​​​AT DAR SAWRA (HOME FOR THE ELDERLY)

1.
My body is full of roses and medicine,
full of disease and tall green trees,
full of butterflies with colourful wings:
ugly and lovely women are bleeding,
and men who longed to love but were unable.

2.
Seated on an armchair in a cold corner
with eyes reflecting the sleepiness of restless nights,
the silence of certain death is on our faces
and in our diapers the cold piss flows.

3.
The denture we remove is always smiling.
We lie down, perhaps to sleep and to forget
that all the corners scowl.

4.

The colour violet’s the first sign that it is dawning.
Violet invades you so that you sicken,
it asks how you are doing with the same smile
of the denture waiting upon the bedside table.
 
5.

She still bends over to paint her toenails.
She still wants to wear lace under her clothes,
to redden her lips, to apply green eye shadow.
She still tempts her husband at night – her husband
who’s left, forgetting his suitcases behind.
Every morning she wakes up singing Casta Diva.




THE CANTICLE OF THE DEPRESSED

I start to think my blood is getting sick,
I start to think you don’t love me anymore,
I start to think I’ll even forget how to smile,
I start to think that my eyes will soon melt;
I start to think my hands will soon fall off,
I start to think that I will lose my face,
I start to think I’ll soon burst into tears
I start to think I’ll soon stand legs apart
to birth an ugly boy with reddened eyes,
I start to think I’ll soon forget my name.
I start to think that I’ll soon knot the rope
to pick this flower out of its place,
to run this boat up some reef.
I start to think I’ll forget who you are.
I start to think my blood will soon start flowing
will burst all of a sudden from my pores.
I start to think I’ll soon become a night-moth,
I start to think I’ll yet become a seagull.
I start to think soon everything will finish
and I’ll stay here to sway upon my own
like a flower which has been tied with a thick rope
like a flower which has withered under the moon,
like a boy waiting for his mother’s voice,
like a boy gone to cry for his mother’s help,
like a boy hiding at his mother’s apron strings.

 I start to think that I’ll no longer think. 




 

VASKA VASSILJEVA 

This breeze has carried Spring with it
full of sunshine, full of flowers, full of birds.
Vaska Vassiljeva steps out to sit
on the bench which always awaits her.
Aged 82 she goes out rummaging
amongst the memories of this, her native city,
and lays her legs (today disabled) again
on the same street in which long long ago
she strode throbbing with the energy of youth
clutching her books and with the red star
pumping the blood of this Republic’s dawn.

 
She walks dismayed – Vaska Vassiljeva
feels that this city – which once was hers –
has grown large warts over its face,
though every year spring still returns
full of sunshine, full of flowers, full of birds.

 
And Vaska Vassiljeva is dismayed to see
Bojko Dinov lying dirty in the metro
begging for small change.
And Vaska Vassiljeva is dismayed
to see Tatjana limping off to market
to sing out, can in hand.
And Vaska Vassileva is dismayed
to see the wealthy men in ties
off to spend the night with strippers
with whiskey and cigars in the casino.
 

This breeze has swept with it the spring
full of sunshine, full of flowers, full of birds.
Sitting on this bench, her stick in hand,
this Vaska Vassiljeva must learn
the scales and arpeggios of the free market,
what’s become of the credo of her upbringing,
must understand why the very crows are cawing
new messages never heard in former times,
should consult history books to discover
which chapter should have been erased,
which passage shouldn’t have been there.
 

Because Spring continues to approach,
despite the empty can Tatiana carries,
despite the dirt on Bojko Dinov’s clothes,
despite other ghouls in the metro.

 

 
EASTER VIGIL AT ST ALEXANDER NEVSKI

Thin candles brighten God’s temple
in the holy night when Christ resurrected.
A lonesome man prays in a dark corner,
holding his candle against his face,
searching for the meaning in the flame.

 

MERRY GO ROUND

Kids ride happily on a merry go round,
on white horses and dragons.
Old folk gaze at them, munching
bread and Russian salad.
 

The kids are unaware that
after some three rounds
the minute hand has moved,
and from the horses’ and dragons’ backs
they alight looking like the gazing grannies
who choked in their bread and Russian salad.


