Performance review


















The Single Individual

'My sorrow is my castle,' you said,
Built like an eagle’s nest upon the peak of a mountain,
A mountain lost in the clouds.'
Always inside your cabin
always beside yourself
writing the words
of a widowed soul
expensively tailored suits, cigars, top hats, dyed hair…
all disappeared
after the surprise of 'an indescribable joy'
wearing only black now
like a mourner camouflaged in the night:
bent over the page
in the flickering candlelight
trembling with fear
that time has run out.
       Above your desk, still hanging on the wall
      a fading Bucket List
      that begins, from the top:
      1. To believe.
      2. To dig down beyond the foundations, and put the question-marks there.
      3. To repent.
      4. To recover that word, ancient and buried
whose dead letters are never spoken or heard
a word silent and unknown: ineffable, incomprehensible
heretofore mispronounced and poorly translated
muffled by the bustle of the streets
to redeem it and finally utter it, with parrhesia
for 'purity of heart is to will one thing,' you often said
to beget a single new word, the password,
that makes life worth dying for
for you know well that even God
has only one Word to say, the Only-begotten, before all ages
through whom all things were made,
one word only to rescue from oblivion.
'But,' you asked,
What if everything in the world were a misunderstanding?'

The poem refers to Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Passages in quotation marks are from Kierkegaard’s works; 'an indescribable joy' is from a journal entry on his conversion experience of 1838.

Performance Review

After being shown in by the girly secretary into his spacious office

you were invited to sit in a corner chair
from where you stared at his polished black shoes
and his new brown cardigan.
For some reason he kept talking excitedly,
not about your recent abysmal performance
(which you feared would result in a stern warning at least, 
or perhaps a cut in wages, if not outright dismissal)
but about his injury playing sport with his kids yesterday
and the disruption this may cause to his upcoming vacation
with his wife to Barbados.
And you could see the whole family huddled together
within the picture frame on his desk
and you could see him returning home this afternoon
greeted with kiss and hug from wife and daughter
      as soon as he came through the door
then heading to the backyard to play ball with his son
until his wife calls them in for roast chicken
(you could almost smell the lemon and herbs)
then he takes care of the washing-up
helps the kids with their homework
complains to his wife about his job, as she does the same with him
until wearied, they lounge on the couch beside the fireplace
watching television and eating icecream
before tucking the kids into bed, then jumping into bed themselves
with a contentment that asks for little and is troubled by even less:
As he rattled off some numbers and displayed various charts
(no doubt proving your inefficiency and below-par output)
you wondered:
Is that what families are like? Is that what it’s like to have wife and children?
You left the office, dazed and confused
not even sure if you have a job anymore
becoming colder than ashes, deader than the deceased
though the beaming sun was beating your face
as if to mock you
as if to say
Tertium non datur
(there is no third way).

Letter to ‘Her’, Unsent

You and I
know the future well
but nobody believes us
or comprehends our state of our sin:
we are from strong fathers; cardboard mothers.

So go now
glue a smile to your face
and look away from me
contemplate instead these snow-covered buildings, with their sad rhetoric
and those barren women, with their brown-paper breasts.

      'The next day I saw that I had made a mistake.'
You too knew that day will come
regardless of these li(n)es I write
to ridiculize them, to apostrophize us, to liberate you
engulfed by torrents of sound
I am only translating words unheard (and unheeded)
as you throw your heart away, 
I sought the same
and I cannot help but think of you every day: 
I think of what you said to me once
that murky night, weary of living any longer
you decided to throw yourself into 
the river from the bridge
but at the crucial moment
it began to rain
and your heart came alive,
as did mine. 

I remember you asked me once,
Who is the ideal person to love? 
and I immediately replied,
Who else, but the one who makes you unhappy!
and you smiled.
But I could not stay…
      'I went to Berlin. I suffered exceedingly. I was reminded of her every day. To 
      this day without exception I have kept my resolve to pray for her at least 
      once a day, often twice, apart from thinking of her.'
Now I live in a spirit world, haunted, hunted.
I check the name-tag on my shirt.
I go to bed, afraid to wake up.
And I recall that twilight swoon
when we were sitting under a cherry tree in full bloom
I was staring at the peaceful lake
you turned to me and said: 'I can tell you’re writing a poem'
and I went along with you
though I was only thinking of how to leave. 

The poem refers to Kierkegaard and his broken engagement with Regine Olsen. The italicised quotations are taken from Kierkegaard’s journals.

Brian Doyle headshotN.N. Trakakis, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, had his collection of poetry and prose –
From Dusk to Dawn – published in 2012, and he has edited Southern Sun, Aegean Light: Poetry of Second-Generation Greek-Australians, published in 2011 by Australian Scholarly Publishing.

Boss image by Shutterstock.

Topic tags: N.N. Trakakis, poetry



submit a comment

Existing comments

To me, these poems speak of human fragility in all its authenticity. And reminds me of Shakespeare's sonnet 34 (a particular favourite) - the poet loves his friend not in spite of his imperfection, but in the midst of his imperfection. Where human frailty is most apparent, love most abounds.

Pam | 11 March 2014  

I really enjoyed these poems, which I found wistful, evocative, and an invitation to reflect on the nuances of the human heart and its affections and estrangements.

Jena Woodhouse | 12 March 2014  

Similar Articles

Dumb dealings in Nazi art war

  • Tim Kroenert
  • 13 March 2014

'If you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it's as if they never existed,' implores art scholar Frank Stokes. He subsequently leads a team of academics and artisans into World War II Germany on a mission to rescue important works of art from the Nazis. Great art possesses the power to move and inspire, and to document and critique a culture. But is the deadly mission worth the risk to life?


When the black lady sang

  • Maureen O'Brien
  • 12 March 2014

Soprano Deborah Cheetham was in her 30s when she was reunited with her birth mother. It was the beginning of her understanding of herself as a Yorta Yorta woman and member of the Stolen Generations. At the time she was in the throes of composing her opera, Pecan Summer, based on the 1939 protests by Aboriginals from the Cummeragunja Mission. She soon learned that the story was closer to her than she had realised.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up