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


Harivansh Rai Bachchan
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल! ,~1930

आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

तम भरा तू, तम भरा मैं,
ग़म भरा तू, ग़म भरा मैं,
आज तू अपने हृदय से हृदय मेरा तोल, बादल
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

आग तुझमें, आग मुझमें,
राग तुझमें, राग मुझमें,
आ मिलें हम आज अपने द्वार उर के खोल, बादल
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

भेद यह मत देख दो पल-
क्षार जल मैं, तू मधुर जल,
व्यर्थ मेरे अश्रु, तेरी बूंद है अनमोल, बादल
आज मुझसे बोल, बादल!

Harivansh Rai Bachchan, कविताएँ बच्चन कीं चयन अमिताभ बच्चन का, Bhartiya Jnanpith, Delhi, 2012, p. 23

Talk to me today, clouds!

Filled with darkness are you, filled with darkness am I,
Filled with sorrow are you, filled with sorrow am I,
Today weigh out your heart against my heart, cloud
Today you with your heart weigh it against mine
Talk to me today, clouds!

Fire inside you, fire inside me,
Melody inside you, melody inside me,
Come let’s meet today with our doors open, cloud
Talk to me today, clouds!

Don’t see these differences for a moment-
I am salty water, you are sweet water,
Worthless is my tear, precious is your drop,
Talk to me today, clouds!

Translated by Mehak Burza

The poem is written by Harivansh Rai Bachchan, father of the famous Bollywood celebrity Amitabh Bachchan. When it comes to introduction, Harivansh Rai Bachchan (1907-2003) needs none. Writing majorly as a rebellious poet of the Nayi Kavita literary movement in the early decades of the twentieth century, his writings are considered a landmark in the domain of Hindi literature as they explore a myriad of themes.

Sound is often the most powerful device for expressing emotions. It however is accompanied with different emotional connotations. Some are in the habit of blurting out their emotional feelings, which manifests in ways such as singing or expressing themselves aloud. Others prefer to be surrounded by silence, which surprisingly holds meaning for them. Yet others try and find an objective correlative, which for them is the formula for their silence. Such is the thematic concern of the above poem.

The poet here is in the epitome of his silence. His gloomy and sullen mood finds sudden a parallel in an inanimate object – the clouds. The poet pleads to the clouds to speak to him, which will lift up his mood. Highlighting the objective correlativeness of their situation, the poet speaks of the similarities between them reflecting in darkness, sorrow, fire and melody. He further requests the clouds not to see the differences between them and sees himself as salty water with worthless tears. The poet wants an emotional unison between him and the clouds; a unison triggered by their silences. The poet therefore beseeches the clouds to speak to him (in any form), a sign,
which will ease him from his present state of awkward silence. This thus becomes the poet’s only way of expressing his emotion, which here is silence.

Prepared by Mehak Burza


Giuseppe Masini


A la matina, verzendo la porta
te vedei na roba quasi de incanto,
che e faséa desmentegar fredo
e pensieri: sui rami calinverna
come se fate e maghi ne la note
avesse doparà fili d’argento
par ricamar i disegni piu béi
e darghe vita nova ai rami sechi
di àlbari che gh’era dapartuto.
Dai copi de le case candeloti
tondi de giazzo, che paréa cane
d’organo pronte a sonar na musica
de quele de Nadal o de carneval.
Sui fianchi de le strade o ni fossi,
soto seràie querte de lustrini,
l’acqua giazzà paréa invitarne
a metar da na parte le cartéle
con i so libri par far sbrissiaròle
dove le sgiàvare con le so sole
de legno piene de broche volava
come le fusse patini d’argento:
el fià se giazzava su boche e nasi,
un rugolòn ogni tanto, ma l’era
un gran divertimento, che qualche olta
ne faséa passar de mente scola
e maestri e anca la paura
de qualche scopazzòn tra copa e col.
Rivà la sera, intorno al fogolàr,
paràimo via el fredo del giorno,
con le buganze che le ne sfogàva
ni diéi gonfi, magnandone tochi
de fogazzìn che la mama avéa coto
nel tèsto soto la ҫénar, scoltando
le bele fole che la ne contava
con la so voҫe tranquila la nona
fin che la ne giustava braghe e calze.

L’Approdo, 1999, p. 118


In the morning, opening the door,
you could see something enchanting,
that made you forget the cold
and your troubles: rime on the boughs
as if fairies and wizards, over night
had used silver strings
to embellish the most beautiful paintings
and give new life to the dry branches
of all the trees one could see.
From the roofs, crystals of ice
like candles and
organ-pipes ready to play carols
or carnival songs.
Along the road and in the canals,
under shining covers
the frozen water seemed to welcome you
to put aside schoolbags
and all the books to slide on the ice
where our shoes
made with wood slippered
as if they were silver ice skates:
our breath froze on our mouths and noses,
a sudden fall, but it was
great joy, and sometimes
it made us completely forget about school
and teachers and even of the fear
of being in trouble.
At night, sitting close to the fire,
we fought the cold of the day,
and frostbites
on our hands, by eating good pieces
of the cake mum had cooked
in the ashes, while listening
to those nice tales that grandma
with her tranquil voice
while mending socks and pants told us.

