I gave life to the walls
a voice I gave them
more friendly so that would become my company
and the guards asked
to know where they could find the paint
The walls of the cell
kept the secret
and the mercenaries searched everywhere
but paint they could not find
Because they did not think for one moment
that they should search into my veins
Vi scrivo da un carcere in Grecia, 1974
I write you from a prison in Greece
Sometimes the journey in life is not where we end up, how far we’ve come from where we started in life, but what we do when we stand still. Alekos Panagoulis (1939-1976) wrote remarkable poetry under extraordinary circumstances. When one thinks of injustice, the names Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela or Rubin “Hurricane” Carter come to mind, or others falsely accused, executed, or otherwise wrongfully imprisoned under false pretenses, like Sacco and Vanzetti.
Alekos attempted to assassinate Georgios Papadopoulos, who had overtaken Greece the year before, in 1967. Panagoulis was kept in solitary confinement, subjected to torture, but kept his sense of humor and kept writing poetry. He was freed by a general amnesty in 1973 after five years in prison, relocating to Italy, where he lived in exile in Florence, and later was killed in a suspicious car accident in Greece, in 1976, days before files were to be published that vindicated his allegations that top politicians had collaborated with “The Regime of Colonels.” He is the failed assassin honored with his likeness on a postage stamp. Streets in Athens are named after him. There is a Panagoulis metro stop.
The teardrops which you will see
flowing from our eyes
you should never believe
signs of despair.
They are only promise
promise for Fight.
Altri seguiranno: poesie e documenti dal carcere di Boyati, 1972
Others will Follow: Poetry and Documents from the Prison of Boyati, 1972
While the poet’s prison experience and politics have received several “treatments,” from the composers Mikos Theodorakis and Ennio Morricone, directors Ebbo Demant and Giuseppe Ferrara, it was his biographer and confidante, Oriana Fallaci, who with compassion revealed all his foibles and idealism in her novel Un Uomo (A Man). If you have not read any Fallaci, you should because she was a remarkable woman, an extraordinary writer, although some of her books in English suffer from poor editing, and a revelation of what journalism can do and should do. Note: Fallaci is considered both a feminist and anti-feminist and a controversial figure. Does that inspire you to read her? The Fallaci link connects readers to some of her writings and interviews. Based on those, you can then decide for yourselves whether to seek out her books.
“Il potere vero non ha bisogno di tracotanza, barba lunga, vocione che abbaia. Il vero potere ti strozza con nastri di seta, garbo, intelligenza.”
“True power does not need arrogance, a long beard and a barking voice. True power strangles you with silk ribbons, charm and intelligence.”