Immanuel Mifsud’s Poems

Immanuel Mifsud



My father told me: How pretty that girl

I saw you walking with yesterday,

her tresses alight with sourgrass and daisies.


True. She plays the guitar and sings for me, too,

each night before I sleep; summoning

sweet dreams now scarce.

She has silkened my book with love.


But one day she’ll go coarse,

and I’ll turn on my side, facing away.

For out through the window I’m catching a glimpse

of where all the daisies awake;

I can see where the sourgrass hides.


My father asked me: What ever happened to that girl …?

I don’t know, Pa. Once I ventured out at dawn

and found the womb of the sourgrass and daisies.

And I said to myself: I’ll stay here a bit longer;

I’ll linger awhile, see what life has to offer.

Time passed. Just how long did I stay?

I only know that when I turned

I could not find the way, and l lost the girl

who played the guitar and sang.

The old folks I met in the street told me:

That one’s dead! We found her one morning, white hair crowning her head,

her lips the colour of nothingness — her eyes painted to match.

Around her heaps of petals, a dry floral sea,

at the bottom a guitar, rendered soundless.


So, Pa, I’ve built myself a little hut;

the songs I hear: birds at daybreak.

And when it’s time to sleep, only silence whirls.

Pa, nothing’s left of that girl.

I should have looked inward, not outside through the window;

I should have buried myself in her breast …

And died with her.


Translated by Maite Xerri Rosas





 I used to think you were fire, as you stamped on the floor; 

heels under your feet, hammering, 

deafening firework bombs. 

I used to think you were fire, sweeping your hair up in a bun,  

angled just so on your crown. 

Your look: tongues-of-fire and god forbid that you touch. 

I once looked in your eyes: that once was enough 

for me to collect embers, blood-red, torrid; 

to spread wildfire everywhere, soaring. 

That stamping of your heels 

right here on my chest 

I feel the sweet tightness, feel my breath catch. 

And the heat starts to rise, the parque’s getting warmer; 

warmer, still warmer, till it’s finally on fire. 

            Do you remember that dream you dreamt 

            the day you dozed off under the window? 

            Six birds lifted you over a cloud: 

            two on each arm; one holding your hair. 

            The sixth flew cradling your heart in its beak: 

            Ta tamm, ta tamm, ta tamm. How it did beat! Hard. 

            It was fast, racing until you awoke. 

            Breathless. Eyes bearing traces of what the dream told. 

            Fire in my eyes with every stamp of your foot: 

            Ta tamm, ta tamm, ta tamm the parquet shook. 

            Lifting and rustling your skirt as you dance, 

            hair set free, cascading. 

            Now your eyes are closing, whispering a prayer. 

            Ashes all over. Ashes flying. 


Beside the window six birds sleep. 


Translated by Maite Xerri Rosas





The second time


The grass at Auschwitz is soft and green

inviting you to kneel and kiss it.

It no longer smells of gas and neither

is it flecked with grey by the chimney.


It is as green as breath issuing through the soil.


Translated by Maria Grech Ganado




A Poem Before You Sleep


Since when I look at you, it’s not you I see.

I see a whole swarm of butterflies

flying together without a destination;

I see a long stretch of sand embrace the sea;

I see the wind which has finallybegun to love me:

cities I visited and the streets I roamed:

the flowers waking one by one.

And now a long river full of the colour

of petals which have once more come to life.

Since when I look at you it’s not you I see:

I see everything reborn in a new form.


Tell me: where are the butterflies fleeing to?

Which sandy beach, which sea will welcome them?

Which wind will embrace them so they can fly

towards cities gathered in streets both wide and narrow?

What flowers will they sip?


                                                Because when I

cast my eyes upon you, it’s not you I see.

I see a poem as wide as the horizon;

I see a poem I never dreamt of;

a poem hanging like a necklace

before my face gazing at you and wondering

at the speed with which you fly towards the sea

of roads without end or corners

where the blossoms of hope and waiting dwell.


Now let us turn the light off and go to sleep

Look, these are fresh sheets which have been laid.


Translated by Maria Grech Ganado


Immanuel Mifsud is a poet and a writer born in Malta in 1967. He is the recipient of a number of awards: the Malta National Award for prose (2002, 2014), the Malta National Award for poetry (2013), and the European Union Prize for Literature (2011). Various works by Mifsud have been translated and published in a number of languages.

He holds a PhD from the University of Malta where he lectures in Maltese literature and literary theory.


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