what sky do I have to invent?
Robert John Thornton, 'The Night-Blowing Cereus,' 1807, public domain.

Language: Milanese Dialect 
Poet: Franco Loi
Translator: Giuliana Chamedes
Region: Milan/North Italy

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What sky do I have to invent?

Six poems by Franco Loi, translated from Milanese Dialect by Giuliana Chamedes

There is a word in Milanese dialect, strabeless, for the drop of wine that remains at the bottom of the glass that you’ve bought at the bar; a drop that poor men, unable to afford a glass of wine, wander from table to table and drink.

—Giuliana Chamedes

Franco Loi was born in Genova in 1930, and moved to Milan at the age of seven. The poems in Secundum Lüna date from 1965, but they were published in 1975 as the final chapter in Stròlegh. Since then, Loi published 14 other books of poetry, as well as a number of translations and works of literary criticism. Loi’s choice to write in Milanese dialect, an adopted, anti-literary language, was partly a choice to bring music, and the entirety of the human experience, back into the domain of poetry. He went hunting for his poetry by night in local bars, and by day in public parks.

Giuliana Chamedes was born in New York City. She has published in the Vermont Literary Review and translated the poetry of Milli Graffi (Burning Deck Press, 2002). She is an Associate Professor of History and a faculty affiliate of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

VII

tiraa de Secundum Lüna

Oh bel belé, perla-livàster ögg,
suspir de verla . . .
Ciallâd de semper, nient che nu’ sia fàrfar,
ma, ’stess del cioll, che la matina s’arsa e dis
« . . . el sû . . . oh dí cumenzià . . . un tram . . . i vus . . . »
Paròl antigh. Ma dím, làer sgarzèl che sa,
sé g’û de dít? che ciel g’û d’inventàm?
« . . . la nott, el dí . . . la pas, la guèra . . . i mort . . . »
Croda l’ütünn, la lüna la se sbianca,
dora l’estâ che primavera cascia,
che l’omm l’è fjö di strepp che dà i balòres
per crèss, slungàss, müdàss . . . ’n òrghen . . . ’na pianta . . .
ma ’l püresín de scrutta restarà.
I verb în müff, paròl d’amur fan üsma.
Ma ’l sentiment l’è ’l fiur d’un òmm bardassa,
che, se dis ciau, le dis per sua beltâ.

VII

from Secundum Lüna

Hey pretty play-thing, pearl olive eyes,
shrike’s sigh . . .
It’s the same old mutter-junk, thin-whisped lies,
some asshole, who wakes in the morning, and says:
“the sun . . . oh day to begin . . . a tram . . . voices . . .”
Ancient words. You, young, all-knowing lip, tell me:
what words do I have to say? what sky do I have to invent?
“the night . . . the day . . . times of peace, the war . . . the dead . . .”
Autumn crumbles with falling leaves,
the moon turns to snow, and summer,
sprouting forth from spring, gilds golden.

And yes, all men are sons to spurting youth’s tugs
to grow, stretch tall, change shape
. . . as hollow seeds . . . or garden plants . . .
But do not fear: the hen’s hatched chick will remain.

The verbs are full of mold, and the words of love stink rotten.
And yet, emotion is the flower of the artless man
who bestows his rare hello upon others
only in order to create his own, selfless, beauty.

IX

tiraa de Secundum Lüna

Se strüsa a spass un mort, sí, nüm, de cera,
nel grev garbüj che dren’l’è ’n scalvascià,
balchèm la libertâ ’me ’na bandera
che, sbrega, gussa un négher spegasciâ.
Ghív no pagüra, òmm, de la suverna!
e baffi! de la brügna di peccâ . . .
La mort l’è inamuràss, e, ’me d’inverna,
stà a la fenestra a vedè fiuccà.

IX

from Secundum Lüna

We haul a dead man into motion, yes, we of wax,
in his knotted tangle that breaks inside,
we labor liberty like a flag full of wind
that rips and drips scribbled ink.
But men, do not fear the broken earth!
and breathe easy! about those mortuary chambers of sins . . .

To die is to fall in love,
to stand, wintertime, by the window,
and watch the snow fall.

XXVIII

tiraa de Secundum Lüna

Avissi, mí, l’amur, cum’ una tuss
de pelabròcch, o ’n zerbinòtt cun l’üga,
o quj ganassa ch’j sburra ’me che füss
’na fonna ingual a l’oltra, o ’na carüga
che sbava in due la passa i sò smanièss,
o’n quaj cunílli ch’a fà fjö mandrüga,
ma g’û ’n amur che vegn da quj sciurèss
due ’l fràgur d’una man el te spaüra
e se ’na man le tucca . . . oh strabelèss!
Ma ’me l’è müt quel ciel! e l’aria scüra!
Avissi mí ’n amur sensa dulur . . .

XXVIII

from Secundum Lüna

Would that I had love, like the dry cough
of the branch-bark peeler, or the sugar-greased dandy,
or the thick-jowled prince, whose bottomless water-well
comes for all women alike,
or of the slug,
who drools its slime
where it drops its cravings,
or the garden hare, who chewing its cud,
breeds forth its litter,
but, as it is, though, I’ve got love
that’s born from an urbanity that fears the fragile hand,
and should that hand brush by . . . oh, poor man’s drop of sweet red wine!
But how the sky stands mute! And how the air hangs dark!
Would that I had love without suffering . . .

