Amelia Rosselli

from War Variations


War Variations is forthcoming Fall 2003 from Green Integer Press. It was originally published in Italian as Variazoni belliche (Garzanti, 1964). The following poems, along with others, are forthcoming in a new collection, The Disappearing Pheasant, An Anthology of Italian Poetry 1960-2000 (Agincourt Editions) edited by Luigi Ballerini & Beppe Cavatorta.]



O little swallow full of grace you invent your words and whistle
                                                                                                 free outside any plantation
with you I would dance far beyond the precise nests I would know
the indulgent summit. If the self-propelling
troubles keep coming, if rebellion must wither, if your feather falls
                                                                                               to the ground
may I at least dream! indifference and may the
blond tyrannies (and may the madhouse)
look after your hot blast (your blond tyrannies).


Roberto, mother calls out, playfully rocking on the white
divan. I do not know
what God wants of me, serious
intentions rending eternity, or the frank laughter
of the puppet hanging from
the railing, railing yes, railing no, oh
postpone your heartfelt prayer with
a moving babble; car the dry and yellow leaves ravish
the wind that stirs them. Black vision tree that tends
toward the supreme power (pasture) which in fact I
think bleaches instead the ground beneath my feet, you are
my lover if the sky darkens, and the shiver
is yours, in the eternal forest. Empty city, full city, city
that soothes the fantastic for
the most part pain of the senses, you sit
sweltering after the meal you made of me, toy of leveling wind
from the coast I no longer dare
to face, I fear the red wave
of actually living, and the plants that say goodbye. Tom-
boy I straddle your bridges, and make them maybe
my own
I no longer know
who comes and who goes, let
delirium transform you into a senseless
gaming table, and the wild broom (room) faces out
spreading your sun across the reflecting glass.


                                          And the dawning will be
that string of pearls you wear always untied on your pearly
thinning neck, o! the
muffled bones that
press in the excited dazed laughter. And you
will wear bandages on those tendons
snapped by the fury of loving


                        And then he will adapt, to my new contingencies, car
I have changed houses, I am no more the timid
flower hanging from the willows and I don’t want your tenderness
that I cruelly combat because I have no more
tenderness. If you wish to graze my grave with delicate hands
place an iron and weighty stone on the white slab that
covers me, and you will write
the line which completes
the intense comparison. I have no more wool in the ditch, nor
even the tender faith of one who touched your hand for the
understanding I no longer want, the moon is full enough, and she
carries on like a big sister, and her deadly beam I now devilishly
follow, that she may light the corners of being, upon a greeny pasture
where tomorrow’s dead row in a long-suffering
and cautious way. No more with you will I walk
your well-kept streets among the urnal graves, and the
dew might even burn my feet, I’ll sit me down and
laugh and spit on the honest faces of the young men murdered by your
order. If only there were not this cruelty of mine and others
those stretched-out legs, those nude and fragile backs
beneath the grass. You will not reach your goal, unless you
pass through my narrow and hard canals.


                        I was, I flew, I fell trembling into the
arms of God, and may this last sigh
be my whole being, and may the wave reward,
held in difficult union, my blood,
and from that supreme deceit may death
become vermilion be given back to me, and I
who from the passionate brawls of my comrades plucked
that longing for death
will enjoy, finally— the age of reason;
and may all the white flowers along the shore, and
all the weight of God
beat upon my prisons.


What is it with my heart that beats so softly
and desperate makes, maketh
the hardest soundings? you Those
tutories that I imprinted on afore he
tormented himself so
fiercely, and are vanished for him! O if mye
rabbits coursing throughthe nervies he for
frosty canals of the my lymph (o life)
they don’t stop, then yes, tha’ I, me
yetsaclose to they dead! In all sinceauity my soul
may you remedy it, I ambrace you, you,—
may you find der Softe Worde, may you return
to the fathomed tongue that allows love to stay.


the carob of your thoughts
loosens violent and does not allow
that I tear him away from his
flashes of darkness. do not divert the
stone that makes us all able
to drink at a trickle of pity, do
not remove the ancient angels
from their pedestals of pity, and if
the opaque curtains of giant
warriors offend you, toss it all
in the sea, and save only the fly
that flies.


the god who burns everything between pickup truck and pity, the
grand salami the grand universe oh you are one being with
such a keen point that I change color solely
considering you but the man with his variegated multicolored pains
(o grand variety of the whole!) traps
me in a relationship so increasing and so hard to bear so
extraordinarily guilty, that I delay any customary custom
because my customary senses have seen too much of the world spread
like a lot of flour, between mountains, beaches, trees, peaches, every
                                                                                      kind of
saliva at your feet, and you who understand nothing and cannot (and
cannot ever) connect the variegated vicissitudes in a
single going in a single one of god’s plagues because
he hides behind the shadows.


and what did that crowd want from my senses other than
my scorched defeat, or I who begged
to play with the gods and stumbled
like a poor whore up and down
the dark corridor— oh! wash my feet, take
the fierce accusations from my
bent head, bend
your accusations and undo all
my cowardice!: it wasn’t my wish to break the delicate layer of ice
not my wish to break the mounting battle, no, I swear, it wasn’t my
wish to break through your laughable
laughter!— but the hail has other reasons than
serving and the wet eastern wind of
evening does not dream of standing
watch by my
disenchanted lion sobs: no longer will I run
after every passage of beauty,— beauty is defeated, never again
at attention will I snuff out that fire now glimmering like
an old tree trunk
in which hollow swallows make nonsensical nests, child’s play,
unreckoning misery, unreckoning misery of sympathy.


so that I may not fly, as long as you do not
fall, as long as the light become a whole
universe, that I may sleep, in the injured goodbye.
And may your playful Bridegroom’s outfit
cover you, may it be like the Only Supper for
Saints, your sighing without sleeping pills. There’s no light
without glory, and there is no hell
without defamation. The dry horizon
is a play of shadows: don’t follow it, don’t
throw the stone in the water,— that everything
may make do by itself, even in agonizing silence.


Translated from the Italian by Lucia Re and Paul Vangelisti

Click here to read Italian originals of these poems

Bio: Amelia Rosselli was born in Paris in 1930 and died in Rome in 1996. She was the daughter of one of the heroes of the Italian Resistance, Carlo Rosselli, assassinated in Paris when Amelia was seven years old. She learned English when the family escaped to England and later to the U.S. She returned to Europe in 1946, first to study literature and music in London and later to settle in the Rosselli family house in Florence. She continued her musical education through the 1950s, developing an interest in ethnomusicology and electronic music. She also wrote music theory. A short, intense friendship with the southern poet and social activist Rocco Scotellaro inspired her to write poetry. Her books include Variazoni belliche (1964), Serie ospedaliera (1969), Impromptu (1981) and Frammenti sparsi e persi: 1966-1997 (1983). A volume of her collected poems was published in 1997.

Paul Vangelisti was born in San Francisco in 1945 and has lived in Los Angeles since 1968. He is the author of some twenty books of poetry, as well as being a noted translator from Italian. In 2001, his Embarrassment of Survival: Selected Poems, 1970-2000 appeared from Marsilio/Agincourt in New York. From 1971-1982 he was co-editor of the award-winning literary magazine Invisible City and, from 1993-2002, the editor of the visual and literary arts annual, Ribot. He has twice been a recipient, in 1981 and 1988, of National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowships. In his career as a journalist, Vangelisti worked for The Hollywood Reporter (1972-1974) and as Cultural Affairs Director at KPFK Radio, Los Angeles (1974-1982). Since 1984, Vangelisti has taught literature and writing at Otis College of Art & Design, where he is currently the Chair of the Graduate Writing Program.

Professor Lucia Re earned her B.A. in English at Smith College and her laurea in Languages and Literatures at the University of Rome.  She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale University. She also studied Spanish and Latin-American literature at the University of Puerto Rico. Her translation into Italian of Borges: A Literary Biography by Emìr Rodriguez Monegal received the 1982 Comisso Prize.  Professor Re’s book Calvino and the Age of Neorealism: Fables of Estrangement  (Stanford 1990) was awarded the MLA Marraro prize for the best book in Italian studies in 1990-92.  Lucia Re specializes in 19th and 20th-century Italian, with an emphasis on the fin-de-siècle, early modernism and avant-garde, and the cultural history of Italy under Fascism and during the Reconstruction.  Her current research and scholarly interests include the relationship between Futurism, Fascism and feminism; gender issues in 19th-century and 20th century literature and art; and comparative theories of gender and feminism, with an emphasis on contemporary Italian feminist thought.  She has recently completed a book entitled Women and the Avant-Garde. Her translation into English (with Paul Vangelisti) of Amelia Rosselli’s first book of avant-garde poems, War Variations (1964), is forthcoming in a bilingual edition with a critical introduction.

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