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July 2014 Issue [Readings]

Running in the Muddy Twilight

By Pier Paolo Pasolini, from The Selected Poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, out this month from University of Chicago Press. Pasolini, a writer and filmmaker, died in 1975. Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli.

I was running in the muddy twilight
past decrepit railyards and silent
scaffolds, through wet neighborhoods
that smelled of iron and reheated rags
hoisted up — in the dust-laden spaces
between tin shacks and sewage
canals — on newly built, already
blackened walls against the backdrop
of a colorless metropolis.
               Over broken
asphalt, through clumps of grass pungent
with excrement and black stretches
of mud — dotted with warm, foul pools
dug out by the rain — queues of cyclists
and wheezing trucks bearing wood
scattered headlong here and there
into suburban centers where
a few cafés already glowed
with circles of light, and under the smooth
walls of a church some young people
lay mischievously about.
               Around already old
low-income high-rises, rotting gardens
and construction sites bristling with motionless cranes
stagnated in feverish silence.
But a bit outside the lamp-lit center,
beside the silence, a blue asphalt
street appeared wholly immersed
in a life as oblivious and intense
as it was ancient. Though few in number,
oil lamps glowed with a waning light,
and the still-open windows were white
with laundry hung out to dry and vibrant
with voices inside. Old women sat
in the doorways, as a group of boys
huddled together, brightly dressed in overalls
or knickerbockers as if for a special occasion,
joking with girls who were
younger than they.

               Everything on that street
was human, and the people all clung
to it tightly, in the windows, on the sidewalks
with their rags and their lights . . .

It seemed as though man, even deep
in his wretched abode, were merely
encamped here, like another species,
and that his bond with this place,
in the grimy, dusty evening,
were not an Existence, but a random
     Yet the passerby looking on
without the innocence of need
sought, as a stranger, communion there,
at least in the joy of passing and looking.
All around was only life, and in that dead
world, for him, Reality was reborn.

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July 2014

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