Via Cigna


No street in this city is more of a whip.

In fog, in night; shadows on the sidewalks

that the clarity of streetlights cuts

as though they were full of nothing, clots

of nothing, they are also our likeness.

Maybe that’s it for the sun.

Maybe it’ll always be dark: and yet

on other nights the Pleiades laughed.

Maybe this is eternity waiting for us:

not the breast of the Father, but clutch,

brake, clutch, engage first gear.

Maybe eternity is traffic lights.

Maybe it’s better to use up your life

in one single night, like the drone.

Primo Levi


In questa città non c’è via più frusta.

E’ nebbia e notte; le ombre sui marciapiedi

che il chiaro dei fanali attraversa

come se fossero intrise di nulla, grumi

di nulla, sono pure i nostri simili.

Forse non esiste più il sole.

Forse sarà buio sempre: eppure

in altre notti ridevano le Pleiadi.

Forse è questa l’eternità che ci attende:

non il grembo del Padre, ma frizione,

freno, frizione, ingranare la prima.

Forse l’eternità sono i semafori.

Forse era meglio spendere la vita

in una sola notte, come il fuco.


Carmine III.13 (Horace)


flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae

Bandusian spring, brighter than glass,

deserving sweet wine and more than one wreath,

you’ll be offered a kid when the night has passed

whose forehead swells with the horns beneath —


his first — all set for love and war

for nothing: he’ll dye your icy

streams with crimson blood

generation of the frisky flock.


You the burning Dog Star’s brutal season

can’t touch, you — cool and lovely —

fill the plough-tired bulls

and the wandering flock.


You will be even more well known

when I have spoken at the holm oak perched

on the hollow rocks, from which, chattering,

your limpid waters leap.


bubbling spring

O fons Bandusiae splendidior vitro

dulci digne mero non sine floribus

cras donaberis haedo,

cui frons turgida cornibus


primis et venerem et proelia destinat;

frustra: nam gelidos inficiet tibi

rubro sanguine rivos

lascivi suboles gregis.


te flagrantis atrox hora Caniculae

nescit tangere, tu frigus amabile

fessis vomere tauris

praebes et pecori vago.


fies nobilium tu quoque fontium,

me dicente cavis impositam ilicem

saxis, unde loquaces

lymphae desiliunt tuae.

Al-Mu’allaqat (1) “Stop, friends!” by Imru-al-Qais

Al-Mu’allaqat are seven poems about Bedouin life on the Arabian peninsula in the period before Islam. 


“Stop, friends! Let’s stay and weep at the thought of my love.
She lived here on the desert’s edge between Dakhool and Howmal.


“Even now the campsite’s not been totally wiped out.
The Southerly blows sand over it, but the Northerly sweeps it away.


“The fields and fences of the old home are desolate now;
The dung of wild deer lies around thick as peppercorns.


“The morning we parted it was as if I were standing in our tribe’s gardens,
in acacia-shrubs, my eyes watering at the popping colocynth pods.”


As I my pour out my heart in this lonely place, my friends stop their camels;
shouting, “Don’t kill yourself with this grief; bear this sorrow patiently.”


But I can only relieve my pain with relentless tears.
Can this desolation really bring me solace?


Before I met Unaizah, I mourned for two others;
Ummul-Huwairith and her neighbor Ummul-Rahab in Masal.


They were also beautiful, spreading the odor of musk as they moved,
as the soft zephyr brings the scent of the clove.


So the tears dropped down on my breast, remembering days of love;
The tears even wet my sword-belt, so soft was my love.


Look how many good times I’ve spent with beautiful girls;
I especially remember the day at the oasis of Darat-i-Juljul.


On that day I killed my camel for food for the girls:
who happily split up its gear to be lugged by their camels.


It’s a wonder, a riddle, that an unsaddled camel was put onto saddles!
The butcher was a wonder, too; so selfless in his generous gift!


Then the girls started throwing the camel’s flesh into the pot;
fat was woven with lean like loose hanks of white twisted silk.


That was the day I entered the camel’s howdah, Unaizah’s  howdah!
But she objected, saying, “Shame on you, now I’ll have to go by foot.”


She pushed me away, while the howdah was swaying with the motion;
She said, “You’re wearing my camel out, Oh Imru-ul-Quais, so get off.”


Then I said, “Drive him on! Let his reins loose, while you turn to me.
Don’t think of the camel and how we weigh him down; let’s be happy.


