Áris Alexándrou (1922-1978), Poems 

Translated from the Greek by Yannis Goumas

ADVICE TO A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
There are always ways of avoiding prosecution
for instance if you’re suffering from something akin to melancholia
or ― ideally ― you write paranoid verses such as
“Soldiers have eyes to see with’
or “Sergeant, I’m colour blind; I see the target as my heart’.
There’s ways.
But if you’re now certain in your mind that through bribery
you’re paying for another to have his own way
collect from every corner what remains of your despair
and steady
and composed
as a prompter
go whisper the words that need be enounced
by prosecutors and court-martial officers.
When in jail don’t count the days.
As you observe the forecourt narrow bit by bit
it’s best for you to shorten your own stride.
Best also you should make light of reports.
Ceremonies, party turncoats and elections
probably have as much effect on the passage of time
as the evening sea breeze
on coal miners lamps.
Then again if you can’t go on living without hope
build your dreams upon earthquakes,
These ― everything’s possible ― may grant you
the lovely journey
of a transportation.

AND YET THEY KILLED HIM…
He wanted to live
as much as we did
― and yet they killed him.
He had a smile
as I have when I turn the corner
and see light
at your window
― and yet they killed him.
He was able to accept the fact that we would forget him
as one forgets a stone holding up one’s house
― and yet they killed him.

THE ARMS
The arms of men just before they die
Are almost like marble, almost foreign.If you were not by me
I would have started chiselling their hard fingers.
Now I’ll stay close to them
Like a dog that licks the palm of a hand.
I’ll stay here for my warmth to open
Their sealed lips
So that they can tell
How much they fear, how much they have repented.

DRAFT FOR A STORY
One day you must write about that blue-eyed boy
On his face the soot and rust of ports.
Mention
That he was taken by chance, that he renounced nothing.
That later in that piece of sky lined like an exercise book
He read and studied
results and causes.
All this without psychology, based on facts and exchange of views
alone, without leaving anything out.
From the time he stretched a hand to steal a cigarette,
And touching the packet he felt he had dipped his hands
in his mate’s freshly-operated insides,
Up to the very last moment
When he managed to scribble down
His final lesson:
“Mother,
don’t cry.
Tomorrow you’ll lose your child
But you’ll have gained
his name.’

THE ILLICIT NOTE
We are fractured,
and time is against us.
We prick our ears to hear the latest news,
and they are snatched from us, heavily wounded,
on makeshift stretchers.
We make an effort to count the stars,
and they fall on the pavements like drawing pins, upside down.
With a small fracture
I persevere and drive on through the mud,
uprooting my every step like a hollow tooth.
I raise the people’s chins
and make a quick note
of the light left in their sockets,
then I hide the note
in my heart
so that at the autopsy they’ll see
how very little we lived.

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