Poem of the Month: ‘Etymology in the Buffer Zone’ by Claire Wong

This piece is part of our ongoing series ‘Poem of the Month’. Every month, the Writer’s Edit team selects their favourite submission and provides detailed feedback to the author.

Stay tuned for an interview with Claire Wong, discussing her inspirations and literary influences.


Etymology in the Buffer Zone by Claire Wong

the windows are still wide open

in an empty quarter

where the creak-clack of shutters

wards off the stillness of dust settled on streets


now reporters press their noses to the fence

look for trite echoes of Olympus in the barbed wire

then take coffee and baklava at a table

where their notebooks sit, waiting and blank


and the sea expands too dark, too deep

in a colour whose name must lie

up to the skyline – ultramarine

‘Beyond the sea’

ultra, ulterior, ultimate

the bluest harbourer of submerged secrets

marine, marina, mariner

vast and alone


the windows are still wide open

in fixed tribute to a seventies summer day

a rumble, a rumour over breakfast

but Eleni lays out the plates for her mother

watched from the wall by the twin frames of a shining haloed Mary

and Eris with her golden apple

surveying the towers of Troy


the returning tourist’s head is more full of the orange trees

than talk of the crisis

‘the turning point in a disease’

krisis, chrysalis

whatever emerges from the trouble

krino, krinein, crinkle in the crinoline


she knocked a bowl on the way out to the car

the sound of its shattering

jolted her, as if something more violent

and the hasty promise to her mother

she would pick up the crockery shards herself

as soon as they came back

but that was forty years ago


now, on shorelines rust red or in glimmering mists

a tourist with footprints like Teucer’s

the wandering son

far from his homeland

who seeks a new place to dig furrows for foundations

o my child, my child, where are you now?

perhaps all these cities are only for a time

and we are always rebuilding Salamis

nil desperandum, now set the sails

despero, de-spero, de-sperate, disperse


remember Odysseus, her brother would say

when he found her, nose against the nearest pane

just for the sake of looking outward

beyond the sea – ultramarine

he made it home to wide-open windows

but the storms, the magic, the adventure

the Phaeacian treasures and enchanted feasts

were all in his journey

remember that, he would say

and don’t think of the windows


on a remote rocky clifftop

Teucer and Odysseus sit with their faces to the wine-dark sea

singing the old songs

and telling the eager writers

who make the trek up the coast path to their haunt

looking for some clever new vantage-point

‘no comment’

‘we were only heroes, we didn’t have the answers.’

and they clunk together their tankards

watching travellers unpack their tales on the sands

Claire Wong

Claire Wong studied Classics at the University of Oxford. She now works in PR & Communications, a surprising leap from her early career when she landed herself a job in a graveyard. She lives in a two hundred year old stone cottage in the north of England, and can normally be found sitting in the garden with a notebook, pen and cup of tea.

Recent Posts