A Poem by Pavlina Marvin


Pavlina Marvin

Ukrainian Story

I met Valter by chance but we stayed in touch, which kept growing with time. He lived with his family in a beautiful farm in Zaporizhia, sometime in the 15th century, and I in Kiev, in a dark flat on the 15th floor, in 1984. For a long time, we had a rather successful long-distance relationship. We communicated mainly through birds and bottles; sometimes, he would manage to squeeze his voice through my kitchen sink’s pipes, and I would almost push my whispers through his chimney. Whenever we had time, we gave each other marvelous advice, so appropriate it hardly mattered that it never arrived intact or on time. I never slept without thinking of him. He never woke without thinking of me. In the evenings, we would almost drink together – I, a drop of Charlotte liqueur, and he, a single malt whisky, no fewer than four shots. I helped him to not fear the future, and he told me about the present in full detail, offering me the unique ability to accurately represent the past. Valter, my precious secret. And if, at first, the never received kisses didn’t matter, as always happens, little by little, the dispatches began to get messed up. I phrased a precise question concerning feudalism, and got an answer related to the ingredients of a rustic soup. Though the owl still came at night, its claws were bare, it now seemed fat and less agile. The misunderstanding to end all misunderstandings wasn’t late in coming. Bottle in my bathtub, message in charcoal: «You don’t love me». Bottle in the flour sack, message in cheap eye pencil: «You don’t love me». The sky and the sea were first to understand, and stopped transferring messages backwards and forwards. I became an exceptional historian. I forgot, with no joy, but also with no grief. Last week, I was invited to decode a mediaeval manuscript. They told me it was a miller’s diary. Its last phrases were: «I never understood, Galina. We had exchanged engagement rings and would be married soon». To the chief archaeologist, I wrote hastily that I had only found calculations about credit accounts. Unimportant.

– from Stories from all over my World [Istories ap’ olon ton Kosmo mou] (Kichli
Publications, Athens, 2017)

Pavlina Marvin (born 1987) was quite well known and loved for her poetry, several
years before her first book came out. Born in Athens but raised on Syros – her father’s
Island – she has island blood from her Cypriot mother too. It may therefore not be
entirely coincidental that her extended family (biological or devised) and a rich web
of places (visited in the real or the imagined life) figure in many of her poems, prose
poems, and short prose pieces that make up her debut, Stories from all over my World
[Istories ap’ olon ton Kosmo mou] (Kichli Publications, 2017), which won her the
Greek Writers’ Society Yannis Varveris Award for a poetry debut in 2018. In this
book, her gift and love for storytelling (which she has also studied as a performing
art) are apparent throughout, not least in the poem presented here, as are her other
virtues: a fearless handling of emotions, never veering into sentimentality; plot
and language inventiveness; use of the telling detail. These characteristics are given a
further twist in her second book (in preparation), in which she wisely decided to limit herself in both form (a cycle of sonnets) and ‘place’ (about the tenants of ‘her’ block of flats).

Ukrainian Story may also betray –and obviously toys with– P.M.’s scientific
formation: she is a History graduate (from the National and Kapodistrian University
of Athens) currently finishing a Ph.D. in cultural history (in the same institution, in
collaboration with the Freie Universität, Berlin) looking at late 20th century official
Greek book policy. While an undergraduate, she also followed the two-year-long
poetry workshop of the Takis Sinopoulos Foundation – and founded and edited (from
2008 to 2011), together with a few other poets of her generation, the contemporary
poetry free biannual journal, “Teflon”. Her poems have also appeared in other Greek
Journals, been presented at literary festivals in Greece and abroad, translated in
several languages, and included in English- and German-language anthologies.

More by Pavlina Marvin in English:

Image from the project A Hollow Place, taking place at Yellow Brick and a cave in Thissio in May and June 2019. Read more on the Calendar.