TRANSLATIONS OF EIGHT POEMS
BY ALFONSO GATTO

 

 

The Version of Events

Keppler – aka Scarface – came to the stand
to describe for our enlightenment
the massacre. It was his duty,
as he stated, it was his joy,
to undertake the task of executing

all the hostages. He had commanded
Kuhlwagen headlamps light the murky
depths of a readily available catacomb

in order there to raise his finest
monument to vengeance, the strongest
of the victims crushed then blinded

by the buttercup coloured dust of his tufo haloes.

On its topmost pinnacle he set
his persistence in the butchery.
While fellow executioners gave way
to horror – horror at their pity – he remained
archangel of violence

king slaughterer of innocents

the winds so hushed the quiet
(he spoke softly) (more softly than
I can) was not of this world –
the silence of the spilt blood’s thirst.

            As he testified,
            this German-
            speaking Cain,
            you could hear a pin

            drop in the public
            gallery
            even the interpreter
            said nothing.

            Nobody caught
            anyone’s eye
            staring everyone
            throughout

            at Kesselring
            then Field-Marshal
            the one of those
            two who was on trial.

His features expressed regret,
the facts were known.

            Of Keppler’s
            words I won’t forget
            a single one,
            I cannot
            separate myself
            from them
            I cannot keep from
            breathing them.

‘Blut’, he said. Blood. And: ‘tu-fo’
 – ‘You. I do’? – for our, ‘tufo’, a light and soft
volcanic rock. And while he spoke
he showed us how he ground it
between his fingers, let it slip
between his fingers, a golden dust
let fall upon those terrorised then killed

how he was cloaking the corrupt in-
justice which discarded words.

            If on Rome’s Appian Way
            the sunlight joins together
            present, past and lets you hear
            in birdsong ghosts of Christians
            led to martyrdom in chains

            you must recall
            the endless
            minutes during
            which these people begged
            for mercy.

            Tomorrow, yes,
            Justice will be done
            among us but that hour
            the dead
            will never see.

            As of now the misery
            of their betrayal
            seals the empty tombs:
            death’s countless victims
            twenty-twenty hindsight

            finds too much to bear.
            For other innocents
            caught up in the next, the
            latest episode
            of savagery

            keep hope alive
            and speak the one
            unchanged essential word
            of love, once
            denied to us:

            tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Sicily 1948

Our land once wartorn
gleaming now
with ploughed-in salt
the flying ace is
downed in
shadow across main square

Heat’s oppression:
voices
withdrawn, plague released
and song is plainly
muffled
plainly done to death –

alienated abject
suffocating
death that knows no rest.
Long Live the King! Long
centuries
of deference. That

fly in the ointment.

 

 

 

 

Van Gogh’s Stone Bench (San Remy)

            ‘Et in Arcadia Ego

The rover will step forward: bristling
thick hair, strained features, hollow eyes,
tangled knot of crooked fingers.

A battering of colour flays him,
chases the rosewood of his chest,
his scaly fist glistening with flame
igniting him.
                  Oh but it’s a game!

The joy in it possesses him:
sorrows reduced to pinpoints of sin
set free, in vistas of the mind
in the unfallen language of light.

Tamed by his frenzy he can listen
to the wind in the trees. His weariness
and newfound quiet are like a forest
he wanders in, secured and set at rest

to attend at last to love’s pure lessons.
So here, in painting he tests once again
his right to a place among the flowers,
the growing things, the earthly life and dying.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Night

work over and the
good
life’s rosy glow.

strolling each has
hopes
of a new world
where they will sit
watch
trains roll by
pale-blue gasholders,
trace
all threads
spun in evening sky
swifts
house-martins swallows.

where all
in
candour speak
where each
their
secret keep

 

 

 

 

Song: to the Swallows

Lingering evening’s olive shades
and a moon, pale and thin, easing
broad daylight down, will grant us peace

in the swallows’ song, the streamers
of their flights a river in the air,
and returning love to those lost in exile.

Wringing the heart these toneless stark cries
drive winter on – they isolate
incomers from their city lives.

On rattling trains, in darkest watches
of the night women place their hopes
in city-lights, the theatre flyers

the lonely hearts and shopworn names
now nearing us, now threatening.

 

 

 

 

Autumn Melodies

To the ocean will return
          Freshest breezes,
Opened sea-road through Sargasso,
          Travel eases.

On the doorway’s locust tree,
          Summer’s ripeness.
A stray-dog wounded fatally
          Is changeless darkness.

Silky countryside drifts off,
          Sand and lemons,
Sorrow’s mild monotonous
          Song envenoms.

Close as this to daily living’s
          Fragile symbols –
Into its perfect sweetness probing,
          Ensure it crumbles.

 

 

 

 

Sketch of the Riviera

Evening has gathered
tenderly the tenements
ready to set sail.

Undisturbed houses
dream of the tall ships’ sunset-
tinted aims, slip out

to sea on stepping-
stone islets, through winding pinched
streets beside churches.

 

 

 

 

Moment of Inertia

Parallel crossings
shut off rose-coloured evening.
Two streams of faces.

Blankly agonized,
fatalistic voluble,
the city resists.

Spirit is being
cradled between supple leaves,
amiably confined.

 

 


[Ralph Pite’s poetry appeared most recently in La questione romantica 11.1-2. His new edition of Thomas Hardy’s poetry will be published in September by OUP. He teaches at the University of Bristol and is writing a study of water in Romantic poetry .]

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