from Dolore Minimo

Translated from Italian by Gabriella Fee and Dora Malech

Five poems from Dolore Minimo (Minimal Pain)


At that time everything
unfolded in known words.
Syllables counted on fingers
scanned the rhythm of the invisible.

All was within reach,
all comprehensible,
and right around the corner
the trick had not yet nested.

Poetry was a concern
of other times, a mute appeal
to the true nature of things.
So disguised as to be confused
with the games and the dolls
of childhood.

At that time there were no disasters
to ration, discrepancies
to tend beneath loose clothing,
fathers to refuse or names
to follow to the bottom of ponds.

Until the transition arrived
to turn the earth on which the step
had lingered, to tip
the bucket of toys, recalling
the invisible poetry that surrounded me.

I never knew myself
except through that child
in pain. Suddenly
so divided, so very





The streets of the town
were dense squares of darkness
that met as on a chessboard.

The memory of a move
inherited equally
at each intersection.

On summer evenings,
Madonnas shouldered
from house to house
idly absolved
interchangeable sins.

The streets were full of faith,
brass eyelets,
and discreet windows ajar.

In the quiet of those streets,
the affliction arrived in August.
It toppled the Madonnas, ousted
the eyelets, ruptured the crossings,
gave no time
to shut the windows.

I nailed myself, faithless,
to the great chessboard.
Found myself unfit for the symmetry
of proportion — for the straight line
always faithful to itself.

And learned from the imperfection
of the trees to make myself a branch,
thin and sharp, to reach
toward the truth of light.





The hands were the first loss.
The innocent touch left me, touch
that had explored things, discovered them
in the manner of a child — shaped them.
They were hands that didn’t know
retreat: twelve-year-old child’s
hands that tend to a cone
of light — that don’t yet know
how to join in prayer.
Fathomless hands — like lakes
in which no one would come looking,
silent hands like ancient caskets
closed — clean hands.

The hands were the first discovery.
My touch became an adult’s touch,
which knows exactly where to land.
The ample, concave hands of a mother
who arrives at the threshold and waits;
hands of cherry wood
and blossom — hands reborn.
Hands that know how to close
around the exact consistency of nothing.




The light was the second loss.
Affliction took away the sight
of fields dazzled by sun,
the burnt and living plot,
Sicilian coastline of my thirteen years.
I spent those years between lines
of clothes devoured by sunlight,
and crumbling terracotta pots
where stems of basil and lavender
climbed toward the line
of the sky — almost reaching
to touch it. Light was everything.

The light was the second discovery.
Not the light that ignites the terraces
and weathers the lines
of the coast, but the light of houses
at dusk — light that mixes
with shadow, that sifts through the lace
of interlocking branches, that lifts
after a storm, after an illness.
I mastered the undiluted light
of pure bodies — of perennial springs
whose source no one knows.




Forgiveness was the third loss.
I wanted to excuse myself for the tone
I took to your incomprehension.
How rare my kindness at fourteen
when you spoke to me
with ignorance. But the fault
was no one’s: not yours,
when you pointed to my body and said
to be careful, that it wouldn’t be
easy. Not mine, when I failed
to forgive your mother-reach
between skin and nerves
to root out uncertainties,
doubts I did not yet have.

Forgiveness was the third discovery.
When I was big enough
to understand what it meant
to be a mother, a pardon swelled
and overcame me. For you, for
other women-children like me,
and for myself. I had held
the red thread of childhood
and from one day to the next
held it no longer.


First published in 2018 by Interlinea Edizioni