The Poet of the Ashes


I was born
in a city of porticoes in 1922.
Thus I’m forty-four, and I wear it well
(just yesterday, in a grove where hookers ply their trade
some soldiers thought I was twenty-four – poor boys,
they mistook a child for a coeval);
my father died in ’59,
my mother is still alive.
Every time I think about
my brother Guido I cry,
a partisan killed by other partisans, communists
(he’d joined the Action Party, based on my advice;
he’d first joined the Resistance as a communist);
on those accursed mountains, along a deforested
border amidst tiny grey hills and the disconsolate Pre-Alps.
As for poetry, I began aged seven:
no precociousness on my part, except willpower.
I was a “Seven-Year-Old Poet” –
like Rimbaud – but only when it came to life.
Now, in a village caught between the mountains and the sea,
where great storms break out and winters are rain-sodden,
you can see the mountains clear as glass in February
through the bare branches, where odorless primroses bloom in ditches
and in summer little plots of maize
interspersed with gloomy-green alfalfa
are sketched against an ashen sky
like a mysteriously oriental landscape –
now, in that village,
there’s a chest filled with manuscripts of one of many child-poets.
The most important person in my life was my mother
(Ninetto being only a late addition).
In ’42 in a city where my country was so utterly itself
to make it seem like a dreamworld, with a great poetry of prosaicness
teeming with peasants and small businesses,
there was a great sense of well-being,
fine wine, good food on the table,
where people could be gruff or refined, vulgar but reasonable,
in that city I published my first booklet of poems,
whose title – a tad traditional at the time – was Poems from Casarsa,
and which, for tradition’s sake, I dedicated to my father,
who received a copy while he was in Kenya.
He was there as a prisoner, an oblivious victim
of the Fascist war.
I know it pleased him to receive it:
we were sworn enemies,
but our hostility was destined, and outside our control.
And the evidence of our hate, the inescapable evidence,
the kind of evidence adequate for unerring philological enquiry
which cannot err
was that little book dedicated to him
penned in the Friulian dialect!
My mother’s dialect!
The dialect of a small
world, which he couldn’t help but disdain
– or at most put up with, patronizingly
and all of this due to a contradiction:
one of those, which to this day, cannot trip up scientists!
There, where that dialect was spoken, was where he’d fallen in love.
In love with my mother.
Thus, through her, that little, inferior world,
a peasant world, almost serf-like, which he disdained
had wound up enslaving him:
yet even on that occasion, he was oblivious to all of this.
He was oblivious to the fact that his master was that love
which through a child-woman (my mother!)
beautiful, elegant-necked, with an angel’s
overly innocent soul unsuited to life outside of villages, or rather, their fields,
had frustrated all the moral certainties
befitting a miserable man born to be a master over others.
So that dialect
was nothing short of diabolical.
It lay at the heart of a thousand other contradictions.
The more galling of which was that he could never be admitted into it
because it had been consecrated into print
in the candid pages of a volume of verses
of which his twenty-year-old son was the Author.
Therefore none of this could be put to the test,
given that those contradictions
were inadmissible: so they became like dark clouds
pregnant with fearful thunder, a glossary of death and defeat,
that lay at the far end of a bright horizon of a prisoner-father’s pride.
Basta, at the end of the war,
he returned to Italy, carrying that volume of Friulian verses
in his suitcase.
A sacred relic, a family memento, a declaration of future greatness.
And herein lay a second contradiction, the public one:
Fascism would not tolerate dialects, proof
of my birth country’s unrealized Unification,
intolerable, brazen realities in the hearts of all nationalists.
This was why my book wasn’t reviewed in the state-sanctioned press.
Why Gianfranco Contini had to send his critique
(pure literary joy, that one, the happiest of my life)
to a newspaper in Lugano.
The end of Fascism signaled the beginning of my father’s demise.
Fascism is an alibi with which I justify my hate,
the latter horrendously blended with compassion.
Now that I’m undeservedly forty-four years old,
roughly the same age as he was when I wrote my first poems,
I can see him outside of my context,
amidst events completely extraneous to me,
in which I play the part of the blameworthy impersonal hero.
Because I must remember
that alongside the love I first felt for my mother,
I experienced love for him too: born of the senses.
I must remember my first steps as a three-year-old,
in a city miserably lost amidst the mountains,
with a vaguely Austrian air,
next to the springs of a river whose name speaks of museums and war
and wretchedness,
a blue river than runs over pre-mountainous gravel –
my first steps along the edge of a road
bathed by a sun that bore no relation to my life
but to that of my parents,
a roadside where my father, then a young man,
was busy urinating…
I must remember to add, in order to finish this story –
being asymmetrical told through this poem –
that those Friulian verses were among my finest,
together with those I wrote up until the age of twenty-three or twenty-four,
which were later collected under the title, The Best of Youth
along with the ones I wrote in Italian around the same time,
which sprang out of that deep Friulian elegy
born of self-destructive, exhibitionist, and masturbatory tendencies,
amidst the mulberry trees and vines with the harshest eye in the world:
verses grounded under the title, The Nightingale of the Catholic Church,
and their “falsetto,” a subtle and
atrocious music that still engrosses me and draws me into myself.
I cannot tell you anything else
about my sojourn
in that village of rain-storms and primroses,
slightly Oriental on the petty bourgeois border with Austria:
that task will fall perhaps to fascist Italian journalists,
or maybe simply anticommunist ones.
I fled with my mother, a suitcase and some joys that later turned out to be hollow
on a train as slow as a freight-carriage,
through the Friulian plain carpeted by a thin hard layer of snow.
We were heading to Rome.
We had therefore abandoned my father
next to a poor man’s stove,
leaving him with his army greatcoat
and his cirrhosis-fueled fits of rage and his paranoid syndromes.
I truly experienced
that page torn from that novel, the only one in my life:
as for the rest, what can I say,
except that I’ve lived inside poems, like all possessed creatures.
Among my manuscripts was a draft of my first novel:
these were the days of Bicycle Thieves,
when the literati began to discover Italy.
(Now I no longer count myself among the literati,
I avoid all the others and no longer have anything to do
with their prizes and publishing houses.)
We got to Rome
with the help of a sweet-natured uncle of mine,
who gave me a little of his blood:
I lived as only a man condemned to death can live
always with that thought burdening me
– dishonor, unemployment, misery.
For some time, my mother was reduced to being a servant.
I’ll never get over that.
Because, after all, I’m petty bourgeois and don’t know how to smile…
like Mozart…
In a film which I called The Hawks and the Sparrows
I tried my hand at comedy, it’s true, a writer’s supreme ambition,
– but the effort was only partly successful
because I belong to the petty bourgeoisie
and thus tend to dramatize everything.

