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The Coldest Year of Grace – Poem by Poem



The Poem: 19**

Surely, it’s time to speak out
as it was once time to remain silent
with everyone (even friends), careful
not to go the same route, ever;
never to leave torn
notebooks about, witch-hunting addresses … And time helps,
to find yourself again, close the soul’s wounds.
Wounds, resuscitating the Etc. But if you
are barely astute, you know it’s not necessary
to let yourself go. And so, no hugs
for the Negro baritone, the Jewish
scientist from his mother, the citizen
malgré lui from overseas
torn to pieces by More and Less: no flowers
on the graves or uncivil reproaches
to the warders. The more you expect it,
the more the breeze blows for the hoods
of all the executioners. – Giovanni Radoni

The Coldest Year of Grace
Poet: Giovanni Radoni
Translated by Stuart Friebert & Vinio Rossi
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press (1985)

The poem’s title caught my eye – which year(s) in 1900? Based on the fact Raboni was born in Milan, Italy, in 1932 and died in 2004, I assumed it probably covered the years of pre and post WWII. I guessed the “Negro baritone” to be Paul Robeson and maybe the “Jewish scientist” is Einstein. No matter what years were critical to the poem, his lines “Surely, it’s time to speak out/as it was once time to remain silent/” struck more than a few bells. And the lines: “never to leave torn/notebooks about, witch-hunting addresses/” seemed almost spooky. Most puzzling were the lines, “The more you expect it,/the more the breeze blows for the hoods/of all the executioners.” I always thought it was the executed who wore hoods. See, what I mean? 19** has a lot to ponder. I felt that had Raboni lived longer, he could have titled the poem 2018.

I could comment about line breaks or cadence, but I won’t, because there will be no test. The poem moved me, and that should be enough.  –  Sunny Solomon

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