A poem by Nina Rizou


Nina Rizou


   the small candle's
light in the black metal
shone lovely on his palm
            so that
     flame and hand
 shared the same light

           his black clothes
              scattered him
             within the dark

– let's go see the horses? and I hear
demure within me: yes

   on the way to the field
           all is quiet –
      the dog won't bark
we will also look at the sheep

in fair weather, as now
the horses sleep under
        the three enormous hackberries
        all in a row,
on hay
that in the dark,
glows like his palm

among the hackberry's leaves
 that almost touch the ground
the horses' hay smells of sleep,
                  so that,
         touching the mane,
their breath and his warm body,
        plunged me in their sleep,
the horses' sleep

        I've no idea we are turning back
and that
        I'm sleeping on his shoulder

– translated by Panayotis Ioannidis


Although this poems smells of spring – fair weather and hackberry leaves – I think it makes for a good start to this year that comes after 2020: with its unaffected tenderness between humans as well as between animals and humans; its intricate interplay of light and dark; memory and sleep.

Nina Rizou, whether in her poems (Shadow jog, Yialos, 2016; shortlisted for the “Anagnostis” Poetry Award) or her short prose pieces (Cisterns, Yialos, 2017), displayed a fine attention to telling detail, as if this was the most natural thing in the world. She had an unusual flair for the combination of elliptical – but not cryptic – images, that immediately stamped her writing as distinctly personal. Her death, therefore, a few days after publication of her prose book, is much to be grieved. Nevertheless, in addition to her sensitive, succinct prose, we are left with several gems in her poetry book, supplemented by five poems published posthumously in “The Books' Journal” (December 2017; one of these poems is presented here) – and we may still hope for poems to be found among her papers.

She was born in 1963 in Filothei near Arta, and lived in Athens. She nurtured a lifelong interest and involvement in architecture. It is possible that her love of nature and her constant body and spirit practice influenced a stance that weds the spiritual to sheer physicality – as a few fragments from some of her other published poems demonstrate:

in the afternoon leaves
love of the air shall shine


the bay is calm
the chill raises my shoulders
I sink into tears


talk trembled in the dark green beside us


voices make
a beautiful fabric to rest on


the journey came of its own
I took my seat
and waited

Pictured: Nina Papaconstantinou's Letter to Husband (Sweetheart Come), 2020. The characters of a letter have been nailed into the gallery's wall, as part of the exhibition Home at Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Centre. Read more about the exhibition here.