Translated from the Italian by W. S. di Piero
The April nights are cold and sad
her in the huge rooms of my house.
My father can barely make it from the fireplace
to the bathroom. we carry him, undress him,
and loosen his shoes so he can sleep.
The Serino slopes are still white with snow.
We’re penned up in our rooms, the tower chimes
straggel toward us from the piazza.
Smoke reddens our eyes, the greenwood
still forest damp.
Christ will arise from the iris tomb.
Messengers have knocked on the shutters
Little shepherds bring us the first
asparagus from the brambly fields, the barefoot
gardener walked in with a basket of turnip greens.
For thirty years I waited for an Easter
in the ditches, moss on the stones,
violets among the rooftiles. But the dead
sleep in chestnut caskets,
on rafters in stables and pigpens,
on roofbeams iin cellars and chicken coops.
It’s hard for the dead to abandon forever
our chairs and beds
where they suffered so many long slow years.
On the streets the black rags
of suits and dresses, more silent than ever.
A group of men with a hot iron burn
a poison ulcer from a donkey’s mouth.
I’d begun a journey toward a blooming
Easter, to meet the purple Christ
who lifts the lid of white grain
sprouting in the caves.
All that I know can never efface
all that I have seen.
Children blow on charcoals
to make a mock rose
bloom from lead.
The women come and go through the house
visiting, bringing us twigs for the fire,
baskets of eggs, consoling words.
The rooms are always filled with memories
of a recent death or the groans of someone old and sick.
My father’s blood is too heavy.
He complains about his immobility.
My nephews will have to carry him on their shoulders
until one day, a balmy day not far off,
they’ll carry him to the vineyard, carry him
halfway up the slope, on a chair
of locked arms.
This valley has touched our hearts, this valley
where we’ve chosen to return and die.
While Jesus struggles desperately to rise,
we hope passionately to survive
in the hearts and mindds of friends and kin,
in the memory of neighbors in town and country.
On Holy Thursday, day of shadows,
around the darkened Church of San Domenico
the swallows are whistling!
Leonardo Sinisgalli, 1908–1981, was an Italian poet and art critic and the author of nine collections of poetry. He founded the magazine Civilt delle Macchine and also produced and directed two documentary films, both of which won him the Biennale di Venezia award. (6/2010)
Simone Di Piero has published thirteen collections of poetry—most recently The Complaints (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2019)—and six volumes of essays and criticism, including last year’s Fat: New and Uncollected Prose (Carnegie Mellon, 2020). His work has appeared in The Best American Essays twice, and his translation of This Strange Joy: Selected Poems of Sandro Penna (1982) won him the Academy of American Poets’ first Raiziss/de Palchi Book Prize. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001, and won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2012. He lives in San Francisco. (updated 4/2021)