BY YANNIS RITSOS
Those trees are not made for a lesser sky,
those rocks are not made for the heels of strangers,
those faces are made only for the sun,
those hearts are made only for justice.
This place is as harsh as silence,
clasps its fiery stones to its breast,
clasps in light its orphaned olive trees and vineyards,
clenches the teeth. There is no water-only light.
The road is lost in light and the shadow of the wall is iron.
Trees, rivers and voices have turned to marble in the whitewash of the sun.
The root stumbles on the marble. The dusty lentisks.
The mule and the rock. They gasp. No water .
All are thirsty. For years now. All chew a mouthful of sky to choke down their bitterness.
Their eyes are red from the vigil
a deep line wedged between their eyebrows
like a cypress between two mountains at sunset.
Their hand is glued to the gun
the gun is an extension of their arm
their arm is an extension of their soul—
they have wrath upon their lips
and grief, deep deep within their eyes,
like a star in a salt pit.
When they tighten their grip, the sun is certain for the world
when they smile, a small swallow flees from within their fierce beards
when they sleep, twelve stars fall from heir empty pockets
when they are killed, life marches up high with banners and with drums.
For so many years all are hungry, all are thirsty, all are killed
besieged by land and sea,
scorching heat devoured their fields and the brine drenched their houses
the wind knocked down their doors and the few lilac trees in the square
death comes and goes through the holes in their overcoats
their tongues are as acrid as cypress cones
their dogs died wrapped in their shadows
the rain beats down on their bones.
Stone-still in their lookouts, they smoke cow dung and the night
and keep watch over the frenzied sea where
the broken mast of the moon has sunk.
The bread gone, the bullets gone
now they load their cannons only with their hearts.
So many years besieged by land and sea
all are starved, all are killed, and no one has died—
in their lookouts their eyes glow
an enormous banner, an enormous fire flame-red
and at every dawn thousands of doves soar out of their hands
toward the four gates of the horizon.
Each time night falls with the singed thyme at the bosom of the rock
there's a drop of water that for ages now digs to the marrow of silence
there's a bell hung from the old plane tree and it cries out the years.
Sparks sleep lightly on the cinders of desolation
and the roofs ponder the gilded down on the upperlip of July
—yellow down like the cornsilk smoked by the sorrow of sunset.
The Holy Virgin lies down amid the myrtles with her wide skirt stained by grapes.
On the road a child cries and is answered from the plain by the ewe who has lost her little ones.
Shade at the spring. The water in the barrel is ice cold.
The farrier's daughter with soaked feet.
Bread and olives on the table,
the lantern of the evening star in the vine-trellis
and high up there, turning on its spit, the galaxy gives off aromas
of sizzling fat, garlic and pepper.
Oh, what starbright of silk will still be needed
for the pineneedles to embroider "This, too, will pass" into the singed wall of summer
how much longer will the mother wring her heart over the slaughter of her seven brave lads
before the light finds its way up the steep road of her soul?
This bone that emerges from the earth
measures yard by yard the earth and the strings of the lute
and the lute and violin from evening to daybreak
tell their sorrows to the mint and pinetrees
and the riggings on the ships vibrate like strings
and the sailor drinks the bitter sea from the cup of Odysseus.
Ah, who then will block the entrance and which sword will cut the courage
and what key will lock the heart, its window-shutters wide open
as it watches the star-sown gardens of God?
Great is the hour, like Saturday nights in May at the sailors' tavern
great is the night, like the pan on the tinker's wall
great is the ballad, like the bread at the sponge-fisher's supper.
And there, the Cretan moon rushes downhill on the shingles
tap, tap, with twenty rows of cleats on its boots
and there they are, those who go up and down the stairs of Náfplion
filling their pipes with coarse-cut leaves of darkness,
their moustaches, star-sprinkled thyme of Roúmeli
and their teeth like pine-roots in the rock and salt of the Aegean.
Into the chains they went and into the fire, they talked with the stones
they treated Death to raki in their grandfather's skull;
on those same Threshing-Floors they met Digenis and sat down to dinner
slicing their sorrow in two, just as they broke their barley-loaves on their knees.
