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/

Feeling a bit late…

Lavori in corso" Photography by Diedré M Blake, 2012. (Primavalle neighbourhood, Rome)

It’s a wakeful morning, a bit too early.  Yet still, it is not early enough for me to justify returning to sleep.  I turn my mind to thoughts of my plans for the day, which inevitably leads me to broader thoughts about my plans for my life–I won’t get into that here though.  It is about one of my thoughts, a simple plan really, upon which I would like to reflect today.

You see, after spending some months tackling the Italian language and feeling a bit bruised and battered by the process, I have finally made a decision.  I have decided to learn Italian.
At this point, you might wonder what in the universe am I meaning, considering that my previous statement suggested that I was studying or “tackling” Italian.  No, I am not completely off just yet.  What I mean is that my morning reflection led me to realize that I have not been truly wanting/desiring to learn Italian… that is, until now.
I understand that some, perhaps many, people have this edict regarding the language:  i.e., Italian is one of the most beautiful languages to speak, to write, and to learn.  I have not been of this mindset, and am not certain that I am now.  What I am is appreciative of the nuances of the language and I have come to enjoy its melodic quality.  I am still more inclined, however, to Germanic languages… but that might have a lot to do with certain aspects of my personality and how those languages complement them.
The point is that after all these many months of my studying and my 16-month love affair with Rome, I have only now opened myself to truly connecting with the people and the culture–I was a bit too busy living and trying to extend the pseudo-reality of the honeymoon phase in my relationship with Rome.
What I realize now is that I can accept Rome and that Rome can accept me.  More importantly, a most wonderful aspect of this acceptance is that we will finally come to understand one another. Yes, it may sound a bit strange to speak of a city in this way, but…
A bit late…

Cover of "A braccia aperte" (Image found at http://www.fermenti-editrice.it/iride_p_z.php)

I’ve spent a great deal of time roaming the streets of Rome.   From the very start, what appealed to me the most, beyond the monuments, was that I understood little of what was being said by those around me.  I wanted to be lost in a crowd of people, with whom I did not have to share my thoughts and to whom I did not need to react.

Of course, it is hard for someone like me to be invisible anywhere in Europe, where my dark skin certainly contrasts with the norm of whatever society in which I am presently.  I did, however, achieve a sense of my own private world, away from the some of the harshness of the reality that I had been living prior to my first visit.  Rome gave me a chance to see myself again, to hear my own voice, to listen to my thoughts, to believe in the possibility of building a beautiful and touchable future.
I suppose that I had thought that if giving up this “separateness,” this self-imposed “isolation,” this ignorance of the world moving around me would mean losing everything that I had gained.  I believe I have written about this very issue before, i.e. how our thoughts (sometimes highly irrational) can prevent us from embracing that which is can actually enhance our lives.
So, here I am.  This morning I have woken with the desire to read an entire novel in Italian.  It is my favourite novel from my adolescence.  I even went so far as to purchase the book in Italian on Kindle, so that I could immediately begin the process.  No, it is not A braccia aperte by Mario Tornello.  It is Intervista col Vampiro (“Interview with the Vampire“) by Anne Rice.
 A braccia aperte
The reason for the image of A braccia aperte is that this book of poetry was what ignited the desire within me to learn the language…  It is also another reason why I am feeling a bit late.
I discovered the book on a random walk one early afternoon through my neighbourhood, Garbatella–this was before the snow.  There is a small bookshop just before the roundabout that leads to one of the major roads in Rome, Via Cristoforo Colombo.  I am not quite sure what possessed me to go inside the shop, but go inside I did.
It was quite dismal and suitably dark.  Here and there were smatterings of stationery and schoolbags.  From what I could tell, many of the books had been bought either at the start of the new millennium or in the decades before.  The owner of the shop, a lady, was engaged in a long conversation with a customer, regarding the latter’s family–that’s as much as my Italian could tell me.  When she did finally notice me, she came over and in halting Italian I explained to her that I wanted to find a poetry book of Eugenio Montale.  I had imagined that given the fame of the poet, finding a poetry book of his in a bookshop would not pose a problem.  I was wrong.
After much conversation, during which I was offered every romantic novel the store had to offer (now folks, do I seem like the romantic novel type to you?), the owner finally left me to wander about… although there was not much wandering to do as the shop consisted of one very tiny room, which currently included all its merchandise (both offered and stored), the owner and her customer, and me.  Still, I hovered near the entrance and allowed my eyes to scan over a number of books that were easily visible to me, and that is when I saw it…
The small cream-coloured book with its Times New Roman font and its single graphic design of a winged eye appealed to me.  Perhaps I thought that it would be easy to read, because it was not a large book, or perhaps because of the simplicity of its design.  Who knows.  Whatever the reason, I picked it up and opened it to page fourteen.

"Trasfigurazione," Mario Tornello, acrylic, cm. 60 X 80, 1995. (Image found at http://www.museum-bagheria.it/mariotornello.html. Art dated as 1996)

Parlerò di te

Parlerò di te

che mi riconosci il passo

sui mattoni di cotto,

di te che rubi sulla mia pelle

pensieri rappresi, sospesi tra due cieli;

di te, dei tuoi spenti desideri

ormai chiusi in arcani pensieri.

Di te che ho voglia di dire

e di sentire curiosità sopite,

di te che mi sfuggi

come un sabato che se ne va.

Parlami, perché io varchi la tua soglia

sotto l’ibisco che accende lanterne rosa

tra giardini a mare.

Stringi tra le tue dita

di cristallo d’arte

queste mani che ti dicono

quale luogo profondo

hanno scavato tra le mie carni.

E tutto si perde

nella sofferenza dell’attesa,

nelle parole pronunciate e spente

a fil di labbra,

nella palude delle idee

dove ritrovare se stessi

è come avere un poker tra le mani.

Without knowledge of the meaning of all the words, I understood the poem.  When I write “understood,”  what I mean is that the poem connected with some core part of myself that allowed me to grasp its meaning.  Whether reading it in silence or aloud, the poem (for me, at least) elicits a profound experience.

Caro amico

Ho letto il tuo urlo senza voce

e m’è caduto il cuore.

Mi dici che i morti in riposo,

sospesi tra due cieli bruciano

sullo scoglio vestito di sole.

Non saprò più immaginare

sulla cenere di ciò che fu.

Siamo inermi nel delirio

di chi non sa amare

ciò che l’alba del tempo

ha inciso per l’uomo.

Mario Tornello was a painter, a poet, and a writer.  He was born on October 21, 1927 in Palermo and died on February 2, 2010 in Rome.  He was all that I hope one day to truly label myself to be.  At present, I am a bit of a lavori in corso (“work in progress)… but then again, aren’t we all.

Now, I am off for my walk; kindle, Italian/English dictionary, poetry book, and pen; for which I am already late… but happily so.
Until next time!