It was after our wedding I began
translating Proust. Each day I'd unfold
pages of the great foglio protocollo,
fill them with Italian equivalents.
The foolscap watermark, my emblem.
Each night, your correctionshonest,
harshset me back, pressed me forward.
The sixteen volumes a challenge
disguised as a present from a friend
with better French than mine. My first
assignment. The romance of red leather,
the scent of literature. Gilt framing
my fancy ambitions. I never mastered
this craft: what I was after was the thing
itself, never the thing transformed.
When you were sent to the Abruzzi,
I followed with the Ghiotti dictionary,
two books from the Gallimard edition
and the children. If only I could do
this much, I thought, some day I might
complete the job. But lifeand death
had still to do their work on me. While you
were in Rome, relentless, subversive,
I pored over Swann and Odette, the idiocy
of passion. Instead I might have dwelt
on you, on our superior union, on the way
your wiry hair would scratch my neck
when you bent to kiss my breast. Even on
the ironic scoffs you'd lavish every time
I came to you begging for approval.
Now the war is over; my translation begins
anew. How to bend this world into words?
Where is the language for loss, longing, futile
desire? The seasons' metaphors run dry;
what remains is bare text, stark with nouns
and too few verbs. Work will set you free.
A neighbor saved the manuscript.
The Germans overlooked the flour sack. Now
I'll turn to what I began. For you. At least
those first two books. What to call Genevieve?
Can a madeleine ever become a maddalenina?
Here on the Via Uffici del Vicario what more
is there to do? The children are in Turin.
We'll make Proust Italian. What else can I change?