London Grip Poetry Review – Stelios Mormoris



Poetry review – PERISHABLE: Charles Rammelkamp reviews a collection of lyrical narratives by Stelios Mormoris


Stelios Mormoris 
Leapfolio, 2024
ISBN: 978-1-946507-16-7
64 pp     $19.95

Ranging around the world from Paris to New York to Martha’s Vineyard, from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, to San Francisco, to Baltimore and elsewhere, Stelios Mormoris’s poems take in a wide range of scenes and characters and emotions, all detailed in lyrical verses that are simply a pleasure to read aloud. Take this snatch of verse from “It Is My Revolution,” a poem set in the Castro district of San Francisco, heart of that city’s gay community, dedicated to the first generation of LGBTQ+ activists. He writes of the ‘rodeo of radios’ wrangling guitars,

             and distant grist of mariachi bands
           while drag queens stride down Market 
             Street with streamers of melon and lime 
            attached to their arms like fluttery fins.

Very vivid and musically rendered with the sibilants, the consonance and the off-rhymes of words. This sort of writing occurs throughout Perishable, a stylistic characteristic of Mormoris’ poetry, euphonious, a delight to read.

The section titles of Stelios Mormoris’s pensive collection of poems – “Lamentations,” “Flora Mortis” (“corpse flower” – the smell of death) and “Perishable” – already clue us in to the themes and tone of the poems, subdued, resigned, reflective. He writes of more than one funeral, coffin, graveyard, death – “The Mourner,” “Vespers,” “Party at the Mercer” (‘the gully in the cornfield / that cradled your father dead as stone.’), “Arrangements,” “Ken & Barbie” (‘Mama’s shiny hickory casket’), the title poem, “Perishable,” a memory of his late grandfather, “Sigh:” – but Mormoris is also vividly carnal, as in the description of a sexual encounter in the poem, “Jingle-Jangle,” his lover warning him to

            not cry like a dog
            despite your murderous 
            tits and full mouth, and glittery nails
            that pattered on the hollow 
            of my back when I entered you with abandon,
            when you came before I did
            and the sky turned coral,
            blooming like a bird of paradise.

Indeed, the word “blooming” suggests another potent theme of the collection, gardening, which recurs throughout Perishable, as in “In the Roses” and even “Mushrooms.” Mormoris’ grandfather was a gardener, a fact which features in the eponymous poem. Even the book’s lovely epigraph, from Etta James’ song, “At Last” — ‘My heart was wrapped up in clover, / the night I looked at you.’

“Mushrooms” is one of a number of poems on closely-observed phenomena (“Watermelon” is another), with flamboyantly descriptive language: ‘I thumbed the velour gills / of its underside flecked to a lighter gray.’ “Eau de Parfum” vividly evokes smells (Mormoris, a citizen of Greece who grew up in New York City, is the CEO of SCENT BEAUTY, Inc.). While stirring a velouté sauce, the poet recalls various scents, ‘her last perfume, / l’heure bleue, mixed / with hillside laurel…’ and conjures other scents along the way – roses and bourbon, burnt toast, rosemary, laundry on the line, gasoline fumes from an idling car, wild jasmine. “Indigo” muses about the constellations in the night sky. ‘Cobalt light on driven rivers, / flute notes floating in veils of wind.’ The speaker stands in the darkness, unable to identify the star patterns.

“Ode to Herringbone” at first reads like a lyrical description of the familiar herringbone pattern – ‘an elegant ziggurat, not quite / ninety degrees but forty-five, // dash to slash, awry to askew…’ – but turns with dramatically at the end of the poem, indeed, like the zigzag of the herringbone:

            like the blustery day I met you
                   and discerned a pattern beneath

            the pattern I squinted to decipher,
                  testing my eye- and foresight
            as you betrayed your grains and hues.

A number of poems follow spectral characters, as if the poet is a flaneur observing the people around him. “Ballerina,” “Spangled,” in which the poet follows a colorfully dressed woman he encounters in Times Square (‘perhaps an extra in a matinée?’ he wonders, ‘or call girl as my mother would say?’), “Homage to Weeds,” “The Mourner,” “Old Girl,” a poem about a homeless prostitute, are among these. “Homage to Weeds” includes this priceless image:

            the petals’ unfurling fringe soft as the hem
            on the check-out girl in fishnets

            who mouthed kill me at the start of every prayer.

Fishing and the sea are another recurring theme. “The Stream” (‘Elliptic slips of rainbow / along a braid in the stream’), “Crossing” (‘A coral-tinted / sunset seethes / in ribs of sea’), “Yia Yia,” about his grandmother, all involve the ocean in one way or another.

The penultimate poem, “The Quarrel” is an amusing if ghastly poem about an overheard argument that gathers together all of these threads of poetic sound and seedy image. It starts:

            Out of nowhere—who
                  knew on such an indigo
            night, laced with jasmine?
                  —the quarrel crept in
            like an uninvited guest,
                  drunk, poorly dressed—
            crashing the crush
                  of crystal clinks, lush
            conversation and proper
                  small talk—to find theater.
            We huddled to sofas,
                  like a litter of commas. 

What an image, a litter of commas! “Perishable,” the final poem, in which, as a six-year-old boy, the poet drives around Oyster Bay, New York, with his eighty-six-year-old grandfather as he goes about his gardening duties, distils these threads of death and life that we’ve seen throughout the collection – the brevity of life, its sweet sensations – like Keats’ line in “Ode on Melancholy”: ‘glut they sorrow on a morning rose.’ His grandfather could ‘peer into the souls of flowers,’ Mormoris reflects,

	and how these blooms hadn’t a care, lived for a day, sang their hearts out
	then molted into oblivion to flags flapping in the harbor

Perishable is a tour de force of storytelling and lyrical emotion.