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Sample Poems by Barbara Thomas

Northern Epirus

a place of boundary disputes
a borderland
a place that is no longer
the place my mother was born

The geography of my mother’s homeland
imprints my mind with washes of color;
verdant green, stone gray for mountains,
emerald for the Aoös River.

Air so fresh you can taste it my mother said.
She lived with her mother, father, uncles, grandmother
in a great stone farmhouse.
They raised sheep for wool, wheat for grain.
When she drew water from the community well,
she saw veiled women carrying urns on their heads,
tinkers who came by.

They celebrated baptisms, namedays, weddings.
Her face was radiant when she spoke of violets
by rushing streams, picnics, her beloved grandmother.

When my mother was twelve
Greek schools closed,
brother betrayed brother,
Her father, in New York City for five years
to earn money came back
and in a ship of thousands brought his family to America.

At my grandmother’s each Sunday
we are full of avgolemeno soup, chicken, baklava.
We crack red eggs on Easter,
look for the Good Luck Quarter
in the meat pie on New Years Day.
We don’t talk about times in Northern Epirus,
now southern Albania.


reach my bedroom window
relatives and neighbors
gather by the weeping willow
summer evenings

for coffee and stories

how my pregnant grandmother
lost her baby on the big ship
her wails unheard

how my grandfather
farmer cab driver store owner
brought his two brothers over

how he bought land
twenty acres of
hills valleys fields

cows goats chickens pigs
two pintos

how the town took much of it away
for a penny for flood control

how the children played
blessed the land


my Aunt Annette’s gutteral laugh
floats up with
the night song of crickets


We mix flour, egg, clove, dash of brandy
smooth and shape flaky dough
into stars, hearts and diamonds,
rolling twists and turns.

As the kourambiethes bake
you tell me stories of your life
in a mountain village in Northern Epirus
by the green river Aoös
walks with your donkey
week long wedding celebrations
with feasting and dancing.

While the kourambiedes bake,
toasty comfort floats from the stove.
Later, we put them on racks to cool,
dust them with powdered sugar.

Your mother taught you
the lesson of kourambiedes
by the hearth in the stone farmhouse
near fields of wheat, the singing of wild birds.

She took you across the ocean
to a gray shingled house
in a busy mill town
where you baked in her immaculate kitchen.

Texture by touch
shape by sight
the recipe passes on.


Father Luke blesses the icon of St. George
swinging the gold censer. Scented smoke

lingers in the air. He presses a white carnation
in my father’s hand to honor him and his namesake.

Later at our home when relatives come to celebrate,
I serve the tray of hospitality:

korambeides, baklava, cherry spoon sweets,
grapes, baklava, slices of melon.

I balance tall water glasses and kadahs of whiskey
that the men drink down in a single gulp.

I swerve around the room
greeting each guest.

A scoop of spoon sweet, a click of silver
in an emptied glass, I move to the next guest.

Old Doxie, a widow in black homespun, wild hair,
pinches both my cheeks. It hurts, but I don’t flinch.
Despina whispers, “she’s so poised.”
A look of pride on my mother’s face.

Uncle Jimmy laughs, gives a toast of good will:
“Varvara, I will dance at your wedding.”