Issue 26: Ralph Pite translates eight poems by Alfonso Gatto

The Version of Events

Keppler – aka Scarface – came to the stand

to describe for our enlightenment

the massacre. It was his duty,

as he stated, it was his joy,

to undertake the task of executing

all the hostages. He had commanded

Kuhlwagen headlamps light the murky

depths of a readily available catacomb

in order there to raise his finest

monument to vengeance, the strongest

of the victims crushed then blinded

by the buttercup coloured dust of his tufo haloes.

On its topmost pinnacle he set

his persistence in the butchery.

While fellow executioners gave way

to horror – horror at their pity – he remained

archangel of violence

king slaughterer of innocents

the winds so hushed the quiet

(he spoke softly) (more softly than

I can) was not of this world –

the silence of the spilt blood’s thirst.

            As he testified,

            this German-

            speaking Cain,

            you could hear a pin

            drop in the public


            even the interpreter

            said nothing.

            Nobody caught

            anyone’s eye

            staring everyone


            at Kesselring

            then Field-Marshal

            the one of those

            two who was on trial.

His features expressed regret,

the facts were known.

            Of Keppler’s

            words I won’t forget

            a single one,

            I cannot

            separate myself

            from them

            I cannot keep from

            breathing them.

‘Blut’, he said. Blood. And: ‘tu-fo’

 – ‘You. I do’? – for our, ‘tufo’, a light and soft

volcanic rock. And while he spoke

he showed us how he ground it

between his fingers, let it slip

between his fingers, a golden dust

let fall upon those terrorised then killed

how he was cloaking the corrupt in-

justice which discarded words.

            If on Rome’s Appian Way

            the sunlight joins together

            present, past and lets you hear

            in birdsong ghosts of Christians

            led to martyrdom in chains

            you must recall

            the endless

            minutes during

            which these people begged

            for mercy.

            Tomorrow, yes,

            Justice will be done

            among us but that hour

            the dead

            will never see.

            As of now the misery

            of their betrayal

            seals the empty tombs:

            death’s countless victims

            twenty-twenty hindsight

            finds too much to bear.

            For other innocents

            caught up in the next, the

            latest episode

            of savagery

            keep hope alive

            and speak the one

            unchanged essential word

            of love, once

            denied to us:


Sicily 1948

Our land once wartorn

gleaming now

with ploughed-in salt

the flying ace is

downed in

shadow across main square

Heat’s oppression:


withdrawn, plague released

and song is plainly


plainly done to death –

alienated abject


death that knows no rest.

Long Live the King! Long


of deference. That

fly in the ointment.

Van Gogh’s Stone Bench (San Remy)

            ‘Et in Arcadia Ego

The rover will step forward: bristling

thick hair, strained features, hollow eyes,

tangled knot of crooked fingers.

A battering of colour flays him,

chases the rosewood of his chest,

his scaly fist glistening with flame

igniting him.

                  Oh but it’s a game!

The joy in it possesses him:

sorrows reduced to pinpoints of sin

set free, in vistas of the mind

in the unfallen language of light.

Tamed by his frenzy he can listen

to the wind in the trees. His weariness

and newfound quiet are like a forest

he wanders in, secured and set at rest

to attend at last to love’s pure lessons.

So here, in painting he tests once again

his right to a place among the flowers,

the growing things, the earthly life and dying.

Saturday Night

work over and the


life’s rosy glow.

strolling each has


of a new world

where they will sit


trains roll by

pale-blue gasholders,


all threads

spun in evening sky


house-martins swallows.

where all


candour speak

where each


secret keep

Song: to the Swallows

Lingering evening’s olive shades

and a moon, pale and thin, easing

broad daylight down, will grant us peace

in the swallows’ song, the streamers

of their flights a river in the air,

and returning love to those lost in exile.

Wringing the heart these toneless stark cries

drive winter on – they isolate

incomers from their city lives.

On rattling trains, in darkest watches

of the night women place their hopes

in city-lights, the theatre flyers

the lonely hearts and shopworn names

now nearing us, now threatening.

Autumn Melodies

To the ocean will return

          Freshest breezes,

Opened sea-road through Sargasso,

          Travel eases.

On the doorway’s locust tree,

          Summer’s ripeness.

A stray-dog wounded fatally

          Is changeless darkness.

Silky countryside drifts off,

          Sand and lemons,

Sorrow’s mild monotonous

          Song envenoms.

Close as this to daily living’s

          Fragile symbols –

Into its perfect sweetness probing,

          Ensure it crumbles.

Sketch of the Riviera

Evening has gathered

tenderly the tenements

ready to set sail.

Undisturbed houses

dream of the tall ships’ sunset-

tinted aims, slip out

to sea on stepping-

stone islets, through winding pinched

streets beside churches.

Moment of Inertia

Parallel crossings

shut off rose-coloured evening.

Two streams of faces.

Blankly agonized,

fatalistic voluble,

the city resists.

Spirit is being

cradled between supple leaves,

amiably confined.

Ralph Pite’s poetry appeared most recently in La questione romantica 11.1-2. His new edition of Thomas Hardy’s poetry will be published in September by OUP. He teaches at the University of Bristol and is writing a study of water in Romantic poetry.

Copyright © 2021 by Ralph Pite, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.