On the Edge [extract]

This is a little story of a garden
that lies there, by night, when no one can see it and also at the first light of day

The garden lies on an island
The island in a sea
Between two countries, two continents

There, where the East begins
and on the other side
the West

Whoever wakes up just before the sunrise will see the softest version of the landscape shade next to shade

Dull with sleepy eyes
the colours of things
reach for one another within the same shade

Melt into a soft-focus picture the sleeping: protected, perhaps or helpless, at the mercy of sleep

Whoever wakes up just before the sunrise will see the softest version of the landscape, shade next to shade. Dull with sleepy eyes the colours of things reach for one another within the same shade, melt into a soft-focus picture. The sleeping protected, perhaps, or helpless, at the mercy of sleep. Where does the sky begin, where does the sea end, if both have the same colour? On an island, there lies a garden.

The garden grows, it thrives
It will withstand the heat, as long as someone
waters it

The tap in the schoolyard next to the garden would be closer, but one of the teachers says: this is a school, you can’t get water here. I don’t understand the reasoning, but prefer not to get into a discussion. The next tap is further back, at the other end of the center, under a little tree next to the open-air gym. Here, young men lift weights while sweat drips despite the shade, torsos glistening. A dust-white puppy lies against the house’s facade; he, too, fighting the heat, his little body shaking. We give him some water, I cool his tiny head, then we begin to fill the plastic bottles with water; there are many. We carry them over the whole square, between football players and those waiting in line for sanitary products, which you can obtain with vouchers from the center. We walk a couple of times, cooling wrists and neck with each filling. Some of the seedlings are still in a fragile condition, they were only just planted. They need a lot of water, we give them several helpings. Occasionally, someone helps us to carry bottles. The heat of the day is already accumulating, soon it will be time to eat.

One could easily forget that everything
keeps turning in the twilight
without the orientation of the sun

One could easily forget that on the other side
the sun keeps its course, while we—in the shadows it causes the earth to
throw—fall asleep

The constellations wander while we are sleepless. Everything is in motion, only we stand still. And we got it all wrong, didn’t we? We turn away in our own rotation, we turn around our own axis, it is us who are keeping course around the sun. From here, everything circles around us. The sun, the moon and each and every star. The island, it lies in a sea.

The winds settle down in the twilight
Only Meltemi from the northwest is always making a fuss
Stubborn, he moves on, unimpressed by time

The summer wind brings clear air
Or stirs up the sea
You never know

Small white sailing ships mark points
On the water’s map, and lean
Dotting the blue between the coasts

The sailboat moves up and down in the rhythm given by the waves while leaving the marina. Further out we hoist the sails. The main sail flutters agitatedly while we pull it up; it makes quite a racket. Suddenly, the forces we are subjected to show their faces. The tone of the orders becomes more serious, the movements must interweave, it quickly becomes clear what one wrong move might mean. The strength of the wind is not worth mentioning yet still, its effects are imminent, the boat becomes a barometer.

You can see the Turkish coast with your own two eyes
The rubber dinghies, the unannounced
Not them

The speed of passing time
Hits you unexpectedly
As soon as the sun breaks into the day

Starts drawing its rushed circle
What was once the night sky, is now
A glaring cloudless reflection

No sooner has the dusty ground heated up
Than we sneak
Along the edges of houses

The people have squinting eyes
Sun-parched skin
Palms shade the gaze as well as they can

The sun turns up the contrasts
With light adjacent, in the shadow forms merge
Figures become part of the darkness

The stars that we see might not exist anymore. But has any human ever witnessed how one of our stars burned out? What would Orion be, if one of the three stars of his belt were suddenly gone? Would we not recognize the constellation anymore? Would we lose our orientation? Would we have to re-write the astrological charts? Would we desperately search for a new name for the injured constellation?

Pressing through the shadows against the houses‘ walls. Not existing. To be a stowaway, a blank page. Having no knowledge of anything.

The garden is protected by large awnings
The square shadow areas
Form a great drifting mosaic

A constantly shifting landscape
The ground charted by the
Moving shadows

He would like to stand tall, independent, looking people in the eye. That’s what he learned. Or at least he thought so, thought that hard work pays off. If you have nothing to hide, you don’t have to be on the lookout. If you stand tall, you do not have to duck. But as soon as problems accumulate, these values become superficialities. He works like a dog, and is rarely paid attention to.This is how he feels.Why walk the straight line if there is no end in sight? Why not take spontaneous detours, back alleys, go completely astray. Avoid things whenever possible. See the loopholes in the system and slip through them. Become so small, that you can actually fit through them.

No one has been waiting for you
Not today, and tomorrow too the garden
will lie in the shadows of hoisted sails

With or without you the sun wanders over
arid fields, challenging the water
Leaving behind only dust

A young man stands slightly lost
Between taut ropes
There, where young vines are meant to climb

He says, I walk for one hour
but here I speak with people
and they actually listen

It’s soothing, a breath of fresh air
Away from the madness of the camps T
hat is why I walk

The garden is a small green semaphore. The center, it is a meeting point, an hour’s walk away from Moria. Here is the school, here there are courses. Here, music is played from all corners of the earth. Here, muscles and friendships grow, and in the middle of it all: this garden. News from Moria reaches us late at night, there have been fights. Even here, the reality of the teeming, overflowing camps is far away. A fight which began with a disagreement between two women waiting in the queue for food. First the husbands fought, then the anger gained momentum like a forest fire.

