New Series No. 18 - 2001
You know this: I must lose you again and cannot.
I am like an old wound every movement,
every cry re-opens, even the salt spray
rising from the piers darkening Spring
Town of ironworks and masts
dark and deep in the evening.
A long cold buzzing comes from the sea,
scraping like a nail on glass. I look for an unkept
promise, the pledge I had from you.
And Hell is certain.
Many years, and one harder above a foreign
lake where sunsets dipped.
Then you came down from the mountains
to bring me back
Saint George and the Dragon.
If I could print them on the banner
of my furling heart . . . and descend for you
into a whirlpool of fidelity, immortal.
Frost on the windows. Always
together and yet always apart,
the infirm; and at the tables
long soliloquies about cards.
This was your exile. Now I think again
of mine, of the morning
when I heard over the rough terrain
the ‘ballerina’ bomb, dancing.
And they lasted a long time those nocturnal
Bengal lights: like at a festival.
A coarse wing brushed by, you touched your hand,
in vain, this was not your card.
Far away, yet I was with you when your father
entered the shade and left you his goodbye.
What did I know until then? That the pain
of before had saved me only for this:
you were unknown to me and need not have been: the pain
of today tells me so, as if time
had folded and brought me back Cumerlotti
or Anghébeni – among the exploding shells,
the screams, the panic of the squadrons.
Goodbyes, whistles in the dark, nods, winks, coughs
and hatches lowered. It’s time. Maybe
the automatons are right. How they look
from the corridors, enwalled.
– Can you too feel it choke,
the again and again of the express, the merciless
beat of an endless carioca?
I had lost hope almost
of ever seeing you again;
and I asked myself if this thing which enclosed me,
cut me off from you, this screen of images
was a sign of death or some presence
come from the past, distorted and wavering,
a you dazzle:
(at Modena, through the arches
a servant in livery dragging
two jackals on a leash).
The black and white ups and downs of the
martins from the telegraph
pole to the sea
don’t comfort your sorrows on the pier
nor bring you back where you no longer are.
Already the elder’s sap bastes
the upturned earth; the squall ends and begins and
ends. If this glimmer is a truce
your sweet threat consumes it.
Here is the sign; it shivers
on a wall that is turning to gold:
a lattice of palm fingers
burnt by the dazzle of the dawn.
The step that comes
so lightly from the hothouse
is not muffled by the snow, is again
your life, your blood in my veins.
The green lizard, if it darts
under the great whip
out of the stubble –
the sail, when it flaps
and sinks beyond the jut
of the rocks –
the cannon at noon
fainter than your heart
and the chronometer if
it counts without a sound –
what then? A flash of lightning
in vain can change us into something
rich and strange. You were made of different skin.
Why wait? The squirrel in the pine tree
beats its torchlike tail on the bark.
The half-moon sinks with one tip
shading into the sun. Day is done.
The lazy smoke is startled by a breath,
it musters itself to enclose you.
Nothing ends, or everything, if you, flashlightning,
leave the cloud.
The soul that releases
reels and rigadoons to each new
season of the street, feeds
on hidden passion, and finds it
at every corner more intense.
Your voice is this diffuse soul.
On wires, on wings, in the air, by accident; with
the blessings of the muse or of some device,
it comes in happy or sad. I speak of other things,
to others who don’t know you and your design
is there and insists do re la sol sol . . .
I free your brow of the icicles
that formed as you crossed the high
clouds; you have feathers torn
by cyclones, you wake with a start.
Noon: the black shadow of the medlar tree
lengthens across the square, a gelid sun lingers
in the sky; and the other shadows nipping
into the alley do not know you are here.
The gondola that glides in a flash
of tar and poppies,
the insinuating song that rises
from the mass of rigging, the high doors
that close above you and the smiles of masks
that flee in swarms –
an evening in a thousand and my night
is deeper still! A dull rope writhing
in the water awakens me
layer by layer and I am one with that fisher
of eels so absorbed on the bank.
Is it pelting salt or hail? Laying waste
the bellflowers, scattering the cedrina.
An underwater chime comes nearer,
what you kindled in me, then fades away.
The pianola of the afflicted
is speeding through the scales, rising to the
spheres of ice . . . – it shines like you did
as Lakmé when you trilled through
the Aria of the Bells.
At dawn, when
of a sudden a train’s
noise speaks to me
of trapped men racing
through a tunnel of stone
lit now and now
by sky, by water;
at dusk, when
the woodworm punching through
the writing-desk redoubles
its effort and the step
of the guard comes closer:
at dawn, at dusk, reprieves forever human
if you weave them together with your thread.
The flower that repeats
from the cliff-edge
has no colours happier nor brighter
than the space thrown between me and you.
A metallic screech sets off, drawing us apart,
the dogged sun can do no more.
In the almost-seeable swelter the funicular
brings me back to where I was, and already it’s dark.
The frog, first to try its chord again
from the pond that trenches into
jonquils and mists, to rustle the entwined
carobs where a heatless sun
is dousing its own light; slowly around the flowers
the coleopters’ buzzing suggests
there’s still a little juice; last sounds, the ungiving
life of the country. A breath
smoors the hour; a slate sky
prepares for an irruption of skeletal
horses, the sparks of hooves.
Do not cut away, scissors, that face
that one and only from a memory slowly emptying.
Do not diminish that intent gaze
within my everlasting fog.
A cold descends . . . a hard scything blow.
And the wounded acacia shakes off
the husk of a cicada
into the first russets of November.
The reed that sheds
slowly its red
flabellum in Spring;
the stonepath over the marsh, on the black
current overflown by dragonflies;
the panting dog come home
with a bundle in its mouth,
today there is nothing I can recognise;
but there where the reflection burns clearer
and the cloud descends, beyond her eyes
by now so distant, only two
strands of light that cross.
And time passes.
. . . so be it. The sound of a cornet
answers the swarms in the oakgrove.
On a seashell where the evening sun settles
a painted volcano billows contentedly.
The coin encased in the lava
shines too on the table and holds down
these few pages. Life which had seemed
so vast lasts no longer than your handkerchief.
Andrew Fitzsimons was born in Ireland, educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and is currently a lecturer at Tokyo University. His translation of Montale’s Diario Postumo appeared in MPT 15 (Contemporary Italian Poets).
Translated by Andrew Fitzsimons
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