Come, lady of the briny lashes, with smoke-gilded hand
from the care of the poor, and from the many years—
love awaits you among the rushes
in his cave the seagull hangs your blackened icon
and the embittered sea urchin kisses your toenail.
Within the black grape of the vineyard the must bubbles bright-red
the berry bubbles in the burnt holly
in the earth, the root of the dead asks for water to bring forth a fir tree
and a mother holds tight a knife beneath her wrinkles.
Come, lady who broods over the golden eggs of the thunder,
when, on which sea-blue day will you remove your kerchief and take up arms again
so that May's hail will strike your forehead
so that the sun will burst like a pomegranate in your homespun apron
so that alone you will divide him seed by seed among your twelve orphans
so that the sea will glitter all around, like the blade of the sword and April's snow,
so that the crab will emerge onto the pebbles to sun himself and cross his claws.
Over here the sky doesn't sap the oil of our eyes even for a moment
over here the sun shoulders half the weight of the rock we're always lifting on our backs.
Roof tiles break without gasp under the knee of noon
people walk ahead of their own shadows like the dolphins before the caiques of Skiathos
later their shadow becomes an eagle that dyes his wings in the sunset
and later still perches on their heads and thinks of the stars
when they lie down on the sun porch amidst the black raisin.
Over here every door has a name carved on it, a name some three thousand years old
every rock has painted on it a saint with wild eyes and rope-like hair
every man has a red mermaid tattooed on his left arm, stitch by stitch
every girl has a fistful of salted light under her skirt
and the children have five or six small golden crosses on their hearts
like gulls' tracks on the afternoon sand.
You don't have to remember. We know it.
All trails lead to the Upper-Threshing-Floors. Up there the air's sharp.
When the Minoan fresco of sunset frays in the distance
and the fire in the haylofts of the shore dies out
the old women climb up this far on the steps carved in the rock
they sit on the Great Rock and spin the sea like thread with their eyes
they sit and count the stars as if they were counting their heirloom silverware
and down they climb late in the day to feed their grandchildren the gunpowder of Messolonghi.
Yes, truly, the Chained One has such sad hands in shackles
but his eyebrow stirs above his bitter eye like a rock that's always about to come loose.
From deep down the wave arises that heeds no entreaties
from way up high, the air rolls down with resin in its vein and sage in its lung.
Ah, it'll blow once to sweep the orange trees of memory
ah, it'll blow twice so the iron rock will strike a spark like a percussion cap
ah, it'll blow three times and drive the fir woods mad in Liákoura
and strike a blow with its fist smashing tyranny to pieces
and jerk the bear of night by her nose ring to dance for us a tsámiko on the bulwarks
and the moon will play the tambourine till the islands' balconies are filled with crowds of
half-awakened children and Souliot mothers.
A messenger arrives every morning from the Great Ravine,
on his face the sweaty sun shines
under his arm he holds on firmly to Romiosyni
as the worker holds on to his cap in church.
The time has come, he says. Be ready.
Each hour belongs to us.
With the hungry man's disdain they marched straight ahead into the dawn,
in their motionless eyes a star had congealed
on their shoulders they carried the wounded summer.
The army passed through here, banners next to the skin
clenching obstinance in their teeth like an unripe wild pear
with the sand of the moon in their boots
and the coaldust of night stuck in their nostrils and ears.
Tree by tree, rock by rock they passed through the world
with thorns as pillows they passed through sleep.
In their two parched hands they carried life like a river.
With each step they'd win another fathom of sky-to give it away.
In their lookouts they'd turn stone-still like burnt trees
and when they danced in the square
ceilings shook in the houses and glassware rattled on the shelves.
Ah, what song jolted the mountaintops—
between their knees they held the platter of the moon and they'd eat
and they'd break the sigh in the depths of their hearts
as they would crush a louse between their two thick fingernails.
Who'll bring you now the warm loaf of bread in the night so you can feed the dreams?
