! Evening Contentment: A Meal, A Temple - Poem by Michael Shepherd
and as the thick heat of the day lifts off,
the city comes alive.
What is architecture without shadow?
At the wrong but necessary time,
midday in high summer, when
the overhead sun has stolen into siesta
all meaning, even beauty,
from the very temples themselves,
we had been clambering around the Acropolis,
which seemed to promise so much from afar,
an ideal world; now up close, we couldn’t find it,
trying perhaps too hard; that tiny temple by the entrance
offered more; the korae in the museum
smiled an understanding of all this;
knew all about us. This is what awe means.
Now, in the cooling air of evening, the tourists,
showered, in their fresh cottons,
meet and converge with their Athenian hosts
at an unpretentious family restaurant
at the foot of the Acropolis hill.
The Parthenon, resting from its busy anthill day,
is floodlit in all its glory, yet
aloof; as if its subtle geometries
hold it inviolable between two worlds; Plato in stone.
A hundred Olympian athlete’s paces from the restaurant at its foot,
almost as if generations of this family have measured it,
the scent of cooking garlic welcomes us –
guests even before we have arrived;
then the simple tables, the evocative bouzouki music
whose recording we will buy and in time forget,
and then one day, find again with an exquisite pain;
this is the climax of the Mediterranean day;
three thousand years of culture are the unspoken,
almost unnoticed, stage set for our evening hours tonight, with
the indefinable sense that the sea, blue into wine,
is not far away. There’s a friendly chatter, men and women,
in the kitchen. This is what an open-air restaurant
should be about: they give us food and wine;
we give them back, our happiness.
As we scrape our metal chairs on the concrete floor
in a convivial circle – the sky dusted with stars over
the Parthenon now at an awkward, unromantic, steep
angle to us, but we know it’s there –
and settle, foot-weary but refreshed,
you can sense that each of us is relishing
the sense of the fresh, cool air
between the fresh-laundered cotton
and the no longer sticky skin;
have we earned this with our guide-booked day?
Then, three or so enchanted hours –
no great need to speak; silent acknowledgement
that we have come all this way to find
a sheer contentment in just being ourselves
in company, around a table, drinking a little wine,
eating simple food;
time.. time does not stand still,
though that’s the first idea that comes to mind;
rather, time has surrendered to us
its own unimportance; we steal a glance
at each other’s quiet glow
as sunwarmed faces find some inner sun.
Some Greek grammar not yet learned
is teaching us the living meaning, limitless contentment;
the infinite infinitive of the verb, to be. The air
is gentle as it cools; our bodies warm with food and wine
and boundless love; we are, oh can it be,
perfection in some temple of ourselves.
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