Salvatore Quasimodo

1901-1968 / Italy

To My Father

Where Messina lay
violet upon the waters, among the mangled wires
and rubble, you walk along the rails
and switches in your islanders'
cock-of-the-walk beret. For three days now,
the earthquake boils, it's hurricane December
and a poisoned sea. Our nights fall
into the freight cars; we, young livestock,
count our dusty dreams with the dead
crushed by iron, munching almonds
and apples dried in garlands. The science
of pain put truth and blades into our games
on the lowlands of yellow malaria
and tertian fever swollen with mud.
Your patience, sand and delicate,
robbed us of fear,
a lesson of days linked to the death
we had betrayed, to the scorn of the thieves
seized among the debris, and executed in the dark
by the firing squads of the landing parties, a tally
of low numbers adding up exact
concentric, a scale of future life.

Back and forth your sun cap moved
in the little space they always left you.
For me, too, everything was measured
and I have borne your name
a little beyond the hatred and the envy.
That red on your cap was a mitre;
a crown with eagle's wings.
and now in the eagle of your ninety years
I wanted to speak to you -- your parting
signals coloured by the night-time lantern --
to speak to you from this imperfect
wheel of a world,
within a flood of crowded walls,
far from the Arabian jasmine
where you are still, to tell you
what once I could not -- difficult
affinity of thoughts -- to tell you (not only
the marshland locust, the mstic tree can hear)
as the watchman of the fields tells his master:
'I kiss your hands.' This, nothing else.
Life is darkly strong.
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