Translation Tuesday: Two Poems by Erri De Luca

We pave roads, shovel snow, / smooth lawns, beat carpets, / gather tomatoes and insults, / we are the feet and know every inch of the land.

In this Translation Tuesday, Italian poet Erri De Luca reflects on the Mediterranean migrant crisis and movement across borders, seas, and languages. From desert crossings and the “thrashing of dust in columns” to exploitation in the first world, De Luca poignantly evokes the struggles faced by the newest Europeans.


Six voices

It was not the sea that welcomed us
we welcomed the sea with open arms.

Descending from highlands burnt by war and not the sun
we crossed the desert of the Tropic of Cancer.

When from a high ground we were able to view the sea
it was a finish line, a caress of waves at our feet.

Ending there was Africa, the under-sole of ants,
from them caravans had learned to tread.

Under the thrashing of dust in columns
the first man alone is required to raise his eyes.

The others follow the heel that precedes them,
the voyage on foot is a trail of backs.


From whatever distance we arrive, over millions of steps,
we who arrive on foot cannot be stopped.

You are the crown, the coiffed head of the planet,
we are the feet and bear your weight.

We pave roads, shovel snow,
smooth lawns, beat carpets,

gather tomatoes and insults,
we are the feet and know every inch of the land.

You can’t rid yourselves of us.
one who came many years before said

in our name: “Yes, I shall die,
but after three days I shall rise and return.”

Erri De Luca is an Italian novelist, translator, and poet. Called “writer of the decade” by critic Giorgio De Rienzo, he has published over seventy books, numerous collections of short stories and poems—they have been translated into over thirty languages. De Luca is the recipient of numerous awards: the France Culture Prize (1994); Laure Bataillon Award (2002); the Fémina Étranger (2002); the Petrarca-Preis (2010); the European Prize for Literature (2013); and the European Book Prize (2016).

Matilda Colarossi is a freelance translator, blogger, and teacher. Her work can be found on Asymptote (Lessons in Slowness by Susanna Basso, Poachers by Alessandro Cinquegrani, “The Future Perfect” by Paolo Zardi, and Eva’s Mother by Silvia Ferreri), Lunch Ticket (“The Last Cigarette”, “Six Minutes”, “XXI Century” by Paolo Zardi), Ilanot Review (“In conformity with glory” by Demetrio Paolin), Sakura Review (three poems from solo andata by Erri De Luca), and Poetry International Rotterdam (Poems by Roberto Amato). For the past four years she has been translating Italian literature—fiction, non-fiction, and poetry—on her blog paralleltexts: words reflected. In 2018 her translations of the books Fiamma by Dana Neri, and Leonardo da Vinci, Fables and Legends were released by MutatuM Publishing.


Read more translations on the Asymptote blog: