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'Unspoken Ghosts':
Selected Translations from Two Italian Poets

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Benjamin Morris and Ari Messer
University of Edinburgh

Italo Testa - Three Poems

gloria e i gelsi

ma le foglie di gelso premono alle finestre
e la tua gola bianca, sul banco, offerta,
Gloria di un giorno, la luce nell'aula
leva dall'ombra l'insidia degli occhi:

noi, saremo presto invasi dalle foglie,
tu, crescerai paziente nell'aperto dei giorni

Gloria and the Mulberries

but the mulberry leaves press against the windows
and your white throat, on the desk, a gift,
Gloria of the morning, the light in the room
lifts from the shadows the snare of your eyes:

we, we will soon be invaded by the leaves,
you, you will grow calm in the flowering of the days.



La Dissipazione

Chi ha scoperto il disamore
e ha guardato nella pioggia
un acero, il globo acceso
nell'arancio autunnale,

chi sa di non aver amato,
fuori espone il suo dolore
sui tuberi nel vaso
tra i bossi sul balcone,

ora che il verde lo ha invaso
all'inguine sente una fitta,
la lingua come una foglia
gocciola nella sua bocca.

Dissipation

Who has discovered disgust
and has watched in the rain
a maple, or the bright globe
of the autumn orange,

who knows not having loved--
outdoors he displays his grief
on the tubers in the jars
in the planters on the balcony,

now that the green invades him:
a pang in his groin,
tongue like a leaf
dripping in his mouth.




Sbadatamente

Una bottiglia di plastica, tagliata
a metà, sul ripiano del lavabo
mi hai lasciato, quando te ne sei andata,
per innaffiare il nostro amore;

ma io mi dimentico, ed evado
le tue consegne, di giorno in giorno
la luce si ritira, io me ne vado
lasciando i nostri fiori in abbandono;

e così, sbadatamente, continuo
a camminare per le strade, solo,
a fuggire, allarmato, dal tuo bene,

per rincasare, affranto, a sera
scoprendo la felicità inattesa
delle tue piante ancora vive, e nuove.

Absentmindedly

A plastic bottle, cut
in half, that you left me
on the sink when you went away
for watering our love;

but I forget, and evade
your orders, day after day
the light fades, I left too
leaving our flowers in neglect;

so, absentmindedly, I keep
walking through the streets, alone,
in flight, alarmed by your goodness,

to get back home at night, spent,
but discovering the unheard-of joy
of your plants still alive, and new.




Roberto Bartoli - Two Poems

Apnea

Parlerò di voi, padre e madre,
senza l'aiuto del vento or dell'acqua,
ma con gli occhi saldi sui vostri corpi enormi
e immobili nel sonno, mentre dalla cavità orale
vi esce un tremendo frastuono
a tratti interrotto da un silenzio mortale.
A volte, poco prima che l'immagine di spazi molli
in luoghi oscuri confonda le mie due lingue
e aizzi la cagna iniqua che ringhia in me,
io m'introduco tastoni nei vostri territori orribili,
che di giorno, abbagliati, non so entrare,
e di notte, perché incustoditi, posso solo amare.
Così mi avvicino a premervi la pancia nuda,
a sigillarvi la bocca, a carezzarvi le palpebre,
ricomponendo gli arti scossi in una posizione docile
e addomesticando l'ansito impervio a una condotta soffice.
A volte, però, è nel buio immediato che precede il mattino
che io tocco quei luoghi, sorprendendoli
tristi come un ammasso di mobilia in un giardino
e dolenti come due balene accando sulla spiaggia e gli occhi al mare.
Che tutto tra di noi resti per sempre separato
intrasmissibile e opaco, in quella distanza
che consente di guardare in diagonale e senza muovere i confini.
Che siano soltanto la vecchia bestia e l'albero troncato
che stanno in questa casa a portarmi notizie di voi
mentre caricata sulle spalle la potente gerla
mi avvio per l'ultima volta all'estuario del monte.

Apnea

I'll speak of you, father and mother,
with no help from wind or water,
but with solid eyes on your bodies
huge and inert in sleep, and while from your mouths
comes a thundering broken only by a mortal stillness.
Sometimes, a little before the vision of soft spaces
in dark places confuses my two tongues
and before you sic on me the bitch that growls in me
I grope my way into your frightful lands,
which in the morning, blinding, I cannot enter,
and in the evening, left alone, I can't but love.
So I draw near to press your bare stomachs,
seal your lips, stroke your eyebrows,
replacing your shocked limbs into a safe position
and smoothing your stony longing into something softer.
But it's in that first darkness that comes before the morning
that I sometimes touch those places, surprising them,
as cheerless as a heap of furniture in a garden
and weeping like two beached whales with their eyes to the sea.
How much between us remains forever apart,
untranslatable and opaque, in that distance
that sits and watches from askance, never moving the lines.
May it only be the worn animals and the cropped tree
that stay in this house to bring me news of you,
when, laden with a full basket on my shoulders,
I set out for the last time to the estuary of the mountain.




