from issue #1: Poetry by Paolo Totaro

GENTE DI BALMAIN (BALMAIN PEOPLE)

Translated by Theodore Ell

Peter 

Tu sai che c’è, perchè il tuo cane corre
a cercare morselli che lui lascia
affidati al grande Moreton Bay Fig.
Lo sai, perchè se ascolti a notte piena

dalla verandah alla strada svuotata,
senti il coperchio del tuo garbage bin
che si apre e chiude col leggero fruscìo
del già rifiuto risignificato.

Una grotta nell’asciutto limestone
sulle rive del fiume Parramatta
ben ornata da edere gli è casa,
ma sopra quella roccia, comperate

all’asta, compatte altre case. Gente
altrimenti sicura che nei sogni
si sente minacciata dalle volpi
volanti e grida muta “Come back!”

Peter lascia un pochino delle cose
per i pets delle case arroccate.
Lo dice russo o forse ungherese
chi l’ha sentito e di voce sottile

e di pochissime parole accentate.
Lento di piede, solennemente
si muove come un vescovo ortodosso
odora d’incenso e forse lo è stato.

[You know he’s there, because your dog dashes
to look for titbits he leaves out
at the big Moreton Bay Fig.
You know, because if you listen deep in the night

from the verandah into the empty street,
you hear the lid of your garbage bin
opening and closing with the slight rustling
of something thrown away reacquiring meaning.

A cave in the scorched limestone
on the banks of the Parramatta river
garlanded with ivy is home to him,
but above that rock, purchased

at auction, compacted other houses. People
otherwise secure who in their dreams
feel menaced by the flying
foxes and cry out silently “Come back!”

Peter leaves a little of anything
for the pets of the unwelcoming houses.
They say he is Russian or perhaps Hungarian
the ones who have heard his soft accented voice

and not many words spoken.
Slow of step, solemnly
he moves like an orthodox bishop
redolent of incense and perhaps he was.]

Paddy

Che lotta mantenersi rilevante!
Fu stato giornalista e vive ora vestito
di fuliggine nell’angolo più oscuro
del Riverview Pub. Raro sorriso

non traguarda, non ti dà a vedere
altro che due lenti tonde nere
ed un vago senso di minaccia
oltrepassata. Che lotta mantenersi

ancora vivi! E quanto più feroce
l’immagine di un se che ormai trascorre
indefinito. Infagottato, rubizzo
forse si vede chiaro acciaio

d’ironia che non perdona
e non dà trregua mentre gli altri
non vedono che un gozzo.

[What a struggle to stay relevant!
He had been a journalist and now lives coated
in grime in the darkest corner
of the Riverview Pub. He aims no

rare smiles, gives nothing away
but two black round lenses
and a vague sense of menace
overcome. What a struggle to stay

a little bit alive! And even more savage
the image of an if which now runs on
undefined. Muffled up, hearty
perhaps it is possible to see a clear steel

of irony which does not forgive
and gives no quarter while others
see nothing but a goitre.]

Mary

Curva sul trabiccolo
di legno consumato
camminava lenta
verso il rendevù

quotidiano col sole,
quando calmo sottinde
gli orizzonti spianati
di questa città pigra

senza salite o discese
e senza male né bene.
Vergine d’ogni peccato
trascinava scarpe slabbrate

già della sanvincenzo:
scialli gonne scialletti
mollemente gonfiati
dal pochissimo vento.

E non mancava eleganza
come in tutta l’antica
povera gente, di qui
o immigrata. È lo stesso,

non t’offrono pupille
ma radi sordi ‘gooday’
a te che il suo quartiere
glielo hai gentrificato.

Erano il suo comitato
due gatti, quello roscio
e quello variegato.
Li sgridava gentile

se aveva energia:
“Piccirì… ehi Pussypussypù.”
Tre passi e poi fermata
serpeggiando i codoni

l’aspettavano galanti,
occhi onesti fissati
su lei preziosa providora.
Vent’anni in Sicilia.

Venne sposa. Fu morto.
Poi anni nella fattoria
della cioccolatte Nestlé
costruita su una insenatura

del Parramatta River;
certo a volte smellava
ma dava da che vivere
a un intero quartiere.

Ai gatti parlava sempre
meno e sempre più alla mente
voci antiche, e le nuove
che non sa più decifrare.