The garden lies on an island
Between the city and the camps
It is an island in itself

It thrives there, where it is taken care of
A fleeting thing
You might say, carelessly

The island, it draws
The boundaries of one‘s own freedom of movement
Leaving no doubts

The island is part of the continent, one just doesn’t realize it. The highest peak of an invisible mountain that looks out of the sea. The masses under the surface are hard to fathom. How deep will the valley between the island and the mainland be? How many cubic meters of water does it contain?

As a child, I had a recurring nightmare. The dream was so abstract that it was hard to find words for it. Great masses surrounded me. Some as big as houses, mountains, worlds. Planet-sized masses, as big as the universe itself. And at one point within the dream, in which the masses sprawled and grew around me, expanding, weighing tons and tons, becoming unbelievably heavy, I suddenly realized that I had to fit these gigantic masses through one teeny-tiny little opening, through the eye of a needle.

And what happens
When your friends travel on? An old woman asks
For they won’t stay here for ever

Is it possible to embrace
the transient if
the ground is shaking?

The second time around, one of the men who lift weights in the gym had the idea to pull the hose over the square as close as possible to the garden. The hose ended somewhere in the middle between the little house and the garden. We open the tap, the water gurgles and one of the men who usually watches over the square and keeps things in order, fills the plastic bottles while I simultaneously pour them over the plants and beds. In the end, we‘re both equally dusty and wet but the garden heaves a sigh of relief.

What if
no one here
has been waiting for you?

What if they say
Hey you!
You don’t belong here

Nothing can stay the way it is
Nothing is set in stone
Nothing in concrete

How strange
This resistance to change, but what would be
the consequence of standing still?

In this garden, every plant has more than one name
an origin somewhere
And its place in diverse recipes

Lavender eases the pain
Here, as well as thousands of kilometers
Further to the East

Night Jasmine or Nichtolouloudo
The night flower and its perfume recall
A different home for every beholder

That which surrounds us are dry fields with sandy or rocky ground, with grasses, now sun-bleached, they are of monochrome muted colours. The summer is one long period of thirst, hardly any rain can penetrate the dry season of the summer months. Thick, tough bushes cover the hill, they belong to the rockrose family and the legume family, the mint and rose family. This climate has produced evergreen trees. Tough, compact, small, round leaves. Evergreen oaks covered not only this island but the entire Mediterranean area, before the rise of the use of firewood, forest fires and pasturing began confining the woods to new limits. There, where there were forests, new formations have taken their place. The low bushes duck, creep along the ground, looking for the least possible confrontation with the winds.

In the garden, I learnt to differentiate between the shapes of leaves and flowers, sort them by family. I trace their shapes. In the garden, a small world map is created, small dots mark the plants‘ origins. Terra continens, connected land. The continents and the big blue in-between. The continents drift constantly, the seeds travel further than geography would allow for. At the side of the street I begin to recognize shrubs like old relatives.

The garden lies on an island
The island in the sea
Between two countries

Between two worlds

One of the continents is the continent
Of the lucky
So they say

Here, they say that they come from far away
From all four corners of the earth
For a little piece of happiness

In summer, forest fires threaten this landscape. The wind rears up in warning. It is hot, it brings no cool air, not for a very long time. Sand and dust whirl over the fields and the badly lain concrete country roads. In August, it gets stronger and stronger, and with it the fear of the clumsiness or the intent of a single person; the fear of a single glowing cigarette butt discarded, carelessly or purposely.

In the garden, peppermint grows
And thyme
Oregano and sage

The red amaranth especially is fighting the heat
which hits the asphalt next to the garden
At noon in summer

The edge of the sea meets the edge of the land at the island’s coastline. As soon as the sun has risen, as soon as it begins to heat up the air, everything starts moving. The air warms up faster over land than over sea, it rises. The air streams out over the sea, cools down and then flows back towards land. The hot air is lighter, which is why it rises. The cold air, however, is heavy, it sinks. The air never stands still, it circulates, evening out pressure, constantly moving between high–and low–pressure areas.

When the sun stands at its zenith
The people gather in the shade
Every day anew

In the garden one is far away
For a moment
And tells each other of the constrictions

Of the conflicts
Of the battles
Of the long wait

One swaps recipes and stories
Speaks shyly
About dreams

What happens to a person who is robbed of their own space?
What happens to a soul that cannot breathe?
How far does personal space reach? When is it intruded upon?

They draw their borders
They are chalk lines
That cannot be brushed away


This is lightly edited extract from Dimitra Charamandas,  On the Edge (2018)The observations brought together in this publication were made in July 2018 in the context of the project Growing In Greece — a project initiated by  A-1 publishers. To order the book, please go here



More of this project can be found in the article Growing in Greece.
Republished here with kind permission from the publishers, A-1 Publishers.
Image credit: author, A-1 Publishers.


This is part of The Learned Pig’s Tuin Stemmen (Garden Voices) editorial season, autumn-winter 2018/19. Guest editor: Marloe Mens.


The Learned Pig


Dimitra Charamandas

Dimitra Charamandas followed the Bachelor of Arts at Lucerne University of Applied Science and Arts in 2013. She has been working independently ever since and is currently living and working in between Switzerland and Greece.