Franco Buffoni – Mothers’ Tongues

For three years here in Rome I’ve had a partner
From Turkey, a Kurd.
Communist, tortured in jail,
He knows men and wolfs down life, when he can.
At my place for lunch one day during Ramadan
He ate everything in sight with relish.
Then for some reason I asked
About his mom and siblings, about home.
They talk once a month, usually he’s the one who calls:
“Last night I got a phone call from my mother,
Telling me not to eat till after sunset and to pray.”
So why are you eating now? Because I’m hungry.
Then we made love very well
And at three he went laughing back
To his friends on Monte Testaccio.

That night alone in bed I read Gwyneth Lewis
Who in Cyfweliad â’r Bardd
– Interview with the Poet –
Recalls her reading habits as a girl:
I’d read stories by English writers
Hidden in Welsh covers.
That worked for a while, till my mother
Found Dick Francis inside the Bardd Cwsg
One evening after chapel. I got an earful,
A thrashing. She was a pure woman:
Just one language for life.

Gwyneth Lewis wasn’t supposed to learn English
Because her mom wanted what was best for her.
I remember on Good Friday
Not because of hunger
– We didn’t fast that day at my house
Though we abstained from meat – I bought
A small portion of sliced ham
And ate it in the park. I was spotted and my mom
Was terribly unhappy:
Why do you do these things? Don’t you love Jesus?

Translated by Johanna Bishop
Poem selected by Emilia Mirazchiyska, series’ editor

Johanna Bishop ( is a translator of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from Italian. Her work has appeared in the bilingual review The FLR and other journals, as well as anthologies like Oomph!, Italian Literature in Translation, Italian Contemporary Poets, and Canone Inverso; recent books include Tamam Shud, a novel by visual artist Alex Cecchetti, and Fossils, a chapbook of poems by Maria Grazia Calandrone.

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Franco Buffoni
Franco Buffoni was born in Gallarate (Lombardy) in 1948. He is a full professor of literary criticism and comparative literature. For 30 years he has taught in the universities of Parma, Bergamo, Milano IULM, Torino, and Cassino. Some of his books of poetry are: “Suora Carmelitana” (Montale Award, Guanda, 1997); “Songs of Spring” (Mondello Award, Marcos y Marcos, 1999); “Il Profilo del Rosa” (Betocchi Award, Mondadori, 2000); “Guerra” (Dedalus Award, Mondadori, 2005); “Noi e loro” (Marino Award, Donzelli, 2008); “Roma” (Giuseppe Giusti Award, Guanda 2009); “Poesie 1975-2012” (Oscar Mondadori, 2012, pp 400); “Jucci” (Castello di Villalta Award, Mondadori 2014). Some parts of these books have been published in Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, and England. Two full-length collections have appeared in the United States and in France. In 1989 he founded and he is still the editor of the review “Testo a Fronte”, dedicated to the theory and the practice of literary translation (Marcos y Marcos). As a translator he edited “I Poeti Romantici Inglesi”, (Mondadori, 2005). “As an essayist he published Ritmologia” (Marcos y Marcos, 2002), “La traduzione del testo poetico” (Marcos y Marcos, 2005), “Con il testo a fronte. Indagine sul tradurre e l’essere tradotti” (Interlinea, 2007), and “Laico Alfabeto” (Transeuropa, 2010). As a novelist he published “Più luce, padre” (Luca Sossella Editore, 2006), “Zamel” (Marcos y Marcos, 2009), “Il servo di Byron” (Fazi, 2012), “La casa di via Palestro” (Marcos y Marcos, 2014). As a journalist he collaborates with several magazines and radio programs. He lives in Rome.