Se ne è andata silenziosa
come è vissuta e dicono
era la casa senza bagno.
I gatti sopravvivono.

Alla morte si arriva sempre tardi.

[Bent over the cart
of eaten wood
she would walk slowly
towards the daily

rendezvous with the sun,
when it calmly underlines
the flattened horizons
of this lazy city

without rises or descents
and without evil or good.
A virgin to any wrongdoing
she shuffled in shoes

already tatty from Vinnies:
shawls skirts scarves
billowing minutely
in the very little breeze.

And she didn’t lack elegance
as with all old
poor people, from here
or immigrants. It’s the same,

they don’t offer pleading
but the odd muted ‘gooday’
to you who gentrified
their suburb on them.

Her committee was
two cats, the bastard one
and the mottled one.
She kindly scolded them

if she had the energy:
“Piccirì... ehi Pussypussypù.”
Three steps and then still
their tails snaking around

they waited for her gallantly,
honest eyes fixed
on her the precious provider.
Twenty years in Sicily.

She married. He died.
Then years in the factory
of Nestlé drinking chocolate
built on an inlet

of the Parramatta River;
sure it smelled at times
but it gave that bit of a living
to an entire suburb.

To the cats she spoke less
and less, with more ancient voices
to her mind, and new ones
she forgets how to decipher.

She went away in silence
as she lived and they say
the house had no bathroom.
The cats survive.

At death you always arrive late.]

TECHNIQUE

Technique in poetry
is like undergarments.
They show
if only as an elastic band
and they spoil the mystery.
What’s seen
is evidence
for the more that’s not.
The unseen should induce
an inner grin of complicity
and maybe an upbeat downbeat
miracle of sense awakened, of a plea
that more is less in flesh and words.
More is the giving
that’s covert
but with reason:
not too much cloth not too much meter
but precise
to transport only the weight
of real flesh
not tattooed.

AT THE AGE OF SEVENTY-NINE

At the age of seventy-nine, I decided to be old. Again.
Closing the flood-gates of imagination was as easy
as gathering the next harvest of easy dreams,
or for the wet nurse licking my eyelids to make me well again.

It’s a question, she foretold, of suspending belief and interest,
of closing books, of not caring about broken light bulbs,
of twisting the memory of career into caring.
True, opening the gates to old age wants no will-power

but only a shifting of attention. Maybe from the grass
and the honey-bees and the games of children
to the slaughter of inner cells, to the stifling of easy breathing.
At the age of seventy-nine it is fitting to play one’s age,

to run less miles, to chide the wandering eye
and accept that there is no more a case for far-out
alternative destinies. It is like a broken vinyl disc
the dent, its ‘click’ commanding the same note

to repeat, the same bar, the same image to awake,
colour, taste, gesture, kinship, tree-bending.
The tiring shift of attention from Abraham to Jeremiah
and back again, with maybe even a slow-darting

across to Marx, replaces the quick grasp in a second fleeting
of the conundrum. Luckily, the explosion of flashing Lordly
words across the quiet sipping of breakfast juice
—prayers now come cheap—means that all won’t end in doubt.

 © Paolo Totaro

from Contrappasso Magazine #1, August 2012

* * * * *

ABOUT THE POET

PAOLO TOTARO, born in Naples, Italy, lives in Sydney and has been writing since the ’60s poetry in both English and Italian. He was Foundation Chairman of the Ethnic Affairs Commission of NSW, a Commissioner of the Australian Law Reform Commission, a contributor to The Bulletin, Visiting Professor at the University of Western Sydney and Pro-Chancellor and Member of Council of the University of Technology, Sydney, among other positions. His main interest has been human rights. A practising chamber musician, of late he has concentrated on poetry. He has published a novella in Italian, Storia Patria (1992) for which he won the Due Giugno Literary Prize; Collected Poems 1950-2011 (2012). He has also been published in anthologies of Italian Australian Poetry; in Two Centuries of Australian Poetry, Oxford University Press (1994), Crearta(1998), Quadrant (2013, 14), Contrappasso (2012, 2013); Le Simplegadi (2012): Water Access Only (2012),ARC/Cordite Special Book on Australian Poetry (2014) and several other. A collection of bilingual poetry about children and war is nearing completion.

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