Poetry by Andrea Raos

The Moment Just Before


Speaking is a bodily act before all else–

a vibrating of the voice box

to produce specific sounds–

which means it depends on posture.

In different positions

I let out different noises.

When upside down, for example,

or when my knee gives out

and I slam against a wall,

I don’t say the same things.

I say them differently.

The sound of my voice is different.


For me then language

hinges on posture.


The first thing to change

depending on the language spoken

is the body’s position in space:

it finds different points of balance

depending on the column

of breath along my spine, and the air

inhaled and exhaled by others

confining the volume of my air.


Italian for me begins where

my bronchial tubes flow into the trachea.

In a breath I strain to breathe,

for fear of winding up in mid-phrase,

with no more words or strength

to express what I mean.


Japanese is in the shoulders

rolling as if to magnetize the air

and trigger the swirling motion

of glowing particles

closing in on me

until my arms

shoot up from my hips,

forming a funnel of sorts

between neck and thorax,

and finger after finger

discharges a billow of krill.


French starts somewhat lower,

near the middle of the ribcage;

and rather than swirl up my sternum

it swells from the sides,

parallel to my extended arms,

passing through my neck

and exiting, at utterance,

as if pumped from the inside

then expelled from the mouth

with the oval motion

of an invisible, elliptical orbit.


English is all spine, loin, and nape,

as if a person were standing behind me,

just outside my peripheral vision.

He reminds me of the street mime,

that clown by the Beaubourg museum

who makes you laugh

stalking pedestrians,

and mocking them from behind

as they pass in a hurry,

absorbed in their worries or thoughts.


Chinese, German, and Spanish

are no more than words learned poorly

and haphazardly over time,

perpetually forgotten,

all from the throat and the cranium;

an aerial crane

raises them slowly,

diluted as they are in blood and voice,

presses them against the cranial cavity,

and forces them out in bits and pieces,

obstructed and inexpressive,

like the vague but sharply outlined memory,

blurred but insistent,

of a middle-school classmate.

I was never really friends with her and

I learned by chance that she just died,

barely thirty, from a breast tumor,

leaving two young children behind.


The first sign of the tidal wave

of approaching hordes.



is the language I speak when I’m lost.


I wonder–will anyone ever ask me about this

or will I, the moment just before,

blurt it out nonetheless.


Fragile, bent, infernal.

Misery, agony, infinite.

Sweet liquid, so little, congealed.

Conceptions, undone, unwilled.

Measure, she asked for, a fissure.

Love, just an admixture.


Heat, oxygen,

displacing, dreaming,

dissolving the thought.

What you had is naught.


When the air shivers

the dust in the room

swells with light, polished

by a blade of sunshine.


Andrea Raos

Andrea Raos is a contemporary Italian poet, translator, and scholar of Japanese poetry. He is the author of several books of poetry, among them Aspettami, dice. Poesie 1992-2002 (Pieraldo, 2003), Luna velata (CipM - Les Comptoirs de la Nouvelle B. S., 2003), Le api migratori (Oèdipus, 2007), Prosa in prosa (Le Lettere, 2009--collective work), I cani dello Chott el-Jerid (Arcipelago, 2010), Lettere nere (Effigie, 2013), and Le avventure dell'Allegro Leprotto e altre storie inospitali (Arcipelago Itaca, 2017). Andrea Raos has a Ph.D. in classical Japanese poetry and he has translated a number of Japanese, American, and French poets. He currently lives in Tokyo.

Stiliana Milkova

Stiliana Milkova is an assistant professor of comparative literature at Oberlin College. Her scholarly work is on Russian, Italian, and Bulgarian literatures. Her translations from Italian have appeared in Asymptote, Metamorphoses, Inventory, World Literature Today, and Exchanges. She grew up in Bulgaria.

Le avventure dell’Allegro Leprotto e altre storie inospitali. Copyright (c) Andrea Raos, 2017. English translation copyright (c) Stiliana Milkova, 2017.