Three poems by Manuela Pellegrino

2020.04.11 | Introduction by Keith DeStone

δέδυκε μὲν ἁ σελάννα . . . μέσαι δὲ νύκτες.
The moon has gone down . . . it is the middle of the night.

Only a young moon could have set so early, early enough that the middle of the night should be, as it was for Sappho in this famous poem, moonless. But what if the moon were a little older, and a little wiser perhaps? What questions might be put to the moon, and what might one learn in return? In this posting we present three poems by Manuela Pellegrino, an anthropologist who, although she missed being a native speaker of Griko by a generation or two, is a devoted student of the language. Her poems clarify questions that characterize the lives of so many now, not only because of the enduring features of what it means to be human but, in this precise moment, because of the pandemic that is sweeping across the world. How to live in isolation, physically distant from others? What distances can be crossed, and how? How can we recover those who matter to us? Manuela has provided the poems in Griko (both written and spoken) and in Italian and English translation. Agathi Dimitrouka has generously supplied translations into Standard Modern Greek. On this multi-lingual and multi-media page, the poems are punctuated by photos taken at the latest full moon, the time when the moon is at the height of its powers, remaining solitary and above the horizon throughout the night.

Photo by Manuela Pellegrino.


Introduction by Manuela Pellegrino

“Some things never change, and those things sound better in Griko.” That is a quotation from a Griko-speaker, one who uses the language, as do many others, to write poems. Griko—this language of Greek origins spoken in the southern Italian region of Puglia, in Grecìa Salentina—is no longer used predominantly as a language of daily communication. I have often heard locals say, almost with resignation, that since its vocabulary was increasingly associated with the peasant world, Griko lacks the linguistic means to describe the present. For them Griko would then seem to describe and be described by a world that does not exist any more. Yet, “some things never change, and those things sound better in Griko.” In this sense it remains, therefore, the language of timeless emotions. The language has indeed reached us partly in the form of poems composed throughout time by locals—composed, and at times also put into music. This is a longstanding practice, which Griko-speakers keep finding productive. And while Griko kept losing its function as a daily vehicle for exchanging information, it increasingly acquired a performative aura; Griko has now become a post-linguistic resource and a metalanguage through which people talk about the past to make sense of the present.

This is the way I have been writing about Griko as an anthropologist, looking for words to describe and critically engage with Griko and its world, but I have equally found myself writing poems in Griko over the past two years. When the COVID-19 pandemic became a matter of concern everywhere around the world, I turned to searching for Griko words, even though they may not be numerous—but perhaps easier, therefore, to find. The three poems that follow are my Loja grika—Griko words—translated into English and Italian; for the translation into Modern Greek I owe my gratitude to Agathi. I thank Keith for editing my English, both Keith and Natasha for valuing these poems and for making this happen, Lanah and Zoie for their support, and Greg for his encouragement and trust. I feel blessed. I also thank for their feedback Luigi, Salvatore, Giglio, Annu, and my mother, the most demanding of all critics.


Fengo, fengàrimu agapimmèno


Fengo, fengàrimu agapimmèno,
Sìmberi o kosmo ascìunnise stravò,
ti na kamo, na mu pi isù meno
’o jeno pistèi ’s olu, c’e’ pìstei ’s tinò

oli milùne ce lene tikanè
ma tispo scèri ti lei ka sandè
en’ ìchamo stàsonta oli ’ttù, nde?

Fengo, Fengàrimu agapimmèno,
’u jenu i kardìa ’u ponì poddhì
pemmu, na mu pi isù arte meno
’ti ces t’ammàddhia ’vò telo na toristì

Ce oli forìutte na zìsune
ka senza fonì enna milìsune
’a vrachògna tinon ’en inghìzune

Fengo, Fengàrimu agapimmèno,
’o jeno zi manècho-ttu, ’su mu lei
grasce ’nan gramma, ivò ittù meno
ti na pesàni manechòttu ’e’ teli

Sti’ nitta skotinì ’s esèna kanonò
Ti enna kamo? Ti enna kamo, se rotò
pemmu isù arte ti sozzo kami ivò!


