Thursday Night Poetry

So after taking a week off, I'm back with a poem from a long-dead poet. To excuse that, especially in light of the anger I feel toward magazines like The New Yorker who decide, every so often, to devote some of the limited space they provide for poetry to little known poets like Elizabeth Biship, I say that this situation is different, because I'm posting a poem in translation, and the translation was published only a few years ago by my old friend Geoffrey Brock.

The poet is Cesare Pavese, and I'll be teaching Geoff's translation side by side with the one included in the text I chose for my Interpretation of Poetry students. The poem is "Grappa in September."


The mornings pass clear and eserted
on the river's banks, fogged over by dawn,
their green darkened, awaiting the sun.
In that last house, still damp, at the edge
of the field, they're selling tobacco, blackish,
juicy in flavor; its smoke is pale blue.
They also sell grappa, the color of water.

The moment has come when everything stops
to ripen. The trees in the distance are quiet,
growing darker and darker, concealing fruit
that would fall at a touch. The scattered clouds
are pulpy and ripe. On the distant boulevards,
houses are ripening beneath the mild sky.

This early you see only women. Women don't smoke
and don't drink, they only know how to stop in the sun
to let their bodies grow warm, as if they were fruit.
The air's raw with this fog, you drink it in sips
like grappa, everything here has a flavor.
Even the river water has swallowed the banks
and steeps them below, in the sky. The streets
are like women, they grow ripe without moving.

This is the time when each person should pause
in the street to see how everything ripens.
There's even a breeze, it won't move the clouds,
but it's enough to carry the blue smoke
without breaking it: a new flavor passing. And tobacco
is best when steeped in some grappa. That's why the woman
won't be the only ones enjoying the morning.

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