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After Palio

In a yellowing snapshot
from forty years past
fished out of the bottom of a drawer
your face severe in its softness
your servant at your side; and behind the two of us Sbarbaro,
lichenologist and poet, and Lady
Elena Vivante: there gathered together to watch
a few old horses whipped to bleeding
inside a shell-like piazza
in front of a mob gone mad.
The time? Forty years, as I said, but possibly not one.
I don’t believe in time, in the big bang, in anything
that measures events in befores and afters.
I suppose that to someone, to something, belongs
the attribution of “being.” On that day it was you.
But for how long? But how? And here once again crops up
the execrable notion of time.

Translator’s Note:

Eugenio Montale turned eighty-four last Columbus Day. “After Palio” was written just before his birthday in 1979. The title refers of course to the famous annual pageant and horse race in Siena’s Piazza del Campo, but more significantly to a major poem, “Palio,” composed forty years earlier (1939), which can be found in his second book of collected verse, Le occasioni (“Occasions”).

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