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Vitosha, Water

It is remarkable that “water” has four of the same letters as “earth”. And where would the earth be without water? “Earth” has the same letters as “heart”. Without water, our heart would shrivel up.

What amazes me is the way it flows constantly. Even in the night, when I am not there. During the week. All the time until my next visit, it flows.

Sometimes it is blue, like the sky. Sometimes it is reddish brown, like a brick. Sometimes it takes on the colour of my shadow.

It is whatever is thrown at it. But sometimes it becomes a blur – too fast for my eyes to distinguish.

In the night, it is black – unless there is a moon, I imagine.

Water always finds a way – even if it has to go underground. Or fly through the air.

On Vitosha, I have seen it so calm it resembled a mirror. But I have also seen it rage after a storm. Then it is no longer transparent, it seems to boil.

We step on the land; without water, we would sink, as in a desert. Too much water, and we swim.

Water lies on a bed of gravel. And rests its head on rock pillows. It rises up from the rock. It slips through gaps. It causes us to build bridges – that is a good thing.

When it enters the air, it is smashed into smithereens.

Later, in the sea, it evaporates to fall on my head. Then I walk through a sauna. The water is so prevalent it climbs up my legs. I have sat in the car as it beat down with unusual ferocity. Still I got out.

I like it when it’s the mountain and me. Today I walked through the hordes, as if I came from another planet. Another age.

Water is most beautiful on the mountain. It is like a curtain. Or a seam. The mountain shudders. Sends the water tumbling. It resists – for now.

I know a secret place where I sit and watch it gleam.

27 August 2022

Text and photographs by Jonathan Dunne, photograph selection by Tsvetanka Elenkova.

Vitosha is the mountain that lies just south of Sofia, the Bulgarian capital.

Haven’t They Noticed My Absence Yet?

He fell asleep on the lilo

and woke up on the open sea.

How many missed calls are written on the phone buried in the sand?

Is there even a signal in this wild bay found after searching?

Will the sunset come quickly enough?

The burning on the open sea hurts more

than breathing in after laughter.

Haven’t they noticed my absence yet?

A friend affirms

the castaway has been saved already.

Terrible was the wandering sailor’s fate.

Haven’t they noticed my absence yet?

from The Heart Is Not a Creator (2013) by the Bulgarian poet Yordan Eftimov, translated by Jonathan Dunne

Liturgy

for Takis

Water

– H2O –

in reverse reads

O2H,

a combination of

Jesus Christ,

the Second Person of the Trinity (O2),

and the Holy Spirit

or breath (H)

I think about this

as I cut through

the water

on this our last morning

on Ithaca

The water is so still

that the morning pollen

is visible

– golden balls of fluff

sitting on the surface –

I head for the white buoy

on the left

then the orange

followed by three yellow

and one that is neither

orange nor yellow

but both

This is my length

my 50-metre swimming pool

my daily rule

Breaststroke

– if you have been taught properly –

is a mixture of prayer

work and

faith

You stretch out your arms

and turn your hands upwards

in prayer

You rotate your hands

in order to pull back

with strength

And your feet

have no solid base

they push against nothingness

they strike

into the void

Prayer, work and faith

In this watery version

of reality

all lines become crooked

wiggly

– the masts of the yachts

reflected in the water,

the ropes of the buoys,

the ripples of the waves –

there is no such thing

as a straight line,

which makes a mockery

of our passion

for laying claim

The buoys are like jack-in-the-boxes

on their springs

each coil

an individual ripple

like the ones

I created

when I entered the sea

and made the sign of the cross

on the water’s surface

sending ripples outwards

an arc of delight

a shiver on the surface

of reality

I swim up and down

I can do no more than this

Sometimes the sea is agitated

like the last two days

troubled

seemingly it has a surfeit

of us

it does not want us

in it

I can do nothing about

these circumstances

that turn against us

except hope

and swim

(prayer, work and faith)

until I crunch my knees

– suddenly all physical –

in the vicinity of

the beach

Jonathan Dunne, 1 July 2022

Jellyfish Sting

I swam

not with Tom Cruise,

not with Anthony Hopkins,

not with Kim Kardashian

but with a cormorant

fishing

in flips and furls

seemingly oblivious of me

as I cut silently

through the water

I start the day like this

– arms outstretched,

hands upturned,

palms white,

seeking the sun

and then I draw

a long arc

like Moses

watching the Israelites

fighting the Philistines

keeping God on their side

The sea is

an altar cloth

– an antimension –

which I open

and wipe with a sponge

I begin my prayer

above the water

“Lord Jesus Christ,

have mercy on me”

