Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Hands of Comrades

Yannis Ritsos

Our hands remained bare.
Our hands were scraped a thousand times
upon the unshaven jaw of the wind,
a thousand times they caught on the barbed-wire,
a thousand times they brushed up against
the icy railings of Death.

Our hands grew calloused from the pick-ax, from the stone, from the struggle,
from rubbing our palms together so often.
But now they hold certain things better.

The wind through the house and our mother's shadow
had been two soft gloves, two woolen gloves,
that kept our hands warm — but they kept us
from ever holding someone else's hand against our skin.

Once those gloves were torn—
we found them useful as bandages for our wounded comrades,
we found them useful as dishrags for soup spoons and cauldrons in the mess hall.

Our hands remained bare.
They learned about work, about silence, about scars.
They went up and down countless times, the iron-rooster of anger.
They went back and forth with a knife, slicing the round loaf of patience.
They pounded against our foreheads, the walls, and the night.

Now, completely bare, our hands rest on our knees,
like the sun that rests on the mountains,
like the mountains that rest on the sea,
like the hearts of comrades that rest on their beliefs.

These are the hands of Communists.

When they clasp your hand, you suddenly understand how all the cities can be lit with electric lights behind the night.
When they lug buckets of seawater straight up steep slopes
you understand how tomorrow and the sun and the sea are from their hands,
you understand why the burlap bags full of stones move light as air in their hands —
because, always, Freedom carries at least half the burden.

These are the hands of comrades.

These bare hands, their blue veins
are like railway lines on a map of the world.
Even though the lines of good fortune in their palms have been censored,
it's in these bare hands that the future of the world is kept safe.

These are the hands of Communists.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 297-298]

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