Saturday, February 14, 2009

Little by Little

Yannis Ritsos

Little by little we learn about the world and about our hearts.
We try out words that have the same weight on everyone's lips:
words like mother
words like bread
words like comrade.

We cook beans and potatoes every day.
We carry water and stones,
we take turns cleaning the latrine
and we worked together on the ascent the handcart and our sweat

Because of this our hands have the same motions:
they search at night for silence and death,
they ball-up into fists in our pockets,
they study the lines of a rifle
the way they used to study the body of a woman,
they curl around the pole of our flag
the way they once curled around our mother's breast.

Because of this our eyes meet the same symbol seeing in the distance the sea
as when we go three or more days without water
and the water carriers still don't arrive
and Patience bites at her hands.

It is then that the same angry ship passes through every eye,
a ship which we all know well
full of containers, with dufflebags and flags.

Later on we don't speak at all.
The eyes understand without words.
Only that feet are kneading the mortar stronger
we will settle the bricks, we will build a wall around the tents,
we will escape the winter, from the rain and from the cold.
They are beautiful, these red-colored bricks
whole armies of bricks—perfectly square, they will dry in the sun
peacefully, serious, judicious—

So we are convinced, that our words must be made the same,
kneaded of the sea and the color red,
kneaded by the hard, angry feet of thirsty comrades,
we will let them dry in the sun and in the wind
for we will build plenty of songs to protect our heart from the rain and from the cold.

We don't speak.
The day before yesterday a comrade ate his knowledge and didn't give evidence,
another comrade cut off his own hand so as not to sign,
and yesterday they took another fourteen comrades away for questioning.

In the evenings we reflect upon the cries of those who have been summoned with severed thoughts,
some words are written out by a severed hand,
some common words like bread at the knees of the starving,
like the curse that bites all night long at the mouth of the wronged,
like the "ah" of mothers that light the small olive oil lamp above the three empty beds of children,
like the bitten bullet in the palm of the Democracy.

Moonlight falls through a hole in the tent as if it were a severed thought.
Still we aren't able to speak.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 293-294]

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