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


Our hands remained empty;

they have rubbed on the unshaven chin

of the wind a thousand times

they have grasped the barbwire a thousand times

they have touched the frozen railings of death

a thousand times.

Our hands grew knots from using the spade, from

pounding the rocks, from battle and

more so from handshaking;

they now grasp things with certainty.

The wind of the house and mother’s shadow

were two soft gloves, two woollen gloves

that warmed our hands, didn’t let us

grab flesh to flesh the hands of others.

Now the gloves ripped, we use them

to make gauzes to cover the wounds

        of our comrades

we use them to wash and clean our plates,

utensils and mess cauldrons.

Our hands remained empty;

got used to work, silence, aiming;

they held the cock of anger up and down many

          a time

they cut and cut again the bread of patience with

          a pocket knife

they hit face on the wall and the night.

Now our hands, totally empty, rest on our knees

like the sun over the mountain

like the mountain over the sea

like the comrade’s heart over its resolve.

These are the hands of the communists.

When they squeeze your hand you know that all

the world capitals are lighted behind the night

when they carry buckets of sea water up the hill

you know that tomorrow the sun and the sea are theirs

you know that the heavy sack with the stones feels

           light in their hands

because, always, Freedom carries half of the weight.

These are the hands of the comrades.

Empty hands, exposed veins of naked hands

like the railroad rails on the world map.

Empty hands, the line of night was erased in

          their fists.

They hold the fate of the world in their fists.

These are the hands of the comrades.


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