Image credit: Normal Gergely, "Space Administration #19" : mixed media

Artist Bio
View full size

The Red Crabs

 

The Christmas Island red crabs

stack up kilometers, sideways, every year,     

under the merciless sun, over the paved roads,

over dead and yellow grass; they blend,

expected with the rains, into the life

of the Islanders: they climb over clogs

thrown outside of doors, pinch

the tails of dogs lying on porches,

scale sidewalks, search

for refreshment at fountains

or on golf courses, amid the races

of barefoot children

in the school fields—and they move forward,

forward stubbornly to the sea

they saw for less than an hour the day they were born.

 

The sea calls, ready to host

all that red, quick to embrace

a billion tender eggs to let them hatch

inside the hermetic heat of plankton.

 

In the silver that falls from the moon,

those crimson reefs

swarm with the females that move

in a procession, to shake their bellies

in a dance on the shore.

 

Then they’ll return to the forests at the heart

of the island: and over the desiccated flesh   

left behind on the beach, killed

by the journey of love towards the memory of the sea;

over the hardened carcasses that remain,

crushed by the trucks on the road, dug up             

by the hens, the new generations soon                   

will pass, like a river of oblivious blood,                                   

already doomed to the same vital slaughter.

 

 

Suddenly Silent Faces Fading Away

 

Suddenly silent faces fading away,

invitations on tables scattered,

pirouettes of barefoot children
spraying water on the dog behind the fence;

paper flowers, shuffled now and then

by the disaster in the air... We feel the need

to check our watches,

to drink a little more, and then to stand, discreetly

say our goodbyes to the party’s hosts,

and disappear into the shade of the backyard,

leaving swift footprints in the grass

that immediately erases them.

 

 

The Foreign Guest

 

He intently studied the spines—for him

indecipherable—of the books,

the foreign guest that a coincidence

had brought home to me. “He doesn’t understand

a word of Italian,” warned
the friend he came with.  But those unfamiliar

books may have spoken to him (while

after some pleasantries in English, my friend and I

reminisced in Italian, and even worse,

in the slang of our school years!), allowing
themselves, simply by being tranquil,

to be touched lightly by his gaze; they too

suffused with a loving joy

before those mute eyes, as inquiring

as those of well-fed horses.

 

 

The Fighters

 

The fighters fight for everyone:

for those who don’t know, for those who pretend

not to know,

that we’re at war, a bloody war, never declared;

lives fly away

annihilated, blown to pieces

in full respect of the laws and treaties.

 

The cowardly enemy changes shape every day,

shoots from the corners, from unexpected roofs;

he crouches in the hearts, in the words of those most dear,

of those above suspicion.

His thoughts change―thought is the bomb

that causes the most torment: its goes off by surprise,

it mutates continually, like viruses

when the antibodies in blood proliferate

the moment after

the serum is injected.

 

 

In Tempore Belli

 

They’re killing the animals one by one,

most of them struck dumb,

right before and during the sacrifice,

their eyes astonished, like human eyes

in the face of death.  Then the trumpetings     

of elephants, their big, ancient heads

dangling, no longer tusked; the soft thud

of lion paws

on the concrete floor.  All of the cages

open, already cleansed of blood

and the last droppings,

grey tanks dried out, and long

crocodile tails,

green and still as a rock in the sun.

Impossible to feed them,

to take care of them—they said—to play with them,

the fun-loving seals, the little monkeys,

with their grins

made only of teeth.                          

Everything dies, in tempore belli.

 

 

Ask the Sweat

 

Ask your bodies.

Ask your bodies for help. Shout out.

If there’s something to know, they’ll know it.

They’ll hear you—in fact:

they’ll know even before you shout.

They will be the ones to tellyou when to shout.

 

Consult the knowledge of the fingernails you bite,

the bow of your lips that remember kisses never given;

read the soles of your feet; stretch

on the floor, like a sheet, all of your skin,

then lean over to inspect the marks, the patterns of hair,

the moles that capture and sometimes release

your malignant nights.  Study them.

