Mme. Sperides

By Gregory Djanikian b. 1949 Gregory Djanikian

Alexandria, 1956, after the nationalization
of the Suez Canal and all foreign capital

Perhaps her cook, come under the influence   
Of a few discreet piastres, had spoken   
Too indiscreetly. Or just perhaps,
On a hot day along the azure of the Mediterranean,   
Rue Fouad bearing a stream of traffic   
To Muhammed Ali Square in a riot
Of klaxons and shouts, and the whole city   
Gleaming white as it must have from a distance,   
Perhaps on such a day, someone got lucky   
And Mme. Sperides at the customs house   
Could sense what price she would have to pay,   
That the official full of apologies
And gold teeth would usher her into
A private room smelling of dark tobacco,   
That under the drone of the ceiling fans   
Her valises would be searched, the linings   
Cut out, the cowhide ripped back,
That despite her protests which would be   
Useless but obligatory, she herself
Would be stripped, that finally,
Two large diamonds worth a modest villa   
Would peek and shine from the elegant crack   
Of her ass.
                  Whatever the story,
It was not for a boy to know.
I listened at my grandmother’s door   
As she spoke in a whisper, thieving   
A fragment here a word there naked
Jewels   hidden you know where though I didn’t   
And tried to call up all that I remembered:   
Mme. Sperides in her salon serving us   
Tea and the small cucumber sandwiches
Whose flavor always reminded me of paste.   
Mme. Sperides falling easily back in her chair,   
Crossing her legs, intoning:
“You know what my husband left me.
It is not much to live on in these times.”   
Mme. Sperides ringing for her servants   
Who swished in and out in their galabiyas,   
Expressionless, almost invisible,
Bringing us fruits and petit fours.
And now, Mme. Sperides naked, jewels hidden   
Somewhere in my imagination, somewhere   
In the words my grandmother whispered   
And I smuggled out with my ear at the door,   
Holding my breath, thinking the world   
Would suddenly reveal itself with one   
Prize word, some dark knowledge.   
“I love you, Mme. Sperides,” I tried   
With a small boy’s passion, believing   
That was enough to bring her secretly   
To me, translucent and shimmering.   
But when I closed my eyes in my fever,   
All I could see was Mme. Sperides laden   
With rings and pearls, bracelets and brooches,   
Mme. Sperides hidden by jewelry and clothing,   
Something else hidden beyond all that.   
All I could taste was cucumber.
All I could hear was the undercurrent
Of long robes swishing from room to room.

Gregory Djanikian, “Mme. Sperides” from Falling Deeply into America. Copyright © 1989 by Gregory Djanikian. Used by permission of Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Source: Falling Deeply into America (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989)

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Poet Gregory Djanikian b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Living, History & Politics, Love, Social Commentaries, Youth, Relationships, Infatuation & Crushes

 Gregory  Djanikian


Gregory Djanikian’s collections include So I Will Till the Ground (2007), Years Later (2000), Falling Deeply into America (1989), and The Man in the Middle (1984). His poems have also appeared in numerous magazines and journals, such as Poetry, the Nation, and the American Scholar, as well as on television, when he was featured on PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

His work explores, among other things, the private and public . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Living, History & Politics, Love, Social Commentaries, Youth, Relationships, Infatuation & Crushes

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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