How did I become a Marxist?
Well…I used to walk among the spring’s little blue and snow-white flowers
those that bloom right after primroses
– just before the acacias become heavy with flowers
as fragrant as human flesh, which rots in the sublime heat
of the most beautiful season –
and I used to write by the shores of tiny ponds,
which over there in my mother’s country, they refer to
using one of their untranslatable words, “fonde”
with the children of farmers
who swam in them innocently
(because they looked upon their own lives impassively
while I thought of them as self-aware)
and wrote the poems of The Nightingale of the Catholic Church:
this was in ’43:
’45 was entirely different.
Those farmers’ children, having grown a little older,
had wrapped red handkerchieves around their necks
and had marched
towards the local prison, with its gates
and its mock-Venetian façade.
This was how I learned they were farmhands
and that thus such a thing as masters existed.
I took the side of the farmhands and read Marx.
Your spirituality is vast, America!
But it’ll be even vaster when its innocence is debunked!
I love Ginsberg:
it had been a long time since I’d read the poems of a fellow poet –
ever since I’d lived in that village of rain-storms and primroses,
when I read Tommaseo’s Greek cantos and Machado. [1]
No artist in any country is ever free.
An artist is a living objection.
Pound got sent to prison just like Sinyavsky and Daniel [2],
while Mr. Lennon shocked everyone, including the Russians.
As for me,
an innocent person is never believed,
and the latter, for that matter, is too busy thinking about
a blue river than runs over pre-mountainous gravel
under the sun of his parents,
in another life,
in lives interpreted in different fashions,
in a meaning that differs to that of life
which isn’t even the meaning that belongs to dreams,
if our life is nothing but a shadow
cast on our real lives, which we do not know.
In Rome, from 1950 to the present day, August 1966,
I’ve done nothing but suffer and work assiduously.
I taught, after that year of unemployment at the end of that life,
in a private school, for twenty-seven thousand lire a month:
in the meanwhile my father
had rejoined us
and we never talked about our escape, mine and my mother’s.
It was taken for granted, a relocation that took place in two stages.
In a house without a roof and with unplastered walls,
a miserable house, on the farthest edge of the outskirts, close to a prison.
A dustbowl in the summer, and a swamp in the winter.
But it was Italy, naked for all to see,
with its children, its women,
its “smells of jasmine and weak soup”
the sunsets on the fields of Aniene, the piles of trash
and, as for me,
my dreams of incorruptible poetry.
Every problem could be solved by poetry.
It seemed to me that Italy, the way it was described and its destiny,
depended on what I wrote about it,
in those verses imbued with an immediate reality
that was no longer nostalgic, as though I’d earned it by dint of my sweat.
Of course one’s financial station is of consequence
no matter how miserable:
it didn’t mean much that I was wealthy in terms of culture and love,
it was far more important that I, on some days,
didn’t spent even those hundred lire to get a shave at the barber’s:
the financial shape I was in, albeit crazy and unstable,
was, in those moments, in many ways,
similar to the people who lived around me:
and in this we were truly brothers, or at least equals.
Thus, I believe, I was able to understand them.
And in order to understand my untranslatable novels,
go and read Oscar Lewis’s preface to his tape-recorded novel [3],
that’s what they’re about.
Even the Italian bourgeoisie, therefore, can be racist.
It hadn’t had much of an opportunity to do so before,
but at the slightest provocation,
meaning my novels,
all hell broke loose.
I experienced what a black man in Chicago must feel,
But I quickly forget
and all the terrors,
have become merely a thing
that hangs over me, a special thing, that thing,
and so I set it aside and carried it in my entrails:
I’ve developed an ulcer,
to which I’ll succumb, sooner or later.
A hard blow to the uninterrupted dreams of my youth!
The Italian bourgeoisie around me is a gang of thieves.
I can’t hope for a much better reception from the American bourgeoisie.
In the world built by Capital, life is a gamble
that one either wins or loses:
this is the human condition under bourgeois secularism.
Whoever drops their mask, or confesses, or doesn’t fear the ridiculous
winds up wretched: that’s the law.
Dear Americans, the warmongers and the ungodly,
or the conformist majority,
your God is an idiot
just like any mediocre citizen
who desires with their soul and their strength
to be just like everybody else:
and it is exactly this crazy love for equality that leads them to hate it.
Who among you shed any tears
for the Greek boy condemned to death
for being a conscientious objector?
Do some soul-searching:
anyone who didn’t cry is a pig.
But all I’m doing here is writing
a bio-bibliographical poem, and so let’s get back to it:
A Violent Life and The Ragazzi
are the titles of my novels
which examined Italy’s racist hatred.
They were written in the heart of the Fifties.
While my volumes of poetry,
written simultaneously, are:
Gramsci’s Ashes,
The Religion of My Time,
Poems in the Shape of a Rose.
In this latter collection, something shattered:
perhaps it was the budding presence, which I still hadn’t registered,
of the New Left in America and Ginsberg’s distant influence.

