p o e m s a t t i l i o  b e r t o l u c c i



scatto alla vista in italiano


for G.

Not just looking at trees,
the space between trees, a house,
and another further off
absorbed by golden light
because half-lit by the departing
winter day –

but looking at them on a canvas
you show me, and that reveals –
pain and joy of twelve years
already almost over –
mine, in yours – those trees stripped
by a winter in which I’d like

you to grow naturally, overcoming
the rigors of climate and people
with the fiery sweetness
of your nature in turn tempered,
not defeated by frost, by the looks
of those who love you, but call you master –

not just to see in perspective
the bare lindens, our house
and a sparrow arriving to perch
on pungent juniper in a light
shadows graze and shatter, but
a red on gray: that can soothe my mind?


to Giorgio Cusatelli, who watched from the window
distracting himself from ‘Stiffelio’

Some with cymbals and tympani some laughing and shouting
with wigs tipped forward over happy eyes –

thus the snowpacked riverbank comes alive
since it’s the last night of carnival rolling on approaching

twelve and a warning or ruffian’s invitation
glows on sundials facing the town?

But they’re not clowns, those who’ve graciously
transformed as theater the shelter for fieldhands

now aslumber and for hours more still before
the bitter Wednesday in the place of tomorrow,

with provincial parking lots moved to the mountain,
to the valley, a good distance from here, where a slow tourney

of cars unfolds proceeds and is lost
to resurface in lights pouring out in crests

over the tireless provocateurs their
boots maculated white and vests

stitched with golden thread lambskin
wet through from winter now at an irreparable end...

The transvestites of Parma were once salesmen
scholars tailors barbers

in dual apprenticeship under expert masters
of two arts, bel canto not always one of them,

with a taste for betraying the local genius
if that’s Cremonini who so sweetly calls

the gentle animal, the singing instrument
of ambiguous desire, to the mind convulsed...

They keep coming from nearby cities
to the petite capitale d’autrefois whose citizens,

crude and cruel, don’t want the ducal franchise,
to be involved in the dialogue, the fatal embrace, America Russia

under the crossed signs of pop art and progressive democracy.
But they’d edge closer carefully so they appear

timid clients or prudish voyeurs and get
derided or bombarded with infallible snowballs,

and recognize in these festivals of Parma
in all the fantastic, outrageous gear

the winding local line resumed
with heedless scorn for the danger

by sons of the working class, from dirty suburbs
flowering with sweet-legged sisters

to steal attitude and makeup from
out of need to be, above all, guilty.

It’s snowing again, the strangers softly leave
those who remain don’t give in

they invent routines in imitation
of the endless descent of butterflies from heaven.



The week opens with blue and white
motion and sound clouds and flocks in flight
words swept away by the wind let them
drop in lanes to gather with leaves

and so much love useless at the limits of winter
unless burned with cardboard and crates
pried apart with joy where grapes darkened
sparks and smoke hasten evening

and age as one so you mingle tears
with the wine that has always consoled
whoever arrives at these iron gates of day
and of the earthly city avid now

with embraces on muddy banks
and whispered goodbyes promising a night
everyone will have to face alone vice and prayer
fading unfed by the long-sought bed.



Here, where a poet raved and cried away a month
of his life – an April
of clouds,
of beautiful clear skies
infiltrated by cracks –
the abandoned shutters are banging about.

Where have you taken
your drugs and prayers,
Daughters of the Sapienza, daughters
of patience, such
good cooks and glad providers
of soup and wine
for the great hunger of late morning?

Another day here and already
those dear rooms are destroyed,
the year well advanced, the new factory
by now towering, its echoing
workyard quiet only
when midday breaks omelette and bread
into light and shadow, and in vain I ask the mason:

“Where have they gone to,
those sisters young and old
who conquered evil
with needle and vial, precise
as the minute hand in their unerring
use, alternating that
with Christian prayer?”

If only I knew where they were,
knew they hadn’t left
the city generating an excess
of lust and pain, if only
I knew them, in this hour
that precedes the night, and winter,
patient still and wise in setting flight

for me, for us all, to hell on earth.






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