Φεγγάρι, φεγγαράκι μου αγαπημένο

«Φεγγάρι, φεγγαράκι μου αγαπημένο,
στον κόσμο που ’ρθαν σήμερα όλα στραβά,
να μ’ απαντήσεις τι να κάνω περιμένω,
καθώς εδώ πιστεύουν τον καθένα πια.

Όλοι μιλούν και τίποτα δε λένε,
δεν ξέρουν τι να πουν ούτε ποιοι φταίνε
που καταρρεύσαμε στα ξαφνικά.

Φεγγάρι, φεγγαράκι μου αγαπημένο,
πολύ πονάει των ανθρώπων η καρδιά,
να μ’ απαντήσεις τι να κάνω περιμένω
για να μπορώ τα μάτια τους να δω ξανά.

Όλοι φοβούνται τη ζωή να ζήσουν,
χωρίς φωνή κοιτάζουν να μιλήσουν,
τα χέρια τους δε γίνοντ’ αγκαλιά.

Φεγγάρι, φεγγαράκι μου αγαπημένο,
οι άνθρωποι μονάχοι ζούνε, μου ’χεις πει,
να γράψεις να μου στείλεις γράμμα περιμένω,
γιατί δε θέλουν να πεθαίνουν μοναχοί.

Στη σκοτεινή τη νύχτα σε ζητάω
και τι να κάνω, πες μου, σε ρωτάω,
για να τους σώσω τούτη τη στιγμή».


Luna, mia cara luna

Luna, mia cara luna,
oggi il mondo si è svegliato all’incontrario.
Cosa fare? T’aspetto, dimmelo tu.
la gente crede a tutti ed a nessuno.

Tutti parlano e tutto dicono.
Ma nessuno sa cosa dice,
non saremmo qui, altrimenti. O no?

Luna, mia cara luna,
il cuore della gente soffre tanto.
Dimmi dunque, t’aspetto.
Voglio che ritornino a guardarsi negli occhi

Ora tutti temono la vita
perché senza voce devono parlarsi,
le braccia non sfiorano più nessuno

Luna, mia cara luna,
la gente vive sola, tu lo sai
scrivimi una lettera, t’aspetto,
che nessuno vuol morire solo.

Nella notte buia ti guardo
Cosa fare? Cosa fare, ti chiedo
dimmelo tu cosa posso fare io!


Moon, my dear little moon

Moon, my dear little moon,
today the world woke up upside-down
what shall I do? Tell me soon,
as people believe everyone and no one.

Everyone talks and says something, anything,
but no one really knows what to say,
or else we wouldn’t have crumbled this way.

Moon, my dear little moon,
everyone’s heart is hurting, without end.
Tell me, I’m here, tell me soon.
They need to look at each other again.

They’re holding back from living on,
they have to speak without a voice,
their arms no longer reach anyone.

Moon, my dear little moon,
you say we live our lives alone.
Write me a letter, write it soon,
we don’t want to also die alone.

Into the dark night I watch you.
What shall I do? Tell me,
tell me soon what I can do!

Photo by Keith DeStone.


Ce meno

Ce pao vrìskonta na su po
cio pu krifìzzun ta loja,
arte ka isù stei ’cì pu
’en istàzzi i fonìmmu,
’en istàzzun ta poja.
Ce meno n’ìkusi ta travùdia
atti’ scichìmmu,
ittù pu jenìttimo
se meno ivò,
ittù pu i tàlassa ferni nerò
asce klàmata ce jeja.
Ston ascìossu, krifà, èmina
na me vriki
ce kundu s’èmine o ascìossu,
arte meno ivò ti’ nitta s’ inno na se vriko,
o manechà na se torìso.

