Joe Friggieri is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Malta and a member of its Academic Senate. He holds doctorates in Philosophy from Milan and Oxford and is also a poet, playwright and theatre director. His publications include two books on the English philosopher J.L. Austin, three collections of short stories, three collections of poetry, and a number of plays. He was committee chairman of the National Theatre of Malta, a member of the Broadcasting Authority, chairman of the Malta Arts Council, as well as producer and presenter of cultural programmes on radio and television.
Carpets of crimson
spread over trellises and wells
with pollen-covered wings
suck out sweet juices from the heart
of jasmine, rose and orange-blossom,
a waterfall of blood
cascading down from roofs
onto the parched soil,
a spiky mesh of branches
bursting into flame
after the winter sleep,
tongues of fire
lashing the air
with every breath of wind
that stirs and falls.
There is no sign of aging here
no worn-out limbs or wrinkled face
no swelling of the joints
no loss of memory or hair
no shrivelled hip or dislocated bone
no body tissue sliding out of place
no premonition of decay
sudden or slow
no skull beneath the skin
In the shade of the bougainvillea
the praying-mantis waits.
Thistles among the stones
spiny stuff at the track’s edge
sucking all life from the dust
parching the scrub right down to the roots
forcing lizards into rock cracks
to get their breath back.
Temples of the ancients
still standing on the bones
of those who built them and prayed in them
wanting to live there for ever,
temples speaking wordlessly
the vain hopes of people who believed
in the power of the gods that give life
and accept the smoke from sacrifices.
Stones that challenge us:
“Where did they go,
the people who once came here
to worship with offerings of wheat?
Who were they?
Who did they love
and how did they cope with pain?
Where are they now
and what do they get from the memory?”
Stones that give no answers
that echoes down the ages
and resounds in our ears:
“These rocks are stronger
than those who built with them
and we who peer at them
book in hand.”
The sun strikes broken glass.
The lizards pant in cracks in the rock.
The chirrup of crickets pierces the desert air.
Around the temples
today as in the Stone Age
the wasps dance on the fennel flowers.
© Translation: Council of Europe, 2005.
They walk the paths
of green-grey silence trapped by garden walls,
past rows of lichen-covered tree-trunks
summoned to secret prayer by the bell
at dusk and dawn
with threads of thought
unwoven and unspun
and piles of books still waiting to be read.
This is a cloistered life
where apples, peaches, grapes
have colour, shape and taste
but no familiar name, and there’s no word
to tell the eagle from the owl
bread from stone
a baseball from a bat
warm life from frosty death
or to describe
the breathless chase of lion hunting deer,
the fateful fall, the pounce,
claws tearing out the flesh
and blood-stained teeth
and mouth-hole dripping blood.
Is this the way
to nip desire in the bud
better to feel the lemon-scented breeze
ruffling the wheat on summer afternoons,
or to prevent
bad dreams from taking shape
on frosty nights
in wine-filled winter months?
The air is still now:
a rusty pulley creaks
on an uncovered well.
trains rumble, shake the earth.
All poems on this post: © Joe Friggieri
Published with the permission of Joe Friggieri