Henry Briffa, born in Malta, runs a Psychology practice in Melbourne Australia. His chapbook Walking Home was published by Melbourne Poets Union in 2019. In 2018 he received a special commendation in the Queensland Poetry Festival Elder Emerging Poet Mentorship Award. His poems have been published in local journals and overseas.
If you don’t know the story
of your own country, what story
would you know? (Maltese proverb)
1. Terra Nullius
When my car broke down
I didn’t understand
why the publican refused to let me use his landline
pointing me to the phone box just 3 km up the road.
Or why the RACV guy
just grunted and wasn’t much help
Or why the boys in the diner
looking for a fight said
you never can tell
but his skin’s so dark
Later that night
removing my black red & yellow T-shirt
the penny dropped.
My accent, my clothes
conceal a Maltese birthmark
I walk the Sliema promenade
as I do every evening
meet neighbours, friends, where I
know only my otherness.
They don’t understand
how I spend the year living here
Assuming I’m some felon
on the run.
Because here you only make it
if you claw
& claw & claw.
No green spaces, desert air
or ocean breakers
Swallowing Pastizzi with Kinnie
only ruins. Stone forms my belly
the Hal-Saflieni temple
of the fat Sleeping Lady
mocked by a row of
that just serves to strangle
the concrete path
my father left before.
First appeared in Walking Home, Melbourne Poets Union 2019
1. D-dar nadifa
my parents wanted d-dar nadifa
they’d fight over it
dad would blame mum for not having it
but his study was always a mess
it was their way
of telling each other
out of place
that one or the other
were responsible for this
Mum’s nudging 90 now
alone in Canterbury
a perfectly clean unit
The time for fasting & preparation
reflection & self-examination
is when Aljotta is most popular
in Malta. Morsels of fish
in stock rice & tomato
with heads of garlic after which it‘s named.
Lent is for going without
though that’s not what this soup is about.
Hippocrates preached that garlic was good
and the pious Maltese knew that we should
fast for forty days on aljotta
then feast on fried rabbit (with garlic) at Easter.
3. il Baħar
your death leaves mouths of angry
the storm lingers a decade
leaves a mirror in its wake
Tranquill bħaz zejt
our chats and books
helped me survive oceanic swells
Southern Ocean, Tasman and Bass Strait
you and me in the white-matter sea
two hobbled healers
bet you still miss the Sliema front
where you were sure to meet old mates
every time I left home unaccompanied
& again when I got back
every time I now visit & again leave
my mother will kiss my cheek & say “Ruhi”
which could mean:
the air I displace
everything I leave behind
I do know what she means.
5. Prayers to St Christopher to help me find my words
nistiq ngħidlek kemm inħobbok
Imma m’għandix il-kliem fil-lingua tiegħek
u lanquss naf ngħidha bil-Malti.
Notes & translations:
aljotta: Maltese garlic soup (with fish)
dar-nadifa: a clean house, a well-maintained house, one fit for decent people
il Bahar: the sea (a response to a poem by Gaetan Briffa of the same name)
Daqqa imbaqbaq/Bir-rgħawa f’ħalqek: sometimes angry, foaming at the mouth
Tranquill bħaz zejt: as still as oil
ruhi: multiple meanings which are outlined in the poem
nistiq ngħidlek kemm inħobbok /Imma m’għandix il-kliem fil-lingua tiegħek /u lanquss naf ngħidha bil-Malti: I’d like to tell you how much I love you, but I don’t know the words in your language and I can’t find the words in Maltese.
First appeared in Rabbit Poetry no 30, and has since appeared in Australian Poetry Anthology 2020 and in the writers egg.
For other contributions by Henry Briffa, please follow the link below:
Poetry in this post: © Henry Briffa
Published with the permission of Henry Briffa