“Oh Unaizah, I’ve visited a lot of beautiful girls like you, at night;
I’ve won them over to me, even won them away from their children.”


There was another day when I walked with her behind the dunes,
But she cut me short and said she was going to be a virgin forever.


“Oh, Unaizah,” I said, “have pity on me; stop flirting.
If you’ve really decided to dump me, then do it kindly, gently.


“Don’t you realize that your love is killing me,
And as often as you give my heart orders, it will carry them out?


“And if there’s anything you don’t like about me
Then put my heart away from your heart, and it will stay put away.


“And your tears are like arrows sticking into my bleeding heart.
I‘ve had a lot of beauties, whose tents were out of bounds.


I evaded guards on watch, people who wanted my blood;
who would conceal my murder, since they were unable to attack me up front.


I passed by these enemies when the Pleiades appeared in the heavens,
like an ornamented girdle whose spaces are set with pearls and gems.


Then she said to me, “By god, you have no excuse for your wild life;
I don’t think you’ll ever change.”


I went out with her; she went on foot and dragged behind
her embroidered woolen hem, smoothing our footprints.


Then, when we’d crossed the tribal enclosure,
we made for the middle of the open plain, with its sand-waves and dunes.


I tugged the fair side-locks of her head toward me; she leaned toward me;
Her waist was small, her ankle was full.


Tiny waist, white skin, slender body,
breast shining like a polished mirror.


Her skin was like the ostrich’s first egg — white, mixed with yellow.
She’d been fed on pure water, undisturbed by too many feet.


She turns away to show her smooth cheek, then shoots me a warning glance,
Like that of a wild animal, with young, in the desert of Wajrah.


And she reveals a neck like the neck of a white deer;
neither inordinate when lifted, nor unadorned.


And a glorious head of hair which, when loosened, covers her back
in black, dark, thick clusters like dates on an overburdened palm.


Her curls creep upward to the top of her head;
And the braids are lost in the twisted hair, and the hair falling loose.


She meets me with a waist thin as a camel’s nose-rein of twisted leather.
She’s like the stem of a palm-tree bending over from the weight of its fruit.


In the morning, when she wakes, grains of musk are strewn on her bed.
In the morning she sleeps in; no need to belt that waist with a working dress.


She gives with thin fingers, not thick like the worms of the Zabi desert,
In the evening she brightens the gloom, like a monk’s light-tower.


The man with good taste gazes incessantly, lovingly at someone like her:
a good shape for her height, between a gown-wearing woman and girl in short skirt.


Men’s games cease with their youth, but my heart does not cease to love you.
Sour counselors said your love was disaster, but I turned away.


Night has often let its curtains fall and surround me in my grief,
It has swallowed me as a wave would, weighed me with sorrow.


Then I said to the night, as his huge bulk dragged over me,
As his breast, his loins, his buttocks crushed me before going on,


“Oh long night, dawn will come, but won’t be any brighter without my love.
You are a wonder, with your stars hung as if by hemp ropes to a solid rock.”


Other times, I’ve filled my tribe’s water-skin and braved the desert,
ranged its wastes while the wolf howled like a gambler whose family starves.


I said to the wolf, “You make as little, achieve as little as I.
Whatever we gain, we give away. That’s how we stay thin.”


Early in the morning, birds still in their nests, I mounted my horse.
He was a thoroughbred, long-bodied, faster than wild beasts,


Quick to attack, to retreat, to turn, but firm as a rock in a torrent,
A bay so smooth the saddle slips off him like the rain off a stone,


Thin but full of life, fire boils within him like the sputter of a boiling kettle;
He speeds up when other horses are dragging their feet in the dust.


A boy would be blown off his back; even a strong rider loses his clothes.
My horse is as fast as a top when a child has spun it well.


He has the flanks of a buck, the legs of an ostrich, and the stride of a wolf.
His thick tail hides the space between his haunches, nearly sweeps the ground.


Standing in front of the house, his back looks like the huge grinding-stone.
the blood of studs runs as thick in him as henna juice in combed white hair.


As I rode him we saw a flock of sheep, the ewes like girls in long robes;
They turned to flee, but before they could run he’d already passed the leaders.


He passed a bull and cow and killed them; they were prepared for cooking;
He didn’t even break out a sweat or need any washing.


We returned at evening, and the eye could scarcely take his beauty in —
when gazing at one part, the eye was beguiled by another part’s perfection.


