A poet’s view on immigration, a translation….

I like disclaimers as many people know.  It’s a thing with me.  I simply like to preface everything to ensure that I am being clear in my thoughts… Of course, this doesn’t always work.  Actually, in general conversation, I have a tendency towards being quite shy and quite quiet… unless you get me talking about politics or psychology or poetry…

Instead of talking, however, I thought today I would write a little about all three topics.  No, not relating to the U.S. (nevermind the picture).  Actually, I wanted to briefly draw attention to the situation of illegal immigration here in Italy.

I will preface this by saying that I do not know very much about the situation.  These thoughts are just my impressions and my understandings based upon observation, discussion and reading.

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

In Rome it is common enough to see Bangladeshi and African vendors on the side of the road selling knock-off wares and roasting chestnuts.  It seems that there are levels to legality in the process of being a street vendor.  There are those who sell scarves and jewelry on tables, who are sometimes accosted by the police to show their license to sell.  There are those who sell chestnuts and small arts and crafts items (watercolour paintings and sculptures made from carrots, etc.).  Then there are those who sell items on tables made from cardboard boxes, such as scarves, knock-off bags, sunglasses, umbrellas, etc.  It is really about these last that my thoughts are with today.

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

There is a particular occurence that happens here in Rome perhaps more often than I realize…  What is it?  It is the emergence of street police and scattering of the last-mentioned vendors.  It’s a bit strange really, because if you wander around Piazza Navona, you will notice clearly that the Carabinieri and regular police officers are there.  They, however, do nothing when they see these vendors, even though their presence (I believe) is illegal.  It is sort of a game really…  a sad one.

These vendors sell these items all day long, regardless of the weather, are chased by police, looked down upon by Italians and tourists alike, and make very little money.   Again, I do not know much about this topic, but I do know my observation… and it also helps being a black woman in understanding certain attitudes that can be levied against people of colour here.

As many of you know, I am in the process of learning Italian.   Recently, in my Italian course, I came across this poem by Adrian Sofri called “Nei Ghetti d’Italia Questo Non E’ Un Uomo.”  My professor tasked us with the work of attempting to understand and to translate as much as we could.  Given my love for poetry, I happily began reading the poem (with dictionary and pen in hand).  It is about the experiences of being an illegal immigrant in Italy.  Below are the original and my translation.  Again a disclaimer:  I am new to Italian, so please do not judge translation harshly.  If, however, you would like to give me some help with it, then I gladly welcome it! 🙂

It is long, but worthwhile to read.

Until next time!



Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Photograph by Diedré M. Blake

Nei Ghetto d’Italia Question Non E’ Un Uomo

By Adriano Sofri

Di nuovo, considerate di nuovo

Se questo è un uomo,

Come un rospo a gennaio,

Che si avvia quando è buio e nebbia

E torna quando è nebbia e buio

Che stramazza a un ciglio di strada,

Odora di kiwi e arance di Natale,

Conosce tre lingue e non ne parla nessuna,

Che contende ai topi la sua cena,

Che ha due ciabatte di scorta,

Una domanda d’asilo,

Una laurea in ingegneria, una fotografia,

E le nasconde sotto i cartoni,

E dorme sotto i cartoni della Rognetta,

sotto un tetto d’amianto,

O senza tetto,

Fa il fuoco con la mondezza,

Che se ne sta al posto suo,

In nessun posto,

E se ne sbuca, dopo il tiro a segno,

“Ha sbagliato!”,

Certo che ha sbagliato,

L’Uomo Nero,

Della miseria nera,

Del lavoro nero, e da Milano,

Per l’elemosina di un’attenuante,

Scrivono grande: NEGRO,

Scartato da un caporale,

Sputato da un povero cristo locale,

Picchiato dai suoi padroni,

Braccato dai loro cani,

Che invidia i nostri cani,

Che invidia la galera,

(un buon posto per impiccarsi)

Che piscia coi cani,

Che azzanna i cani senza padrone,

Che vive tra un no e un no,

Tra un Comune commissariato per mafia,

E un centro di ultima accoglienza

E quando muore, una colletta

Dei suoi fratelli a un euro all’ora

Lo rimanda oltre il mare, oltre il deserto

Alla sua terra – “A quel Paese”

Meditate che questo è stato,

Che questo è ora,

Che Stato è questo,

Rileggete i Vostri saggetti sul Problema,

Voi che adottate a distanza,

Di sicurezza in Congo, in Guatemala,

E scrivete al calduccio, né di qua né di la,

Né bontà, roba da Caritas, né Brutalità, roba da affari interni,

Tiepidi come una berretta da notte,

E distogliete gli occhi da questa,

Che non è una donna,

Da questo che non è un uomo,

Che non ha una donna,

E i figli, se ha i figli, sono distanti

E pregate di nuovo che i vostri nati

Non torcano il viso da voi


My Translation:

In the ghettos of Italy, this is not a man

By Adriano Sofri

Again, consider again

If this is a man

Like a toad in January,

Who sets out when it is dark and foggy

And returns when it is foggy and dark,

Who collapses on the side of the road,

He smells of kiwis and Christmas oranges,

He knows three languages and cannot speak any of them,

Who competes with the mice for his dinner,

Who has two spare slippers,

A request for asylum,

A degree in engineering, a photograph,

And the hidden beneath cardboard boxes,

And he sleeps on cardboard boxes of Rognetta,

Beneath a shelter of asbestos,

Or without shelter,

He makes fire with trash,

Who if he stays in his place,

Is nowhere,

And if he emerges, he is in the way of a shooting range,

“He has made a mistake!”

Of course, he has made a mistake,

The Black Man.

Of the black misery,

Of the black market, a from Milan,

By the charity of extenuating circumstances

They write in large letters: NEGRO,

Rejected by a corporal

Spat at by a local poor devil

Beaten by his bosses,

Hunted by their dogs,

Who envies their dogs,

Who envies their prison

(a good place to hang oneself)

Who pisses with dogs,

Who bites strays,

Who lives between a No and a No,

Between a town policed by the Mafia

And an Ultimate Welcoming Center,

And when he dies, a collection

Of his brothers of a euro an hour

He is sent beyond the sea, beyond the desert

To his earth—“To that hell!”

Meditate upon the fact that this has been

That this is now

That State is this

Review your learned books on the Problem

You who adopt from a distance

Of security, in Congo, in Guatemala,

And you write warmly, neither of here nor of there,

Nor kindness, the stuff of charitable, nor

Brutality, the stuff of the internal affairs,

Tepid, like a nightcap,

From which the eyes cannot look away

Who is not a woman

Therefore who is not a man

Who does not have a woman

And the children, if he has children, are distant,

And pray again that they were born yours

They never turn their faces from you.

Related Post & Citation for Poem: Neobar – Blog site:  http://neobar.wordpress.com/2010/01/28/adriano-sofri-nei-ghetti-ditalia-questo-non-e-un-uomo/

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