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


Poor besieged neighbourhood. The cloths on the cloths-line

resemble the ravaged flags of life. The damp colours shine

in the sunshine and the honest patches on the elbows and

the knees on the inside shirts and underwear — like freshly

painted skylights — if you look inside,

you’ll find each of them in its place, strong and enduring —

our neighbourhood travels with its cloths on the cloths-line

in the sunshine like a ship decorated with flags during

the fifteenth of August celebration in Tinos.

Then Alex sat on the stairs of the foreign house

and said: I love our group so much that I feel like crying

and he wiped his shoes with his hand.

And we felt the urge to kiss his dusty hands.

They killed Alex. When we pass that place in the evening

we see our motherland sitting at those same stairs

with its wiped shoes.

We are not afraid anymore. We’ll surely break down the door.

The factory closed. The young girls return from work.

Their lunch tins are carefully wrapped in cloth-napkins.

               As they pass

a smell of forest remains on the road as if spring is three

                steps behind them.

The girls have grown, they’ve become serious. They don’t laugh

                on their way anymore.

Their eyes are large and brotherly.

They kneed our anger and sorrow in their empty troughs. The stars

stir over the roof with a soft stir like sugar in the paper bag.

We’ll have flour day after tomorrow, we say, and sugar and

these girls will kneed the church bread offerings, large, round

and splattered with icing sugar and stamped not with those stamps

with the Byzantine letters but with their own hands, thin and

strong, with the hands that were schooled in the sorrow

of the whole world. 

                                                                     Athens 1941—1942



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