THE CLASSICAL DEBT
by Susan Ayres 

THE CLASSICAL DEBT

            we will never repay the debt we owe Greece.
—Stephen Fry, Elgin Marbles Debate

            1.

Greek waiters talk not

            to me, but my son. Hotel

                        staff tells me it’s unseemly

for women to travel

            alone.  Mornings, I take

                        my coffee to Athens’ National

Park, where a monkey

            bit King Alexander

                        and he died.  I do not feel

safe here, do not walk

            alone at night, not even

                        in the touristy Plaka

past sleeping men under

            eaves of shops that once

                        sold olive oil, leather sandals,

Byzantine icons, replica gods.

            She’s gone too—Athena, fierce

                        warrior with her fierce gray stare.

            2.

When I was a girl in El Paso,

            our Greek friend refused

                        to give away

his daughter in marriage.

She had dishonored him—

                        Catholic girls got pregnant

since birth control was

            a sin.  Apparently

                        forgivable, since Father Finnegan

let one girl play

            “Having My Baby” during

                        her wedding mass.  Visiting

Greece is a throwback

            to my girlhood of mighty

                        Church, mighty Father, Aegean

blue like the Virgin’s

            robes, where my son refuses

                        to swim.

            3.

The bread is delivered

            without your asking.  The best

                        comes with olives, hummus,

beet dip.  The appetizer

            not ordered is included

                        in the bill, as if the debt

we owe Greece will be paid

            bite-by-bite.  We are responsible

                        for the country’s bankruptcy, for

its small pipes we clog

            with toilet paper, for its graffiti,

                        its unemployed.  We pay for bottled

water when the server claims

            there is no tap water.

            This country feels more oriental

than occidental, my son

            comments.  And I see

                        what he means.  It’s

as if we descended directly

            from Lord Elgin or stole

                        the marbles ourselves.  It’s

as if bread, water, toilets will

            be bartered in this cradle

                        of civilization

where we owe, owe, owe.

About the Author:

Susan Ayres is a poet, lawyer, and translator.  She holds an MFA in Creative Writing with a Concentration in Translation from Vermont College of Fine Arts.  She also holds a PhD in Literature from Texas Christian University.  Her work has appeared in Sycamore Review, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere.  She lives in Fort Worth and teaches at Texas A&M University School of Law.

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