Bartolo Cattafi



Translated and edited by Rina Ferrarelli

Paperback, xxvi, 205 pages
lSBN 0-9725271-4-1

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BARTOLO CATTAFI (1922-1979) was born in the province of Messina, Sicily, but worked in Milan with brief vacations in his home town. He began writing after a medical discharge from the army in WWII, and continued to write up to the time of his death of cancer at age 57. He published several award-winning collections during his lifetime; his selected poems, Poesie 1943-1979, were published posthumously by Mondadori in 1990.

RINA FERRARELLI is both a poet and translator. Her first book of translation, Light Without Motion by Giorgio Chiesura (Owl Creek Press, 1989), received the ltalo Calvino prize from the Columbia University Translation Center. Her second, I Saw the Muses by Leonardo Sinisgalli (Guernica, 1997), was one of five finalists for the Landon Translation Prize. Her own poetry appears in two collections: Dreamsearch (malafemmina, 1992) and Home is a Foreign Country (Eadmer, 1996).

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"Cattafi's concerns are often philosophical: how to find significance in the fleeting moments of brief lives when surrounded by an infinity of time and an omnipotent universe. He tackles these issues with a dry humor, a semi-ironic belief that everything and everybody are special despite how routine, predictable, and common much of existence is. It can be the landscape of depression, those never-ending dilemmas without resolution. But usually he toughs it out by sheer physical effort, the optimism of fresh beginnings, a shaky belief in the improbable or impossible—or that time-honored weapon against death: the erotic. Rina Ferrarelli offers a brief and interesting introductory essay on her philosophy of translation."

~ Iconoclast #93, 2006

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Ingresso / Entrance | I Fichi dell'Inverno / Winter Figs
Ameba / Amoeba


Non parlo della luna nel pozzo.
Parlo d'un colore di cacao
appena un poco rosato
però non parlo di rose e di cacao.
Parlo di teneri tessuti
animali, dell'ingresso
al mistero al dolce buio,
belle mucose,
triplice, trepida apertura,
venere di pelle
scura, di vello molto nero.


I'm not speaking of the moon in the well.
I'm speaking of a chocolate shade
barely tinged with pink
but I'm not speaking of roses and chocolate.
I'm speaking of tender animal
tissue, of the entrance
to the mystery the sweet darkness,
beautiful moist linings,
triple, tremulous opening,
venus of dark
skin, of very black fleece.


I fichi dell'inverno
vengono ai rami stravolti dal freddo.
Chiusi sodi caparbi
dissimili dagli estivi
svenevoli compagni
sono rossi di dentro come un tramonto
gelido senza giallo
selvatici sospettosi
a ogni stormir di fronda
serrano fra le labbra asprigne
una riga di zucchero.
Giunti inaspettati
se ne vanno così
come sono venuti
frammenti erranti
nel vuoto e nel buio
per un attimo colpiti dalla luce.


Winter figs
come to the branches contorted by the cold.
Closed hard stubborn
unlike their languidly-soft
summer companions
they're red inside like a sunset
an icy red without yellow
wild suspicious
at every rustle of a branch
they hold a streak of sugar
tight between sour lips.
They get here unexpectedly
and they leave
the way they came
fragments wandering
in the void in the dark
struck for an instant by light.


Quando più rissosi e loquaci
sono compagni di casa
topi gatti
passeri perenni
penso a te ameba avventurosa
proteiforme in acque anche salmastre
abitatrice d'uomini e di bestie
che un giorno irraggiungibile astro
passasti nel mio cielo di vetro
muovendoti a scatti
allontanandoti come una mano che dice addio.


When my live-in companions
are too quarrelsome and talkative
mice cats
the sparrows who're always with us
I think of you adventurous amoeba
protean even in salty water
inhabitant of men and beasts
who one day, unreachable star,
passed through my sky of glass
darting farther
and farther away like a hand waving goodbye.

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