POETRY: Adrian Grima

Copyright Gilbert Calleja
Translated from Maltese by Albert Gatt

He shows no mercy in the fight, Rafel.
The air is thick with spears and swords.
Over their horses, the wrathful, stiff as dolls,
keel over.
On the field of battle,
they hoarsely gasp their agonising last
like actors.

In the lull brimming with fury from the fight
dead soldiers, wounded horses swiftly come to,
rise to their feet, begin to walk again.

Although so much brutality has happened,
Rafel prepares the ground for new engagements:
the two sides facing off across the way.
A presage of the din that means disaster,
of swords piercing the breath of those they slay.
And now, the baddies’ gasps are even hoarser,
the goodies’ horses spry amid the fray.

Rafel abruptly leaves. The air implodes.
All are suspended, cast aside like dolls.

Her Photograph Everywhere
Translated from Maltese by Catherine McGrotty with the author


She’s not posing on the marble shelf
where I sleep
the four-year-old girl who perished.
Not smiling.
Looking sideways,
beyond us, future observers.
Hair the colour of tousled gold
caught in a tale without explanation.
The photo catches her serious look,
the red, green and yellow of her bathing costume
swimming into each other.
While her aunt reads a summer book behind her,
she looks apprehensive,
as if she’s glimpsed a storm ahead.


I wish I could see her pass,
or hear her call,
from the other room.
Come in tired, with her school bag
and her voice rushing
to give an earnest account of the day.
Then smile and tell of the star
shining proudly on her work ...


She’s everywhere, in every corridor,
in every room lit up.
Her face, in a baby’s wool cap of Tibetan colours,
looking at us;
a few months old in her mother’s lap
by the sea,
her brother in his bathing costume and she
wearing white and a bonnet
as if in Little House on the Prairie.
The same dress –
perhaps with the same camera –
in her father’s hands. He smiles at her and she looks at us.
And now she’s walking,
wrapped up warm, in a museum with her brother and mother.
In her father’s arms, while he plays the fool:
she reaches to touch him and laughs, he draws back
(no photograph needed here):
a moment captured, completely, in her hands.


In the dining room, there’s a painting of her older.
Seated at the table
you're seized
by her bright eyes, a fresh forest submerged,
a glance, a secret acknowledged;
the assertive colour of her clothes;
the sunlight caught in her ruffled hair;
the stems of incandescent green she clutches;
the disconcerting redness of her lips.         

Then they come for me,
I pull my bag behind me and leave.
But there’s no interval between us,
no distance,
and I keep looking for that sun
in the story of her eyes.

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