He stood all night with his saddle and bridle on him,
While I gazed at him admiring he stood all night, did not rest in his stable.


“But look, my friends, as we stand here in grief, do you see the lightning?
Its glint, like the flash of two moving hands, in the thick mass of clouds?


“ Its glory shines like a monk’s lamps when he has dipped their wicks in oil.”
I sat down with my friends and watched the lightning and the coming storm.


The rain was so extensive that its right edge seemed to loom over Quatan,
But its left end was pouring down on Satar, and beyond that over Yazbul.


The storm was so strong it hurled huge kanahbul trees down on their heads,
Its spray drove the wild goats down from the hills of Quanan.


In the gardens of Taimaa not a palm was left standing,
Nor a building, except those strengthened with heavy stones.


The mountain, at the first deluge, looked a giant draped in a striped cloak.
Mujaimir’s peak in the flood and rush of débris looked a whirling spindle.


The clouds poured their gift on Ghabeet desert till it blossomed
as if a Yemeni merchant spread out all the rich clothes from his trunks,


as if the little birds of the valley of Jiwaa all woke in the morning
And burst forth in song after a morning sip of old, pure, spiced wine.

As if all the beasts had been rolled in sand and mud like onion bulbs                                        drowned and lost in the depths of the desert at evening.


Моим стихам, написанным так рано, by Marina Tsvetayeva

Druzhba Narodov Fountain, Moscow

Druzhba Narodov Fountain, Moscow

My lyrics, written down so young

I didn’t even know I was a poet yet,

escaped, like spray from a fountain flung

like a rocket spitting its fiery jet,


Bursting out of me, like Satan’s little slaves,

into a sanctuary, with calm and candlesticks

my lyrics about girls and boys and graves –

my unread lyrics!


Cast for safe-keeping on the earth,

where no one took or takes the page ,

my lyrics, like wines of inestimable worth,

will reach their age.


Koktebel, 13 May 1913

* * *

Моим стихам, написанным так рано,
Что и не знала я, что я — поэт,
Сорвавшимся, как брызги из фонтана,
Как искры из ракет,

Ворвавшимся, как маленькие черти,
В святилище, где сон и фимиам,
Моим стихам о юности и смерти,
— Нечитанным стихам!

Разбросанным в пыли по магазинам,
Где их никто не брал и не берёт,
Моим стихам, как драгоценным винам,
Настанет свой черёд.

Коктебель, 13 мая 1913

Цыганская страсть разлуки! By Marina Tsvetayeva


BroodingWoman (recto), ThreeChildren(verso) by Picasso

A gypsy’s love of taking leave!

You’ve hardly said hello – already taking flight!

I’ve dropped my head on my sleeve,

and I brood, looking into the night.


No one, rummaging through our mail,

would get it trying to gauge the blue,

how we’re so false, it’s this is all –

to the exact same degree we’re true.


October 1915


Цыганская страсть разлуки!

Чуть встретишь — уж рвешься прочь!

Я лоб уронила в руки

И думаю, глядя в ночь:


Никто, в наших письмах роясь,

Не понял до глубины,

Как мы вероломны, то есть —

Как сами себе верны.

Carmina 1.5 Horatius

Triumph of Neptune from the Bardo Museum in Tunis

Triumph of Neptune from the Bardo Museum in Tunis

Who’s the lithe boy in abundant roses

wet with scented essences pressing you

Pyrrha, inside the welcoming hollow?

For whom do you bind your yellow hair,


with easy finesse? Oh how often faith

he’ll deplore and false gods and violent

open seas in blackening winds

marvelling novice,


who now naively enjoys your gold —

always free, always lovely

he hopes you’ll be — blind to golden

deceit. Poor boys, for whom


unbitten you shine! Me? The record

on the temple wall shows that dripping

garments were hung devoted

to the god of the almighty sea.”

*Sailors who survived shipwreck would often hang up their clothes as a thank-you gift in a temple of Neptune

Hotels (by Primo Levi)


The room is alone

each to its own

a new presence

pays by the month


The owner doubts

if they’ll pay up

or go round the street

like a spinning top


The roar of the cars

my crude neighbor

smoking some acrid

English tobacco


O La Vallière

what laughing and veering

in my prayers

at the night table


And all of us

in this hotel

know the tongue

as at Babel


We secure the doors

with double locks

each takes in

its solitary love