Then descend into the deeper flesh.

 

Once you’re done, for today, go outside,

spread your arms, worship

the summer sun that trickles

on the glistening backs, from the nest of underarms.

Ask the sweat.

 

 

Planets Imploding

 

There are letters sealed just the moment before,

chairs lovingly

pushed under tables―a remaining trace

of the light there was that day,

still-photographed

in the eyes of those who saw.

 

Without odor, without pain, they scattered,

the second before, the whirlwind

exploding in their ears, the daytime sky returning

the last heat, the last

glimmer, the long shadows

of creatures making their escape.



View Original Work ↓

I granchi rossi

 

I granchi rossi dell’isola Christmas

macinano chilometri, di sghembo, ogni anno,

sotto il sole spietato, sugli asfalti,

sull’erba gialla e morta, si mischiano,

attesi con le piogge, alla vita

degli isolani: scavalcano gli zoccoli

gettati davanti alle porte, pizzicano

la coda ai cani stesi sui cortili,

salgono i marciapiedi

e cercano ristoro alle fontane

o sui prati da golf, fra le corse

dei bimbi a piedi nudi

nei campi della scuola: e avanzano,

avanzano testardi verso il mare

che videro per non più di un’ora quando nacquero.

 

Il mare chiama, pronto ad ospitare

tutto quel rosso, svelto a coccolare

miliardi di tenere uova e a farle schiudere

dentro il calore ermetico del plancton.

 

Nell’argento che piove dalla luna

le scogliere scarlatte

formicolano di femmine che vanno

in processione a scuotere la pancia

sul bagnasciuga come in una danza.

 

Poi torneranno alle foreste nel cuore

dell’isola: e sulle polpe prosciugate

che restano lì sulla spiaggia, uccise

dal viaggio d’amore verso la memoria del mare;

sulle carcasse coriacee che rimangono

schiacciate dai camion sulla strada, scavate

dalle galline, le nuove generazioni presto

passeranno come un fiume di sangue immemore,

già condannate al medesimo scempio vitale.

 

 

Facce di colpo mute che sbiadiscono

 

Facce di colpo mute che sbiadiscono,

gli inviti sui tavoli sparsi,

le piroette dei bambini scalzi

a spruzzare acqua al cane oltre la rete;

fiori di carta, si alza a tratti un’aria

di bufera a sfogliarli… Viene un’ansia

di confrontare orologi,

bere ancora un po’ e poi alzarsi, salutare

con discrezione i padroni della festa

e sparire nell’ombra di dietro

segnando passi rapidi nell’erba

che immediatamente li cancella.

 

 

L’ospite straniero

 

Scrutava intento le coste per lui

indecifrabili dei libri,

l’ospite straniero che una coincidenza

mi aveva portato a casa. «Non capisce

una parola di italiano», mi aveva preavvertito

l’amico con cui venne. Ma quei libri

ignoti forse gli parlavano (mentre,

dopo due convenevoli in inglese,

l’amico ed io, in italiano, e nel peggiore,

si riandava ai tempi della scuola…), solo

con il loro composto lasciarsi

sfiorare dal suo sguardo, anche loro

tutti compresi d’amorosa gioia

di fronte a quei muti occhi, inquisitivi

come quelli dei cavalli satolli.

 

 

I combattenti

 

I combattenti combattono per tutti:

per chi non lo sa, per chi finge

di non saperlo

che c’è la guerra, sanguinosa, mai dichiarata,

le vite che volano via

annientate, soffiate

nel pieno rispetto dei patti e delle leggi.

 

Il nemico vigliacco cambia forma ogni giorno,

spara dagli angoli, dai tetti dove non ti aspetti di trovarlo;

sta acquattato nel cuore, nelle parole dei più cari,

degli insospettabili.

Cambia pensiero, è il pensiero la bomba

che peggio dilania: scatta a sorpresa,

è in perenne mutazione, come i virus

quando nel sangue cominciano a prolificare gli anticorpi,

l’attimo dopo

inoculato il siero.

 

 

In tempore belli

 

Uccidono gli animali ad uno ad uno,

i più, ammutoliti,

subito prima e poi durante il sacrificio,

negli occhi increduli come gli occhi umani

davanti a quelle mani; poi i barriti

degli elefanti coi testoni anziani

senza più zanne, ciondoloni, il tonfo

felpato delle zampe dei leoni         

sopra il cemento, aperte

tutte le gabbie, già lavate dal sangue,

dagli escrementi estremi,

grigie vasche prosciugate e le lunghe

code dei coccodrilli

verdi immobili come pietra al sole.

Impossibile nutrirli,

accudirli, dicevano, giocare con loro,

le foche scherzose, le scimmiette

con i loro sghignazzi

fatti tutti di denti.

Tutto muore, in tempore belli.

 

 

Domandate al sudore

 

Domandate ai vostri corpi.

Domandate aiuto ai vostri corpi. Gridate.

Se c’è qualcosa da sapere lo sapranno.

Vi sentiranno; anzi:

sapranno prima ancora che gridiate.

Saranno loro che vi diranno quando gridare.

 

Consultate il sapere delle unghie che mangiate,

l’arco delle labbra che ricordano baci non dati,

leggetevi le piante dei piedi, stendete

sul pavimento, come un lenzuolo, tutta la pelle,

e poi chini scrutate le macchie, i disegni dei peli,

i nei che catturano e a volte rilasciano

le vostre notti maligne. Studiateli.

Poi scendete nella carne profonda.

 

E quando avrete finito, per oggi, uscite fuori,

allargate le braccia, adorate

il sole dell’estate che ruscella

sulle schiene abbaglianti, dal nido delle ascelle.

Domandate al sudore.

 

 

Implosioni di pianeti

 

Sono lettere sigillate l’attimo prima,

sedie amorosamente

avvicinate ai tavoli – rimane la traccia

della luce che c’era quel dì,

fotografata immobile

negli occhi di chi ha visto.

 

Senza odore, senza dolore, i dileguati,

l’attimo prima, il vortice

esplode nelle orecchie, il cielo diurno rimanda

l’ultimo calore, l’ultimo

bagliore, l’ombra

delle creature lunga nella fuga.

Translator Notes

The poems selected for Exchanges come in part from Pestarino’s second book of poetry, Lune d’Honan (The Moons of Honan), an autobiographical collection that moves between high and low registers of speech and tone, in a consistent and sometimes playful, engagement with Italian literary history.  The title of the collection stems from a line in Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Turandot” in which a wise man living at the court of the bloody Princess Turandot sings about a place far from the capital where he would like to spend his quiet hours, (“Ho una casa nell’Honan, con il suo laghetto blu”) (I have a home in Honan, with a small blue lake), instead of having to pour over sacred books and witness the execution of suitors who cannot solve the Princess’s riddle.  In the metaphor of the title, “Honan” is not exactly a place or a time, but rather a dimension the poet imagines his readers would like to escape to.


Pestarino’s writing moves frequently back and forth across boundaries, making passages between real and imagined places, the present and the future, literature and history, the self and a larger humanity.  His publisher, Manni Editore, describes this interplay between the personal and the public as poems “narrate and recall, play and meditate, examine and reorder in a continual divertissement in which the reader feels constantly called forth [to action].”  I wanted the poems for Exchanges to reflect Pestarino’s range of movement and his continual border crossing.  Hence, while I have included a pair from Pestarino’s second collection, which tend to be more lyrical in terms of themes and style, I wanted to also include the newer ones (yet unpublished) that even more explicitly deal with themes that go beyond the life or feelings of the poet (even though this voice is always present).  My aim in these translations is to capture the interplay of levity and depth (positioned always at a pointed axis of self and other) that is hallmark of his work.


Jessica Harkins

×