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Ancestors

Cesare Pavese
Stunned by the world, I reached an age
when I threw punches at air and cried to myself. 
Listening to the speech of women and men,
not knowing how to respond, it's not fun. 
But this too has passed: I'm not alone anymore,
and if I still don't know how to respond, 
I don't need to. Finding myself, I found company.

I learned that before I was born I had lived
in men who were steady and firm, lords of themselves,
and none could respond and all remained calm.
Two brothers-in-law opened a store--our family's 
first break. The outsider was serious, 
scheming, ruthless, and mean--a woman.
The other one, ours, read novels at work,
which made people talk. When customers came,
they'd hear him say, in one or two words,
that no, there's no sugar, Epsom salts no,
we're all out of that. Later it happened
that this one lent a hand to the other, who'd gone broke.

Thinking of these folks makes me feel stronger
than looking in mirrors and sticking my chest out
or shaping my mouth into a humorless smile.
One of my grandfathers, ages ago,
was being cheated by one of his farmhands,
so he worked the vineyards himself, in the summer,
to make sure it was done right. That's how
I've always lived too, always maintaining
a steady demeanor, and paying in cash.

And women don't count in this family.
I mean that our women stay home
and bring us into the world and say nothing
and count for nothing and we don't remember them.
Each of them adds something new to our blood,
but they kill themselves off in the process, while we,
renewed by them, are the ones to endure.
We're full of vices and horrors and whims--

From Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950 by Cesare Pavese; translated by Geoffrey Brock. Translation copyright © 2002 by Geoffrey Brock. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press. All rights reserved.

Cesare Pavese