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Translations by Albert Gatt
The void strips words...
The void strips words of metaphor
and similes are vacuous when
a medical chart is all you’ve time for
the clatter of what pills remain
in the white dispenser.
Blankets soak up your dreams
the night is buried
the smiles on children’s faces in the street
become incomprehensible
and every scream a knife stab
each embrace betrayal
and though the calendar
promised a new moon this evening
it’s nowhere to be seen.
You must believe, she said and
an atheist in thrall to superstition
a soothsayer burdened by the past
I believed in you.
Should you have time
should you happen to pass by
bring along the colours
I left behind at yours
since when I’ve painted all with blood and tears
I’ve painted in the dark night of the soul
I’ve painted madness
It’s cold...
The evening’s cold without you
and death seems to impend on
the lemons, oranges, the plant we sowed
in the garden where we tasted
our lips’ delight;
only the dew smell lingers
from the freshness entangled in your hair
the light tap of fingers gone astray
an empty wine glass beside the full one
our scribbles on my bedroom wall
your name in seven languages carved into the door
the dreams we painted on the sky;
but they do nothing to diminish
the cold this evening
the cold of a long night without you
the unending dark.
Another night
Another night without you.
Where are you?
I took the winding lanes
beneath the glimmer of streetlamps
and the stares of statues
in niches on darklit corners
beneath the hopeful stars
and flowers in bloom
longing the breath of you.
I spoke to the wind
gave it your name
wrapped in a scrap of paper that flew
towards the moon.
I spoke to the rain
it snatched my tears and hid them;
I wonder,  did the downpour
drench you too?
Yakubu / Detention centre, Hal Safi
Not far from the airport
repairs his television to replace
the lines and static
with the colours, pictures beamed
from every corner
his village too, perhaps,
where they grew up,
Yakubu and his mates.
Through the window he can see
a plane lies in a hangar
being repaired.
The engineers, as clever as Yakubu
seem fairer
better dressed
more fortunate.
Tourists on planes are different
from those who land in boats;
they get an in-flight meal,
tickets don’t cost a life;
they won’t be screened for illness, though
some liquids might be confiscated
a pen-knife or some lighter fluid
forgotten in their carry-on baggage.
It’s different for Yakubu.
Yakubu fled.
Yakubu had no ticket, though
he paid a thousand dollars for a place
among another twenty-six inside a boat
huddled in the dust-strewn night
of Tripoli.
Six days amid the waves
the sea trying to snatch
the hull between its teeth
beneath a heedless sun.
The police lost no time asking whether
there were goods to declare
the duty’s paid, here’s the receipt:
Yakubu and his mates
alive and lost
sun-blistered, drenched
huddled in the black bus
and staring blankly through its windows
at the stinking black boat
from which their dreams had fallen
one by one
to drown
at the bottom of the sea.
Jenin 3
No fault of yours, Samir,
that the world is so cruel.
No fault of yours, Samir,
that you find no love in this world.
No fault of yours, Samir,
that soldiers are targeting your homeland.
No fault of yours, Samir,
that your house is gone.
Armoured trucks are trampling over
your mother's remains
and Fatima your neighbour is weeping in the street.
In the dark, your sister huddles beneath the table
and your friend lies face down with his eyes closed.
But it's no fault of yours, Samir,
that the moon tonight has gone into hiding.
Now get some sleep, Samir, get some sleep.
Pripjet – The phantom village of Chernobyl
They saw the flames from here
said Vlodymir to me when
instead of the sun
we saw the chimney tip on the horizon
from the horizontal beam
of what used the be a bridge.
The bridge that Ivan crossed
in a Zastava
his wife moaning in the backseat
his daughter weeping
and his insides consumed
by infernal fire.
The bridge that Petr fled over
with a passport and a dog
and Zlata with her mother, hand in hand
perhaps a photo tucked into her sleeve
from which already flowed incipient waves
of an eternal noxiousness.
