Maria Nazos translating Dimitra Kotoula

"Moods X;" "The Body of Dead Christ in the Tomb;" "Case Study IV"



Moods X


“The melancholy seeped into me.
I drip poetry.”

Tonight I am excited.

The sharp logic of this thankless and rather demanding art
for once holds off.
We could, if you wish,
walk together through long museum halls
in love with their own statues
survey the piercing doubt
of the master’s brushstroke
below the soaked cloth-the marble
a wild surface prepared for drawing.
We could, surely, if you like,
make a little music.
It will be treasured and carefree,
it will rise ever so slowly
but always with a trusted square measure
of even four-time beats
Do not deny me. 
Besides, what will it cost.
Bring along this moment and this page.
This moment
on this page
-my only asset-
call them off
for, tonight,
faithful to the virtue of tears
in a time of cynical confessions
I can
worthy and triumphant
for once, and only this once, 
defend you.


The Body of Dead Christ in the Tomb

(Hans Holbein Jr., 1521
Oil on Wood
Kunstmuseum Öffentliche Kunstammulung, Basle)

“My grave looks to the south
if winter finds you—come.”

It smells of soft fresh rot.

From afar you can’t make out the line of eyelid.
the knot of breathing inside the black lips.
The face almost grazes the wet stone.
He sees exactly what he should. 
I cannot tell what he truly sees.
Above ground 
Flowers made of fresh air and others
(too delicate to be named earthly beings)

blossom in the air
protecting the human-god from his mortal flesh.
I notice
The hand hesitates.
The finger (dead) yet anxious.
They know when flesh grows into knowledge.
What the lips of hushed desire whisper
to his pristine silk-covered sex

and you-

Aren’t you perfect, a perfect being
made of logic               born of truth
It’s not you who begins           here
in the upper left corner of this page

without the memory of any touch
having crossed drowsy lands in darkness 
(stolen words)             (laugher)          (prayers)          (laments)
a whiteness
with no light-

while this pen  has lodged itself
(is this the end?)
                                    into your days
 while the rain settles
            (is this the end of it?)
inside your body 
free of hurried constraints
carefully erasing every single mark left behind                                                
having doubted            or not  erred               having let this happen  -
red lights up the flower of your thought upon thinking

having created well enough  

who is it that will say
that this dead Christ here—

Again: Put the alphabet in order:
Begin: Again:
New words replace old words each morning
wrenching privacy from eternity
The dense morning air floods the grass with caresses
The fear
because (and with this thought an uneasy tenderness
 writhes inside you)
fear holds you
it is not real
 Greedy the gaze coils
(through successive slants of light)
with all itself against it

You’re the only outline for this design
this language was made to protect you 
if truth is not spoken here
(in a moment of elusive clarity)
where else would you turn your gaze—

You bend to shuffle flowers in vases for the dead
Your mouth now filled with ash
You try to remember
How you could ever manage with such shiny things
turn your gaze
(whisper something)
and      (inexplicably blissful)
get carried away by the rhythm of decay
for you cannot dance to this static beat.


Case Study IV
(All the House of Israel or The Redintegration)

“Behold, I will cause breath to enter you,
and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you,
and will cause flesh to come upon you,
and cover you with skin, and put breath in you,
and you shall live…”
(Ez. 37: 5-6)


Look how they hurry to take flesh
these bones


(the rumble, the sound of human cry in the air multiplies)

and spirit


majestic dancers
how they glide from one word to the other
slicing the atmosphere in their wake
-the air churning amid these bones like dissonant flutes-
dry bones with no hope
now overflowing with body

or the desire


desire for a body and its spirit


There were many
many uncertain souls twisted around at their root
(the voice is there)
(the afternoon light upon the valley is there)
(the idiom refined upon it)

seeking history
the freedom that they bargain again-
having erred, again
having arrived, again

(where) nothing is deemed to be either “possible” or “impossible.”

