from Mother Dough by Franca Mancinelli – translated by John Taylor

you shed your skin on the sheet
like a grass snake as the seasons change
and a sack of seeds
for the desert arriving
beyond the fences, the levees
up to the brim without relief.
You’ll have to bury yourself
turn into a warm root.
a rifle shot and again
you breathe. Snout to the ground,
no shed blood.
Things watched out of the corner
of an eye collapsing
while the other one is already sunk,
and it all moves away. The trees
bend to one side, losing
their voices in every leaf
that learns from the birds
and for a few moments flies.
buckets scattered about the room,
empty notebooks. They’ll come back
like leaks that shatter,
but cry anyway and learn
from the overflowing eaves
fonts of holy water
at the door where everyone
heals his hands.
while chewing he dozes off,
pierces his heart,
makes a spoon of his hands
to hold his face.
“I worked with death
in my heart for a month.”
And her eyes brim over with the thought
of nights when on the other side
of the bed a river was slowly
clogging with garbage. Then in the depths
of sleep a big boatyard
linked life back up to four bridges.
For twenty years we’ve been sleeping
together and only now
do I know that blood flows
from my atrium to his.
on tightly shut eyes, ants
instead of eyelashes. Around everyone
self-collected like digits
of a telegram; this
readable in the way they remain
with clasped hands while
the flame goes by and one
by one the driven-in screws. Say
son three times, granddaughter once,
four relatives, repeat this
ring that hasn’t been removed.
even childless they laugh
they’re wild like trees
that give fruit to birds, with moist
eyes—holes in the ground:
every night we grow
many seeds while we watch
the bright veins of the valley.
after the harvest
they look out of the mirror
with their knots and split streets
snipped, and much light
coming in to whirl
in their chests as if
between bicycle spokes.
Franca Mancinelli was born in Fano, Italy, in 1981. Her first two books of verse poetry, Mala kruna (2007) and Pasta madre (Mother Dough, 2013), were awarded several prizes in Italy and have now been republished together as A un’ora di sonno da qui (At an Hour’s Sleep from Here, 2018). In 2018 also appeared her collection of prose poems, Libretto di transito, translated by John Taylor as The Little Book of Passage and published by The Bitter Oleander Press. She has participated in international projects, such as the Chair Poet in Residence (Kolkata, India, 2019) and Refest: Images and Words on Refugee Routes. From this latter experience was born her Taccuino croato (Croatian Notebook), now published in Come tradurre la neve (How to Translate the Snow, 2019). The Fall 2019 issue of The Bitter Oleander includes an in-depth interview with Mancinelli as well as an extensive special feature on her writing.
John Taylor is an American writer, critic, and translator who lives in France. He has translated many French and Italian poets into English, including Philippe Jaccottet, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, José-Flore Tappy, Pierre Voélin, Lorenzo Calogero, and Alfredo de Palchi. He is the author of five collections of essays, including Into the Heart of European Poetry and A Little Tour through European Poetry. He has also written several volumes of poetry and poetic prose, most recently The Dark Brightness, Grassy Stairways, Remembrance of Water & Twenty-Five Trees, and a “double book” with the Swiss poet Pierre Chappuis: A Notebook of Clouds & A Notebook of Ridges.