After a while

my prayer descends

I no longer enunciate

the words

as my mouth goes

below water

My mouth is now

the underside of the boat

(I have learned

something of

the spiritual life)

But when I turn

the sea changes

a dark cloak

has been cast over it

with coruscating

sequins

that prevent me

seeing

below the surface

A sudden

searing pain

wraps itself

around my wrist

I thought pain

was supposed to be

a knife

a spit

something driven in

not something wrapped around

an embrace

an arm around the shoulder

and what to do

when the threat

is your milieu

– you cannot get out

of it

except by swimming

to shore

you cannot stay still

Prayer is tossed

to the four winds

safety is the priority

now

and as I head

to the shore

another hidden enemy

still has time

to give me

a parting shot

On the beach

I accost some locals

unsure as yet

what has attacked me

Jellyfish,

they say

Then how do you swim?

I ask

The old Greek lady

gazes at me

through dark tinted

glasses

I can just make out

the pearls

of her eyes

We look,

she replies

Jonathan Dunne, 28 June 2022

Polis Bay

We swam to the little beach

where the cold water

was like

petrol on the surface

or someone had

dropped a slush puppie

We decided to swim

across the opening of the bay

despite the danger of

speedboats

yachts

catamarans

Tsveta panicked

because of a jellyfish

hanging in midwater

observing us from

a floor or two

below the surface

The water where it

became dark blue

was soft and warm

like a baby’s blanket

– not at all

the feared monster –

soft rolls of water

lapping against our faces

occasionally slapping my cheek

spitting in my ear

but only when I looked around

Eyes front,

they seemed to be telling me

A catamaran had entered

the bay

a sporty speedboat

made a pretence of

doing the same

only to exit just as quickly

A tease perhaps of fate

a distraction

a nick in the skin

of faith

The fact is

not a single boat

endangered our crossing,

unusually so in a bay

where speedboats

can come and go

every two minutes

What helped us across, I think,

was the reference of the beach

– Takis’ hut,

the end of the sunbeds,

the end of the beach,

only the rocks left

that line of primitive writing

that runs all around

this island of Ithaca

where we have arrived

and left again

Familiar landmarks

were staging posts

(there is no halfway point

and, even if there were,

it would have moved

by the time you got

to it

in this fluid

version of reality)

We aimed for the rocks

– the horse (or lion),

the kiss,

the wombs with a cross

and more writing

in them –

the rocks did not move,

only the water went

from dark blue

to turquoise green

to lemony

and I realised

I felt no fear

– no fear of the deep,

so deep you could not

see the bottom,

the bottom – like stabilisers,

like a father’s steadying hand –

had been removed

and God laughed

– I heard him –

lighting for us

a row of scintillating candles

pinpricks of light

on the sea’s surface

that were mirrored

from where we had come

Jonathan Dunne, 27 June 2022

The Name

That is what the verse, my verse,

that of the chosen poets, is for.

To give eternity to things.

Herein lies, then,

its true birth.

Oh, the anguish of baptizing you,

waiting for the right word

to appear!

Followed by the pain,

that ardent pleasure

of making the waiting time eternal.

It will come without its name,

naked, through the silence.

Oh, the anguish of baptizing you,

the glorious miracle of finding your name!

Because there are words that lived

only a moment

(the font, in the shade,

the luminous altar,

the invested poet),

there are also dead words

and others that live alone.

And words that throb

in the blood of a priest’s fingers.

And words to close the eyes of the dying.

And light words

that are carried by the wind.

You can live…

The name that like a blanket

will cover your body awaits you.

It will get in your blood,

it will get in your life,

in your gestures and your hours.

It will watch over your sleep.

You will have the same fragrance as your name,

which, in silence,

will always be making you,

and will be the only part of you

you take from this world.

from Shadow on Air by Grass (1959) by the Galician poet Luís Pimentel, translated by Jonathan Dunne