Thursday, November 13, 2008


Yannis Ritsos

So much time had passed. What we had brought with us from home
had holes, wore out, broke.

The sound of a door slamming on a sunlit day,
the voice that asked in the hallway, "How long will you be gone?"
the ivory comb a woman ran through her hair in front of a mirror,
the cigarette we shared by the window one spring evening
reaching for the tail of the Little Bear constellation,
the shadow of two hands beneath the lamp, falling between two plates of fruit —

we brought so many things with us in our bags —

the white socks worn one summer at the beach,
the white pants and athletic vest that made the torso of April look sharp,
the little pair of scissors our sister used to trim her nails on the window ledge,
and even the refracted light that trembled upon her cheeks and her hands.
Everything frayed, fell to pieces, wore out.
The scissors rusted. Their points broke off.
They looked like a dead swallow when laid upon the stone
beside the razor and the sea foam.
We hardly took notice, trimming our nails and our callous.
They were like a rusted key, no longer needed because the locks were broken.

We carried our belongings with us in our bags and suitcases.
Everything had holes, wore out. Not one thing was spared.

Nonetheless, now and then, when evening arrived
and the Little Bear, its lights hanging at the end of the prison tent,
dug its shallow den into the dry ground with its claws,
Petros or Basilis or old Antonis
rumaged through their bags, searching for a lost cup or spoon,
their hands moved slower and slower until they forgot what they were searching for
and the air encircled them motionless like olives in a jar
and the silence was audible like a millstone grinding water.

Then suddenly, we heard long forgotten sounds —
as if the scissors were cutting paper for gifts on Christmas eve,
as if the ivory comb was running through a woman's hair,
as if the toe nail we held up was a cigarette
we were offering to share with the moon.

We suspected there still might be hidden, deep in our suitcases,
beneath unwashed shirts and socks full of holes,
an embroidered towel from our far away, quiet homes
with the shadows of our beloved's hands upon it like two dried grape leaves.

It was very strange. And we wanted to cry.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 295-296]

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