Two Poems from “La grazia di casa mia” by Julio Monteiro Martins, translated from the Italian by Donald Stang and Helen Wickes

Long Branch Series, Joe Lugara


By the Grace of Words

I used to have such a fear
of abstract nouns
that I even felt safe
among the adjectives.

For example, fear
of the word liberty
(it is used in opposing ways,
one by the right,
the other by the left,
and neither of them believable).

I was also allergic
to the concept of truth:
cut to measure
for every convenience
from a worn-out fabric
of the shreds of facts.

I wanted to surround myself
with concrete nouns,
with straightforward things:
shell, candle,
comet, soap,
vanilla, pancake
.

I would close my eyes,
and these nouns
would parade inside me,
a living library,
a treasure
within reach of my verbs.

But the world
has changed so much.
How could I have guessed?
Its new inhabitants
wanted concreteness.
And an unprecedented fear
assailed me,
besieged as I was
by mopeds,
gold chains,
by boats and by cars,
by Rolexes,
by credit cards.
Too many
deplorable nouns.
Too many subjects
without a predicate.

And now an appropriate nostalgia
for abstract nouns
pervades me:
who would have predicted it!
Principles, lucidity,
equilibrium, equity,
reflection,
coherence, correctness,
pride,
dignity

(and even the word abstraction,
ironically,
now seems beautiful to me).

Maybe I have changed
after all.
Perhaps I have understood
that all nouns
are abstractions.
That a word is a word
and a thing is a thing,
and that it’s quite dangerous
to mistake one for the other.

The further the word
is from things,
the closer it is to itself.

If looking around
after hearing the word
we find nothing
that resembles it,
let us take that as
a subtle invitation
to a new way of thinking
or a reminder
of an ancient art:

the art of representing
the idea
with the voice,
and then to instill it in things
and thereby bathe them with meaning.

Today I feel fear and love,
abstract words,
ambiguous and imperishable
in our hands.


Verbi gratia

Avevo tanta paura
dei sostantivi astratti
che mi sentivo al sicuro
persino fra gli aggettivi.

Paura per esempio
della parola libertà
(è usata in sensi opposti,
uno a destra,
l’altro a sinistra,
e nessuno dei due credibile).

Ero anche allergico
al concetto di verità.
Tagliato su misura
per ogni convenienza
da un tessuto logoro,
dai brandelli dei fatti.

Volevo circondarmi
di sostantivi concreti,
di cose semplicemente:
conchiglia, candela,
cometa, sapone,
vaniglia, frittella.

Chiudevo gli occhi
e questi sostantivi
sfilavano dentro di me,
uno scaffale vivente,
come un tesoro
alla portata dei miei verbi.

Ma il mondo
è tanto cambiato.
Come potevo indovinare?
I suoi nuovi abitanti
volevano concretezza.
E una paura inedita
mi assalì,
assediato com’ero
dai motorini,
dalle catenine d’oro,
dalle barche e dalle macchine,
dai rolex,
dalle carte di credito.
Troppi sostantivi
inqualificabili.
Troppi soggetti,
nessun predicato.

E ora s’insinua in me
la doverosa nostalgia
dei sostantivi astratti:
chi l’avrebbe detto!
Princìpi, lucidità,
equilibrio, equità,
riflessione,
coerenza, correttezza,
fierezza,
dignità
(e anche la parola astrazione,
per ironia,
oggi mi sembra bella).

Magari sono cambiato io
dopotutto.
Forse ho capito
che tutti i sostantivi
sono astratti.
Che parola è parola
e cosa è cosa,
e che è molto pericoloso
scambiare una per l’altra.

Più lontana dalle cose
è la parola
più vicina sarà a se stessa.

Se guardandosi intorno
dopo averla ascoltata
non si trova niente
che le somigli,
prendiamola come un invito
sottile
a un pensiero nuovo,
o un richiamo
a un’antica arte.

L’arte di disegnare
con la voce
l’idea,
per poi versarla sulle cose
e intingerle di senso.

Oggi ho paura e amore,
parole astratte
ambigue e imperiture
tra le nostre mani.



Sitting motionless

Sitting motionless
I have seen
my generation extinguished
around me
like scattered embers.

It is getting dark
in the corner of my courtyard.
Night is illuminated
by other fires.
But I don’t recognize them.

I am the poet
who decided not to lie.
The unpopular poet
to whom little is left
to say.
Three or four things,
all sad things,
all true things.

The wind blowing in the night
and kindling fires
is the same that consumes
the embers,
carries the ashes away.
The last traces
of what I have lived,
of what I have loved,
are vanishing at the mercy of the wind.

All that must disappear
will disappear in the midst
of the whirlwind,
of a strident clamor,
of drums, the honking of cars,
the chiming of bells.

Kissed by nothingness,
an entire generation
was never born.
The shadows do not safeguard
the light that still remains.

Even I, also kissed by nothingness,
still sitting and motionless,
switch off my memory.
One puff and then
profound oblivion
of the memory of the world.


Seduto immobile

Seduto immobile
ho visto spegnersi
intorno a me
la mia generazione
come brace dispersa.

Fa buio
nell’angolo del mio cortile.
La notte s’illumina
di altri fuochi.
Ma io non li riconosco.

Sono il poeta
che ha deciso di non mentire.
Il poeta impopolare
a cui poco è rimasto
da dire.
Tre o quattro cose,
tutte cose tristi,
tutte cose vere.

Il vento che soffia nella notte
ad accendere fuochi
è lo stesso che consuma
la brace,
che porta via le cenere.
In balìa del vento
scompaiono le ultime tracce
di ciò che ho vissuto
di ciò che ho amato.

Tutto ciò che deve scomparire
scomparirà in mezzo
al turbinio,
al vociare stridulo,
ai tamburi, ai clacson,
a tutte le campane.

Baciata dal nulla
un’intera generazione
non è mai nata.

Le tenebre non custodiscono
residui di luce.

Baciato anch’io dal nulla,
sempre seduto e immobile,
spengo la mia memoria.
Un soffio e poi
l’oblio profondo
della memoria del mondo.

✶✶✶✶

MartinsJulio Monteiro Martins’ final collection La grazia di casa mia was published in 2013 by Rediviva Edizioni in Milan. Martins (1955–2014) was born in Brazil, but lived for many years in Italy. He was a prominent teacher, publisher, and writer of essays, stories, drama, and poetry. In Italy, he was director of the online journal Sagarana.

IMG_1538Donald Stang is a longtime student of Italian. His translations of Italian poetry have appeared in many journals.

IMG_1606Four books of Helen Wickes poetry have been published: In Search of Landscape (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2007); Dowser’s Apprentice and Moon Over Zabriskie (Glass Lyre Press, 2014), World as You Left It (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in many journals.

Joe Lugara Headshot.jpgJoe Lugara began creating digital paintings in the 2010s, debuting in a 2018 solo exhibition at the Noyes Museum of Art in his home state of New Jersey. Lugara’s work has been featured in several publications and has appeared in more than forty exhibitions in museums and galleries in the New York metropolitan area, including the New Jersey State Museum and 80 Washington Square East Galleries at NYU.