Giuseppe Masini was born in Bovolone, in the region of Veneto, northeast of Italy. He spent his entire life in that place, the area of the Po river valley, that he loved very much. He was a high school professor of Italian for several years and mayor of Bovolone. During his life, he published two poetry collections, L’attesa (1983) and L’approdo (1984). The poem here presented is from his first collection. Giuseppe Masini wrote part of his poems in Italian and part in the dialect that people who live in Bovolone and surroundings speak.

There are numerous dialects in Italy. They follow different phonetic rules and have diverse vocabulary. Each region of Italy has its own dialects; they are many and vary from place to place. Like traditional meals, dialects are part of the collective memory of communities. Strings of memories keep together dialects and food tradition, landscape and history of the places where they are spoken.

In the poem Inverni, there are two words that exemplify this bound. Years ago, winters were rigid in the North East of Italy, humid and cold. The “calinverna” is the frost that covers everything during the night and shines in the sunlight. The standard Italian (non dialect) word for it is “galaverna.” The number of syllables does not vary from the first word to the second, but there are variations in the consonants and in their phonetics. Another word that specifically belong to the dialect spoken in the area of Bovolone is “fogazzìn.” A “fogazzìn” is similar to a doughnut in the shape but it is not fried. Fogazzìn comes from the Italian word “focaccia,” which, unlike the “fogazzìn,” can generally be either salty or sweet. Further examples of words in dialect that completely differ from Italian language are: seràie and sgiàvare. In Italian, these words respectively correspond to: lastre (sheets) and zoccoli (clogs).

Like a picture, this poem captures images of collective memory. It creates a string of remembrances that the inhabitants of Bovolone and surroundings can follow back and forth, connecting the past and the present of Italian cultural traits. Each dialect is the shared memory of a community. Because they convey memory and sense of belonging, dialects survive among Italian communities abroad as well.

Prepared by Leonora Masini


Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Kuch Ishq Kiya Kuch Kaam Kiya

Wo log bahut khush-qismat the
Jo ishq ko kaam samajhte the
Ya kaam se aashiqui karte the
Hum jeete ji masroof rahe
Kuch ishq kiya kuch kaam kiya

Kaam ishq ke aade aata raha
Aur ishq se kaam se ulajhta raha
Phir aakhir tang akar hum ne
Donon ko adhura chod diya

Urdu version. Source.

Part Love Part Work

Fortunate indeed were those,
Who regarded love as work
Or were in love with their work
I remained busy my entire life
And managed some love, with some work

Work came in the way of love
And love got intertwined with work
At last, in exasperation,
I left them both half done

The poem is written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984), one of the pillars of Urdu Literature alongside Mir, Ghalib and Iqbal. Having been nominated four times for Nobel Prize, Faiz is often regarded as Pablo Neruda of the East. I view the poem as being pivoted around body politics, with the body being torn in maintaining a balance between love and work. Unable to do so, it ultimately results in a fragmented end.

‘Body’, ‘love’ and ‘work’ are the triad elements of the poem, the intertwinings of which on the surface level might seem simple, but a tap further reveals complex dynamics. It reveals a conflict between the heart and mind of the poet. While the former pines for the beloved, the latter focuses on work, which could manifest itself in job, business or career making. For maintaining a proper body balance, there has to exist unison between the mind and the heart, between reason and emotions.

The poet here can be seen as the body faced with the same dilemma, oscillating between the workings of mind (reason) and heart (emotions). On one hand, is his love for his beloved, while on the other, is his work. This is the reason he calls those people fortunate and privileged that either love their work or consider love as their work. Unfortunately, for the poet the conflict between heart and mind becomes too much to handle as both keep intertwining with each other, and as the conflict reaches its apex, it forces him to leave both undone; thus falling prey to the conflict of reason and emotions.

There are numerous translations available for this poem, which according to me are unsuccessful to convey the actual meaning. As for my translation, rather than laying stress on the rhythm, I have literally interpreted each word so that the soul/essence of the poem is not lost.

Transliteration, translation and comment by Mehak Burza


Marina Tsvetaeva
Versty, June 5, 1917

V lob tselovat’ – zabotu steret’
transliterated version

V lob tselovat’ — zabotu steret’
V lob tseluyu.

V glaza tselovat’ — bessonnitsu snyat’.
V glaza  tseluyu.

V guby  tselovat’ — vodoi napoit’.
V guby  tseluyu.

V lob  tselovat’ — pamyat’ steret’.
V lob  tseluyu.

Transliterated Version. The original retrieved from public domain

Kissing the forehead – erasing carks

Kissing the forehead – erasing carks.
I’m kissing your forehead.

Kissing the eyes – healing insomnia.
I’m kissing your eyes.

Kissing the lips – giving them drink.
I’m kissing your lips.

Kissing the forehead – erasing memory.
I’m kissing your forehead.

Marina Tsetaeva just gave birth to her second daughter Irina in April. They stayed in Moscow in the summer 1917, before the October Revolution broke out. The whole family lived in poverty, was starved, and later Tsvetaeva was forced to place her daughters (Alya and Irina) in an orphanage. At that time, the poet became interested in folklore rhythms and themes.

