Two Poems

Original by Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto
Translated, from the Italian, by Gabriella Fee & Dora Malech

from Dolore Minimo

What name do you choose, papa-judge?
What name do you give me? You’ve summoned
me to court to tell me you’re almost
there – the time has nearly come.
Papa-judge, I feel your labor pains.
Your swollen hands on my documents,
head – such an ache – full of formulas,
articles, bylaws you’ve found
for me, prepared for my christening.
You know, papa-judge, I read a name
on your fingers. I feel your flesh
open to ease out my new beginning.
What name do you give me?

But that’s not all, you tell me. You must
cancel your whole history.
These twenty years need correction.
Erase the “m”s on the forms
and round off the final vowels.
Papa-judge – thank goodnessyou know
the remedy. I’ve been yours since the day
you decided to fix me.

I began existing in your courtroom.
No cradle, no cord to cut,
no staccato blow to the back
to start me breathing.
No cries, no anxious corridors,
no purple verbs, no
clenched hands, no It’s a boy!
Only your voice, papa-judge,
saying my true name
for the first time – finally.

So I believe the elemental sound
of each birth is a voice that says
a name – its pronouncement
renders the living real.

Now what name have you chosen, Papa?



Che nome scegli papà-giudice,
che nome mi dai? Mi hai convocata
in tribunale per dirmi che c’eri
quasi – che era arrivato il momento.
Papà-giudice, io le doglie te le sento.
Hai le mani gonfie sulle mie carte,
la testa – che male – piena di formule
e articoli e decreti legge che hai
scelto per me, preparato per battezzarmi.
Sai, papà-giudice, leggo un nome
sulle tue dita. Sento la tua carne
aprirsi e tirarmi fuori nuova
nuova. Che nome mi dai?

Ma non è tutto, mi dici. Serve
cancellare l’intera mia storia,
questi vent’anni bisogna correggere,
sbarazzarsi delle “emme” sui documenti
e arrotondare le vocali finali.
Papà-giudice – menomale – tu sai rimediare
ed io perciò ti appartengo dal giorno
in cui hai deciso di aggiustarmi.

Ho iniziato ad esistere in un’aula
di tribunale. Niente culle, niente
cordoni da recidere e colpi secchi
al centro della schiena per vedere
se si respira, niente vagiti, niente
corridoi dove smaltire l’ansia,
niente verbi commossi, niente
mani strette e auguri di figli maschi.
Solo la tua voce, papà-giudice,
che mi chiama davvero
per la prima volta – finalmente.

Così credo che il suono primordiale
di ogni nascita sia una voce che chiama
un nome – è il pronunciamento
che rende vivi, reali.

Allora, che nome hai scelto, papà?



from Dolore Minimo

I am the toppled birch trunk
in this pond turned swamp.
You come a few days a week
to baptize your fears
– as if to make your eyes believe
in the submerged world too.
Obscured, to the point that no one
would say this trunk is also
flesh and hands and drowned thoughts.

You come to rest on the toppled trunk.
You don’t hear the sound
of the roots that find themselves
beneath your weight. Yet at your touch,
something of the swamp becomes
pond again. A flash
of my hidden existence
in the very moment you stop
drumming the wood with your fingers.
When so close now
to unveiling a mystery,
you rise from the trunk-body
and you go.



Sono il tronco di betulla rovesciato
in questo stagno che ormai è palude.
Tu vieni qualche giorno a settimana
a battesimo delle tue paure
– come per far credere ai tuoi occhi
che il mondo è anche forme sott’acqua.
Invisibili, al punto che nessuno
direbbe che questo tronco è anche
carne e mani e pensieri annegati.

Tu vieni e siedi sopra il tronco
rovesciato. Non senti il suono
delle radici che si scoprono
sotto il tuo peso. Al tuo contatto
qualcosa della palude ritorna
stagno. Eppure un sintomo presagisci
di questo esistere che non si vede
nel preciso istante in cui smetti
di tamburellare il legno con le dita.
Quando vicinissimo ormai
al disvelamento di un mistero
ti sollevi dal tronco-corpo
e te ne vai.


Translator’s Note: Vivinetto’s poems enact a mutually constitutive relationship between self and place, interrogating the foundations of physical, cultural, and emotional landscapes often assumed or averred immutable. Her imagination is rooted deep in the Sicilian landscape of her native Siracusa, even as that ground shifts under foot in response to her own transition. As translators, we’ve attempted to reflect this processual quality in language that foregrounds an active liminality. She engages with classical mythology, Catholic doctrine, and received constructs of family and gender to explore the terrors and pleasures of a childhood that culminates in a second birth, in which she must be both mother and child. She attends to her own becoming in language both aching and exploratory, tender and fierce. Her words maintain a diaristic quality and a deceptive simplicity in relation to their thematic and symbolic depth, their muted music echoing beyond the page. Hers is a groundbreaking voice in Italian letters, and we are honored to broaden her readership through our translations.

Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto was born in Sicily in 1994. Interlinea Edizioni published her first book of poems, Dolore Minimo, in 2018. This debut is the first collection of Italian poetry on the subject of trans identity. The book has won several prizes, including the Viareggio Opera Prima in 2019. Translated by Gabriella Fee and Dora Malech, it is also the winner of the 2021 Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize and forthcoming in English from Saturnalia Books in Fall 2022. In February 2020, BUR Rizzoli published Vivinetto’s second book of poems, Dove Non Siamo Stati (Where We Have Not Been). Vivinetto lives in Rome, where she graduated from Sapienza University with a degree in modern philology.

Dora Malech is the author of four books of poems, most recently, Flourish (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2020) and Stet (Princeton University Press, 2018). Her honors include a Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship, an Amy Clampitt Residency Award, and a Civitella Ranieri Foundation Writer’s Fellowship, and her poems have appeared widely in publications that include The New YorkerPoetry, and The Best American Poetry. She is an associate professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and the editor in chief of The Hopkins Review.

Gabriella Fee’s poetry appears in Michigan Quarterly Review, Washington Square Review, The Common, Guesthouse, Sprung Formal, LETTERS, and elsewhere. Their co-translations appear in The Journal of Italian Translation, The Offing, Copper Nickel, and the anthology Italian Trans Geographies. Fee is an MFA candidate in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.