Translated by Martha Cooley and Antonio Romani
My father’s bookcase was divided by nationalities of the authors. “The French ones,” my mother would say with some solemnity, indicating the most considerable sector, and perhaps the one most congenial to her. Then came the Russians, preferred by my father.
The bookcase, pride of the family, occupied a room in our apartment, on the second floor of the building on via Volta in Erba.
The books, of all kinds, were safe-kept in custom-made cabinets, as if they were incunabula.
I had access to them only sub judice.
On my own I had found the set of Fabre’s “Memories of an Entomologist,” the ten volumes of the Sonzogno edition, which was to become my most beloved reading of those years.
In chronological order the last to arrive had been an encyclopedic dictionary with numerous illustrations. One of these, in glossy paper, reproduced Canova’s famous marble group, “The Three Graces,” naked, wonderful.
That summer, for our vacation, we’d gone to a mountain village, not far away. My father joined us on Saturdays for the weekend.
It was a long summer, the summer of ’40, the first of the war.
Near us a dance-band would play, with a violinist who wore a beret. People would dance.
I’d play bocce with my father. I partnered with him against other pairs of vacationers. My father was a great shot-bowler. Then the summer too ended.
The return home was rather surprising. I looked right away for the dictionary, which I found out of place. The page of the “Three Graces” seemed tampered with, altered by a thick shading, black, done in pencil, on the groin of one of the “Graces.”
Born in 1927, Giampiero Neri spent his childhood in the midst of World War II, which devastated his family. He began publishing in the 1960s and was quickly recognized as a major part of the Milanese school of poetry. His collected poems were published in 2007. Paesaggi inospiti (Inhospitable Landscapes) appeared in 2009, and a collection of prose poems, Professor Fumagalli e altre figure (Professor Fumagalli and Other Figures), was published in 2012.
Martha Cooley is the author of the national bestseller The Archivist, Thirty-Three Swoons, and most recently Guesswork. Cooley is currently a contributing editor at A Public Space. Her co-translations of Italian fiction and poetry include Antonio Tabucchi’s story collection Time Ages in a Hurry. A professor of English at Adelphi University, Cooley divides her time between New York and Italy.
Antonio Romani’s translations of poems by Italian poet Giampiero Neri have been published in AGNI, Atlanta Review, PEN America, A Public Space, and others. He is co-translator with Martha Cooley of Antonio Tabucchi’s Time Ages in a Hurry. He formerly taught Italian Literature and History in two high schools in Cremona and was the owner and manager of two bookstores. He now lives in New York.
This untitled poem by Giampiero Neri was originally published in The Common (Issue 5, 2013)