This is the Devil’s Circle
said Vlodymir
you hear the cry, the rasping moan of lost souls
in the gale of radiation
feel the vacant stare of trees that soak
the sun with every breath
of the reactor,
a thousand tumours underground,
suck up the dregs of life
through cankered roots.
In the Devil’s Circle lie
an open violin case
some negatives of a youth
in a bare-chested pose
and, smiling, looking fixedly ahead
into the lens,
a girl.
Don’t touch warned Vlodymir
I crouched down like an orphan at its mother’s grave
in the shade of a tree
scattered with forlorn flowers
There, on the ground
lay Marx’s book of wisdom,
a leaflet from the party wing
that manages the plant,
another one that sells the dream
that Lenin dreamt for us,
this one’s in colour.
The mural shows
the women selling fruit
the upturned faces of rust-coloured children
and faces peeled
mere shadows of polluted ghosts
the houses stand wide open
for twenty years they’ve waited
for chairs to be pulled up to the dining table
wardrobes hang open night and day
and water flows in the river
where death bathes, singing
the litany of 40,000 names
that once upon a time witnessed the flames
from the bridge into the village
a cemetary of empty graves
the lost village of Pripjet.
Open ticket
I am a luggage-carrying citizen
from a sun-drenched land
my tongue laps up the dialects
my legs dance with the wind
my eyes have known the women of the street.
Here’s what I carry:
an open ticket, a blank-paged diary
some fragments of remembrance
a passport stamped with faces of peoples that I’ve loved
the winsome smile of yesterday
a guidebook from the story museum.
My island sails along the currents
snuggles against the whir of planes
and lies to rest before me
on the sill of open train windows.
My homeland’s map, redrawn each morning
is a mosaic of empty churches
teeming squares
my eyes tracing the lanes
children eating ices
darkened corners
bastions lit
the sinful places
the wayward’s pit
and time stands still
in my infinite land
drunk with the Pope
the mujaheddin
exhorts the gathering
the muqaddin
who shrug him off
in Harlequin’s name
in this dream of my people
which no clock interrupts
time stands still.
Weaving verses in unending couplets
the spirits’s words conquer the night
a litany of creation sung
at crossroads by the lamps alight.
And my tongue sings the song of beauty
my tongue that’s lapped the sweat of generations
spinning our father’s yarns, the tales
in which the I has its foundations.
Now listen to the bells taking the piss
reminder of the hour in an eternal day
the promise of a drop of quietude
from the incense that invades our throats each day.
Standing on my church’s parvis, I reject
the bibles foisted on me through the years
the gilded tabernacles on the altars
which are locked tight by keys of human fears.
For after all, I tie my faith in rumours
scribbled by angry idiots on the walls
“no”, “I love you”, “no more globalisation”
“can’t live without you here”, “fuck you”, “what balls”.
I walked and walked to find all this
To find there’s nothing there for all the trouble
I finally lay down in my hotel bed
whose owner had assured me was a double.
I know a sun that shines only in the evening
I know a sea that lurks beneath a desert
I know a girl who thrives on soil
I know a black tree in an uncertain night.
I know a boy from Brazil
looking at an airborne plane
to ask
how people could could have found their way up there
I know a Tunisian prisoner
an illegal migrant
I know a Japanese guy who’s bike’s been nicked.
I know a Libian travelling with no passport
who works in a quarry.
I know a girl in Kosovo
who plays the caved-in carcass of a piano.
I know a Palestinian
who visits his son’s grave every day
I know his mother who refuses to speak
I know his friend who was with him that day.
I know a dancer from Catalonia
whose strong legs have mastered
his very shadow
he dances round in circles in the sand
the moon is dancing with him.
This is my land
This is my city
This is the hour
when I carry the wind with me
This is my land
This is my world
This is the story
I carry in my luggage.
Karl Schembri
Translations by Albert Gatt