- Perhaps the Heart
- An Open Arc
- Fresh Tide
- And Your Dress Is White
- The Incomparable Land
- An Amphora of Copper
- Deformed by Nature
- Visible, Invisible
- Milan, August 1943
- On the Branches of the Willow Trees
- Nineteenth of January 1944
- Fresh From Rivers in Sleep
- Of A Fresh Woman Supine Among Flowers
- The Scaliger Tombs
- Almost An Epigram
- The Dead Guitars
- Index of First Lines
Perhaps the Heart
(Forse il cuore)
The acrid smell of lime-trees will sink
Into the rain-filled night. In vain
The time of joy, its fury,
The bite of its lightning-crash.
Indolence remains, barely-contained
The record of a gesture, a syllable,
But like a slow flight of birds
In vaporous mist. And, still, you wait,
I know not for what, my lost one; perhaps
An hour that decides, that recalls
The beginning or end; equally fated
Now. Here the smoke from the fires is black,
The throat is still dry. If you can,
Forget the sulphurous taste
Of fear. The word wearies us,
It rises from stony water.
Perhaps the heart remains, perhaps the heart.
An Open Arc
(Un arco aperto)
Evening breaks apart, on the earth,
With smoky thunder, and the owl’s cry
Beats at you, speaking
Solely of silence. The tall dark islands
Overwhelm the sea, while night,
On the shore, enters the shells.
And you measure the future, the lost
Beginning, divide with slow
Fractures the sum of a time already present.
While the foam clings
To the stones, you lose the sense
Of destruction’s impassive flow.
The closed song of the owl knows
Nothing of death among the dying,
Tries its love-call within, continues
An open arc, reveals
Its solitude. Someone will come.
My human life resembles yours,
Fresh tide, that drags along pebbles and light,
And, in the new wave, forgets
That which already gave rise
To sound, the movement of air.
If it’s your gift, I hear you,
And every pause is a sky where I lose myself,
A serenity of trees in night’s clarity.
And Your Dress Is White
(E la tua veste è bianca)
You bend your head to look at me;
And your dress is white,
And a breast emerges from the lace
That dissolves on your left shoulder
The light overwhelms me; trembles,
And touches your bare arm.
I see you again. Words
You possessed, swift and intimate,
This burdensome life
Like a circus-show.
Deep the road
The wind descended
On certain March nights
And woke us, strangers,
As if for the first time.
The Incomparable Land
(La terra impareggiabile)
For years, I’ve owed you words of love
Or are they those perhaps that, every day,
Vanish rapidly as soon as forged,
Feared by memory that alters
The signs of an inevitable speech,
Hostile to the depths of the soul; perhaps
A thudding in the mind prevents you hearing
My words of love, or a fear
Of the arbitrary echo that dulls
The faintest trace of affectionate
Sound; or irony’s invisible
Touch, it’s axe-like nature,
Love, or my already bounded life.
Or perhaps it’s the colour dazzles them,
If they strike against the light,
Of a time that will come when these of mine
Can no longer summon darkened love,
Love, already grieving for
The beauty, the impetuous rupture,
Love, from the incomparable land.
An Amphora of Copper
(Un’anfora di rame)
The prickly pear’s thorns in the hedge,
Your torn bodice, so fresh and blue, a pain
At the centre of the hollowed heart,
At Lentini perhaps, near the swamp
Of Jacopo, the notary of eels
And of love. What does the earth say;
The cry of the famished blackbird
Hidden in the noon of hard fruit,
Of seeds, purple and ochre? Your hair
Over your ears in the storm
That now no longer rises,
Hair in watercolour, in lost tints.
An amphora of copper on a gate
Gleaming with waterdrops
And red blades of grass.
Note: Giacomo da Lentini, also known as Jacopa da Lentini, or by the appellative Il Notaro, was a Sicilian poet of the 13th century.
Deformed by Nature
(Dalla natura deforme)
Deformed by nature, the symmetrical
Leaf flies, no longer anchored.
Already winter, not-winter,
Smokes, in bonfires near the Naviglio.
Someone may betray it
To the fire at night, may deny
The earth thrice. How strong
The hold, if here for years
What years, you can gaze
At stars afloat in the soiled canal
Without repugnance, can love someone
On this earth, if the green wood creaks,
And the geometry of the corrugated leaf
Burns and warms you.