I have led you to abnegate your duties under false pretenses,
but that’s only because I know that commitment is inescapable,
today more than ever.
Moreover, I tell you, these days one must not only be committed to one’s writing
but to living:
one must resist in the midst of scandals
and wrath, more than ever before,
we are as naive as beasts led to the slaughterhouse,
indeed we’re as confused as victims,
one must yell one’s disdain
towards the bourgeoisie louder than ever, scream against its vulgarity,
spit on its unreality which it minted into reality,
refuse to give in, via words or actions,
to its police forces, its courts, its televisions, its newspapers:
and here,
I, a petty bourgeois who dramatizes everything,
so well educated by a mother with a meek gentle soul
sprung out of peasant morality,
I would like to weave an elegy
out of filth, misery, drugs, and suicide:
I, a privileged Marxist poet
possessed of ideological weapons and instruments to carry on the fight,
and enough morality to condemn the mere act of scandal,
I, being deeply well-to-do,
write this elegy because drugs, disgust, wrath, and suicide
are, alongside religion, the only hope we’ve got left:
pure opposition and action
where we can measure the immense injustices of this world.
It isn’t necessary for victims to be conscious of this and to speak it.
In 1960 I shot my first film, which,
as I mentioned, is entitled Accatone.
Why did I transition from literature to cinema?
This is the kind of question one might expect in an interview,
an inevitable question, and so it was.
I used to answer that I did so in order to change techniques,
that I needed a new approach to say something new,
or, to put it differently, that I was always saying the same things, and thus
had to change my approach: according to the variations dictated by obsession.
But I was only being partially honest when giving this answer:
those reasons belonged to what I’d done up until that point.
Then I realized
that this wasn’t a matter of literary techniques, which are almost
inextricable from the language in which one writes in:
but that it was in itself its own language…
And so I talked about the obscure reasons that led to my decision:
how many times I’d rashly and wrathfully
said that I wanted to renounce my Italian citizenship!
Well, by abandoning the Italian language, and with that,
little by little, the literature that came with it,
I was giving up my nationality.
I rebuffed my petty bourgeois origins,
turned my back on everything that could be called Italian,
took a stand, naively, making a scene out of my recantation
which, while it humiliated and castrated me,
was also self-glorifying. But I wasn’t
being entirely sincere, not yet.
Forasmuch as cinema isn’t just a linguistic experience,
but, being an investigation into that language, it is a philosophical experience.
One day I went, like a fish escaped from its net,
into the dry air
in the surroundings of a promontory devoid of souls, feeling sick in the blue,
and now I’ll tell you what happened to me and how things really went.
One day I went along a parched road,
with my hands and my brain just as dry – and I tell you
only my innards were alive, like that promontory in the pointless blue.
All myth had crumbled and decomposed but at least on that promontory
there was someone still left alive.
Thus, propelled by my myopia and innards,
I steered towards the dry sun,
over a little asphalt,
through autumnal bushes with a little summer still left in them,
to a farmhouse alone in the sunlight,
with bright drawings of old walls, old picket fences, old nets, white and blue,
– we are in Italy – where the sun mixed with the rain softly let off a smell.
Inside was a surly boy, wearing an apron (I think) with a thick head
of hair, like a woman’s
his skin taut and pale, a kind of wild innocence in his eyes,
like a stubborn saint’s, like a son who wants to be just like his mother.
Basically – I could tell right away – he was a poor possessed soul:
whose ignorance afforded him some time-honored certainties,
transforming his cadaverous neurosis into the image
of an obedient son who identified with his fathers.
What’s your name, what do you do, do you go dancing, do you have a girlfriend,
do you make enough money,
were the questions I posed to help me step back from my initial impulse
dictated by my early afternoon lust, drinking my Coca-Cola
like a dry fish.
You’ve seen my Gospel. [4]
You’ve seen the faces depicted in my Gospel.
There was no room for mistakes; when you shoot a scene,
you have only a few minutes
to make a decision: I never made a wrong move when picking faces
because my lust and my shyness
have forced me to get to know my fellow human beings.
After a few minutes I got to know him too,
that wretched haunted boy in that sun-besieged farmhouse.
Winter arrived
to contradict the surviving sun <…> [5] its adventures,
and the winter came
and there it was reflected in his face,
with all its darkness, its silent houses, its <…> sobriety.
I withdrew.
But not before he was able to detect, like a woman,
a terror for a father unlike his other fathers
who had built the world around him for him to obey it.
Well, I don’t know what source of authority
in that forlorn promontory abandoned by men and assailed
by bourgeois day-trippers from Rome, idiots dedicated to norms,
believed him.
Some colonel believed him too,
