Words for a Girlfriend
I walk without saying a word with a girl
I picked up on the street. It’s evening,
the boulevard’s lined with trees and with lights.
It’s the third time we’ve met.
The girl makes the awkward decision more difficult:
cafés are ruled out since we can’t stand the crowds,
the cinema, too, because of the first time
we went there... we shouldn’t do that again,
if only because we aren’t in love.
So let us keep walking
all the way to the Po, to the bridge, we’ll look at the palaces
of light that the streetlamps make in the water.
The deadness of the third date.
I know of her all that can be known by a stranger
who has kissed and embraced her in a dark room
where other dark couples embraced,
where the orchestra—a single piano—played Aida.
We walk down the avenue, with everyone else.
Here too is an orchestra, screeching and singing,
a metallic commotion like the jolting of trams.
I pull her to me and look in her eyes:
she looks at me silent and smiling.
I know of her what I’ve always known of all girls:
that she works, that she’s sad, and that, if I asked her,
“Do you want to die tonight?” she’d say yes.
“And our little affair?” “Our affair’s something else,
it’s only for now.” (There’s a boyfriend around.)
Oh beautiful girl, tonight I am not that boy,
audacious, who won you with a kiss on the street
in front of an old man who watched with astonishment.
This evening I walk with the saddest of thoughts,
like when you say that you wish you could die.
Not that I wish I could die. Those days have passed,
and besides, “we aren’t in love.” The crowd passes by,
pressing and crushing, and you too are the crowd,
like everyone else, you’re walking beside me.
Not that I hate you—could you ever believe that?—
but I am alone, and I’ll be alone always.
Here we are at the Po—“It’s lovely—it’s crystal this evening.
Columns of light... the curves of the dock:
it almost looks, in the dark, like the seashore.”
She talks to me happily, holding me:
I should hold her more tightly, here on the bridge.
The distant orchestra has followed us here.
The hills are all dark. “Will you come to the hills?”
“Not to the hills, it’s too far. Let’s stay here and watch...”
I don’t really desire even your body tonight,
my beautiful girl, even though you’re alive
to my hand as it moves on your hip.
I know of you what I’ve always known about all girls:
that you’re eager beneath the pale blue silk of your dress,
that you work and are sad and someday perhaps will be mine,
if you ever—and who knows?—abandon your scruples.
But I’m silent for now, and alone,
alone as I will be till death.
Nor is it pride, my girl, I’ve long since forgotten my pride,
it’s just that I don’t want anyone to turn me away from my life.
“How about a boat ride tonight?” “It’s too cool, let’s just stay here.”
“No it’s not, you’ll be next to me.” “But it’s dark, we’ll fall out.”
“What do you want us to do here, staring off into space?”
“But it’s beautiful here.” “Come on. It’s prettier still from the water.
They’ll give us a lantern.” I talk to her, holding
her sweet hand, and clumsily give her a peck
on the cheek. From beneath her felt that she fixes me
and then, almost contritely, repeats: “Let’s just stay here and watch.”
- By Cesare Pavese
Translated by Geoffrey Brock
“Words for a Girlfriend” from Dissaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950 by Cesare Pavese. Published in 2002 by Copper Canyon Press. Used by permission Copper Canyon Press.