Friday, 1 June 2018

Birżebbuġa 2014 - Immanuel Mifsud

I undo my laces; let everything fall.
You quickly close your eyes or look somewhere afar.
Somewhere out through the window
strange images drift by
like boats midsea, rolling, heavy with cries
of tall men who have never seen such waters before;
women in their eighth month, navels pointing ashore;
children silenced, whining babies; droplets of milk left — no more.

Quick, go to the window; smell the wave as it comes,
making you hunger for bread with tomatoes — red, ripe, and plump.
Let go; ride this wave, rich with aromas that call,
and grab you and twirl you, leave you spinning in awe.
Now pause in this wave; it will bring back your ma.
Sleeveless dress, floppy hat,
crunching crabs that she'd catch;
next the smell brings your pa, engaged in a quest
for his urchins — you watch him dive devilishly deep,
come up wrapped in octopuses, struggle to his feet as
the wave keeps on coming — painting Gizzy now, sheer delight
in her floral bikini, she is surely the light of Birżebbuġa Bay, with
her bosom ablossom, and you following its sway.
How sweetly it smells this most blessed of waves.
See it boldly, how blue! As a child, who else knew
how many times you sneaked and impatiently drew
this bluest of wave, in your notebooks each spring;
as you waited to see what the summer might bring.
Quick now, to the window; you know not the wave's course,
because rows of containers lie in wait at the port;
reaching out as it crashes, robbing the wave of its force.

And this crushing wave crashing ... carries how many breaths?
How many mummy-mummy-save me!-save me!'s?
How many tears, goodbyes ... and deaths?

At Birżebbuġa Bay my own child exclaims:
“Look how shiny the sea is! Like silver." ... He stares.
"And look! See them glowing? There are fishes down there!"
And he begs to go down romping
with mullet, saddled bream; begs to swim with the blennies; but
I fear there might be some
loose wish, ragged dream chafing right up against us;
tearing at, wrinkling our paper white, smooth souls.
Because look, my dear child,
this is not the sea that I know.
When I was your age the great poets all wrote
that this sea never ages; that it never gets old.
Everblue is our sea; that is what we were told.
They would dive down for coral; no cylinders, wetsuits.
And this sea that they lived in had color, music too;
stunning, bright, with anemones; the sea tinkled with bells
ringing mysteriously from the deep. ...
And I believed what they said.
And they celebrated: "this sea of ours overflows with our history"
of heroes sailing skillfully for centuries and centuries;
Oh, how many vessels (and aircraft carriers that saved)!
and countless fishermen, gods, kings —
oh, and sirens that sang of
sweet temptations with pleasure —
downing seamen with hopes.
The poets told me all this, and I listened; I took notes:
"this sea of ours is pure history," I believed and I wrote.

 So I dived like a fish straight into the deep,
let the sea tell me stories, kissed the waves' mouth — it was sweet.
And I rejoiced when I resurfaced: it was true what they said!
I got up with me a pebble and a fistful of sand from that seabed!
And laid them under my pillow so at night I could hear
the scorpion fish calling: "come back to me, stay near."

But today, I admit it: I now fear the sea.
Not the bass, bream, and dentex that used to swim, free,
but these unfinished books at the bottom —
that's what's frightening me:
Tall men who had never seen such waters before.
And pregnant women, swollen, full wombs ever closed.
And hungry children asking:
What is happening? Where is home?
And one by one they all tell me
that the poets' sea is aging.
Its bright blue no doubt is noticeably fading.
The corals have vanished; and the anemones still left have
blackened even more than the seabed itself.
So if you must dive down there, strap cylinders to your back,
and take care you don't lose yourself far from the shore.
Believe me, you won't know these waters,
though you've seen them before.

Immanuel Mifsud (born 1967) Malta
Source: Immanuel Mifsud website
Birżebbuġa is a village located in the southern region of Malta

(Permission to use this poem has been requested)

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