smokers of paper :: cesare pavese

translated by geoffrey brock

He’s brought me to hear his band. He sits in a corner
mouthing his clarinet. A hellish racket begins.
Outside, through flashes of lightning, wind gusts
and rain whips, knocking the lights out
every five minutes. In the dark, their faces
give it their all, contorted, as they play a dance tune
from memory. Full of energy, my poor friend
anchors them all from behind. His clarinet writhes,
breaks through the din, passes beyond it, releasing
like a lone soul, into a dry, rough silence.

The poor pieces of brass have been dented too often:
the hands working the stops also work in the fields,
and the obstinate brows stay fixed on the ground.
Miserable worn-out blood, weakened
by too many labors—you can hear it groan
in their notes, as my friend struggles to lead them,
his own hands hardened from swinging a hammer,
from pushing a plane, from scraping a living.

He’s lost all his old comrades, and he’s only thirty.
Part of the postwar group that grew up on hunger.
They all came to Turin, to look for a life,
and discovered injustice. He learned, without smiling,
how to work in a factory. He learned how to measure
the hunger of others with his own fatigue—
injustice was everywhere. He tried to find peace
by walking, at night, down streets without ends,
half-asleep, but found only thousands of streetlamps
blazing down on iniquity: hoarse women and drunks,
staggering puppets, far from their homes, He came,
one winter, to Turin—factory lights, smoke and ash—
and he learned what work is. He accepted that work
was part of a man’s hard fate; if all men did that,
there just might be some justice in this world.
And he found new comrades. He suffered their long words,
he listened and waited for them to be over.
He made them his comrades. Families of them
in each house, the city surrounded by them, the face
of the world covered with them. And each of them
felt desperate enough to conquer the world.

They sound harsh tonight, despite all the time
he spent coaching each player. He ignores the loud rain
and the flickering lights. His face is severe,
fixed on some grief, almost biting the mouthpiece.
I’ve seen this expression before, one evening, just us
and his brother, who’s ten years sadder than him.
We were up late in the dim light, the brother studying
a lathe he had built that didn’t work right,
and my poor friend cursing the fate that kept him there,
bound to his hammer and plane, feeding a pair
of old people he never asked for.
                                         That’s when he yelled
that it wasn’t fate that made the world suffer
or made the daylight spark blasphemous outbursts:
man is the guilty one. If we only could just leave,
and be hungry and free, and say no
to a life that uses our love and our piety,
our families, our patches of dirt, to shackle our hands.

the cats will know :: cesare pavese

translated by Geoffrey Brock

Rain will fall again
on your smooth pavement,
a light rain like
a breath or a step.
The breeze and the dawn
will flourish again
when you return,
as if beneath your step.
Between flowers and sills
the cats will know.

There will be other days,
there will be other voices.
You will smile alone.
The cats will know.
You will hear words
old and spent and useless
like costumes left over
from yesterday’s parties.

You too will make gestures.
You’ll answer with words—
face of springtime,
you too will make gestures.

The cats will know,
face of springtime;
and the light rain
and the hyacinth dawn
that wrench the heart of him
who hopes no more for you—
they are the sad smile
you smile by yourself.

There will be other days,
other voices and renewals.
Face of springtime,
we will suffer at daybreak.

passion for solitude :: cesare pavese

translated by geoffrey brock

I’m eating a little supper by the bright window.
The room’s already dark, the sky’s starting to turn.
Outside my door, the quiet roads lead,
after a short walk, to open fields.
I’m eating, watching the sky—who knows
how many women are eating now. My body is calm:
labor dulls all the senses, and dulls women too.

Outside, after supper, the stars will come out to touch
the wide plain of the earth. The stars are alive,
but not worth these cherries, which I’m eating alone.
I look at the sky, know that lights already are shining
among rust-red roofs, noises of people beneath them.
A gulp of my drink, and my body can taste the life
of plants and of rivers. It feels detached from things.
A small dose of silence suffices, and everything’s still,
in its true place, just like my body is still.

All things become islands before my senses,
which accept them as a matter of course: a murmur of silence.
All things in this darkness—I can know all of them,
just as I know that blood flows in my veins.
The plain is a great flowing of water through plants,
a supper of all things. Each plant, and each stone,
lives motionlessly. I hear my food feeding my veins
with each living thing that this plain provides.

The night doesn’t matter. The square patch of sky
whispers all the loud noises to me, and a small star
struggles in emptiness, far from all foods,
from all houses, alien. It isn’t enough for itself,
it needs too many companions. Here in the dark, alone,
my body is calm, it feels it’s in charge.