Our Land (Favorite Poem Project)

(Leaves rustling) -This one’s
growing in. (Voiceover) I was a
change of life baby. My father was 61 and
my mother was 41, and I was kind
of the surprise. My brother and sister
were both teenagers and it was an
interesting upbringing. My father was
old from the time I was
a little child, and he always was
afraid he would die before I’d become
an adult. But he
lived and actually danced
at my wedding. And then was
able to also enjoy having
three grandchildren. My parents are
from Vittoli, which is a little
village in what the province of
Roúmeli in Greece. And they eventually
ended up in Cleveland, Ohio. My father came over
when he was 13, and my mother came over
when she was 20 when he went back to the
village to marry her. I discovered Yannis Ritsos
about ten ago ago because I was interested in reading
more Greek poetry and looking
at my heritage. And the poem I
found was “Our Land” and it touched
me tremendously because my parents are
both immigrants and I actually found the book
in a bookstore and thought, “I should
read this, this is about me,
this is my history.” You know, I’ve
read Shakespeare, I would read
E.E. Cummings, I would look at
all kinds of books, but I never read anything that directly
related and touched my own life. “Our Land,”
by Yannis Ritsos, translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley. We climbed the hill to look over our land: /
fields poor and few, stones, olive trees. / Vineyards head toward the sea. Beside the plow a small fire smoulders. /
We shaped the old man’s clothes / into a scarecrow against the ravens. Our days /
are making their way toward a little bread and great sunshine. / Under the poplars a straw hat beams. /
The rooster on the fence. The cow in yellow. / How did we manage to put our house and our life in order /
with a hand made of stone? Up on the lintel / there’s soot from the Easter candles, year by year: /
tiny black crosses marked there by the dead / returning from the Resurrection Service. This land is much loved /
with patience and dignity. Every night, out of the dry well, / the statues emerge cautiously and climb the trees. This poem brought
back so many memories of the strength
and the passion and the spiritualism that
my parents both had. They had a very
strong faith, and I remember my mother
on the bus as we would return after midnight from
the resurrection service, carrying the
resurrection candle lit to our door on
Alameda Avenue. And then would place
the cross from the soot from the
candle above our doorway not only for the dead
and in remembrance, but also to
protect our home. And when I read the
part about the stone, the hands
made of stone, I couldn’t help but think of
my mother’s hands. They’re not a
model’s hands, they’re the
hands of a peasant woman who worked
very hard in the fields and also hard in her life here
in the United States raising us against
all odds.

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