his face squashed by the mundanity of his destiny.
A judge believed him,
in his eyes the same expression
as the goat-white color of those 19th-century buildings in that absurd village,
where he worked.
Finally, the President of the Court believed him,
and the latter handed me a formal sentence,
if only for twenty or thirty days.
The boy with the saintly pallor had claimed
that a robber wearing a black hat
had walked into his shop, on that sunny day,
slipped some black gloves on his hands,
had loaded a golden bullet into his gun,
ordered him to surrender
and had taken three dollars out of the till.
On his way out, he had threatened him too,
since the boy, the victim, had grabbed hold of a knife to defend himself.
I have told you these things
in a fairly unpoetic style
so that you won’t read me as one would a poet.
At the time, there lived in Italy a certain Salvatore Pagliuca,
a senator belonging to some political party,
who lived somewhere in the South of Levi, among villages
dried by the sun born of rainstorms,
where splendid olive groves grow
alongside Scotch brooms.
Unfamiliar with olive groves and Scotch brooms
just as I was unfamiliar with him,
this Mr. Salvatore Pagliuca
caught wind of my Accatone and heard
that a swarthy man with shiny teeth, a ferocious wolf
with a penchant for kicking
was called Salvatore Pagliuco.
He was offended, sued me, won his case,
and was awarded millions in damages.
I have told you these things
in a fairly unpoetic style
so that you won’t read me as one would a poet.
On day in the early Sixties
(the time during which all of this took place)
I gave a little king of the cinema called Amato and his accomplice Amoroso
a screenplay bearing the rustic title of:
La ricotta.
Perhaps you saw this film of mine
at the New York Film Festival a few years ago.
In that screenplay,
written in the way writers write
there were a few indelicate words,
and little reverence was shown towards the religion of my country’s
Catholic bourgeoisie.
Owing to reasons with which you – a movie critic – are well acquainted,
the film flopped, Amato died,
and Amoroso
filed a suit against me
accusing my screenplay
of being too obscene for the average public
of having prevented him from making his film.
It was as if Mr. Crowther [6]
had handed Levin, [7] on Levin’s own request,
a screenplay that was far too rosy, fit only for Catholic schoolgirls,
and Mr. Levin, not finding it any good,
for his own reasons,
then went on to sue the former for the excessive rosiness
of Crowther’s screenplay – sweet Crowther –
for having impeded him from making the film he’d wanted to shoot.
I lost this case too and I’m not even sure how many millions
I’ll have to shell out to that peach, Mr. Loving [8]
who was ruined by the first draft
of a screenplay unsuited for the Italian middlebrow.
I have told you these things
in a fairly unpoetic style
so that you won’t read me as one would a poet.
This is the downfall of public respect for poetry, typical
of childhoods that believe in the eternal, an illusion
that does nothing to overcome nationalisms, since it unconsciously believes
in its childish passion, in the absoluteness
of a nation’s tongue; in the way it’s used in song or music
(despite the fact it becomes entirely absurd
as soon as it’s crossed the border); an illusion
that does nothing to overcome logic or classicism
(a miserable philologist may reconstruct word by word
– isolated and driven into silence – a jumbled up speech,
a poor speech
devoid of ideas, devoid of religion except for the cult
of poetry within literature, which isn’t that religious at all).
But it wasn’t just the downfall
of public respect for poetry
which belongs to the history of my time-honored
(in which I find myself stuck,
without being able to show you a single aspect of me, even the strangest,
or even a single book, even the most forgotten one);
it was the downfall of poetry itself. This isn’t what matters, ever.
Even if it was conceived of as poetry.
The language of deeds, of the life that is depicted
is infinitely more fascinating!
This is what reconstitutes itself – as soon as one shuts –
a book of poems: this belongs to before and after:
between them lies a vehicle of expression
that evokes all the above, meaning everything. The work of witchcraft.
Only love for the language of the non-I that can express itself
on the same level, with the same rights as the force of the I,
gives poets
their abilities.
But the vocation of being a poet, a true poet,
is growing ever more insignificant.
Is it really necessary to insert that living language in a conventional language,
only for it to have to free itself, re-becoming a living language, in the reader?
Doesn’t it know how to form a dialogue with reality?
Is the humble worth of the poet
to re-evoke that language just as they see it? Is that serious enough?
Why don’t they contemplate it in silence
a holy one, not a literary one?
In any case, what do the young do
during the evenings in their provincial towns,
or even in the great cities,
if not talk of literature?
With their sectarian footsteps, along paths recently discovered
full of history and secret meaning?
Discovering writers as though they were whores or the hidden
mysteries of neighborhoods, or the customs of a social life
that now should belong to them, even though it still belongs to their fathers
(who therefore make plans for wars so they can send them off to die)?

