The Racial Laws

The Racial Laws, a poem by Giorgio Bassani (translated by Jamie McKendrick)

The magnolia right in the middle

of our Ferrara house’s garden is the very

same that reappears in almost every

book of mine

We planted it in ’39


just a few months after

the Racial Laws were brought to bear

it was a solemn-comical affair all of us

fairly light-hearted God permitting despite

that irksome immemorial appendix


Walled-in by four walls forewarned

soon enough it grew

black luminous intrusive

pointing firmly up towards the imminent


full day

and night with grey

sparrows dusky blackbirds

unflaggingly scanned from below by pregnant

cats and by my

mother –

she too in tireless vigil there behind

the windowsill forever brimming

with her crumbs

Straight as a sword from its base to its tip

now it overtops the neighbouring roofs

beholding every bit of the city and the infinite

green space that circles it

but now somehow stumped I can guess

how it feels frail-tipped unsure

of a stretch up there in the heights a narrow space

in the sun

like someone at a loss

after a long journey

as to which road to take or

what to do

Image: Oscar Ghiglia (1876-1945), Signora allo specchio , ca. 1910

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