Translated by Maria Grech Ganado





BIRŻEBBUĠA 2014*

I undo my laces; let everything fall.
You quickly close your eyes or look somewhere afar.
Somewhere out through the window
strange images drift by
like boats midsea, rolling, heavy with cries
of tall men who have never seen such waters before;
women in their eighth month, navels pointing ashore;
children silenced, whining babies; droplets of milk left — no more.

 Quick, go to the window; smell the wave as it comes,
making you hunger for bread with tomatoes — red, ripe, and plump.
Let go; ride this wave, rich with aromas that call,
and grab you and twirl you, leave you spinning in awe.
Now pause in this wave; it will bring back your ma.
Sleeveless dress, floppy hat,
crunching crabs that she'd catch;
next the smell brings your pa, engaged in a quest
for his urchins — you watch him dive devilishly deep,
come up wrapped in octopuses, struggle to his feet as
the wave keeps on coming — painting Gizzy now, sheer delight
in her floral bikini, she is surely the light of Birżebbuġa Bay, with
her bosom ablossom, and you following its sway.
How sweetly it smells this most blessed of waves.
See it boldly, how blue! As a child, who else knew
how many times you sneaked and impatiently drew
this bluest of wave, in your notebooks each spring;
as you waited to see what the summer might bring.
Quick now, to the window; you know not the wave's course,
because rows of containers lie in wait at the port;
reaching out as it crashes, robbing the wave of its force.

 And this crushing wave crashing ... carries how many breaths?
How many mummy-mummy-save me!-save me!'s?
How many tears, goodbyes ... and deaths?

 At Birżebbuġa Bay my own child exclaims:
“Look how shiny the sea is! Like silver." ... He stares.
"And look! See them glowing? There are fishes down there!"
And he begs to go down romping
with mullet, saddled bream; begs to swim with the blennies; but
I fear there might be some
loose wish, ragged dream chafing right up against us;
tearing at, wrinkling our paper white, smooth souls.
Because look, my dear child,
this is not the sea that I know.
When I was your age the great poets all wrote
that this sea never ages; that it never gets old.
Everblue is our sea; that is what we were told.
They would dive down for coral; no cylinders, wetsuits.
And this sea that they lived in had color, music too;
stunning, bright, with anemones; the sea tinkled with bells
ringing mysteriously from the deep. ...
And I believed what they said.
And they celebrated: "this sea of ours overflows with our history"
of heroes sailing skillfully for centuries and centuries;
Oh, how many vessels (and aircraft carriers that saved)!
and countless fishermen, gods, kings —
oh, and sirens that sang of
sweet temptations with pleasure —
downing seamen with hopes.
The poets told me all this, and I listened; I took notes:
"this sea of ours is pure history," I believed and I wrote.

 So I dived like a fish straight into the deep,
let the sea tell me stories, kissed the waves' mouth — it was sweet.
And I rejoiced when I resurfaced: it was true what they said!
I got up with me a pebble and a fistful of sand from that seabed!
And laid them under my pillow so at night I could hear
the scorpion fish calling: "come back to me, stay near."

But today, I admit it: I now fear the sea.
Not the bass, bream, and dentex that used to swim, free,
but these unfinished books at the bottom —
that's what's frightening me:
Tall men who had never seen such waters before.
And pregnant women, swollen, full wombs ever closed.
And hungry children asking:
What is happening? Where is home?
And one by one they all tell me
that the poets' sea is aging.
Its bright blue no doubt is noticeably fading.
The corals have vanished; and the anemones still left have
blackened even more than the seabed itself.
So if you must dive down there, strap cylinders to your back,
and take care you don't lose yourself far from the shore.
Believe me, you won't know these waters,
though you've seen them before.

 
* Birżebbuġa is a village located in the southern region of Malta



 

WILL THIS BOAT ARRIVE? 

Will this boat arrive? Will it? 
Or will it lose breath, ceasing 
just before the sea stops and land begins, 
a land that does not know us? 

I walked through alleys, I walked through streets, 
through hamlet, town, and city, 
everywhere sweeping crooked steps just to keep on moving. 
I crossed rivers and valleys; climbed mountains 
which swore they’d return to crush me beneath them; 
still I walked on  
through fickle suns, phasing moons, 
reaching out to pluck a bright star, 
blow it and send it back home, 
so it might, through the window, warmly kiss  
my mother, my father, my sister, 
that is, if they still are, if they are still. 

