Triq il-Karmeltani, Sta Venera, Malta
Immanuel Mifsud was born in Malta in 1967, the youngest in a working class family of eight children. He has been active on the literary scene since the age of 16, when he started writing poetry and co-founded the literary group Versarti. He later founded several drama groups and also directed plays written by himself and by a variety of famous playwrights. He is a leading contemporary poet and fiction writer and some of his works have been translated and published in some European countries and the USA. His 2002 short story collection L-Istejjer Strambi ta’ Sara Sue Sammut (Sara Sue Sammut’s Strange Stories) won the Malta National Literary award and the same book was later nominated for the Premio Strega Europa prize. He has participated in prestigious literary festivals across Europe. Mifsud is a lecturer at the University of Malta, where he teaches modern Maltese poetry and theatre.
Translated by Albert Gatt At the Addolorata
On your mother’s grave. From behind the thick, dark lenses of your glasses, I saw the tear sliding down. It shouldn’t have done that, but it did; it just popped up and slid down. You thought I hadn’t noticed anything, but I was watching you. I was always watching you, always keeping an eye on you, to see how you’d behave. Like the time I caught you with your hand behind your back, making the sign of the horns when someone – I don’t know who – commented on how well you looked, God bless you, in spite of your age, in spite of the permanent damage to your left leg, in spite of everything you’d been through. I was always on the lookout where you were concerned. And on that day, I was watching as this tear slid shamefully down, with the shame you had felt when I had once drawn your attention to another tear sliding down your cheek. On that day, I made you feel even more ashamed when, clinging to your wife’s apron reeking of garlic and onions, I announced to all and sundry that I’d just seen you cry. I didn’t know that soldiers could cry too. I thought that soldiers were made of steel. I thought their face was always stern and strong and tough. I thought it was just me who cried, just me who did things I wasn’t supposed to do. Just like that day. That day. That was the time you used to tell me that I couldn’t cry. I’m a big boy. You can’t grow up and become a man if you cry. How can a boy like you still cry? How can you still cry when you’re strong enough to tear this place apart? You can’t cry, do you understand me? You just can’t. But I do cry. And I feel ashamed when I cry. And I feel ashamed because I shouldn’t cry. And I feel even more ashamed because – do you really want to hear this? – I actually like crying. I like to feel that trickle of warm water. I like the constricted sensation in my nose, my eyes screwed shut. I like it when everything looks bleary. I like disobeying you. I like feeling scared of you because you’re scary. Because you look at me and your withering look scares me. And I quail and move away. You cry too. You cry too, soldier.