The Old School

Original Text: 
Helen Tsiriotakis, A House of White Rooms (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2000): 51-53. PS8589 .S57 H68 2000 Robarts Library
But to say what you want to say you must create
another language and nourish it for years
and years with what you have loved. With what you
have lost. With what you will never find again.
                       George Seferis
2I find my way back to the Old School.
3Mid-afternoon. Mid-summer.
4The temperature rising. Birds in flight
5thrust back the climate of boundaries;
6the sun dripping
7through latticed branches floodlights
8my senses: from the schoolyard
9I wade into the classroom. Where a bare bulb
10hangs from the ceiling, reflects
11in a puddle of water,
12illuminating the limits of perception.
13By the blackboard:
14a dust-mop, an overturned pail.
15In this room, I once plied at lessons.
16My pen circled mythical contours
17like the gap
18in a stencil, my language emerging
19from a forgotten
20intensity. Lifeline of tales:
22snaring her into temptation,
23spawning anguished cries. Deafening her
24to anything else. The Minotaur's wail
25bounced against labyrinth walls
26as he ran circles round his own tail.
27Punctuated by what's missing,
28doubtful pages
29without end
30become a certainty.
32taut as oars: rowing
33me downstream
34to a distant shore. Calling
36though steady currents erode
37even our vows: tiny pebbles
38sucked down by the undertow.
39When I was seven I learned to measure all distances
40by the gait of a trotting horse. Grandfather
41hoisting me onto the saddle; his long arms
42strapped round me.
43His sweater keeping me warm.
44Years after I'd returned to Toronto
45Grandfather was harnessed
46by a stroke; he yanked bedsheets
47as if drawing reins, one by one, to a halt.
48Learning my chair
49against the wall, one leg
50tucked under me, I now place a foot
51on the tie-beam
52of the adjacent chair:
54Balancing on an act of faith.
55The silence is different
56when I'm alone.
57This I know.


1] George Seferis: Greek poet (1900-71), Nobel laureate. Back to Line
21] Queen Pasiphae: immortal daughter of the Greek sun-god, and wife of the Minos the king of Krete, she gave birth to the bull-headed Minotauros after copulating with her husband's finest bull. Back to Line
31] mantinada: "morning song" (Greek), Cretan couplets improvised during a dance. Back to Line
35] xenitemeni: expatriots. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
RPO Edition: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © Helen Tsiriotakis and used by permission of the poet. Authorization to republish this poem must be obtained from her in writing.