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Three Cesare Pavese  Translations by Geoffrey Brock

City in the Country

Father drinks at the table, wrapped in the green of the arbor;
the boy beside him is bored. The horse is bored too
and covered with flies: the boy wants to swat them,
but Father is watching. The arbor looks over a steep drop
toward the valley. The boy no longer looks over that ledge,
because heíd like to take a great leap. He raises his eyes:
no more beautiful clouds: their masses, once splendid,
have clotted together to block out the blue of the sky.

Father complains that the heat has been harder to bear
on this grape-selling trip than it was for the wheat harvest.
Unheard of, the sun blazing like this in September,
having to stop at the inn on your way home
to keep from killing your horse. But now theyíve been sold.
From now till the harvest, let someone else worry:
so what if it hailsóthe price has been set. The boy is still bored,
the small drink his father gave him is already gone.
Nothing to do now but stare at the malevolent whiteness
beneath the black haze of heat, and hope for some rain.

The cool streets of mid-morning were lined with arcades
and people. Shouts in the square. Vendors of ice cream,
white and pink: like firm clouds piled in the sky.
If the heat were this bad in the city, theyíd have eaten
in the hotel. The dust and the heat donít stick to the walls
in the city: along the avenues, the houses are white.
The boy raises his eyes to the terrible clouds.
City folks sit in shade doing nothing, but theyíre the ones
who buy all the grapes and make all the wine and get rich.
If theyíd stayed the night in the city, theyíd have seen, 
through the leaves at evening, the avenues strung with lights.

A gust of wind rattles the arbor. The horse shudders,
and Father looks to the sky. Down in the valley,
their house sits in their field among ripening grapes.
Then itís suddenly cold, leaves let go of their branches,
and dust starts to fly. Fatherís still drinking.
The boy raises his eyes to the terrible clouds.
Patches of sun still shine on the valley below.
If they stay here tonight, theyíll eat at the inn.
 
 

Atlantic Oil

The drunk mechanic is happy to be in the ditch.
From the tavern, five minutes through the dark field
and youíre home. But first, thereís the cool grass
to enjoy, and the mechanic will sleep here till dawn.
A few feet away, the red and black sign that rises
from the field: if youíre too close, you canít read it,
itís that big. At this hour, itís still wet with dew.
Later, the street will cover it with dust, as it covers 
the bushes. The mechanic, beneath it, stretches in sleep.

Silence is total. Shortly, in the warmth of the sun,
one car after another will pass, waking the dust.
At the top of the hill they slow down for the curve,
then plunge down the slope. A few of the cars
stop at the garage, in the dust, to drink a few liters.
At this time of morning, the mechanics, still dazed, 
will be sitting on oil drums, waiting for work. 
Itís a pleasure to spend the morning sitting in shade,
where the stink of oilís cut with the smell of green,
of tobacco, of wine, and where work comes to them,
right to their door. Sometimes itís even amusing:
peasantsí wives come to scold them, blaming the garage 
for the trafficóit frightens animals and women,
and for making their husbands look sullen: quick trips
down the hill into Turin that lighten their wallets.
Between laughing and selling gas, one of them will pause:
these fields, itís plain to see, are covered with road-dust,
if you try to sit on the grass, itíll drive you away.
On the hillside, thereís a vineyard he prefers to all others,
and in the end heíll marry that vineyard and the sweet girl 
that comes with it, and heíll go out in the sun to work,
but now with a hoe, and his neck will turn brown,
and heíll drink wine pressed on fall evenings from his own grapes.

Cars pass during the night, too, but more quietly,
so quiet the drunk in the ditch hasnít woken. At night,
they donít raise much dust, and the beams of their headlights,
as they round the curve, reveal in full the sign in the field.
Near dawn, they glide cautiously along, you canít hear a thing
except maybe the breeze, and from the top of the hill
they disappear into the plain, sinking in shadow.
 
 

Grappa in September

The mornings pass clear and deserted
on the riverís banks, fogged over by dawn,
their green darkened, awaiting the sun.
In that last house, still damp, at the edge
of the field, theyíre 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 donít smoke
and donít drink, they know only to stop in the sun
to let their bodies grow warm, as if they were fruit.
The airís 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.
Thereís even a breeze, it wonít move the clouds,
but itís enough to carry the blue smoke along
without breaking it: a new flavor passing. And tobacco
is best when steeped in some grappa. Thatís why the women
wonít be the only ones enjoying the morning.