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Today's poem is by Rachel Hadas

Modern Greek 101

These phrases, once lodged in your memory,
Will help you find your way, I guarantee,
Through any social circumstance in Greek,
Each Scylla and Charybdis when you speak.
All will work in any situation,
Plug up gaps in any conversation,
Politely answer any salutation.
It's surely no coincidence all four
In different ways purport to reassure.
So get your notebooks out, for here they are.

Siga-siga first: take it easy, slow
Down. Ti na kanome: what can we do?
Then pirazi: it doesn't matter.
(See how our repertory's getting fatter?)
Last but not least en daxi: all right, okay.
These are the crucial ones, and this is why:
Whichever of the four you chance to use
Shrugs with a weary grace you can't refuse,
An attitude for which there is no name
In English, though we try it all the same,
Not understanding what we imitate:
Mild acquiescence in the face of Fate,
Not dialectical and not dramatic,
But unassuming, formulaic, phatic.

One boiling morning I remarked, "It's hot."
The aproned landlord shrugged: "It matters not."
"What a pretty evening," I once said.
"What can we do?" a black-clad crone replied.
Reverse these scraps of dialogue: you too
Can answer anything that's said to you—
Though said is not the word so much as sung:
A whole philosophy rolls off the tongue.



Copyright © 2004 Rachel Hadas All rights reserved
from Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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