Interviewing myself
in the light of the August sun in desolate Manhattan (as I mentioned)
I have come to learn that
I (who only became a poet through literature)
am no longer a member of the literati.
It is my destiny
to remember small hills, and a river filled
with blue water that runs crystal clear along gravel,
along pebbly beds that resemble ossuaries, first along the Magredi [9]
and its sad foliage, then among the vines
(mercurial humid summers and a blurry silence that’s nearly Oriental)
scattered among the hills
and finally through reclaimed swamps whose smell
is enough to unleash, for two savage eyes
and a wildly pure womb, the exhaustion that seizes a hold of you and
makes you want to die.
On those gloomy hills – real cemeteries, without flowers –
people fought against Germans and Fascists, and where my brother,
as I told you, laid down his nineteen-year-old life,
like a falcon who’d barely learned to fly, and yet flew so well.
All for what you, with an ironic yet hateful smile curling your lips
(which distorts your falsely self-assured invalid faces)
tend to call, underscoring it, being engagé,
which feeds like a parasite on the glory and pain of those cemeteries.
Actually, that was never the case.
It’s only now that it’s starting to be like that.
Now that these flowerless cemeteries
are beginning to bear flowers.
Anxious to be condemned as unpopular perhaps,
even my friend Moravia is afraid,
when he refuses to understand this. And with him
and much worse than him (he is arcanely bent
towards an undaunted desire to understand) all the others
whom in Italy
bear the label and functions of “literati.”
Everyone turns their back on being engagé, employing
their silent neuroses to flatter you: there are those who do so contritely
and others who push up their breasts like prostitutes.
I don’t want to go back to those hills,
neither as a tourist, nor as a visitor of tombs, let that be clear.
I too, I too have forgotten all about them.
And I was right to! It was within their action and ideology,
dictated to them like a sublime catechism,
that I rebelled in my youth.
Perhaps I even acquired
certain indelible attitudes
inspired by dignity and morality.
But I’ll never go back to those places, which exist but are never seen.
At this point <stop!> I don’t want my choices to stir up my feelings,
but rather alert you to the fact
that being engagé
hasn’t come to an end, but that instead it is only beginning.