XXXII

tiraa de Secundum Lüna

« . . . e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle».
E sí, olter che stell, anca i cujun
destorbia j öcc e se ne véd de bèlle,
quan’ dal nòbel pian ’na quaj tubusa
la cicca un bâs, e ’n para de puppèj
per un buttun canàja j se scamisa . . .
El cialanun el s’era smentegâ di dorisdej!
Ch’j òmm în là e, ch’j cialla, ch’j se sfrisa,
tanfosgna, spessigotta, van fasnèj,
e sí ch’în semper là e, a la barbisa,
l’è assé vulzà un öcc, e sü de birulèj!
Ch’andarí in barca, farí fadiga aj rèm,
ma quan’ zaquâ, ’na stella, sü nel cel
la vardarí ’me mai, e ’sti sberlèff del mar
cuntra la chiglia, e bev quèl’aria,
e de la stella sentarí el sò fiâ,
e no, i mè òmm!, par squasi che la barca
due la s’insogna la poda pü turnà.

XXXII

from Secundum Lüna

“ . . . e quindi uscimmo a rivedere le stele” (Dante, Inferno)

And yes, forget about stars, also men’s balls
unfog eyes and see all sorts of crazy things,
when from the noble floor some Tobosa slut or other
spits down a kiss and a pair of unripe melons,
undressing for an undone button . . .
And to think the charlatan had forgotten about beautiful women!
‘Cause the men are there, chattering, clawing past one another,
rummaging, pinching, bewitched, and yet,
they’re always there, eyes fixed on woman-fur,
it’s enough to raise an eye, and there, twenty centimeters up!
Men, men, once imprisoned, you escape yourselves as enemies,
hey, wet your beaks! and raise your rods!
For you’ll all set out to sea, and struggle with the oars,
and, laying down, look up, dazzled, by a shining star.
As the waves roll by, and toss their spray against the keel,
you drink the air, and feel the star’s close breath,
and woah, dear men!
‘fraid that after all, this old ship
is dreams away.

XXXVI

tiraa de Secundum Lüna

Secundum lüna u secundum bírgum,
pussíbel l’impussíbel par che sia,
’na donna che del cel la par ’na vírgum
de terra e crüdeltâ la fantasia
te spurca e la te sbrega la fullia
d’un làvur, d’un tremà . . . Malincunia
de vèss camüff e impurâ d’arlía!
Che mai l’amur capíss ’st’imputacciada
due ’l dulur l’è nient e te risía
quel fiur de la memoria sburdasciada,
e den’ la smerg, la se gringa, e raffa
un lengujnö, un quaj lenscín de nada,
ma ’l sacrusant che sia un sogn de smaffa
e minga vera ’sto sprellàsc tasè,
ch’a l’aria ferma ’riva ’me ’na s’giaffa
e tí né piang te pòdet né savè . . .
Oh, dím del feng! dím de la busía!
dím che ’n giögh, un ghign, divertiment,
oh amur, che forsi a ’n olter muraría,
dím che per mí t’é pruâ mai nient.

XXXVI

from Secundum Lüna

According to the moon or according to foolish superstition,
possibly the impossible is indeed possible,
a woman, from the sky, who appears a virgin
soils your imagination with mud and cruelty, and wounds you
with the madness of lips, of a single quiver . . . Sad shame,
to be lured and undone by the imaginary!
Love will never understand this soggy mess,
where sorrow is nothing, and eats away
at memory’s mud-spattered flower,
which crawls inside, and squirms,
and writhes, and steals
the slender tongue, the worthless junk-bent hook you’d hid.
And nothing in all this is really clear, save the absolute certainty
that this is a trickster-dream, and that this heavy silence,
striking the still air like a hollow slap,
is kept for no real reason.

And you, unable to cry, unable to understand . . .
Oh, talk to me about pretending! Talk to me about lies!
Tell me it was a game, a good laugh, a good time, oh,
love, perhaps ready to die for someone else,
tell me, for once, that you’ve never given a damn
for me.

LIV

tiraa de Secundum Lüna

Medan d’un trunch sun chí, che bütti mal,
ch’i frund el vent je möv di mè penser,
ma ’l cör . . . Oh cör smarî, ’me ’n oss de garla,
de legna fâ, d’i amur e dal sugnà,
te síghet! Nissün sent. El busch caragna,
e i tò ravís la terra magnarà . . .
Oh tí, che mí t’û dâ la mia tampesta,
se neghi, sí, te slúnghet la tua man,
ma per tegním, cume d’un òmm ch’impesta,
trí méter, mezza terra, püssé in là.

LIV

from Secundum Lüna

Like some tree log, I sit here, badly sprouting,
wind tossing the branches of my thoughts, but this heart . . .
Oh, heart, bewildered, like the bark’s bone,
made of wood, from countless lovers, countless dreams,
you screech! Yet no one heeds you.
The wood cries endless, and the soil eats your roots . . .
Hey you, to whom I gave my storm, if I should drown,
perhaps, you would stretch out your hand,
but to hold my body as one holds the body
of a man sick with the plague:
three meters, half the world, or could you slide just a bit
further away?

These poems appeared in Volume 1, Issue 1 • Autumn/Winter 2003 © 2003 CIRCUMFERENCE, Inc.