 Before me, wave upon wave of sand, 
a yellow fishless and waterless sea. 
I walk on,  
counting all the steps and the notes,
holding the white plastic bag in my hands: 
a bottle of water, a cluster of dates, a handful of photos, 
some travel sickness pills, old papers folded, 
certifying that I'm a learned one, 
a jacket, a jersey and, of course ... the passport. 

I got burnt, frozen.
Terrified most by the dark, that is, till the ghibli blew in. 
Taunting and cruel its searing hot winds bearing down,

tearing skin with fine dust, 

and swearing one day it would return to crush, bury me secretly in its gusts.  
I wept mightily, prayers rolling where there once had been tears, 
prayers to a God full of mercy; I supposed he would hear. 
I summoned him, calling him by name more than once, 
twice, in the nothingness surrounding me. 

 When I dozed off I dreamt of voices 
 used to hear often wafting through lush tree branches: 
 I dreamt of the voices of old folks I knew, maundering on for hours; 
I dreamt of the voices of apples, ripe melons, 
of milk sauntering freely through my mother’s full breast and 
spicy voices rising from latakia leaves, pungent, being smoked 
by olive dark men. And then ... I dreamt again:  
voices 
of sweat and of bones, of coal black holes 
piercing me, pleading  me: "Don't go!" 
Telling me to turn back, get away from the shore, pay no attention to men with boats: 
“Beware the water,” they say, “it is cruel." 
And the voices cry out danger, warning me sure:
"Don't step on another man's land." 
I woke with a jolt and saw before me the sands; 
a blue carpet unfurling to that cold land;  
a land that's afraid of, yet, doesn't even know me, 
a land that I'm no less determined to set foot on. 
So I walk on ... toward the boats. 
I carry this bag that I have chosen, packed it with my whole story — 
one bag — and even that will soon get lighter once 
at gun or knife point I pay my passage 
to climb into their sea craft, challenging 
voices urging me to stop. 

 Will this boat make it? Will it? 

 Once upon a shore, there were children playing, 
chasing a ball; running and laughing. 
Someone from afar ... someone from afar,  
gunned them down. 
And there was no one left on the beach 
save the ball which stood there,  
waiting. 
I remember that ball bouncing across the packed sand. 
I remember my cousins laughing, running, 
and the ball bouncing, speeding faster than us. 
 Then the wind joined in, played with the ball;  
and it started playing with us. 
We were trying our best to outrun that wind, 
reach the ball it had cruelly snatched, 
racing to see who might get it first. 
Of course, I was the last: I ran the slowest; 
I couldn’t beat the wind. 
But I ran, I ran. We all did. 
The taunt of the wind. The sound of laughter. And then ... 
someone, from afar ... someone, from afar,  
gunned us down. 
And not one of us reached the ball. Still the wind stayed on,  
having already won, kept playing on its own. 
But with my face to the ground I see nothing at all.
Only darkness. 

Now I have no idea how long I’ve been here
waiting — 
A day? Two? More?  
wait 
locked up with strangers locked up with me. 
And we look and we look at the dark blue sea, 
and we count, counting very strange numbers 
of suns, banknotes for the guy with the kalashnikov, 

Steps we take waist deep into the water to  
get to this fragile boat meant to transport us. 
And I see that my bag is swelling with the sea. 
My passport inside close to tatters. 
Faces of my loved ones now drifting in water. 
My pills one by one, melting and dropping. 
My dates have already lost their sweetness, quickly turning salty. 
The jacket and jersey threadbare. 
And I lose all my story — now drenched,  
watch it dissolving. 

 
Like caught fish packed in crates 
we set off for the unknown. 
Behind me a shore with damp sands. 
There's no one left there save a gust of wind 
and the heavy silence you always hear 
as you close one book to open another. 

There’s a curious white blot, and it's spreading, 
carried neither by wind nor by water. 
But I can see clearly: there’s a child 
in a red top, face down, 
kissing the sand. Washed by the sea — 
a cleansing for burial.  
And the wind begins to blow, as it always does when it wakes. 
But the red-shirted child does not stir. 

And the boat carries us off now away, away. 
Maybe we'll get there, maybe ... and we ask: 
Will this boat make it? Will it? 
Or will it lose breath, ceasing 
Just before the sea stops and ... ? 
Waves descend, mountainous crushing.  
Screams. Darkness, 
Cold. Thirst. Cries. 

 Suddenly  


​Translated by Maite Xerri Rosas