Ribka Sibhatu
Aulò! Aulò! Aulò!, 2012

Nonna Luna

Come una volta,
nonna Luna arriva
dalla finestra carica
di storie e memorie.

Coraggio figliola,
non aver paura
ti farò compagnia
ovunque tu sia!

Nonna Luna racconta e canta
poesie che fanno sentire
a casa nella terra straniera.

Sibhatu, Ribka, Simone Brioni, Graziella Parati, and André Naffis-Sahely. Aulò! Aulò! Aulò!: Poesie Di Nostalgia, D’esilio E D’amore = Poems of Nostalgia, Exile and Love. Roma: Kimerafilm, 2012, p. 26

Grandmother Moon

Like once,
grandmother Moon joins me
through the window with a handful of
tales and memories.

Be strong my dear,
do not worry,
I will accompany you
wherever you are!

Grandmother Moon
recites and sings
poems that make me feel
at home in a foreign land.

The author of this poem, Ribka Sibhatu, was born in Asmara, Eritrea, in 1962. She was imprisoned because of her political ideas for one year in 1979 and then fled the country in 1980. After traveling first to Ethiopia and France, she later settled in Rome in 1996. This poem was originally written in Italian, a language deeply connected to Sibhatu’s past years spent in Asmara and her present. In most of Sibhatu’s works, there is a parallel text in Tigrinya that signifies a relationship that replicates Italy and Eritrea’s parallel and shared history. In fact, Eritrea was under Italian colonial rule for over sixty years, between 1882 and 1943. Moreover, in the 1970s, Eritreans were the largest immigrant group in Italy, a consequence of the influx of refugees who fled the Eritrean liberation war with Ethiopia.

“Grandmother Moon” is part of the collection of short poems titled Aulò,  a song – poem from Eritrea published in 1993 by Sinnos, Rome, with the introduction by Tullio De Mauro. In 2012, Simone Brioni, Ermanno Guida, and Graziano Chiscuzzu turned the poetry collection into a successful docu-film. The edition of the poem that I read and analyze here is from the booklet accompanying the film. Sibhatu’s life and the content of this poem allow opening a discussion about different crucial topics, from colonial legacies to decolonization processes, and issues related to citizenship, among others. I choose to focus on the image that the poem’s conclusive lines suggest, “feeling at home in a foreign land.” The poet finds in “Grandmother Moon,” a reassuring presence who talks to her, telling tales and poems. Home, therefore, seems to be for Sibhatu, a place of musicality. Grandmother Moon itself follows a repetitive rhythm, appearing routinely. It represents the ancestors, and it carries the memories of the family legacy.
Gender and Postcolonial Studies scholar Sandra Ponzanesi notes that Sibhatu’s poems can be further understood through the lens of Deleuze’s and Guattari’s idea of “The text becomes the echo of a whole set of preoccupations which are woven in the social fabric of the community” (Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. “What is a Minor literature,” Mississippi Review, vol. 11, no. 3, 1983, pp. 11-13 in Ponzanesi, Sandra. “Post-Colonial Women’s Writing in Italian: A Case Study of the Eritrean Ribka Sibhatu.” Northeast African Studies, vol. 5, no. 3, 1998, pp. 97–115).

Drawing on Deleuze’s and Guattari’s above-quoted understanding of a text as an “echo,” I find “Grandmother Moon” rich in images that can also be used to describe other human conditions of distress without dismissing the important differences. For example, I borrow from the last line of the poem to understand the kind of routine that some people might have experienced during the period of lockdown in the pandemic. The outside suddenly turned into an inaccessible and hostile “foreign land.” The entrance door marked the border between safety and uncertainty. Balconies allowed exceptional socialization. Like in Sibhatu’s poem, strong was the desire for reassuring voices and songs that could enter the windows carrying “a handful of tales and memories.” Going back to the cover of this issue of Purple Ink, one can imagine these sounds pervading the alleys.

Translated and prepared by Leonora Masini

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