Radar

Tu, padre, io lo so, non griderai mai
il mare che ti si gonfia e ti si sgonfia nella gola
dove per un vento di ghiacciaia naufragarono
tutte le tue grandi navi e con esse
il loro inestimabile carico di affetti,
i capitani esperti di rotte sicure,
le stive e le anfore colme di borraccina e gelo,
quando, chiuso tra i discendenti e la tua femmina,
sentirai insanabile ogni separazione,
l'inconoscibilità espressa di notte da una finestra sempre accesa.
Così chiuderai gli occhi pensando intensamente
di rivederle ancora, riaprendoli, davanti a te:
alla via così, le vele sature, possenti nella virata,
riapparire da oceani ignoti tra i vicoli del tuo paese
per entrare nelle anse protette della casa
e riapprodare alla baia pacifica della tua camera esile:
ma, riacceso lo sguardo, soltanto la visione di chi, il volto al muro,
sosta tutto il giorno sul ripiano delle scale
o di una porta nel corridoio costantemente chiusa.
"Roberto, chi non c'è più è come se non fosse mai stato,
è nel ricordo unico di procedimenti chimici, di sgretolazioni e riedificazioni
è nel ghiaccio che dimoia e nel sangue coagulato,
è nella memoria della sola terra,
è vivere per i superstiti è essere un popolo originario e barbaro
senza zolle calde tra le mani, fogli tra i capelli,
senza la bocca viola di mirtilli."
Appartiene alla scomparsa degli esseri
portarsi via tutto di sé nell'invisibile.

Radar

You, father, I know, will never cry out
at the sea that swells and abates in your throat,
where in a frozen wind all your flagships founder,
and with them their priceless cargo of affections,
their captains, skilled in sure passages,
their holds full of crates brimming with stonecrop and frost,
when, shuttered between your children and your wife,
incurable, you will hear every gulf,
the unknowability voiced each night by a charring window.
And so you close your eyes, thinking furiously
of seeing them again, of beholding them before you:
at the start, the billowing sails, muscled as they veer,
emerging again from unknown waters into your back alleys
to make their way through the sheltered bends of the house
to harbor in the irenic calm of your bedroom--
but, eyes opened again, only the vision of one who, face to the wall,
lingers all day long on the landing
or by a door, invariably closed, in the hall.
"Roberto, it's as though they were never here,
are in the singular recollection of chemicals, of crumblings, remoldings,
are in the melted ice and the congealed blood,
are in the fabrication of the lonely earth--
and to live by superstition is to be a savage tribe
without warm lumps in your hands, leaves in your hair,
or mouths purpled by blueberries."
He belongs to the evaporation of those beings
carrying everything of themselves away into the unseen.



Explication

Antonio Porta's Kisses From Another Dream was the volume that introduced us to Atelier, where Porta's work has appeared in the past and from which these poems are drawn. The title of Porta's collection is a useful guide into this work: these poems are not sappy dreamlike kisses, nor hallucinatory kisses in a dream; they are kisses from another dream, a dream which elects a fantastically direct, dripping realism of the human heart-real in its fearlessness. The emergent voices here are at the same time emotionally pure and subtly alchemical, naturally transformative. Even the seasons are in rocky relationship with each other, like lovers at dark, relentless play. At times narratives unseat and supplant themselves--the speaker's father in 'Radar' chooses reveries and fantasies, though they can never last, over the truth he knows awaits him--and shapeshifting poetic turns are found just as much in heightened ending moments (the crushing invasion at the end of 'Gloria and the Mulberries;' the 'leaf / dripping in his mouth' at 'Dissipation's' close) as in the pregnant space before the poems have even begun.

Italo Testa's poems sampled here are brief, lyric, and devastating, rarely making use of more than one image per line, but wringing as much emotional and heuristic effect from each moment as possible. Each poem is, in effect, a single moment of unbridled access into the poet's consciousness, a consciousness deeply interpretive, insightful, and troubled by what it knows and has known, hence the 'snare' of Gloria's eyes and the flight of the speaker of 'Absentmindedly' through the streets, 'alarmed by your goodness.' But if reading Testa's work feels like testing the mental waters with a toe, such an experience is counterbalanced nicely by the total-body baptism of Roberto Bartoli's dense, image-soaked lines. In these poems he compresses multiple visions and revelations together, allowing them to jut into and overlap one another, but in so doing never loses hold of the narrative thread that binds them. This is not to say that any of these poems are purely narrative; rather, they court the form--personal histories, family mythologies, the peregrinations of loss--without ever fully committing to it. Testa offers a blinding flash of mental clarity and notes the resulting shadows; Bartoli begins in darkness and gestures towards the light.

How did we undertake translating these pulsing relationships? How could we allow these poems to make known in English the unspoken ghosts which hover around them in Italian? We worked towards a combination of simplicity and elegance, but with so much of the emotional and rhythmic weight coming from what was ultimately elided-the way in which 'del tuo paese' foregrounds possession in Bartoli's 'Radar,' for instance-we worked to be sure that we were not losing those elements, that we were not accidentally severing essential but invisible images. By beginning with the most basic, prosaic translations and only arriving at a more intricate syntax, we found that the images at play in all these poems-mature, incisive examples of what Eliot called 'felt thought'-- were only happy to oblige.

Works Cited

Bartoli, Roberto. Atelier 34 (June 2004): 77-83.

Porta, Antonio. Kisses From Another Dream. San Francisco: City Lights, 1987.

Testa, Italo. Atelier 35 (September 2004): 88-94.

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