Maria Grech Ganado, (b. 1943), poet, translator, critic, studied English at the Universities of Malta, Cambridge and Heidelberg. She was the first Maltese female Full-Time Lecturer at the University of Malta (Department of English), has published three collections of Maltese poetry (the first of which won a National Book Prize in 2002) and two of English (the second of which won a National Book Prize in 2006). Her poetry in one language or other has been translated into Italian, French, German, Greek, Spanish, Turkish, Lithuanian, Finnish, Czech and Catalan. It has appeared in English in the UK, the USA, Australia, South Africa and Cyprus.
She has been invited to many literary events in different countries and co-organised an international conference with LAF (Literature Across Frontiers) in Malta in 2005. In 2008, thanks to an exchange scheme with Saint James Cavalier, Malta, she was a Resident Fellow for six weeks at the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts. Maria has also translated into English much of the contemporary poetry and prose written by Maltese writers today and published overseas. In 2000, she received the MQR – Midalja ghall-Qadi tar-Repubblika (Medal for Service to the Republic). She has three children and one grandson.
They’re moving blades upon the hill
under the cliff, over the sea, by the tower.
It is not a castle tower, not medieval.
These are not knights. This is not England.
The tower’s bare and barren, built slit-eyed,
to catch the Saracen making towards our shores.
‘They’ are tourists on an April day,
strolling, riding on the terraced hill,
copper, cornflower, yellow, poppy, white thistle,
patches of soils and grass, which the summer sun
will scorch a searing brown – but are still shrub
in burnished rust, clover, camouflaged shades
of black and grey on the clay cliff tilting to a sky,
sloping to a sea of piercing blue…
through which steel shimmers on sticks, or winks on glasses,
becoming blades only for those who find that April is
the cruellest month in other colours, too.
My mother’s aunt, forever clothed in black from toe to chin,
held it up high, the can of silver with the milk of froth,
a five-foot witch with hair bunned back, and we too small
to pull it down as she protested – no no no,
what would your father think.
After she took it off the ring, the milk, once boiled,
was drunk without my aunt’s (in her ghonnella* now,
and off to church) fearing my father’s dread of brucellosis –
and he, a world authority on undulating fever!
But learning this as I grew couldn’t erase the magic of the can
borne frothily from goat to gas – perhaps it was the tinkle
of the goat bells, a full herd moving haltingly at every house
in the old narrow street, with children trying to guess
which one he’d pick to milk at their own gate.
Then came the moment, long after we had stopped
jumping at my aunt’s sleeve, when I would linger to watch
the boy slide in beneath the belly of a goat with ease
and with sure fingers palpitate its udder, squirting
the milk directly into his mouth.
He kept his eyes on me each time he rose, wiping
his mouth with his hand, both back and palm,
insolently smiling at my clean clothes, the gate between us
and my fourteen years frothing at my throat. I’d turn inside
to drink a glass of milk, properly boiled, and wonder
about the quality of life without Pasteur.
*the ‘ghonnella’ (a black half-rigid cape which went over the head)
was worn traditionally by Maltese women till some time after WW2.
I remember women in Gozo wearing it regularly even in 1953,
especially if they belonged to religious groups.
For other contributions by Maria Grech Ganado, please follow the links below:
Poetry in this post: © Maria Grech Ganado
Published with the permission of Maria Grech Ganado