The addressee of the poem is not clearly defined, but when I recite it, I hear the voice of mother soothing her baby in her arms, a woman who dreams of protecting her cherished child from the troubles of the world. Mother’s kiss seems to have a magic power over external chaos, taming it, erasing its traces left on the fragile body. However, kissing your lips can be interpreted differently because of its conventional love connotation and the expression ‘’to give someone drink’’ (napoit’ vodoy), which comes from Russian tales. The expression is commonly used to show how a beautiful girl saves an exhausted epic hero (there is a folkloric formula napoila, nakormila, spat’ ulozhila – gave someone to drink, eat and sleep). For this reason, mother-child relationship may be the content of a love poem, where a man is seen as a child to be taken care of (probably, Tsvetaeva’s husband Sergey Efron).

Tsvetaeva’s poetry is known for swift shifts of the rhythm and unusual syntax. In the original, the poet uses infinitives in the first lines of stanzas to avoid excessive emotional coloration. It’s rather an instruction resembling guidelines of folk medicine, than a song of the soul. In the second lines, the poet follows them and offers a cure – a kiss. On one hand, imagery is archetypal and easily recognizable as the most traditional to convey tenderness and care. On the other, syntax and phonetics create a unique poetic structure, where the first lines impersonalized with verbal forms contrast lyrical repetitive tseluyu (I’m kissing) in the second. In the first lines one may reconstruct the invisible portrait of the addressee – anxious, sleepless, thirsty, suffering from stinging memories. Simplicity of the body language multiplies levels of interpretation. Mother’s, lover’s kiss is a remedy for pain, is the embodiment of a dream to heal all wounds with love, is a magic spell against trying times.

Translation and comment by Natalia Vygovskaia


Myriam Fraga
Março, 1996


… e estes marços doendo como pedras nos rins, charadas que não invento e nem sei de memória

se há memória além de um domingo de março azul, perfeito. todas as areias rolaram sobre de todas as possíveis clepsidras só o olho-farol, olho brilhante antigo,

a me guiar nas trevas do regresso, não haverá, não haverá porto, viajante, nenhuma Ítaca te espera,

nenhuma Cólchida, nem mesmo os arrecifes no cais de tua infância. apenas a morte suave de olhos tristes tão rápida e indolor, tão limpa guilhotina

… e estas tardes de março viageiras. Sei o peso da ausência, sei a dor das lembranças tatuadas na carne, coladas e desfolhadas como pele queimada que se arranca. nenhuma presença é mais real que a falta, corpo de solidão deslizando entre móveis, marfins, folhas soltas de um livro, marca da prata, desenhos no tapete, cavalos, leão de pedra, lembranças que se acendem em faróis iluminando o outro lado do abismo, o precipício, o vazio, onde tudo se acaba.


…and these aching Marches like kidney stones, riddles I don’t invent nor recall from

if there is memory beyond a blue Sunday in March, perfect. all sands ran through all possible hourglasses, only the lighthouse-eye, that shining antique eye,

to guide me home in the darkness, there will not be, there will not be a port, traveler, no Ithaca waits for you,

no Colchis, not even the reefs at the wharf of your childhood. just the delicate death of sad eyes so fast and painless, so clean the guillotine.

…and these traveling March afternoons. I know the weight of absence, I know the pain of memories tattooed on flesh, taut and peeling like skin burnt and blistered. no presence is more real than absence. lonely body slipping between furniture, ivories, loose pages from a book, silver crest, designs in the rug, horses, stone lion, keepsakes alight in lighthouses illuminating the other side of the abyss, the precipice, the empty, where everything runs out.

Myriam Fraga up until her passing in February 2016 was, and continues to be, one of the leading literary figures of Salvador da Bahia. Born in Salvador in 1937, Fraga counts among her contemporaries the writers Sônia Coutinho and Fernando de Rocha Peres, artist Calazans Neto, and filmmaker Glauber Rocha. She was the long-time friend of the world-famous Jorge Amado and his writer wife Zelia Gattai, as well as the visual artist Carybé. Her first book of poetry, A ilha, was published in 1964 by Edições Macunaíma, Glauber Rocha’s press. She produced over 10 volumes of poetry plus several children’s books on popular figures in Bahian culture. Fraga led the helm at the Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado (the organization responsible for his archival materials) as the institution’s executive director since its inception in 1986. In 2015, she was named the vice president of the Academy of Letters of Bahia.

The major motifs of Fraga’s expansive body of work include the ocean—and by extension islands, voyages, and shipwrecks—; the city, most often Salvador da Bahia; ancestrality; and mythology of such diverse incarnations as African fables, biblical legend, and Greek epic. She tightly weaves this imagery to contemplate on memory and the collective history of Salvador, Brazil, and the world.

This poem is part of a collection entitled Calendário, or Calendar, which includes a poem for each month of the year. “March,” in particular, is a coming to terms with the death of the poet’s father.

Fraga, Myriam. “Março.” Femina. Salvador: Fundação Casa de Jorge Amado, 1996. Print.

Prepared by Chloe Hill