Martin Burke – The Steps of Agia Galine

Digital StillCameraMartin Burke was born in Limerick. Burke is a long term resident of Flanders where he is active as poet and playwright (and sometimes actor) and from where he has published sixteen books of his work in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Belgium -the latest work being BLAKE/LONDON/BLAKE published by the Feral Press, New York.



By Martin Burke 

It was on October the fourth that Robert H- felt that his dream, his lifelong dream of being a published writer, was about to be realised.

The idea for the story which would achieve this was stunning in its simplicity –he would
write a story based on the many steps it takes to climb from the lower half to the upper half
of Agia Galine, in which the protagonist counts out the remaining minutes of his life –equal
to the number of steps he would have to take.

Carefully, in a fine but not-too-florid script (he didn’t want to be thought of as possessing
a script suggestive of an unsuccessful poet) he wrote out: He stopped at the twenty-first
step and looked behind him.

He stopped.
The sentence was accurate, rightly weighed between the tangible and the possible; a good
beginning had been made.
They remained of the steps, and they were far more than twenty-one, rose steeply before
him towards the hotel where he was lodging.
Already he was out of breath.
Another twenty-one or a longer pause?
He choose the pause.
Better to stop and think.
Better to stop before thinking.
Better to stop.

He was rightfully pleased.
A good beginning.
And a good beginning was everything.
Carefully he closed his notebook and went to bed feeling content.
By morning the remainder of the story was clear in his mind.

The protagonist would be a writer whose best days would be behind him. There had been
success. There had been novels. There had been plays. There had been fulsome reviews.
Now however he was a historical reference but not a living figure in the literary world. He
was spoken of with a guarded degree of respect but was spoken of in the past tense.

Which was why he had come to Crete.
If he was history then he would touch the source of history. If he was a creature of the past
then he would go to the living past and renew himself.
It was a ‘bolt of inspiration’; it was not a thought-out position. The idea came to him that
Crete would renew him in the flesh as much as it would renew him in the mind and out of
this meeting a new work, a rejuvenated self would come to be again the living name he
once had been.
Agia Galine was the perfect village for his purpose, and the steps (which he knew well)
would be the central symbol of a life that reached its destination in the realisation that
would grow on the writer as he walked towards the heavens.

He had no name for the writer. He didn’t even know if he should have one. Perhaps the
anonymous every man of his thoughts should be that –a nameless every man carrying the
burden of turning flesh into spirit and spirit into flesh on behalf of a disbelieving society. This appealed to him. This gave dimension and possibilities which the limitations of a name
would deny him.
Yes, every man mounting the steps of his own ascent from mud to sky.
And the steps, every one of them, would equal the remaining minutes of his life.
Self-realisation would come at the top but with it would come the perfection which death,
and only death, could offer. This added poignancy to the tale and so much the better he
thought for that would lift it past realism into tragedy.
A Greek tragedy.
An everyday tragedy that was recognisable as destiny.

He got out of bed, turned on his computer and began to write the story which was swelling
within him as he wrote and which seemed to write itself.
This amazed him and confirmed his original thought. The story was writing itself and he was only a reed through which a fine wind was blowing.
This was stupendous.
The story, far from being the workings of his fertile mind, was a necessity which had chosen him to enter the world through.
He wrote through the morning. He typed with all the speed that was his to command in an
attempt to keep up with the vision of inspiration which was vivid before him.
Crete, the village, the harbour –what symbolic importance they assumed on the page. What importance that assumed in his life.

Slowly his protagonist climbed the steep steps to the upper half of the village. Slowly as he
did so did he grow into the realisation of himself as a figure in a mythical landscape. The
landscape was vivid. The harbour was silent. The sea was blue. The steps inviting. By the
time he reached the final step his heart stopped.

By midday it was finished. Eleven closely typed pages with nothing needed to be corrected
nor amended for the story told him it was finished.
He showered and shaved.
He ate breakfast.
H was satisfied with the world.

It was Saturday, a free day, time to go to the newsagents and buy a copy of the Standard
Newspaper and read the literary pages.

He was shattered. On the first page of the magazine supplement was a story by the famous
writer C- which began: He stopped at the twenty-first step and looked behind him. The story ran to eleven closely typed pages and was titled The Steps of Agia Galine
He shuffled home to his apartment which was on the fifth floor –a steep stairs that had to
be taken because the lift was broken.
He climbed the stairs, or began to climb but regularly stopped and looked behind him. Then turning once more he resumed the climb. It was as if he was travelling from mud to the sky but already his heart was breaking and he knew he would have to finish that climb to where the stairs ended before him.

©Martin Burke 2013


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