Santino Spinelli: Gypsy Curse (From Abruzzese Romani)

Santino Spinelli writes in the fascinating Abruzzese dialect of Romani. He is one of the most prominent of modern Romani poets, and I find his work brilliant. This poem, evoking the Romani genocide, which inverts the gadjikani cliché of being "cursed by a Gypsy", is the first of several of his that I plan to translate eventually.

The poem translated here, like many others of Spinelli's poems, has previously been translated into English and other languages, but always by translators who can't read Romani, and always solely on the basis of Spinelli's Italian self-translation. In fact, near as I can tell, self-translated Italian versions, and second-hand translations thereof, seem to form the basis for discussions of Spinelli's work as a rule.

In any case, I thought I might give my own take on this poem. It does not correspond entirely literally to the Romani. I do not pretend it does.

Gypsy Curse
By Santino Spinelli
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Cold dark skinned hands turned up at the sky,
turned up at the world above
swamp mire covers the head
smashed down,
the body sounds a muffled cry...
Who heard? None heard a sound.
A powerless people
led to the killing grounds...
Who spoke? None.
Who saw? None.
Carcasses rising 
from the dead swamp muck,
festering faces bared to the sun,
with a finger pointed
at everyone 
who stood silent. 

The Original:

Kusibbè Romanò
Santino Spinelli

Šurdè vašt kalè šdinè ku thèm,
panì milalò a čiarèl u širò
sa tritimmè,
ni lùk a šunèp pandindò,
nikt a šunèl.
Ginè bi nafèl
ku mirribbè ’ngirdè,
nikt a dikkià
nikt a vakirià.
Mulé riǧǧidè
andrè u panì milalò,
xalè muj angiàl ku khàm,
u ’ngustò a sìnnl
angiàl ki kòn
u kwit a ćilò!

Lexical notes:

vašt kalè: dark, black hands. But the semantic dynamics of kaló mean that the sense "gypsy hands, Rom hands" is also hovering in the background.

šdinè ku thèm: I have mentioned elsewhere how the word them takes on an enormous semantic range in common Romani, which differs somewhat according to dialect. In Abruzzese this word, as in Burgendland Romani, can mean "sky, heavens." The sense "world, land" however also exists in Abruzzese Romani, according to Giulio Soravia. Thus in this line the world, and the heavens, are indicted collectively as one. Incidentally not only does Spinelli himself use thèm in the sense "world" elsewhere, but he exploits the polysemy of thèm in his performance piece, Pri ni Thèm Fiddèrë where one of the spoken passages begins O thèm mèngrë /a kammèlë ni sunó / ni thèm fiddèrë / ta lačhó pri sassaré. "The heavens (=thèm) /bid us dream / of a better world (=thèm) / fairer for all...."

panì milalò Literally "filthy water." It is not uncommon in Romani to refer to different types and bodies of water (sea, river, bog etc) with the word panì accompanied by an appropriate modifier. The referent seems to be swamp, mud, mire, muck or something of the kind. (c.f. Spinelli's self-translation: pallude.)

ginè bi nafèl: the term connotes not only "helpless, defenseless people" (as per Spinelli's self-translation populo inerme) but also "innocent people." 

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