Now that everything’s been put off again until tomorrow.

Six Poems from Painted Stars by Pierre Reverdy, translated by Dan Bellm

Le monde plate-forme

by Pierre Reverdy

La moitié de tout ce qu’on pouvait voir glissait. Il y avait des danseurs près des phares et des pas de lumière. Tout le monde dormait. D’une masse d’arbres dont on ne distinguait que l’ombre — l’ombre qui marchait en se séparant des feuilles, une aile se dégagea, peu à peu, secouant la lune dans un battement rapide et mou. L’air se tenait tout entier. Le pavé glissant ne supportait plus aucune audace et pourtant c’était en pleine ville, en plein nuit — le ciel se rattachant à la terre aux maisons du faubourg. Les passants avaient escaladé un autre monde qu’ils regardaient en souriant.  Mais on ne savait pas s’ils resteraient plus longtemps là ou s’ils iraient tomber enfin dans l’autre sens de la ruelle.

The platform world

by Pierre Reverdy

Half of what was visible was sliding. There were dancers near the beacons and footsteps of light. Everyone was asleep. Out from a mass of trees where nothing could be seen but shadow—the shadow that was walking, detaching itself from the leaves—little by little a wing flew free, shaking off the moon with a quick and muffled beat. The air kept completely still. The slippery pavement would bear no more audacity, but it was right in the middle of town, in the dead of night, the sky fastening itself to the earth with its rows of houses. Passersby had scaled another world that they gazed at with a smile. But there was no way of knowing whether they would stay there any longer or go fall at last into the other direction of the little street.

translated from French by Dan Bellm

L’ombre et l’image

by Pierre Reverdy

Si j’ai ri ce n’est pas du monde éclatant et joyeux qui passait devant moi. Les têtes penchées ou droites me font peur et mon rire aurait changé de forme en une grimace. Les jambes qui courent tremblent et les pieds plus lourds manquent le pas. Je n’ai pas ri du monde qui passait devant moi — mais parce que j’étais seul, plus tard, dans les champs, devant la forêt énorme et calme et sous les voix qui, dans l’air endormi, se répondaient.

Shadow and image

by Pierre Reverdy

If I laughed it wasn’t because of the bright and joyful world passing before me. Heads leaning forward or facing straight ahead scare me, and my laugh would have turned into a grimace. Running legs tremble and heavy feet misstep. I wasn’t laughing at the world passing before me—I laughed because I was alone, later on, in the country, standing in front of the calm enormous forest under voices that answered each other in the drowsy air.

translated from French by Dan Bellm

Mécanique verbale et don de soi

by Pierre Reverdy

Aucun mot n’aurait mieux pu, sans doute, exprimer sa joie. Il le dit et tous ceux qui attendaient contre le mur tremblèrent. Il y avait au centre un grand nuage — une énorme tête et les autres observaient fixement les moindres pas marqués sur le chemin. Il n’y avait rien pourtant et dans le silence les attitudes devenaient difficiles.  Un train passa derrière la barrière et brouilla les lignes qui tenaient le paysage debout. Et tout disparut alors, se mêla dans le bruit ininterrompu de la pluie, du sang perdu, du tonnerre ou des paroles machinales, du plus important de tous ces personnages.

Verbal mechanics and gift of self

by Pierre Reverdy

No doubt about it; no other word could have better expressed his joy. Everyone who was waiting against the wall trembled when he said it. There was a large cloud in the middle—an enormous head—and the others stared at the slightest marks of footsteps on the path. Yet there was nothing there, and it was becoming difficult to know in the silence what attitude to strike. Behind the fence a train went by, blurring the lines that held the scene upright. Then everything disappeared, mingled with the unbroken sound of rain, lost blood, thunder, or the mechanical words that the most important of these characters said.

translated from French by Dan Bellm

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who will quell our intense desire
to solve

Four Poems by Donata Berra with an introduction and translations by Charif Shanahan

Donata Berra’s work came to me by chance. I had just moved to Switzerland for love. I had just begun studying at the University of Berne, where Donata teaches. I had wandered, at random, into the Romance Languages building, bumped into a nice man in the Italian department who, I would later discover, was a poet, too, and found myself enrolling in an Italian course. Course: Advanced Italian Syntax and Grammar. Instructor: D. Berra/Staff.

After two weeks, longing already for literature to complement the linguistic focus of the course, I asked Donata if she could make recommendations of Italian poets to read in addition to the course work. She obliged, indicating that she was actually a passionate reader of poetry. She told me she loved many of the same English-language poets I loved, though she had only read them in translation. She told me that it would be her pleasure to help; in fact, she would bring me her personal copies of the books she recommended so I wouldn’t have to navigate the library stacks. She never mentioned she was a poet.

Each week, Donata brought me books, and each week, I took them home, devoured them, and gave them back to her in class, where we discussed compound reflexive pronouns and the passato remoto.  To the final class, Donata brought a thin, red collection of poetry, which lay, face down, on the desk next to her. I was surprised: I didn’t know that I would see her again after this class and therefore hadn’t been expecting a book. After the lesson, she handed me the collection, her own, with humility and graciousness, saying only that she hoped I liked it.

I say with embarrassment that A memoria di mare /As the Sea Remembers sat on my bookshelf for two years before I opened it purposefully. I discovered a collection marked by a palpable sensuality of language, arresting imagery, and a tremendous sensitivity to the human condition—to the great tragedies that unite us, and to the nuances of even our smallest interactions. Moved, without thinking, I found myself translating Donata’s most powerful poems. I deliberately stayed as literal in my translations as possible, wanting to preserve, and to transmit, the clarity of voice, scene, and affect in these poems.

—Charif Shanahan

 photo of Donata Berra by Yvonne Böhler



by Donata Berra

Quando sull’arco del giorno si schiaccia la notte
e abbruna la linfa alle nostre membra sfatte


passa la mano dell’onda e subito
abbiamo tutti lo stesso nome


i giochi le reti gettate gli sguardi la compiacenza
il lungo, faticoso metterci in scena

   niente più appare


sotto il cielo ragnato da un inutile sole
come se il tempo si trovasse altrove


calma è soltanto la voce
nostra, che dice – in fondo noi

lo sapevamo.


Vieni, riposa, voglio accarezzarti di buio,
buio sulla tua pelle, a piene mani ti accarezzo
di buio
che renda cieca la voce.



by Donata Berra

As the night presses onto the arc of day
and darkens the lymph in our undone limbs


the hand of the wave passes and instantly
we all have the same name


the games the cast nets the gazes the complacency
the long, tiresome staging of ourselves

nothing appears anymore


beneath the sky spidered by a useless sun
as though time itself was somewhere else

only our voice is calm,
it says – in our deepest selves,

we knew it.


Come, rest, I want to caress you with the dark,

dark on your skin, with both hands I caress you

in the dark that blinds the voice.


translated from Italian by Charif Shanahan

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