Collected Poems, Examples

Brumbies, 2000

(July 1985)

I wrote this poem in Naples, at my father’s death bed.
Windless days, night’s heat; motorcars stench; and the pain, the pain of it all.
He shouldn’t know that he was to die; to the very end, death wasn’t mentioned once.
And, lest he understood, I wrote in English .

The lie
Half shadowed hospital room
whitish light: a Neapolitan noon.
But for an occasional moan
as he slumbers to and from,
but for his brow
which is furrowed and drawn,
you wouldn’t know his pain
since surgery at dawn. He was cut and quickly sewn
back: nothing could be done:
“His pain will grow and grow.
There are no guidelines,
it may come or go
it may burn or ice.”
The son was told it all:
“The old man is on the ropes.”

Days before, an intercontinental call,
a frankly sad voice:
“Catch the first plane.
You are needed at once.”
In the faraway place
which the son calls home,
the moment long since dreaded
had now truly come.
The mother’s stunted body
clutches her son. Despair and a trace
of joy: “Figlio mio, ma che tiene?
Oh white gentleness of lies:
“Mamma he will be well again.
Vedrai. You’ll see. The purple space
and the birds red blue green
of Pittwater. Paoletta. Riccardo
sailing for him on that strange sea…
Shall book a flight. Back with me.
Back, back with me.”

No moment of truth for the ill man
and his wife. They are so frail
and old. Here, you tell only those
who should be told.

Primo notturno: le voci di dentro
Night signals:
night nurses’ noises
muffled, and the inner ear’s. Wave
upon wave, other voices,
thinner than air. They belong
to the dying man and his son.

“I had to go. To migrate
was flight and revolt. Against you? Maybe so;
we always fought. A tug of love.
Remember in jest I once said:
my first resistance
as an oppressed minority
was against father’s hegemony!
Pater patria potestas oh father
your time has come
and you cannot be told.
Here it is not done
you are so tired and old.”
Slow caresses along greyspent hair
searching, bent, half-closed eyes
as you do with a baby
if you want his smiles.

Secondo notturno: food
“Won’t you eat, babbino ?
Just this morsel, will you please?”
No, non posso.
Il sapore.
Mi delude
He remembers taste, smells
of his once upon a time
in a village.
Pane, acqua,
un poco d’ aglio
.” Any effort
to relive his appetite
dies with him.
Mi dispiace.

Terzo notturno: shelters
Unreachably tall
he lifted the child,
his arms and chest
a fort and a cradle.
Hell on earth, airshelters:
they ran most nights
and the sky was alight
with mitraille and groundfire.
“Were you scared, babbo ?”
” Only for you. To die
was matter of fact. Four years.
Hell on earth. Airshelters.
The war was your childhood
“I remember: even now,
a siren, or the rumble
of the pistons of a slow air cargo
arouse that scream
you taught me not to voice.”
Now as then he tries to shelter
others. His pain his own
to bear. His care is quiet.
A blade his back piagato ,
his mouth a cave of fire,
yet he says subdued:
Mi dispiace.
He is sorry.
When they clean that waste
which was his body
he just says with his eyes:
“Don’t tire”.
And the screams
all the screams of a life
time of war, of love, of patient
toil still remain
as unvoiced now as then
when he sheltered his son
from air bombs and ground fire.


Night I envy you for you are the voice
of silent things: bat wings
people returning home
leaves softly falling
pools of liquid, rare black gems,
viscous corners of the street
escalators moving into empty infinity
human shapes on the most protected step
of the bank of marble
flying foxes
vivid and dark portents of the moon
a hint of a change in the weather
and maybe a distant hardly heard bark.
Dear night
teach me to be the voice
reciting your silent poetry.

Notte t’invidio perchè sei la voce
di cose silenziose: pipistrelli,
gente che rincasa,
foglie sofficemente cadenti,
discariche di liquidi rari neri lenti,
vizîosi angoli di strada,
scale mobili infinitamente deserte,
fagotti umani sul più protetto gradino
della banca di marmo,
volpi volanti
vividi e scuri annunzi della luna,
appena un avvertimento di tempo che cambia
e forse un latrato distante.
Notte cara
guidami ad essere la voce
recitante la tua poesia taciturna.