Tasos Leivaditis (1922-88)

Translated by N.N. Trakakis

If You Want To Be Called A Human Being

If you want to be called a human being

you will not cease, not even for a moment, to fight for peace and justice.

You will go out onto the streets, you will shout, your lips will bleed from shouting

your face will bleed from the bullets – but don’t take a single step back.

Each of your cries will be a stone thrown at the warmongers’ windows

each of your gestures will tear down injustice.

And beware: don’t lose track, not even for a moment.

If you start thinking back to your childhood years

you will let thousands of children be shattered into pieces as they play unsuspectingly in cities

if you look for a moment at the sunset

people tomorrow will be lost in the darkness of war

if you stop for a moment to dream

millions of people’s dreams will turn to ash beneath the bombshells.

You have no time

you have no time for yourself

if you want to be called a human being.

If you want to be called a human being

you might have to leave behind your mother, your beloved, your child.

You won’t hesitate.

You will give up your lamp and your bread

you will give up the relaxing evenings on the front porch

for the rough road that leads to tomorrow.

You won’t flinch from anything or be afraid.

I know, it’s nice to listen to a harmonica in the evening,

to gaze upon a star, to dream

it’s nice to lean over your beloved’s red lips

and hear her tell you her dreams for the future.

But you must take leave of all these things and set out

for you are responsible for all the harmonicas in the world,

for all the stars and all the dreams

if you want to be called a human being.

If you want to be called a human being

you might have to be locked up in jail for twenty years or more

but even in jail you’ll always remember spring, your mother, the world.

Even within the four walls of your cell

you will continue your journey upon the earth.

And when in the endless silence of the night

you knock on the wall of the cell with your finger

from the other side you’ll receive a reply from Spain.

Even though you see your days go by and your hair turn grey

you won’t grow old.

In jail you will begin each day younger and anew

as new battles keep arising in the world

if you want to be called a human being.

If you want to be called a human being

you must be ready to die any morning.

Overnight in isolation you will write a long and loving letter to your mother

you will write on the wall the date, your initials and one word: Peace

as though you were writing your entire life story.

Ready to die any morning

ready to stand before the six rifles

as though you were standing before the entire future.

Ready to hear, amidst the volley of shots killing you, the thousands of simple people singing while fighting for peace.

If you want to be called a human being.

Simple Words

I would like to speak


the way you unbutton your shirt

and reveal an old scar

the way you feel cold at the elbow

and turn

to find holes in what you’re wearing

the way a comrade sits on a rock and mends his singlet.

To speak of whether I might return someday

carrying a filthy mess tin brimming with exile

carrying in my pockets two clenched fists

to speak

simply –

but for now let me lean my crutches somewhere.

We once dreamed of becoming great poets

we spoke of the sun.

Now our heart pierces us

like nails in our boots.

In the past we’d say: sky, now we say: courage.

We’re no longer poets

but only


with big wounds and ever bigger dreams.

The wind howls outside the tent

the barbedwire embedded in the belly of the night

the lamp broken

and leaking oil

Thomas’ face beneath the bandages

must be red and swollen from the rifle butt blows

the stench of smoke and feet

Elias says: the weather will change

Dimitris is silent

and Nicholas struggles to plug the holes in the tent

with a piece of boiled potato.

Someone coughs. We are cold.

The guards’ steps can be heard.

Tonight, mother, we’re thinking of writing to you

that we might hear the rain

walking along with your worn out clogs

that we might see your smile

hanging like a flask over our thirst.

They feed us rotten potatoes: don’t worry about us

they curse us and hit us: give us your love

maybe we won’t return – light the lamp, mother,

others will come.

Now you’d be gathering from the clothesline the white clothes of exile

you’d be sewing our socks with patches of your care

but the gloves you knitted for us, mother, we won’t wear them

we gave them to a comrade who was court-martialled

we also gave him some tinned food and a piece of our palm

he tied the top of the sack with a cord

tossed the sack over his shoulder

and we saw him going up

snipping with his scraggy legs

pieces of the facing sky.

Every morning they count us

every night we count the excess plates

there’s excess bitterness in our eyes

when the rain plays dice with the gendarmes

and night falls and the whistles growl.

Now we’re thinking of tucking our hands under our armpits

to see if there are any stars in the sky

to remember that face

leaning in the doorway

but we can’t remember

we have no time to remember

we have no time but to stand upright

and die.


even if I feel cold when it rains

even if I fondle the crumbs of memory in my pockets

and my palms are still on fire from the time I held you

I can’t come back.

How can I deny the crust of bread that twenty of us shared

how can I deny my mother who waits for a cup of sage tea

how can I deny our child whom we promised a cornet of sky

how can I deny Nicholas –

we found out he was singing as the firing squad took aim.

If I were to come back

we wouldn’t have a lamp, we wouldn’t have

anywhere to lay our dream.

We would sit in silence.

And when I’d want to look at you

the tattered boots of the comrade I denied

would cover my eyes like a cloud.

Give me your love.

And when I return someday

carrying my heart like a large parcel

we’ll sit on the rundown steps.

I’ll say: You no longer like my calloused hands.

You’ll smile and clasp my hands.

A star will tinkle in the soaked sky.

I might even


Today we opened our day

like a sack forgotten over the years.

We searched for the socks you used to wear, comrade

your hands

your life that came to a stop.

Bitterness threw into our eyes

a handful of nails.

We then cleaned the cookhouse

lit a fire

and shared a smoke between us

beneath the ragged clouds.

Here where our lives are eggshells under their feet

with death closer still

and an elbow patch on your torn jacket

where the name of a dead comrade

is like a fork fixed to your tongue:

how can you sing?

It is enough for us to speak


the way one hungers simply

the way one loves

the way we die


Tasos Leivaditis © 2021

N.N. Trakakis © 2021