POETRY: Maria Grech Ganado

Copyright Gilbert Calleja
'Il-Passjoni ta’ San Ġorġ' translated from Maltese by the author

I drew up short. And, yes, I drew in startled –
      -    that shorn hair, standing on edge
like a black hedgehog, instead of the soft tresses
I’d dreamt had bound my heart –

      -    that T-shirt, black as the night
in which I found her, her breasts beneath it
hardly fluctuating –

that she was hot inside, though, was witnessed
by the smoke erupting from her nostrils. But
though I rode there straightaway, on having noticed
the very first hint of fire from a distance

when I arrived her gaze didn’t seek mine.
Her violet eyes, totally vacant of seemly modesty,
reflected only the dragon stretched out there beside her.

This woman had no desire to be saved
or to depend on me – perhaps only to live
her own reality, a mere fairytale,

it’s hardly likely I’d risk my life for that.
Therefore I turned my horse’s head and left her
to burn where she had chosen to – behind me

Original English poem

My mother’s aunt, forever clothed in black from toe to chin,
held it up high, the can of silver with the milk of froth,
a five-foot witch with hair bunned back, and we too small
to pull it down as she protested - no no no,
what would your father think.

After she took it off the ring, the milk, once boiled,
was drunk without my aunt’s (in her ghonnella* now,
and off to church) fearing my father’s dread of brucellosis –
and he, a world authority on undulating fever!

But learning this as I grew couldn’t erase the magic of the can
borne frothily from goat to gas - perhaps it was the tinkle
of the goat bells, a full herd moving haltingly at every house
in the old narrow street, with children trying to guess
which one he'd pick to milk at their own gate.

Then came the moment, long after we had stopped
jumping at my aunt’s sleeve, when I would linger to watch
the boy slide in beneath the belly of a goat with ease
and with sure fingers palpitate its udder, squirting
the milk directly into his mouth.

He kept his eyes on me each time he rose, wiping
his mouth with his hand, both back and palm,
insolently smiling at my clean clothes, the gate between us
and my fourteen years frothing at my throat. I'd turn inside
to drink a glass of milk, properly boiled, and wonder
about the quality of life without Pasteur.

*the ‘għonnella’ (a black half-rigid cape which went over the head) was worn traditionally by Maltese women till some time after WW2. I remember women in Gozo wearing it regularly even in 1953, especially if they belonged to religious groups

© University of Wales, Aberystwyth 2002-2009       home  |  e-mail us  |  back to top
site by CHL