The Square

translated by Pat Snidvongs

A detail of a cobbled street that gradates from brown to grey moving left to right

Who are these people marching at noontide?
Why do we hear these beating drums?
What are the pigeons looking for on fluttering banners?
What are the scattered words that stain the air?

Sweat soaks the square
Shadows the faces in the haze of smoke
And a boy
a sobbing boy
breaks his heart
locks up the future in his fist
transforming it into resistance

In this square
the paving stones inhale
thousands of breaths
thousands of breaths remain
take root
stir up a storm as backdrop

Winter’s cruel when
the wind whistles laments and solitudes
In the flames all hopes burnt to cinders
and graffiti on the walls the longings
No angel brought the widow bread
Her throat is an open sepulchre

We sink into the mud without a savior
Our mother resigned to a ruined life
Her heart a broken vessel

We seek the code
“They told us we would conquer with submission
We submitted and found ashes”
In false prosperity they laid their traps
They taught us injustice
Now thrown down dead
Forgotten we are broken vases

Let not our enemies rejoice over us
neither let them wink with the eye
nor open their mouth wide against us
and say, Aha, our eyes have seen it

O nothing that created me
into nothing I return
And I shall be like a tree
planted by the rivers of water
I am like the chaff which the wind driveth away
My grave was dug
by treachery

Today a beggar
I spread my hand upon the emptiness
How doth the city sit solitary
How is she become as a widow
How is she become a vassal

The sombre nation
suffocating in the smog
Narcissus is beauty
at cafés a whore
her flesh decayed
in gaudy makeup

Sweat soaks the square
Shadows the faces in the haze of smoke
They return return again
George and Paul and Stratis
Terror is lightning
a thunder that oppresses

They return return again
with punches and with kicks
with faces bloodied
Nick and Luke and Costas
and it’s October seedtime
everything written in verse
like a witness or a testimony
on record players and on paper

Day is breaking
Let’s wait for the Reaper
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Who are these people marching at noontide?
Why do we hear these beating drums?

Translation from the Greek
By Pat Snidvongs

Translator's noteBiblical quotations are drawn from the King James Version, with occasional modifications and omissions.

Iossif Ventura was born in Greece and lives in Athens. He writes and translates poetry and participates in poetry-related fora and conferences. His elegy TANAIΣ, in a bilingual edition, was published by Red Heifer Press in 2015. His poems have been translated into English, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Serbian, and Arabic (see WLT, Jan. 2016, 22–25).

Pat Snidvongs is a doctoral candidate in comparative literature at Princeton University, with particular interests in classics and linguistics.