I dedicated this poem to my father (1932–2014); it was published in a book (2019) of poems in Griko and Salentine, edited by an activist of Castrignano de’ Greci, one of the Griko-speaking villages.


Και περιμένω

Και προσπαθώ να σου πω
αυτό που κρύβουν τα λόγια,
τώρα που είσαι εκεί όπου
δε σε φτάνει η φωνή μου,
δε σε φτάνουν τα πόδια.
Και περιμένω ν’ ακούσεις τα τραγούδια
της ψυχής μου,
εδώ που γεννήθηκα
σε περιμένω,
εδώ που η θάλασσα φέρνει νερό
από κλάματα και γέλια.
Στον ίσκιο σου, κρυβόμουν και σε περίμενα
για να με βρεις
κι όπως σε περίμενε ο ίσκιος σου,
τώρα περιμένω εγώ κάθε νύχτα να σε βρω στα όνειρά μου,
ή μονάχα να σε δω.


E aspetto

E cerco di dirti
quello che le parole nascondono
ora che sei
dove non arriva la mia voce,
dove i piedi non possono raggiungerti.
Ed aspetto che tu ascolti le canzoni
della mia anima,
qui dove sono nata
io ti aspetto,
qui, dove il mare porta acqua
di lacrime e risate.
Nella tua ombra, di nascosto, ho aspettato
che mi trovassi
e come ti aspettava la tua ombra,
adesso aspetto io la notte di trovarti nei miei sogni,
o anche solo di vederti.


And I wait

And I try to tell you
what words hide,
now that you are
where my voice cannot reach you,
where my feet cannot come.
And I wait for you to listen to the songs
of my soul,
here where I was born
I wait for you,
here, where the sea brings water
of tears and laughter.
In your shadow, I hid and waited
for you to find me
and as your shadow awaited you,
now I wait every night to find you in my dreams,
or even only to see you.

Photo by Manuela Pellegrino.


I Rosalìa ce to fengàri


To fengàri ròtise ti’ Rosalìa: “Ti ene ka kanni na faristì tosso to jeno àrtena?
Ce cini ipe: “ Enna stasì manechòttu, tuo ene . . . pistèo ivò.”
“Ti lei armènu?”, ipe to fengàri, “istèi manechùddhitu poddhè forè, passon ena, ivò to torò aputtù.”
Ce i Rosalìa ipe: “Umme, ma ‘en istèi mai manechòttu me safto.”
Ce to fengàri: “Anòisa . . . lei, poka, ka arte mattènni”?


Η Ροζαλία και το φεγγάρι

Το φεγγάρι ρώτησε τη Ροζαλία: «Τι τους φοβίζει τους ανθρώπους σήμερα τόσο πολύ;».
Κι εκείνη του είπε: «Το να είναι μόνοι τους . . . πιστεύω».
«Τι μου λες;» της είπε το φεγγάρι, «μα είναι μόνοι τους συχνά, τους βλέπω από εδώ».
Κι η Ροζαλία είπε: «Ναι, αλλά ποτέ δεν είναι μόνοι τους με τον εαυτό τους».
Και το φεγγάρι: «Κατάλαβα . . . μα νομίζεις τώρα πως θα μάθουν;».


Rosalia e la luna

La luna chiese a Rosalia: “ Di cosa ha così tanta paura la gente adesso?”
E lei disse: “Di stare da sola . . . credo.”
“Cosa dici mai?”, rispose la luna, “sta sola soletta spesso, io la vedo da qui.”
E Rosalia disse: “Si, ma non sta mai sola con se stessa.”
E la luna: “Giusto . . . ma allora dici che adesso imparerà”?


Rosalia and the moon

The moon asked Rosalia, “What are people so afraid of right now?”
And she said, “To be alone . . . I think.”
“What are you saying?” the moon replied. They are often alone, I see them from here.”
And Rosalia said, “Yes, but they are never alone with themselves.”
And the moon, “I understand . . . but, do you think they will learn now?”

Photo by Manuela Pellegrino.