Never was Italy more hateful.
Especially when it was betrayed by its intellectuals,
by the Communist Party’s revisionism, a wolf
that this time really is a sheep, “comrade”
Longo [10] in Der Spiegel had the adulatory face of a literato
desperately to appear in keeping with the times,
thereby rejecting communism’s palingenetic violence:
yes, even the communist is a bourgeois.
This is the discriminatory shape of humanity.
Maybe opposing all this
doesn’t mean producing engagé writing
but rather to live an engagé life.
As for my future works…
one day you’ll see a young man arrive
in a beautiful home
where a father, a mother, a son and daughter,
live like rich people, in a lifestyle that refuses all self-critique,
as if everything was already in place, and life pure and simple;
there’s also a servant (who hails from the nations of the sub-proletariat; the young
man comes,
handsome, like an American,
and right away, on the spot, the servant falls in love with him,
and pulls up her skirt. He gives her the sweet
wrathful weight of his member. The son then falls in love
with him; both of them sleep in the same room
amidst the remnants of childhood; and the young man gifts
his silken member, more powerful and adult, to the son;
and that same gift, obliging and generous,
because he is the giver, he will give to the mother,
a worshipper of his shirts, trousers,
and underwear, left in a chalet
on a hot summer day along the Tyrrhenian Sea;
and he will make the same gift to the father, becoming
the father of the father – because with a vague maternal kindness he
bears the name of the father –
of the father awoken at dawn
by a pain in his stomach that makes him
double-over, and by getting up to go to the bathroom
the silent beauty of the world at four o’clock in the morning
when the sun is already radiant…and he’ll discover his love
with the same wonderment,
with which he discovered that sun:
a love like the kind Ilya Ilyich felt for his childish peasant
servant; but self-consciously and dramatically
because he, the old industrialist with a face
like Orson Welles, is petty bourgeois and dramatizes everything.
The same gift of that member, during the hours
of the father’s sickness – and before giving it to the father –
he’ll give to the fourteen-year-old daughter, who is in love
with her father, and who uncovers it, the young man they all love,
through the enamored eyes of, that’s right, the father. Then
the young man will go away:
the road down which he disappears
will remain deserted forever.
And everyone, dwelling in wait, in the memory,
like an apostle of Christ that wasn’t crucified but lost,
will have to deal with their fate.
It’s a theory:
and every fate is a consequence.
Your already know what these destinies are,
those of a world where you, with your unpleasant
anticommunist smile, and me, with my infantile antibourgeois
hate, we are brothers:
we know all about it!
How an attack of anxiety can seize hold of you
and how a fourteen-year-old female victim
can wind up in a hospital bed,
with her fists so tightly clenched
that even a scalpel couldn’t pry them apart,
or how a boy can talk to himself like a madman
painting and inventing new techniques,
until he becomes
a Giacometti, a Bacon,
thanks to the spectacle of his figurative specters
symbols of the world’s tragedy in a sick soul
the foul-smelling petty spite of evil; how
a middle-aged woman who is still beautiful and looks after herself
cannot let go of the Church’s Christ
and how once she’s lost her way,
she cannot resist the desire to lose herself, once again,
yet feels so alive caught between loose boys and Christian anguish;
and finally, how a father
who has confused life with ownership
and once he’s lost that ownership
loses his life, or throws it away, gives over ownership
– a factory on the outskirts of a great city –
to his workers; and loses himself in the desert,
like the Jews.
All of these are cases of conscience.
Yet the servant, however, becomes a holy madwoman,
she goes into the courtyard of her sub-proletarian house,
remains silent, prays, performs miracles,
heals people,
survives only on poison ivy, until her hair turns green,
and finally, in order to die,
she has herself buried by a bulldozer
and her tears rushing out of the mud
become a miraculous fountain.
Before the Father and the Mother,
there was a First Father in the earthly paradise
and it was on his intimate terms that we first lived.
But then, what truly mattered was the love of the mother
with which we identified
because we cannot live
if we don’t identify with someone. We cannot, therefore,
conceive of love without that maternal sweetness.
That First Father, therefore, possesses the sweetness of a Mother.
But in a bourgeois family
he is no longer able
to do anything apart from triggering moral dramas.
Religion, meaning religion as a direct relationship with God
still belongs to the world that came before the bourgeois one.
The workers are keenly observing the scene.