Who'll keep the cicada company in the shadow of the olive tree so the cicada won't fall silent
now that the whitewash of noon paints the wall of the horizon all around
erasing their great manly names?
This earth was fragrant at dawn
this earth that was both theirs and ours-their blood-what aromas the earth gave off!—
and now how is it that our vineyards have locked their door to us
how has the light thinned out on roofs and trees
who can bear to say that half lie beneath the earth,
the other half in chains?
With so many leaves the sun bids you a good-day
with so many banners the sky shines
and yet these men are in chains and those in the ground.
Keep quiet-any moment now the bells will toll.
This earth is theirs and ours.
Beneath the earth, in their crossed hands
they hold the bellrope waiting for the hour, they do not sleep, they never die
waiting to sound the resurrection. This earth
is theirs and ours-no one can take it from us.
In the afternoon they sat under the olive trees
sifting the ashy light with their thick fingers
they took off their cartridge belts and figured how much toil could fit into the path of night
how much bitterness in the knots of the wild mallow
how much courage into the eyes of the barefoot child who was holding the flag.
The last swallow had lingered too long on the plain,
was hovering in the air like a black band on the sleeve of autumn.
Nothing else remained. Only the burnt-out houses smoldered still.
Those lying under the rocks left us some time ago,
their shirts torn and their oath written on the fallen door.
No one cried. We had no time. But the silence quickly widened
and the light down on the beach was neat and tidy like the household of the murdered woman.
What'll happen to them now when the rain seeps into the ground
with the rotting leaves of the plane tree？
what'll happen when the sun dries on the cloud's blanket
like a crushed bedbug on the farmer's bed
when the stork of snow stands embalmed on the chimney in the evening?
The aged mothers cast salt in the fire, scatter earth over their hair
they uproot the vineyards of Monemvasia lest even one black grape sweeten the enemy's mouth
they put their grandfathers' bones along with the silverware into a sack
and wander outside the walls of their homeland searching for a place to sink roots in the night.
Now it'll be hard for us to find words less powerful, less stony than that of the cherry tree—
those hands that stayed in the fields or on the mountains or under the sea do not forget—
it'll be hard for us to forget their hands
hard for the hands that got callouses from the trigger to ask a daisy
to say thank you on their knees, on a book, on the starlight's breast.
It'll take time. And we must speak up.
Until they find their bread and their justice.
Two oars stuck in the sand at dawn in the storm. Where' s the boat?
A plow thrust into the ground and the wind blows.
The ground's burnt. Where' s the plowman?
The olive tree, the vineyard and the house---ashes.
Stingy night with her stars in a sock.
Dry bay leaves and oregano in the wall cupboard. Untouched by the fire.
A blackened kettle in the fireplace---only the water boiling
in the locked-up house. They had no time to eat.
On the burnt door-leaf the veins of the forest---blood flows in the veins.
And there's the familiar step. Who is it?
The familiar step with the spikes, climbing.
The crawling of the root in the rock. Someone's coming.
The password, the countersign. A brother. Good evening.
So then, the light will find its trees, and one day the tree will find its fruit.
The flask of the dead man still has water and light.
Good evening, my brother. You know it. Good evening.
In her wooden hut old Lady Sunset sells spices and thread.
No one's buying. They made for the high ground.
Hard now to come down.
Hard even to tell their height.
On the threshing-floor where the brave young men ate one night,
olive pits and the dried blood of the moon are left
along with the folk meter of their guns.
The next day the sparrows ate the crumbs from their bread ration,
from matches that lit their cigarettes and the thorns of the stars, the children made toys.
And the rock on which they sat under the olive trees in the afternoon, facing the sea,
will become quicklime in the kiln tomorrow,
the day after tomorrow we'll whitewash our houses and the doorstep of St. Savior
the day after that we'll plant the seed where they slept
and a pomegranate bud will burst like a baby's first laugh at the breast of sunshine.
And later still we'll sit on the rock to read all their hearts
as if we were reading for the first time the history of the world.