by Cesare Pavese
translated by Geoffrey Brock
Stunned by the world, I reached an age when I threw punches at air and cried to myself. Listening to the speech of women and men, not knowing how to respond, it's not fun. But this too has passed: I'm not alone anymore, and if I still don't know how to respond, I don't need to. Finding myself, I found company. I learned that before I was born I had lived in men who were steady and firm, lords of themselves, and none could respond and all remained calm. Two brothers-in-law opened a store--our family's first break. The outsider was serious, scheming, ruthless, and mean--a woman. The other one, ours, read novels at work, which made people talk. When customers came, they'd hear him say, in one or two words, that no, there's no sugar, Epsom salts no, we're all out of that. Later it happened that this one lent a hand to the other, who'd gone broke. Thinking of these folks makes me feel stronger than looking in mirrors and sticking my chest out or shaping my mouth into a humorless smile. One of my grandfathers, ages ago, was being cheated by one of his farmhands, so he worked the vineyards himself, in the summer, to make sure it was done right. That's how I've always lived too, always maintaining a steady demeanor, and paying in cash. And women don't count in this family. I mean that our women stay home and bring us into the world and say nothing and count for nothing and we don't remember them. Each of them adds something new to our blood, but they kill themselves off in the process, while we, renewed by them, are the ones to endure. We're full of vices and horrors and whims--
my ancestors surround me
like walls of a canyon
their ideas drift over me
like breezes at sunset
we gather sticks
and make settlements
what we do is only partly
and partly continuation
down through the chromosomes
my baby sleeps behind me
stirring in the night
for the touch
that lets him continue
he is arranging
in his small form the furniture
and windows of his home
it will be a lot like mine
it will be a lot like theirs
“We but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th’inventor.”
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—-and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—-which is more—-you’ll be a Man, my son!
I do not love you except because I love you;
I go from loving to not loving you,
From waiting to not waiting for you
My heart moves from cold to fire.
I love you only because it’s you the one I love;
I hate you deeply, and hating you
Bend to you, and the measure of my changing love for you
Is that I do not see you but love you blindly.
Maybe January light will consume
My heart with its cruel
Ray, stealing my key to true calm.
In this part of the story I am the one who
Dies, the only one, and I will die of love because I love you,
Because I love you, Love, in fire and blood.
I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o’clock our neighbors drove me home.
In the porch I met my father crying—
He had always taken funerals in his stride—
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.
The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand
And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble,’
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand
In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o’clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.
Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,
Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.
A four foot box, a foot for every year.
Babies do not want to hear about babies; they like to be told of giants and castles.
No one keeps a secret so well as a child
Victor HugoMy mother stands at the screen door, laughing.“Out out damn Spot,” she commands our silly dog.I wonder what this means. I rise…
I think I did it three, four times, at least—sneak out, ride
with some boys in a truck to a farm, hop the fence with our flashlights
and Coors while the small frogs fled the machetes of our feet,
crash through grass to where the Holsteins clustered, slumbered,
I have done it again. One year in every ten I manage it-- A sort of walking miracle, my skin Bright as a Nazi lampshade, My right foot A paperweight, My face a featureless, fine Jew linen. Peel off the napkin O my enemy. Do I terrify?-- The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth? The sour...