Editor's note: The footnotes can be read by clicking on "Translator's note" to the right of the poem.
translated from the Italian by Dominic Siracusa
1Pattona is a type of polenta made with chestnut flour instead of cornmeal.
2Barbos is Milanese for "chin."
3Itaglie, pronounced It-al-yay, is Villa's intentional misspelling of the plural form of Italia. Throughout the piece, Villa often employs the plural "Itaglie" as well as the singular "Itaglia."
4In the original, Villa replaces the first "i" in the adjective "sibilline" with a "y"; we a adapted the English spelling to this irregularity.
5The word for "buzzard" is feminine in Italian (poiana). Villa, instead, gives it a masculine ending (poiano).
6Tra le frasche, literally "between the branches," is an idiomatic expression with many meanings: to avoid doing something, to jump from one subject to another in conversation, or to find a private place to make out with your girlfriend/ boyfriend.
7Saforamenti is Milanese dialect for sacramenti (sacraments).
8Today the principle meaning of Zoccole (sewer rat) is "whore" (in Roman dialect). In Italian, mice and rats are often associated with sex. See "Sorca" (from the Latin for "little mouse"), as well as "topa" (mouse), which refer to the female organ.
9As with "sybilline," Villa replaces the first "i" in "dinastico" with a "y." The reverse was done in English to mirror the original.
10Here Villa parses the Italian noun "giaculatoria" (a short prayer) to highlight its different components: già (already), cul (ass), and the ending -oria.
11"Baggian" in Milanese dialect means someone who is stupid, dumb, or slow-witted. Baggiane is in the feminine plural. A fregoni is someone who "frega" that is "rubs" or "fucks." The passage may refer to a ritual carried out in the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan: for good luck, people grind their heels into the testicles of the bull depicted on its mosaic floor.
12Nergal was a deity worshipped throughout Mesopotamia, a figure Villa most likely encountered often as a translator of ancient Semitic languages.
13The adjective eucharistica should be spelled without the "h" (eucaristica), but Villa's carries out a hyper-characterization of the word by following a Greek spelling. The "ch" resembles the Greek "x" and thus the poet brings out the "xristo" in "eucharistico."
14In the original Villa removes the second "o" in "odorosa," calling attention to morpheme "rosa" (rose) within it.
15A combination of the nouns "speleological" (having to do with the exploration of caves) and "phoné."
16This is a pseudo-transliteration into the Roman alphabet of the Greek word for "idea." ἰδέα comes from εἴδω (eido or I see).
17Sociofugal is a word coined in English by Humphrey Osmond, a British physchiatrist. It describes a seating arrangement that promotes seclusion by facing the seats outwards. However, the Italian sociofugo is, in all likelihood, Villa's original creation and probably meant somebody who flees from social situations.
18In the original, the adjective "inanellato" (enringed) appears as inan ellato to emphasize the "inane" contained therein.
19Lattime is the crusta lactea, milk crust, or honeycomb disease: a yellowish skin rash affecting the scalp of newborns.
20It is not clear what Villa had in mind with these initials, although it may be a reference to tuberculosis.
21Manduria is a town located in the Puglia region of southwestern Italy known for its strong red wines.
22Permansivo is a combination of the verb "permanere" (to linger on, remain, or continue) or the adjective "permanente" (permanaent) and the adjective "espansivo" (expansive).
23The fabbriceria is an office in the Roman Catholic Church that oversees the construction and maintenance of ecclesiastical property.
24The little rhyme in the original mulìn mulèta / ghe se slunga la tèta literally means mill sharpener / the tit grows longer in Villa's native Milanese dialect.
25Here Villa is playing with the Latin nomenclature of botany: the noun glykyrhiza refers to the plant whose roots are used to make licorice while the adjective linnaei refers to the scientist Carl Linnaeus, who invented that very nomenclature. Regolizia, instead, is a vernacular spelling of the Italian word for "licorice."
26Rather than "agonia" (agony), the Italian reads ingonia (ingony).
27The original porcudighel is a euphemism for the blaspheme "porco dio" (pig god).
28Calends is the first day of the month in the ancient Roman calendar, but when speaking of Greek Calends one postulates an impossible date, since the Greek calendar did not have Calends.
29Here Villa is playing on the liturgical expression "domine deo," which is typically rendered in spoken Italian as "domineddio." Villa brings in the "abdomen" to create "abdomenenddio."
30Ecumene was used by the Greeks and Romans to denote the boundaries of what was then known to be the inhabited world. Today, it refers to the projection of a united word under the Christian Church.
31Tedeum is the Latin hymn "Te Deum" (Thee, oh God, we praise).
32The adjectival form of neume: the basic element of Western musical notation prior to the invention of five-line staff notation.
33I Novissimi, or The Four Last Things, refer to the final events of the apocalypse: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.
34Apollo's bird was the crow. When one of his lovers, Coronis, had an affair with Ischys, a crow informed the God of her betrayal. At first he did not believe the bird and turned its feathers from white to black as punishment for spreading lies. Upon discovering the truth, however, Apollo made the crow sacred, entrusting it with the task of announcing important deaths.
35Here Villa creates two grammatical hermaphrodites by providing the Italian adjective for "masculine" in its feminine singular form (maschia) and the adjective for "feminine" in its masculine singular form (femmino).
36The adjectival form of Paraclete: the Holy Spirit in the form of an advocate or counselor.
37Here Villa substitutes "idol" for the prefix "ideol-" in ideological.
Emilio Villa (1914-2003) was a poet, visual artist, translator, critic, and Bible scholar. His poems encompass modern and ancient languages, including Milanese, Italian, French, English, Latin, Greek, Sumerian, and Akkadian. Fundamental to his formation were the years he spent in seminary school outside Milan and at the Istituto Biblico in Rome, where he specialized in Ancient Semitic Philology. Throughout his life, he worked on an a-confessional translation of the Hebrew Bible (which remains unpublished today), and wrote extensively on contemporary art and its relation to the visual texts left by prehistoric man. Villa's preoccupation with the origin of language (verbal as well as non-verbal) is the common thread that runs through his diverse artistic and critical endeavors.
Dominic Siracusa recently received his Ph.D. from UCLA with a dissertation entitled Emilio Villa: A Poet of Biblical Proportions. In 2011, he received the Academy of American Poets' Raiziss / de Palchi award for Italian poetry in translation. This February, Contra Mundum Press will publish The Selected Poems of Emilio Villa, a volume he edited and that contains his translations of the poet's most important work in verse, as well as an excerpt from his rendering of the Pentateuch.