Appeso ad un chiodo
lo zaino di scuola del villaggio,
una nuvola bianca si posa sul pioppo
squarciato dai fulmini.
Della mia dimora natale, in cima alla collina,
pian piano si perdono le tracce,
nel giardino dei melograni, dove partoriva la cagna,
non ho messo più piede.
Non possiedo nessuna foto
della povera casetta di pietra focaia
dove tremavo e mi alzavo di buon’ora.
Si è seccato anche il gelso rosso nella siepe,
tace il vecchio pozzo nel cortile;
le farfalle lo attraversano mattina e sera,
per gli olmi vaga la furba civetta
che annuncia la pioggia o richiama il bel tempo.
Ahimè, vago dintorno e nessuno mi vede,
dagli ulivi si alzano stormi di neri uccelli
nelle loro ali pesa come un dolore
il grigio del giorno.
My village school satchel
hangs from a nail.
A white cloud rests on a poplar
torn by lightning.
At the top of the hill, all trace of my birthplace
is slowly lost.
I haven’t set foot in the garden of pomegranates
where the dog gave birth.
I don’t have any photo
of the poor cottage built from fired stone
where I trembled and woke early.
The red mulberry tree in the hedge has dried,
and the old well is silent in the courtyard
crossed by butterflies morning and evening.
A clever owlet roams the elms
announcing rain or recalling fine weather.
I wander around and nobody sees me.
A flock of dark birds rises from the olives,
the day’s gray in their wings
heavy like a pain.
Spesso a notte fonda
entra una strana voce nella mia stanza,
giunge sempre alla stessa ora
dal profondo di un pozzo scuro.
Siede accanto al mio letto
cupa e minacciosa.
Quante volte mi sono svegliato
in ansia e spavento.
“Non ti spaventare fanciullo—
mi ripete ogni volta al buio—
le ombre che ti si affacciano nei sogni,
non sono che chimere.
Vivrai a lungo da guerriero
tra vipere e corvi.
Per compagni di viaggio avrai
solo spine e pietre.
Vai avanti per la tua strada,
non dar retta ai finti oracoli.
Il tuo seme di contadino
inciderà sul fango albanese.”
Poi si dilegua nel buio
del fondo del pozzo scuro,
per tornare ogni notte alla stessa ora
più cupa e minacciosa.
Often in the dead of night
always at the same time
from the bottom of a dark well
a strange voice comes into my room.
It comes to the side of my bed,
gloomy and menacing.
How many times have I woken
anxious and full of fear.
“Don’t be afraid, child,”
it repeats each time in the dark,
“the shadows leaning over you in dreams
are nothing but chimeras.
You’ll live for a long time,
a warrior among vipers and crows.
For travelling companions
you’ll have thorns and stones.
Follow your own road,
pay no attention to fake oracles.
Your peasant seed will leave its mark
in the Albanian mud.”
Then it fades away
into the depths of the dark well,
only to return gloomier and more menacing
at the same time each night.
—translated from Italian by Ian Seed
The above poems are taken from Bitter Grass (Shearsman Books, 2020).
Gëzim Hajdari was born in 1957 in Lushnjë, Albania. As well as working in a variety of jobs, he was intensely involved in journalism and political activism in his native country. In 1992 he fled to Italy. He initially occupied the ruins of an abandoned building in Frosinone near Rome, but was awarded an apartment by the town council after he won the prestigious Eugenio Montale Prize. He writes in both Albanian and Italian, but is perhaps more recognized in his adopted country. His books include collections of essays and travel writing, as well as several volumes of poetry, which have been translated into several languages. Stigmata, translated by Cristina Viti, was his first collection to appear in English, published by Shearsman in 2016, and was runner-up for the 2018 John Florio Prize, awarded by the Society of Authors.
Ian Seed teaches Creative Writing at the University of Chester, and has lectured in Italian language and literature. He is a poet, critic, fiction writer, editor and translator. He has published a number of collections of poetry and prose, including five full-length collections with Shearsman Books, the most recent of which, New York Hotel (2018), was selected by Mark Ford as a TLS Book of the Year. The Underground Cabaret is forthcoming from Shearsman in the autumn.
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