Three Poems after Yannis Ritsos

By David Harsent David Harsent

There are graves under the houses and houses
under the graves and linking the three

a broad stone staircase where the dead
go up and the living go down. They pass one another

wordlessly which might mean they don’t know, or else
they’re pretending not to know. You can smell

the orange grove on the hill; you can hear
children bowling barrel hoops down the street.

Two women gossip as they fill their jug at the spring.
Their secrets cloud the water.

Later they walk back through an avenue
of   cypresses, carrying the jug like a bastard child.


In the house across the street, in a room
directly opposite his, was a long mirror. When he looked

out of   his window, he would see himself   in the room
like a thief caught in a trap. He threw a stone.

His neighbor ran in to the sound of   breaking glass,
then came to the window and shouted across:

“Thank God for that: whenever I looked in my mirror
there you were, doing something shifty behind my back.”

The first man turned away. The long mirror in his room
brought him face to face with his neighbor, knife in hand.


Just as he locked the door, as he pocketed the key,
as he glanced over his shoulder, they arrested him.
They tortured him until they tired of   it.
                                                                         “Look,” they said,
“the key is your key, the house is your house,
we accept that now; but why did you put the key
in your pocket as if to hide it from us?”

They let him go, but his name is still on a list.

NOTES: Read the Q&A with David Harsent about this poem

Source: Poetry (December 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

December 2012
 David  Harsent


David Harsent's latest collection is Fire Songs (Faber and Faber, 2014). In Secret, his English versions of poems by Yannis Ritsos, was published in 2012 by Enitharmon Press.

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Crime & Punishment, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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