This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features an excerpt from Yannis Ritsos’s Monochords, translated from the Greek by Paul Merchant.
With a bird for a pillow, I lie awake night after night.
The lamppost, the statue, the flagpole.
A white horse in the yellow field.
The words left out of the poem, they’re frightened.
I understood the trumpeter when I closed my eyes.
Dark glasses for the sun, darker than the night.
Saturday evening: lads with rakish caps, and pistachios.
If the light bothers you, it’s my fault.
The miner’s alarm clock on his chair.
It plucks out some feathers, to be lighter.
The trains’ lights, welding, welding the tracks.
Years of the sword and years of compassion.
Just when the swimmer jumped in, I missed it.
In their shoes banana skins and aspirins.
Rumpled sheets and the lights on. No one home.
I saw you and remembered poems.
A word made fresh by repetition.
He climbed the stairs. He was wearing an overcoat.
The ones stealing from you call you thief.
Night. Ironing, the iron comes and goes on your shirt.
The meaning beyond the meaning, and a leaf.
The lighthouse keeper with me on the balcony.
The heroes pissed on the corner of the street under the thin moon.
He shouted loudly so we’d forget how for years he’d said nothing.
I mistook this tree for a man. I didn’t laugh.
Fame is brief, even with all its feathers.
The ship that sailed this afternoon, I was on it.
He’s made quite a climb for a handful of dirt.
No comfort at all, a foreign throne.
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Previous and alternate versions of these poems also appeared in Trask House and Hubbub.