Ourania N. Tserotas

Where I Come From

Ourania N. Tserotas

an eixa  dio kardies  tha sagapw
ekato  fores giati mia kardia pou exw
to sebtha sou dev  andejo

if i had two hearts, i would  love you
one hundred times more and
with the heart that i have
i cannot contain all my love

i come  from…
olive trees
planted into the earth
by weathered hands
that never learned to write
i come  from
chins jutted out
to give directions
shoulders hunched forward
against cold Chicago wind
i come  from
dandelions growing
underneath train tracks
next to abandoned buildings
and pigeon droppings
dandelions we would eat for dinner
i come from
corners where hard stones and stares
mean protection
defiance from violence
that threatens our lives
every day
i come from
an apartment
where midnight chorus
is a call between
mom and dad’s snores
and farts
and laughter from us kids
i come from
sheltered spaces
in cracks of cement
next to discarded
cigarette butts and candy wrappers
i brace myself
against the urgency
of the wind
walls of
my imagination
i come from…
grape leaves on vines
wrapped around homes and hopes
without front teeth
and shoes
sugary smells
from kitchens
spaghetti hanging
on hangers to dry
i come  from
mom’s pats on my back
rubbing vicks when
i was sick
14-hour visits to the emergency  room
for asthma attacks
where people piled on top each other
like old coats  at a wedding
i come  from
buzy streets
loud with rap music
motorcycles  hum
police sirens
breaking bottles
moms hollering
for their children
echoes of childrens’ voices
lost to the streets
wanting to come home
i come from
bunnies being born
under rusted car parts
i come from
men and women hunting wild hens
at moonrise
harvesting grape leaves
at sunrise
i come from
Greeks, Italians, Irish
who immigrated to this country
to work in factories for pennies a day
teeth sucked in disgust
eyes squinted shut
against police flashlights and guns
i come from
votes cast in elections
to stop our oppression
that never counted
cemeteries of soldiers
buried in unmarked graves
i come from a name
Ourania from my  giagia
i come from a name
Tserotas meaning coffin maker
i come from
songs sung by cabbies
in dark alleys
love songs, rhembetika
Greek blues played on
bouzouki and violin
i come from
cellars where cheese
hardens and cools
meats hang
dried and salted
birthdays, bellies full from
lamb and potatoes
nests feathered
with plastic fruit
and doilies
i come from
101 people killed
on the main street
in Sparta, Greece
when the people decided
not to let the nazi’s pass
and were killed for it
a tradition of resistance
and persistence
to change
the ways
we walk down streets
with a quickness
to avoid confrontation
or have  it
so that it can be done with…
i come from
LOUD grammothers
still talking to me
through fire crackle
raindrops on rooftops
imprints of fingerprints
remembered on my skin
birth and death
the rustle of leaves under
baby’s first steps
screams and sobs
at funerals
to ensure pappou’s safe passage
I come from
hollows over cheekbones
that hold tears
crooks in elbows
that cradle newborns
moments before
when everything
around us seems
linked to our past
and the wisdom
is in the rhythm
of falling into
into its breath.

translation  giagia, grandmother     pappou, grandfather
galactobouriko, custard an d phyllo dough dessert.