeneas carried
a high purpose on the point of his sword:
a city needed founding, if not
here then in another place.
This road, though, dips past
two ordinary houses and then the disco
casting a stale abandoned shade,
sharp-edged, to one side, and I descend—
through hot odd-angled streets lined
with those plane trees whose name’s
so bland and awkward translated
out of sunny Greek or Spanish—
to the huge white plane-tree-shaded square.

At the cafe in the open air
I order lemonade from the waitress
who has just served the little table
crowded round by seven or eight,
a changing group—the eager interpreter
talking and listening at the same time,
three young women
dressed up, and even in this small town
the four military men from the foreign
ship offshore, out of uniform but
with an apparent eye for swag
some future day, talking of
small deals, clever braveries, travels.
They exact smiles and attentions
and never have they seen such
a pretty town as this, never.

The three women listen hard
to the roared harsh sounds of the odd tongue,
then impatiently to the interpreter
while the military men wait.
What could such noise be about?
Do these men love the ways ours do,
do they like their women
to speak to them in bed, to say
what they want, to say it?

The Turkish prisoners had been led outside
with the lie that they’d be freed.

Inside the smoky small bar so
they can watch without being watched,
young men are bitter, imagining
the weight of medals, coming
one by one to the dusty window-glass
then returning toward the far unlit interior.
The lemonade arrives at last
in the pretty hands of the waitress,
she puts it on my white table
under the plane trees and hurries away
to be near the laughing group,
foreign men who one day may bring
something new to the town, or something old.

1986, Saints

Last updated July 22, 2021