Friday, February 20, 2009

Our Children

Yannis Ritsos

These children go completely naked for hours,
lice of stars crawl upon their underclothes,
and at night, hawks lay eggs in their shoes.

Each Sunday when they dress they put on a pair of plane trees for pants,
a small almond shirt,
their handkerchief made from the sea, a cloth cap made from the wind,
in their eyes are mountains, a river, and a forest.

The buttons on their jackets are acorns,
they slice the round loaf of their longing with their pocket knives,
they dine off stones, they drink in the sky,
and in their bowels it all gets mixed up.
The month of May hand in hand with December.

They have strong arms, stout voices and the will of mules. They won't back down.
They're dutiful children.
They know how to say struggle, how to say duty. Headstrong,
though they can't grow a beard on their obligations.

When it grows rose colored in the late afternoon around the tent,
when beyond the quietness the first gunshots of the evening star are heard,
they stand on the stone with their legs apart, transfixed,
they clench their fists inside their pockets
and make their way uphill for the evening roll-call
dragging their shadows behind them like a leashed lion.

Later on, after the evening rations, as the wind calms down,
the hour when night's goldfish glide between their toes,
they watch the distant town of Lavrios turn on its lights,
they load their eyes like bullets into the cartridge clip of the Milky Way
and they, the still ones, move toward their tent.

Mikalis stood in the doorway,
looking somewhere off in the distance.
He said, "They are fighting for us."

We didn't speak. We lit the lamp.

from Petrified Time (1949) [Collected Poems: Τα Επικαιρικα --- pg 285-286]

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