He’d had enough. He wanted to scream.
There was no one to hear him. No one gave a damn.
His own voice frightened him.
He buried his voice in himself: an explosive silence.
If my body explodes, he thought, I’ll gather the pieces in silence
and put myself back together.
If I happen to ﬁnd a poppy (and perhaps a yellow lily)
I’ll make them part of the pattern.
And that’s how it is – a broken man in flower.
Suddenly, everything left him – trees, the sea, ideas, poetry;
or was he the one who’d left? He could sometimes make them out
on the far side of the river: seen, not seen. Death lay in him,
even to the tips of his ﬁngers, to his ﬁngernails. Each night
he could hear that monstrous weight as it shifted and grew.
Even so, before bed and again when he woke, he would brush
his teeth with that old threadbare brush: white smile, last smile.
He grew distant, silent, sad, and strangely calm,
as though he held some overwhelming secret,
knowledge beyond knowledge, beyond imagining.
‘What?’ we asked. ‘What is it?’ He stayed silent. Strangely calm.
You’re not worthy, he seemed to say. You never will be.
We were his friends but, yes, we turned him in.
He stood silent in the dock and strangely calm.
They questioned, cross-questioned. Not a word.
The judge was enraged. ‘Quiet!’ he bellowed;
his gavel hammered the bench, ‘Don’t listen to his silences!’
The verdict came in.
One by one, we turned our faces to the wall.
They came back when least expected: the view from the roof,
the well, a butterﬂy, corn-stalks, and birds going south:
a sudden rush of shadows. A horse shied as they ﬂew past.
Men were loading a wagon with potatoes for local shops.
The waggoner went barefoot. Brute-handsome.
Town girls would lie with him in the thistle-beds at night.
Those vacancies seek us out from time to time,
memory’s thread, it binds things long forgotten:
keys, a statue’s broken hand, a fall of leaves, the wagoner’s naked feet…
and you, who hoped to ﬁnd meaning in this,
though your notebook was empty then, is empty now.
When she got up to answer the door,
her sewing basket spilled from her lap and spools
of thread went everywhere. A red one found its way
into the oil-lamp; a mauve one became trapped
in the mirror; a gold one… But no, she’s never
worked with gold thread, so explain that away.
Another knock. She started to pick them up,
then stopped. Was there time for that? She stood
with hands at her sides, lost in the moment.
When she opened the door the caller had gone.
Poetry’s like that. It’s much like that with poetry.
Vangelis never came back. The house has been locked
and the shutters up for years. Dead vines, thorn-bushes, stones,
the garden patch laid waste. A broken jug.
There’s a view of the sea if you look beyond the stable.
He sold the horse but that didn’t save the day.
A bay gelding with white fetlocks, I remember…
A seagull shed a feather. An old woman sat in her doorway.
The feather fell at her feet. She said:
‘Small moments such as that can seem a blessing.’
That man in the doorway opposite seemed lost in thought,
but he crossed himself and went to her and stooped
as if to kiss her hand, or lift the feather.
INTRODUCTION by John Kittmer
11 I Karlovasi on Samos, 2 April 1969
Yannis Ritsos, under house arrest at Karlovasi on Samos, writes to his friend and publisher, Nana Kallianesi
21 II The Broken Man in Flower
40 Timeline of Ritsos’s life and key work
A BROKEN MAN IN FLOWER
I Partheni Prison Camp, Leros
47 The Treaty
49 The Plough
51 The Argo
52 The Studio
53 A Painting
54 A Break in Routine
56 Growing Old
59 The Wax Museum
63 The Blue Jug
65 On the Edge
70 The Message
71 Things Shift
73 Something and Nothing
76 No News
77 All of Us
80 In Short
81 At Dusk
82 The Corridor
II Homeland: Eighteen Bitter Songs Partheni Prison Camp / Samos
85 1: Baptism
86 2: Q&A
87 3: In Time
88 4: The People
89 5: Memorial
90 6: Dawn
91 7: ‘Freedom’
92 8: Green
93 9: Theology
94 10: To Greece
95 11: The Song
96 12: Offshore Trees
97 13: Feast Day
98 14: Epitaph
99 15: The Tides
100 16: The New House
101 17: One Thought
102 18: No Tears For Romiosini
IIISamos: house arrest
108 As If Loukas
112 Separate Ways
113 The View from Here
114 Just This
118 Saturday 11 a.m.
124 Out in the Open
125 The List
127 From Nowhere to Nowhere
130 Old Clothes
131 Memory’s Thread
132 Himself Alone
134 Departures III
136 That Other Man
139 In Reverse
140 Soldier Dolls
141 Waiting to Die
143 Before She Sleeps
148 The Tree – The Hanged Man
149 The Other House
150 White Night
151 Life in Phares
154 After Rain
160 By the Window
161 In Flower
162 Three-storey House with Basement
164 Locked Off
166 Lies and Secrets
170 The Girl Who Regained Her Sight
171 Interrogation Centre
173 Badge of Honour
174 Midnight Knock
176 The Green Armchair
178 Baptism of Blood
179 The Summons
181 In Readiness
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