a valley in motion
(a valley writhing in infinite motion)
and the voice raining down upon them
-as somehow from where; high-
marking the process of incarnation
summing up its mechanism
 -each bone now has its breath-
turning this human armour
into something-other-than-human
(dry bones with no hope)


one by one the coatings decay
shooting flesh
light pools in the joints
tightly-sewn the leather tunics are taking shape


and spirit
and the spirit
in the name of god and truth and history

and the spirit
in the name of god and truth and history
now enters


and the alphabet
now enters


the dust of these seconds

(the rumble, the sound of human cry in the air multiplies)


until the sound of these seconds

make from this old backbone something new.

Translator's Note

In the Autumn 2013 Issue of The Poetry Review, A.E. Stallings remarked that Kotoula belongs to the younger generation of Greek poets born after the Greek military Junta. She then remarks that ''Kotoula subtly and masterfully transforms …private demons into a public resonance."

Throughout the poems in this collection, the poet employs an array of vehicles and forms—ranging from the lyrical, the elegiac, and the ars poetica—to lament the current socio-economic crisis in Greece, to hearken back to the ancient times when Greek society was thriving, and to envision a spiritually brighter future.

I chose to translate Kotoula not only because she is among this unique generation of poets, but also because of her work's delicate tonal balance. My biggest challenge throughout the translation process was remaining true to both meaning and music without compromising the poems' political sensibility. There were moments when I struggled to stay true to the poems' meanings while preserving their musicality. It has also been a challenge to try and render Kotoula's poems in an accurate light, as they have been written during the current Greek financial struggle, which although is not always at the forefront of the poems, is always lurking at the periphery. Therefore, I had to keep this sociopolitical tragedy in the back of my mind while translating the poems, to keep the mood and influence of intact. In addition, many of Kotoula's poems are about the act of writing poetry itself, however there are moments where she prefers not to be explicit about this, but rather relies upon an intelligent reader's inference, which as a translator was challenging to portray.

Having been raised until the age of thirteen in Athens, Greece, then thereafter moving to Illinois, I left much of my formative years, home country, and one of my mother tongues behind. After these past two years of much excavating a language that used to come intuitively to me, it is my sincere hope that I have rendered a collection of poems that are worthy of discussion, that are a combination of both my own aesthetical choices and Dimitra's, towards which she and I have worked side-by-side to maintain this collaborative balance.

While adopting Kotoula's work into English, she and I have exchanged extensive notes back and forth, elucidating images, explaining verbs, and finally negotiating certain mythical allusions or Greek colloquialisms that could have otherwise been lost en route to the English language. As a Greek-American woman, I had to bring my knowledge of Greece's current turbulent state of affairs, my own clouded memory of living and speaking in that country, and finally, all of the perplexing emotions that accompany being uprooted from one home that I never quite fit into, then transplanted into another one. In a very real sense, throughout this journey, as a translator, I was going home and getting lost at the same time.


Maria Nazos

Maria Nazos is the author of A Hymn That Meanders, (2011, Wising Up Press). She took her MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has received fellowships from the University of Nebraska, Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work is published or forthcoming in The Florida Review, The Southern Humanities Review, The New Ohio Review, Poet Lore, The New York Quarterly, The Sycamore Review, Main Street Rag, Tar River Poetry, and elsewhere. She is a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She can be found at

Dimitra Kotoula

Dimitra Kotoula is the author of Three Notes for a Melody published by Nefeli Editions, Athens. Her poetry, essays and translations have appeared on line as well as in poetry anthologies and journals in Greece, Europe and the Balkans. Her poems have been translated in English by A.E. Stallings, Fiona Sampson, David Connolly, and Richard Pierce; in French (by Jacques Bouchard); in German (by Hans Thrill, Ulf Stolterfoht, Mara Genschel and Michaela Prinzinger); in Serbian (by Vladimir Boškovic); in Swedish and Croatian. Currently, she works as an archaeologist and lives in Athens, Greece with her daughter.