nicole and the ancient greeks

Posted: August 13, 2015 in karen connelly
Tags: , , , ,


Cry out her name
from the tops of buildings
your lungs

Write her that invitation
to the party (though you may regret it)
address it:

Also known as Nike. Expensive runners.
Most kids in this neighbourhood
cannot afford to buy them
though they steal, sometimes, Nikes.
Why not?
Sometimes you’d do anything
for a pair of shoes to prove
your right to walk
on this sidewalk
in this city
in this country
on this sweet, bloody earth.

Niki : ancient Greek for victory.
That’s why the shoe merchants
wanted the word, they wanted
to drink the old power, kiss Niki,
goddess of Victory.
A girl she was (not a god)
known for guiding the horses
of conquerors.
In the very beginning, Niki
drove Zeus’s chariot in his early battle
against the Titans. Which he won.

The rest is history.
Athena, goddess of war
and wisdom, loved her.
I can be honest.
I, too, want to return
to these ancient origins.
My own beginning.
Don’t you?

Though you can’t remember
seeing it then,
both you and I—every one of us–
had the small innocent face,
empty eyes, simple smiles.
Oh, return me, Niki, to the early days
without evil, when victory was still in the future,
when none of us knew
what it would cost.

Nicole! Nicola!
The ‘le’ and ‘la’
derives also from Greek
laos for ‘people.’
Victory of the people.
The people’s victory!

Shout it
from the tops of roofless
buildings in countries
with ever-changing names,
whisper it quietly from the middle
of a mattress where your son and your daughter
lie exhausted on either side of you,
their faces taut even in sleep,
even in sleep—how can it be?—
waiting for the mortars.

Victory of the people.
Yes, she was beautiful.
But a liar, too.
More trouble, with her marching and flags,
than she was worth. Travelled a lot.
Still does. Drags her plans across the continents.
Manifestos, speeches, drone-maps, IED’s, rivers
of refugees caught below her on the mountainside
in a wake of burnt-out jeeps and tanks
and walls and human flesh tracked with bullet holes
like worms through wood, an almost-beautiful
decoration of wreckage, broken-off edges,
the blood sinking up, somehow,
through the blankets, into the bed sheets,
so it seems as though the children
lay sleeping in a bed of poppies

Karen Connelly is the author of ten books of best-selling nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. She has won the Pat Lowther Award for her poetry, the Governor General’s Award for her non-fiction, and Britain’s Orange Broadband Prize for New Fiction for her first novelThe Lizard Cage. Published in 2005, The Lizard Cage was compared in the New York Times Book Review to the works of Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, and Mandela, and hailed in the Globe and Mail as “one of the best modern Canadian novels.” Her latest book is a memoir in poetry called Come Cold River. Her next book, The Change Room, is a novel about adulterous lesbian sex and heterosexual housecleaning. It will be published next year.

She can be found at

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  1. No wonder Karen is an award winning writer – this is a wonderful piece – fun!


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