Adrian Grima

Photo: Karolis Zukauskas
Translated from the Maltese by Maria Grech Ganado

To Zing and his 10-year-old nephew Jean

He's six foot four
but before the screen,
while he reads the names and consonants -
especially the consonants -
he's as small as childhood watching cartoons;
and he wants to taste each word - complete -
like a rough bit of wood or a clove of garlic,
like a memory crushed against the sides,
and before,
giving a lasting tang to words.

"Congo deux mille," he says.
"Here you'll find all you want."
And for a moment he seals his eyes.
Then he resumes hanging on every sound
of every word in French,
of every Congolese name,
and I recall a country of solid values,
the last bastion of Right in a world of vice,
and the welcome he got from the army and police
with a white handkerchief across their mouths
and an improvised cell for a hundred men
jailed for nine months
in the name of Right.

Bukavu, Uvira, Lubumbashi,
Bunia, Kisangani.

To write my poetry
I will buy these names,
so that when you read them
they can jingle like coins in your head,
or be saved in the cell of your gaze.

"L'Etat exerce-t-il aujourd'hui
sa souveraineté sur l'ensemble du territoire?"

asks Le Monde.
"Oui et non, répond le chef de l'Etat congolais."
Neither yes nor no.


Perhaps Bukavu's no longer in the hands of rebel Rwandans.


Perhaps you can stop this projector.


and sleep,
and survive.


And that's not your father gunned down,


and your mother's not underground.


and you didn't lose Jean in Bunia.


Somewhere there's ten years
between familiar uniforms,
between silence and a laden rifle.
"Now it's three weeks since I've spoken to her, to my sister."

And the distance is spread out in his eyes,
I think.

His knees touch the dashboard.
"If I died I'm afraid it wouldn't solve anything."

In this small space
I don't know what to do with my eyes and my words.

And there's a petrified silence around us.


Joseph before a snapshot of his broken mate
Translated from the Maltese by Albert Gatt
Joseph: enstuttered by the midget consonants,
the cranial echo of void spaces wedged between them.
He says his uttered noises shame him,
like plates aclatter in nocturnal guilt.

Freeze-framed before him, a mate upon the ground.
Boot-trodden dust on twisted neck,
brutality's livid truncheon descent.
His arms outstretched and limp,
his face pillowed by gravel mouthing dust
whose taste he can't begin to feel.

Bash that nigger's head some more.
The brigadier is watching.

His ribs imploded in his chest,
his body's sinewed threads unravelled by
another boot roughshod along his back.
He hears concentric sound, a shout
wells up inside another in his head until
the truncheon slams into his broken bones.

I can't set word in there again, he says,
to hear my wordfalls' echoes.
How can I get my name erased
from Malta's register
or would that be too little and too late?
To fall wounded to the ground was mine
in reparation
for every other time I wasn't felled.
For every snapshot that I couldn't, wouldn't see.

In the consonantal wedge the truncheon's
dizzied silence now awaits the disarray
of snapshots rendered corpse-like.

Joseph: stuck fast in sequence after stuttered sequence
of consonants and photographs and vowels,
wedged between them.
He says he's got an early day tomorrow
a day like any other, almost.

On January 13, 2005, officers from the army Riot Squad stopped a peaceful demonstration staged by some 80 immigrants in the Hal Safi detention centre in Malta. Photographs of the beatings were published by The Times and other media. 27 immigrants and 2 officers were hospitalised.

If I Had a Motorboat
Translated from the Maltese by Christine Grixti and Maria Grech Ganado
If I had a motorboat
I would take it out to sea
Perhaps some immigrants would chance
To pass in the vicinity...
I would give them all they needed
To set them on their way
Towards our united Europe
of solidarity...

I would tell them of some contacts
So that when they reach their goal
They would find my friends there waiting
Who to put them at their ease
Would instruct them in their language,
Maybe also some Maltese.

But if I should chance upon
a group of immigrants in fear
in a boat that's not seaworthy
I would take them up with me,
sail them to their destination -
a good compass, a good engine -
what more should one need to sail
towards a silent bay and shore
and to land them amongst children
armed with swimbands, and canoes
skimming water just like angels,
and the ice cream kiosks you see
in the ads, and the sun that beams like Europe
full of solidarity.

If you read this little letter
of a most burning desire
and should chance upon a boat
which should meet what I require,
you could send me a small email
and I'm sure that the Good Lord
would know who it was who gave me
just the motorboat I need
and will hand them their reward.

Let me have that little craft
Which I'd take right out to sea
Perhaps some immigrants would chance
To pass in the vicinity...
I would give them all they needed
To set them on their way
Towards our united Europe
of solidarity...

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