“I’m afraid that my breathing/ too will sleep: I spy it/ I hold it I am terrified/ come back breath come back!…”

I platani del viale  
Nelo Risi
I platani del viale
fanno da paralume
al lampione, ritagliano
foglie sul mio lettino
nel buio conto le pecorine
se gioco se parlo se mangio
neanche me ne accorgo
però non è la prima volta
che lo sento ingigantire.  

Mi si chiudono gli occhi
e non riesco a dormire
temo che si addormenti
anche il respiro; lo spio
lo trattengo ne ho terrore
torna respiro torna! fin-
chè un soffio dopo l’altro
l’inciampo si attenua
la mente si distrae…  

Il respiro ritorna abituale.
The plane trees on the boulevard  
Nelo Risi  

The plane trees on the boulevard
are lampshades
for the streetlamp, they cut out
leaves on my little bed
in the darkness I count sheep
if I play if I speak if I eat
I don’t even notice
but it isn’t the first time
that I feel it get bigger.  

My eyes are getting heavy
and I can’t sleep
I’m afraid that my breathing
too will sleep: I spy it
I hold it I am terrified
come back breath come back! un-
til one breath after the other
the catch relaxes
my mind is distracted…  

My breathing goes back to normal.

      Translation ©Matilda Colarossi 2020    

From the collection Amica mia nemica by Nel Risi, Mondadori, 1976.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

One thought on “Nelo Risi: I platani del viale/ The plane trees on the boulevard

  1. Dear Matti,
    Many different feelings arise in me from this extended sonnet in free verse by Nelo Risi, where emotions and memories at first seem completely to outweigh the structure and devices of the poetry that you have sensitized me to.
    My first emotion was to think of a walk on a sunny Mediterranean day, but it quickly became night; I was then reminded by the words […paralume / al lampione, ritagliano foglie… ] of Joseph Brodsky´s stanza from [Любовь] “On Love” when he speaks about getting up at night and going to the window and seeing “fragments of light as phrases, spoken in a dream,” [и фонари в окне/ обрывок фразы сказанной во сне, ] but with him doing this as an adult. And then I read [mi lettino]: “my little bed”, and I am reverted to childhood memories, and my lying in bed at night heaving my chest in torment of asthma, looking at the streetlight through my window screen and imagining my breath was wheezing like the light through this screen. Then next in my reaction to Nelo Risi I reflected on Dylan Thomas’ “A Refusal to Mourn … ” and his phrase […nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath … ].
    And yet, there is a lullaby of [-l-]sounds in Risi with the alliteration beginning right from the first line ending in that [lettino], most notably the segment, [paralume / al lampione, ritagliano / foglie sul mio lettino]. Ultimately from our deepest human past we become aware as children of the connected meaning between the light and our lungs, is what Nelo Risi teaches here.
    I am so thankful for your work, which arrives like a friendly voice from overseas during this time of doing so much “holding our breath!” God bless you and your family with the eternal enjoyments of Christmas, and a Happy New Year to you, Matti.


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