Piazza Navona at night, I was lying
Supine, and in search of peace,
And my eyes linked the stars together
In straight lines, convoluted spirals,
Those stars I traced out as a child,
Flat on the Platani’s pebble shore,
Spelling out my prayers in the dark.
My hands crossed under my head,
I was revisiting my memories:
The smell of fruit drying on racks,
Of wallflowers, ginger, ears of wheat;
I thought of reading to you, quietly,
(You and I, mother, in a dark corner)
The parable of the prodigal son,
That dogged me in the silences,
Like a rhythm that commences,
Unwittingly, at my every step.
Yet it’s not granted the dead to return;
Nor is there time for a mother
When the road calls; and I departed
Deep in the darkness, like one
That fears to be found there at dawn.
And the streets, the road, gave me the songs,
That savour of swelling ears of wheat,
Of flowers whitening the olive groves,
Between the blue flax and the daffodils,
That resonate in the swirls of dust,
The chants of men, the creaking carts,
With their little lanterns oscillating,
Like the light of fireflies, in the dark.
Visible, yet invisible,
The carter on the horizon,
In the road’s embrace, summons
A reply to the voice of the islands.
I too do not go astray,
The Earth turns, and I read
My story, as a sentinel, at night,
Reads the tale of rain-filled hours.
Secrecy knows happy boundaries,
Stratagems, awkward attractions;
My life, harsh or smiling people,
On my road, in my landscapes,
Lacking handles to their doors.
I am unprepared for death,
Know the principle of things,
The end is a surface over which
Travels the invader of my shadow.
The shadow I fail to recognise.
In the morning hour, the moon alight,
The celestial water groans as you emerge.
From another mouth, the seagulls’ screams
Emit, more sadly, the essence of life.
I find I am myself of a like birth;
Behold, the islander of ancient times,
Seeks, the sole eye in his forehead
Inflamed, while his arm proves master
Of the boulder-throw from the cliff.
Granite eroded by the wind,
Waters that ripen
Its harsh sleep in the brine.
Pity has abandoned me;
And here I find the sign
That, in squalid exile,
Expresses itself lovingly,
In memory’s name: Siliqua
Of ashlars, of the raw earth,
In truncated cones,
In the bones of stone.
Ephemeral desert; in the heart
The volume of the hills plays,
In the freshly sprouting grass.
And the fraternal aura
Note: Siliqua is a municipality in the Province of South Sardinia. It contains the castle of Acquafredda on its conical hill of stone.
Milan, August 1943
(Milano, Agosto 1943)
In vain, you scrabble in the rubble
Sad fingers, now the city is dead,
Dead, and the last rumble has been heard
At the Naviglio’s heart. The nightingale
Falls from the convent’s aerial on high
Where he was singing before evening.
Don’t dig new wells in the courtyards;
Since the living are no longer thirsty.
Don’t touch the red and swollen dead:
Leave them in the dust of their houses,
The city is dead, the city is dead.
On the Branches of the Willow Trees
(Alle fronde dei salici)
And how then could we sing
With a foreign foot on our hearts,
The dead abandoned in the squares
On grass hard as ice, to the lament
Of lamb-like children, the dark cry
Of the mother seeking out her son
Crucified there on a telegraph-pole?
Even our harps we hung, by choice,
On the branches of the willow trees,
Swaying lightly in the mournful wind.
Nineteenth of January 1944
(19 gennaio 1944)
I read, to you, sweet verse in an ancient tongue,
And the words, born among the vineyards,
On the banks of the rivers of the east,
As they fall now, desolate and gloomy,
In this most profound night of the war,
This night in which nothing crosses
The heavens of the angel of death,
When the wind is heard with a crashing roar
As it shakes the metal sheets that divide
The huts here, while Melancholy issues
From the dogs that bay, in the gardens
Of deserted streets, at the rifle-shots
Of the night-patrols. Something lives,
Perhaps, something lives. But we, here,
Enclosed, listening to the ancient voice,
Search for a sign that lies beyond life,
The dark enchantment of the earth,
Where even among the tombs of rubble,
The malignant grass sends up a flower.
And already on the stadium walls,
Amongst the cracks and tufts of hanging grass,
The lizards dart, lightning-fast;
And the frogs return to the canals.
And behold gems break from the branch:
A newer green than the grass
That eases the heart…
And to me everything seems a miracle.
