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Cypriot Elegies

Daniele Nunziata


It hasn’t been long since we moved house. We brought the pots of oleanders with us from the last house. Three of them. One flowers white, another apricot, and the last a greenish yellow. We grew them there after taking cuttings from that huge specimen on the alley leading to the beach not far from Kiti, just west of Larnaca.

The fledgling trees are still in the pots we first put them in. I suppose they’ve been in quarantine since they arrived in this country. It’s the only state their roots have ever been in.

They stand patiently and watch their current surroundings. The once-unfamiliar oaks and elms amassing in the distance, and people frantically trying to convey boxes – plastic, wooden, cardboard – from one spot to another. Now, more than ever, they must be bemused at our uncharacteristic fritting and our unexplainable disorder.

As droplets of cold rain begin tumbling on their leaves, do they dream of that beach near Larnaca? Or, do they simply yearn to live in soil which isn’t—and never has been—boxed in?

I haven’t seen them flower in months and months. I wonder if they ever will again.


Contemplating Solitude

The daffodils lived
and died without anyone
watching, as though spring
had never been.
The mistle thrush bounces
on the ground, each tender
step a grenade sending
tremors through the vacant landscape.

Clouds break, and fire
streaks across its trembling
vestibules. No machine is brave
enough to interrupt
the aria it rinses,
in sweet increments,
over our begging ears.

I sew my mouth shut
with ribbons of supplication
so I can listen with fine-tuned
reverence as the deluge,
once again,


The Shrapnel Tree

He made a mask out of shrapnel.
Once the greatest tailor in his village, all his materials ran dry
the day war broke out.
With no cotton to loom, or linen to weave,
his hands rummaged the gasping ground.

Bruised and bloodied, they retrieved bits of rusty ammunition,
and corrugated fragments of steel,
and they began to fashion something to camouflage his face.
The old bullet shells went around the eyes,
and half the base of a mortar covered the mouth and nose like a muzzle.

The sharp edges of the şarapnel pricked his skin ever so slightly each day
until, after months of wear, his face blistered in anguish.
Pushing it loose just to allow some air to circulate,
a drop of his blood spilt down to the earth.
From it, grew a metal tree to replace all the real trees that had been cut down.

The tailor sat underneath the shade of the σραπνέλ tree,
nestled between copper roots which pierced up from the soil.
The tree began producing blades of leaves which impaled the air around the canopy.
Harvesting these, he collected enough to begin spinning again,
soldering new clothes for all the village to wear like armour.


Cyprus Emergency (1955 – )

They ripped a kidney from his starving bones,
rotten as they were from years of famine.
They tied him in a cell and gagged his moans,
bruised flesh was theirs to weigh and examine.
They jeered about his brother crushed by stones,
poison words contaminate.

They, to this day, keep this history hidden.
Bloody archives drip with guilt ungiven.


Daniele Nunziata [1] is a Lecturer in English at St Anne’s College, University of Oxford. His work has been published by PMLA and the Journal of Postcolonial Writing, and as part of Columbia University Press’s Studies in World Literature. A monograph based on his doctoral research, Transportal Literatures, is forthcoming.