December 20, 2008

Rocco Scotellaro

Rocco Scotellaro [Italy]
1923-1953


Rocco Scotellaro, born in 1923 at Tricarico (Matera), was one of the more actively involved of Italy's political poets. After World War II, at the age of 23, he became his village's first mayor, and was jailed in 1950 for his socialist activities. He resigned as mayor after serving the brief prison sentence, and left his home town to study more fully the conditions of the agrarian South. This research resulted in Contadini del Sud, a book on the Southern land problem in which peasants relate their stories to the author.

Scotellaro died near Naples in 1953. In 1954 Mondadori published his È fatto giorno, edited and introduced by Carlo Levi. La poesia di Scotellaro, edited by Franco Fortini, was published in 1974. During Scotellaro's last years, he worked on L'uva puttanella, a series of stories with peasant settings.

─Paul Vangelisti
[painting above by C. Levi]

BOOKS OF POETRY

È fatto giorno, ed. by Carlo Levi (Milan: Mondadori, 1954); La poesia di Scotellaro, ed. by Franco Fortini (Roma-Matera: Basilicata, 1974).

English language translation:

The Sky with Its Mouth Wide Open, trans. by Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: The Red Hill Press, 1976).


The Fathers of the Land If They Hear Us Singing

You sing, but what do you sing?
Don't disturb the fathers of the land.
The thirteen witches of the towns
have come together here in the evening.
And only a drunk sings the pleasure
of our disgrace.
And he alone can feel like a master
on this dead streetcorner.
We know how to beat the odds
as long as the narcosis
in a quart of wind holds out,
if the knife of incantation
repells the cloud's veil
over the woods of turkey oak,
if the fields drive away
the sultry wind that's risen.

But meanwhile the cobblestones
drown in the deep valley,
the little children want to gather
the confetti of hail
on the balconies.
The hail is the trophy
of the malicious saints of June
and we are the little children
their allies
given so much to smiling
on this beaten land.

But the heroes don't hunch over this way
with our wretched song.
In our fathers the grudge will last a long time.
Tomorrow we will be driven from our land,
but our fathers they know how to wait
for the day of justice.
Each will accuse. Each will have a say
even the old woman bleached by the flash of lightning:
in the doorway she whistled prayers
for the earth around her house.

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti

(from È fatto giorno, 1954)




The Graves the Houses

The graves the houses...
heart heart
don't stop beating.
The smoke of chimneys
in the damp air;
the footstep of enemies:
they beat on your very door.
Heart heart
don't stop beating.
The graves the houses,
November has come,
the churchbell: it's high noon,
it's a trick of the weather.
The dead cannot see,
mother is blind at the fireside.
Heart heart
don't stop beating.
The graves the houses
say goodbye and send
love back to the other evening.
Like flies dying on the windows
the prisoners run to the gates,
it's always slammed shut the horizon.
How many have nothing but hope!
heart, don't stop beating.
The graves the houses,
it's the 10th of August
that we were evicted.
What are they doing where we lived?
Are the keys turning in hotels?
The miserable, the good
are they damned to removal?
The Jewish women wail on the stones
of the ruined temple.
How many have nothing but prayer!
heart, don't stop beating.
The graves the houses,
stooped men, shrunken women
they confess at the windows
of the National Lottery.
My soul
is in this breath
which fills and empties me.
What will become of me?
What will become of us?
For him who will walk
from the graves to the houses
from the houses to the graves
shouting into the mineshafts
shouting at the miners
heart, don't stop beating.

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti

(from È fatto giorno, 1954)




The Sky with Its Mouth Wide Open

At this hour the wind is caught
in the ravine along the Basento.
And the mountains vanish.
And the sky is stuck with its mouth wide open.
We see a little girl in the chicken coop
above the Murge of Pietrapertosa.
Who hears the sandstone which crumbles
all at once on our backs?
the rustle of a serpent
the train in the valley?
Everyone is faithful to his job.
Two bitches down in the flats
have flushed a rabbit. It flees
like a spirit recognized.

(1945)

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti

(from È fatto giorno, 1954)



You Don't Put Us to Sleep Hopeless Cuckoo

All about the brown mountains
your color is swelling
September friend of my street.
You are hunted in our midst,
they heard you near our women
when shipwrecked crickets
out of the burnt stubble
rose up to our doors with a cry.
And there are branches of dried figs
and green tomatoes under the roof
and a sack of hard grain, a heap
of crushed almonds.

You don't put us to sleep
hopeless cuckoo,
with you call:
Yes, we will give our steps back to the paths,
we will go back to our struggles tomorrow
that the streams are once again yellow
in the gullies
and wind ruffles
the shawls in the closets.

(1947)

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti

(from È fatto giorno, 1954)


A House Behind the Prison Cypress

Turtle-dove, don't show yourself
in a soft sea-green blouse,
the flowers are still in the leaves
and the bark is slow to whisper.

My prison, lavish gate,
sea of voices squeezed into a ring
swell for you in harmony
turtle-dove who plays Ondine
among the cypress branches.
In the air trembling is the light, the houses...
and all of it seems unreal,
but you know with your beak
how to probe my heart.
But we have no more songs,
we sang them all
day and night at your balcony.

(1950)

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti

(from È fatto giorno, 1954)



Economics Lesson

I asked you one day who posted
the sentinels of spruce
up there in the Dolomites.
I asked you many other things
of the rock rose, of myrtle,
of the gummy inula,
names of nothing to do with economy.
You answered me
that a father who loves his children
can only watch them go away.


(1952)

Translated from the Italian by Paul Vangelisti

(from È fatto giorno, 1954)


Permissions

"The Fathers of the Land If They Hear Us Singing," "The Graves the Houses," "The Sky with Its Mouth Open," "You Don't Put Us to Sleep Hopeless Cuckoo," "A House Behind the Prison Cypress," and "Economics Lesson"
Reprinted from The Sky with Its Mouth Wide Open, trans. by Paul Vangelisti (Los Angeles: The Red Hill Press, 1976). Copyright ©1976 by Paul Vangelisti. Reprinted by permission of The Red Hill Press.

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