Fresh From Rivers in Sleep
(Fresche di fiumi in sono)
I find you in fortunate landings
Of companiable night
Almost warmth of a new joy,
Bitter grace of living without an outlet.
Virgin streets oscillate
Fresh from rivers in sleep
And I am still the prodigal that hears
His name in the silence
When they summon the dead.
And death is
A space in the heart.
Of A Fresh Woman Supine Among Flowers
(Di fresca donna riversa in mezzo ai fiori)
The hidden season could be guessed
From the anxiety of nocturnal rain,
From the shifting of clouds in the sky,
Lightly rocking cradles;
And I was dead.
A city suspended in mid-air
Was my place of final exile
And, all about, they summoned me,
The sweet women of the past,
And a mother, renewed by the years,
Selecting, amongst all the roses,
The whitest ones to crown my head.
Outside it was night and the stars
Followed unknown paths
In curves of gold, precisely,
And things rendered fugitive
Drew me into secret corners
To tell me of gardens wide-open
And the meaning of life.
But the last smile pained me
Of a fresh woman supine among flowers.
The Scaliger Tombs
(Le arche scaligeri)
Now the sagacious heroes are fossils
In the museum of history – soldiers, soldier-bees,
Dead, on the verge of truth, and man
Proves a hero of cunning and injustice,
Returning now to the centuries, forms,
And laws, of his daily glories, one by one,
Those of the Christ and the Antichrist,
I return, to salute your tomb, Can Grande,
Even if your body, still intact, soared
Through the air, and into the Adige,
In purple princely dust. You, among
The iconic geraniums of the Vicolo Due Mori,
And the white haberdashery shops,
Are raised from the earth, a suit of armour
To thunder beyond rain, and hard stony mud.
Thus, my ancestors for centuries lifted
Their dead on high, to conceal them
In the cells of the Pantalican hive.
Closer to heaven, Can Grande, to the light,
To the starry imagination, further
From the earth man fears, living or dead.
Note: The Scaliger Tombs are a group of five Gothic funerary monuments in Verona, celebrating the della Scala family, who ruled there from the 13th to the late 14th century. Located in a court outside the church of Santa Maria Antica, the tabernacle-like structure is surmounted by an equestrian statue of Can Grande I della Scala, Dante’s patron. The Necropolis of Pantalica is a collection of cemeteries with rock-cut chamber tombs in southeast Sicily.
Almost An Epigram
(Quasi un epigramma)
The melancholy gipsy contortionist
Suddenly rises from a corner of the bar,
And offers up a brief performance,
Removes his jacket; in his red sweater,
Curls his back, bends inside and out,
Grips a soiled handkerchief, like a dog,
Repeats his dishevelled arch, and then
Bows low, presenting a plastic plate.
And, with the eyes of a ferret, wishes
All luck in the lottery, then disappears.
The courtesy of the atom is at its height.
The Dead Guitars
(Le morte chitarra)
My land is over rivers, gripped by the sea,
No other place has so sluggish a voice
Where my feet wander
Among rushes heavy with snails.
Autumn, for certain; the wind torn in pieces
Plucks the strings across the dark mouth,
And a hand works its fingers
In the mirror of the moon
Girls (like oranges, their breasts) comb their hair.
Who weeps; who whips horses, in the blood-red
Air? We will halt at this shore,
Along the chains of grass, and you, love,
Don’t drag me before the infinite glass:
Gazing within, behold singing children,
And tall trees, and deep waters.
Who weeps? Not I, believe me: racing
Over rivers, to the exasperated cracking
Of the whip, dark horses, sulphur-flashes.
Not I, my race has ardent knives
And moons and wounds that scorch and burn.
Index of First Lines
- The acrid smell of lime-trees will sink
- Evening breaks apart, on the earth,
- My human life resembles yours,
- You bend your head to look at me;
- For years, I’ve owed you words of love
- The prickly pear’s thorns in the hedge,
- Deformed by nature, the symmetrical
- Piazza Navona at night, I was lying
- Visible, yet invisible,
- In the morning hour, the moon alight,
- In vain, you scrabble in the rubble
- And how then could we sing
- I read, to you, sweet verse in an ancient tongue,
- And already on the stadium walls,
- And behold gems break from the branch:
- I find you in fortunate landings
- The hidden season could be guessed
- Now the sagacious heroes are fossils
- The melancholy gipsy contortionist
- My land is over rivers, gripped by the sea,
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved
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