POETRY: Joe Friggieri

Copyright Gilbert Calleja

They walk the paths
of green-grey silence trapped by garden walls,
past rows of lichen-covered tree-trunks
summoned to secret prayer by the bell
at dusk and dawn
with threads of thought
unwoven and unspun
and piles of books still waiting to be read.

This is a cloistered life
where apples, peaches, grapes
have colour, shape and taste
but no familiar name, and there’s no word
to tell the eagle from the owl
bread from stone
a baseball from a bat
warm life from frosty death
or to describe
the breathless chase of lion hunting deer,
the fateful fall, the pounce,
claws tearing out the flesh
and blood-stained teeth
and mouth-hole dripping blood.

Is this the way
to nip desire in the bud
better to feel the lemon-scented breeze
ruffling the wheat on summer afternoons,
or to prevent
bad dreams from taking shape
on frosty nights
in wine-filled winter months?

The air is still now:
cicadas sing,
a rusty pulley creaks
on an uncovered well.
Miles away
trains rumble, shake the earth.

'Mnajdra' translated from Maltese by the author

Thistles among the stones
spiny stuff at the track’s edge
scorching sun
sucking all life from the dust
parching the scrub right down to the roots
forcing lizards into rock cracks
to get their breath back.

Temples of the ancients
still standing on the bones
of those who built them and prayed in them
wanting to live there for ever,
temples speaking wordlessly
the vain hopes of people who believed
in the power of the gods that give life
and accept the smoke from sacrifices.

Stones that challenge us:
“Where did they go,
the people who once came here
to worship with offerings of wheat?
Who were they?
Who remembers?
Who did they love
and how did they cope with pain?
Where are they now
and what do they get from the memory?”

Stones that give no answers
unless one
that echoes down the ages
and resounds in our ears:
“These rocks are stronger
than those who built with them
and we who peer at them
book in hand.”

The sun strikes broken glass.
The lizards pant in cracks in the rock.
The chirrup of crickets pierces the desert air.

Around the temples
today as in the Stone Age
the wasps dance on the fennel flowers.

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