Yannis Ritsos – Poems, Selected Books, Volume II, Second Edition

OUR OLD MEN

Every so often we get new boatloads of old men

from Peloponese and Central Hellas and

northern from Trikala, and Macedonia;

thin, heavy boned old men with white moustaches and

         flokati*

they smell of cow dung and soil

evening sheep bleating in their eyes

shadows of plain tree leaves hang off their hair

they talk just a little, sometime at all

yet, from time to time you see then as relatives

of spruces when they raise their eyes from the soil

and see behind our shoulders.

When evening light floods the tents

and the wind entangles its moustache on the thyme bush

when the sky descends from the rocks straddling memory

             with the boot nails of stars

and death saunters silently out of the barbwire

we see them in groups of three or five

like the old days in the powder storage rooms of Messologi.

Then, you don’t know, as they gather in the yard

        of the evening, unshaven, speechless

you can’t tell as they light their lighters

whether it is to light their cigarettes

or to fire up the fuse of the dynamite.

These old men don’t talk.

Their children joined the guerillas.

These old men hid their hearts in the mountain

like a keg of dynamite.

They have a benevolent tree next to their eyes

a strong eagle between their eyebrows

and an angry mule in their hearts;

a mule that can’t take the injustice

and now they stay here in Makronisos

in the opening of the tent, opposite the sea

like lions made of stone in the entrance of the night

with their nails stuck in the stones. They don’t talk.

They stare faraway at the reflection of Athens

they gaze at the Jordan River

holding tightly a stone in their soiled palms

clearly keeping the shells of stars in their eyes

maintaining a powerful silence in the pleats of their hearts

that silence which reigns before the thunderbolt.

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