My friend, I will keep to myself what, in fits and starts,
along with choirs in the heart of clashes,
I will write on the silence of Pylades
which will become an insurrection,
and betrayal,
against that friend from adolescence with an erect member
Orestes, the socialist prince,
and the degeneration of some purified Furies
segregated on the merry hills in the sky and lost in that sky:
the return of these regressed Furies
to the city liberated – by them too – from monarchy;
the regression of Elektra,
she, a daughter who loved the father King and is now a fascist in the way
one becomes a fascist in the gloomy regret of mistaken origins:
the flight of Pylades in the hills of the Furies who have become Eumenides,
the goddesses of the partisans
and of the sudden love that ties one partisan to another
the readying for a fight
and the return at the head of an irregular army,
– the mysterious army of the hills;
the alliance between fascist Elektra and the liberal Orestes
the champion of reforms,
in the city that’s become opulent;
the intervention of Athena
to protect Elektra and Orestes the children of reason
and brings them together, silencing the howling
of the ancient Furies who wander through the new city;
the uncertainties of Pylades
faced with the newly enriched city
that no longer needs him;
his encounter
on the night of the eve of the battle
with his old friend from adolescence,
who stayed young,
as beautiful as their early days of love
when women were unknown to them;
and their abandoning themselves to conversations on love and the soul
which have got nothing to do with present reality,
and which give them something in common;
finally, the solitude of Pylades,
at the end of the night,
who, before the advent of dawn, will still have to make a decision.
Would you believe
that one could have a dream, be unable to remember it,
and for this dream to change your life?
Do you think a father could have a dream in which
he could see himself love his own son,
under which guise, I don’t know,
maybe the father, or the boy, or even a stranger
who is the father of the father (boy)
or one’s own identification with one’s own mother…Nobody,
not even me, will ever come to know that dream.
But the father will have transformed that whole life.
Remember Heracles
who asked his son to summon all his strongest
friends so they could carry him on their shoulders,
to the top of the mountain next to the city,
the city’s mountain
the one which was a site of pilgrimages and boyish adventures
as tends to happen in pre-industrialized worlds?
And once they’d reached the summit, the son and his friends
had to prepare a pyre for Heracles
so that they could kill him?
Step inside that dream, if you’re a father.
You, father, who perhaps are innocently complicit
with the other fathers
who want to rid themselves of their sons
to send them to die in wars that are fought
in the lands of Alibis, the Far East of this story.
On this occasion, for once,
the father doesn’t want to see his son die, but rather wants his love.
He becomes the son, and by being the son, can perhaps see the father
and be able to love him, he doesn’t want to kill him, but to be killed by him,
doesn’t want to own him, but to be owned.
Yes, but that father is a bourgeois man who belongs to our world,
he owns a factory at the foot of the mountains of Brianza [11] (merry in the sky
and lost in the same sky):
how will he accept the consequences of that dream, which besides
he cannot even remember?

