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.

Fresh Tide

(Fresca Marina)

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,

That heartened

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, Invisible

(Visibile, invisibile)

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

Strengthens love.

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

Disinterred now

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

Of fire.

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

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2023 All Rights Reserved

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