Must have been 1956 or 1957. I was working at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and since I had spent a year in Italy it was somehow taken for granted that I was proficient in Italian. When a request came for someone to translate the Italian entries for the International Literary Braille Competition, it was turned over to me. I don’t remember if I was also asked to do the German entries. Would I have attempted something like this now? Perhaps, but now I have years and years of experience whereas then translating anything aside from say, a road sign, was rather reckless. So there I was with what I might now consider one of my first translations. Around a year later, in 1958, a slender pamphlet, the report of the International Literary Braille Competition, was forwarded to me in Italy where I was then living, and my translation had won the First Grand Prize for Poetry! I felt honored since Pearl Buck, whose The Good Earth I had devoured as a teen-ager, was the chairman of the Judge’s committee. I must have been about ten when I saw the movie with Paul Muni and the scene I never forgot was when just a few tea leaves were added to the water to give it a semblance of tea. Pearl Buck’s words of encouragement to the blind were particularly relevant. “If I have anything to say to blind writers, it is not advice so much as it is a wish, a hope, that they will make use of their own gifts, that they will not imitate those who see with the physical eye, but will cultivate their special vision, and through their own experience of life, from their own viewpoint, open to the rest of the world, to the seeing who are often the unseeing, the true meaning of what lies within the mind and the spirit of human beings.”
I still have that report, although the Italian original is not included. There was also a photograph of the poet, a handsome man, with his Doberman, and since he lived in Florence I decided to write, hoping to meet him. My letter was refused and returned to sender since the stamp had fallen off and the recipient, of course, had no idea who I was. Aldemaro Nannei. The only person with that name I could track down now in 2022 was listed as an artist and musician and therefore not my Aldemaro Nannei. But there was also a book, titled Litanie del Silenzio, published in 1954, which sounds as if it might have been written by the author of my verse. I wish I had the Italian original, for there were certainly mistakes due to my imperfect Italian. The last lines were something like: la Chiesa buia con il Venerdi Santo dell’Anima. Which probably didn’t mean anything to me at the time, and which I had translated as holy Sabbath of the soul but, which might better have been Good Friday. So whether my translation caught the feeling of the original I will never know.
I LISTEN TO BITTER SONS
I have sown with tares my span of summer
and I listen to the borning of bitter sons.
I am late. I have consumed the garment.
I barely distinguish the taste with my fingers
of this thin likeness which is left me
on the barrier of walls
between two brackets of lost roses.
Knot by knot the words pull tighter
and with my face in my hands all around falls the silence.
Through the shell of the shutters there filter
the long itinerant voices of a wailing chant
from some imagined Orient.
Perhaps in the glass there is the hint of thirst,
the agony of a fly on a zero, and the heart,
the heart writing a letter to no one.
I no longer know where the Gospel has gone to sing,
or how awareness first thrills
in the child whose breasts bud forth, the plums of its branch.
If I cross the room with my frozen steps
I walk on my face, the Church dark
with its holy Sabbath of the soul.