He will accept them by turning them upside down. Knowing and unknowing.
He will have himself picked up by the naked son hanging above the mother.
He will search for pretexts to strike the son,
and thus, to be hit in his turn.
He will assault the son
to draw him closer,
to become the center of his life.
Until the son, the delicate Mozartian son,
a pacifist and a conscientious objector, will leave
the wealthy home,
having heard his delirious father declare his love.

I can assure you that he won’t hate him – the boy
(one of those new boys, who are so much better than us),
and, if he could have,
he would have given the beggar-father all his gold,
he would have owned him, just like how the boy
of the people possesses, for a few dollars, he who lacks the strength to be
and thus invokes him as his savior…
He will go on his way, through the ways of the world,
alongside a girl,
who is nothing more than a whore, and with a friend:
it will never be known whom his love is intended for
even though he will certainly deposit his gold
in the girl’s womb.
Along comes the father, who spies on them, finds them, corrupts the girl,
peeps through the door of their love,
discovers that what his son has
lacks any mystery, is like everyone else’s,
even though it is horrendously and unbearably mysterious in his own case.
The father cannot continue living, after seeing that love,
he steps inside and beats the son to death,
who exists, crying and bidding goodbye to life,
from the room of one of the thousand coituses of his life.
He dies. And the father bends down over the boy’s dead body to button up
the boy’s pants, which lie open revealing his vest’s immaculate sheen.
After many years, the father, like in a serial novel,
brings the long dream of his life to an end
dreaming on the tracks of a train station
like in that poem of Ginsberg’s.
There you have it.
These are the works I’d like to create,
which will constitute my future life – but also my past one
– and my present one.
You know, after all I’d told you, old friend, father
a little intimidated by the son, powerful
alloglot guest of humble origins,
that nothing is worth life.
Thus, I’d merely like to live
while still being a poet
because life often expresses itself only to itself.
I’d like to express myself by using examples.
Throwing my body into the fight.
But if our actions in life are expressive,
even expression is action.
Not these expressions of a defeatist poet,
who says only things,
and uses his tongue like you, my poor instrument;
but an expression detached from things,
symbols turned into music,
obscure poetry that is sung,
which expresses nothing if not itself,
for the exquisite, barbaric idea that it is being mysterious
using the meager oral symbols of language.
I have abandoned such exquisite, barbaric illusions
to my coevals and those younger still, and I speak brutally to you.
And since I cannot turn back,
and pretend I’m some barbaric boy,
who believes his language is the only language,
and can hear the mysteries of music in its syllables,
which only his fellow compatriots, whose dispositions and literary
follies are similar to him, can hear
– as for being a poet, I’ll be a poet of things.
The actions of life will be merely communicated,
and they will be my poetry,
seeing as how, to repeat myself, there’s no poetry outside of real actions
(you tremble only when you find them again
in verses, or in pages of prose,
when their evocation is perfectly executed).
I won’t do this with joy.
I’ll always long for that poetry
which is an action in itself, in its detachment from things,
in it music which expresses nothing
if not its own sublime passion for itself.
Well, I’ll confide in you, before taking my leave,
that I’d like to compose music,
live alongside instruments
inside that unaffordable tower of Viterbo,
in the most beautiful landscape in the world, where Ariosto
would have gone mad with joy to see himself so innocently reborn
in trees, hills, streams, and flowers,
and there compose music
the only truly expressive kind of action
perhaps the highest, and indefinable, just like actions in real life.



[1] Niccolò Tommaseo and Antonio Machado.

[2] Reference to Soviet writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, who were indicted in a show trial in early 1966 concerning their literary works and given sentences in labor camps.

[3] The Children of Sánchez.

[4] The Gospel According to St. Matthew.

[5] Denoting gaps in the original manuscript.

[6] Bosley Crowther, long-time curmudgeonly film critic for The New York Times who championed some directors belonging to the school of Italian neorealism.

[7] Henry Levin, American director.

[8] “Loving” here is a literal translation of Amoroso’s name, just as Amato means “Loved.”

[9] A plain in eastern Friuli.

[10] Luigi Longo, General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party (1964-1972).

[11] Northwestern Lombardy.


Pier Paolo Pasolini

Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975) was one of Italy's greatest twentieth-century poets, as well as a novelist, playwright and filmmaker, as well as one of Italy's most beloved public intellectuals. His novel Ragazzi di vita (1955) and feature film Accattone (1961) chronicled life among the poor of Rome in the wake of World War II, while his works of poetry included a volume of Friulan verses, La meglio gioventù (1954) and The Ashes of Gramsci (1957), which was composed in Italian. An internationally acclaimed director, Pasolini's films include The Gospel According to Matthew (1964) and the highly controversial Salò, or The 120 Days of Sodom (1975), as well as The Canterbury Tales (1972), which was awarded the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and The Arabian Nights (1974), which received the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. Pasolini was murdered on November 2 1975 at Ostia, the circumstances of which remain a subject of heated debate. His unfinished novel Petrolio, arguably his masterpiece, investigated the interconnections between the Italian government, major fossil fuel companies and the CIA.

André Naffis-Sahely

André Naffis-Sahely is the author of the collection The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin, 2017) and the pamphlet The Other Side of Nowhere (Rough Trade Books, 2019). He is also the editor of The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature (Pushkin Press, 2020). He has translated over twenty titles of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including works by Honoré de Balzac, Émile Zola, Abdellatif Laâbi, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and Frankétienne.

Tutte le poesie, Vol II. Copyright (c) Mondadori: i Meridiani, 2003, 3rd ed. 2015. English translation copyright (c) André Naffis-Sahely, 2020.