Stephen Massimilla, translation from the Italian of “The Hitlerian Spring” by Eugenio Montale

Der-Hovanessian Award, selected by Chloe Roberts-Garcia
Honorable mention: Stephen Massimilla, translation from the Italian of “The Hitlerian Spring” by Eugenio Montale


The Hitlerian Spring

“Nor she who turns to see the sun…”
—Dante (attributed), in a sonnet to Giovanni Quirini

A thick fog of maddened mayflies
swirls around dirty lamps and over the parapets.
Underfoot, they form a shroud that crackles
like sugar. Spring slowly frees
the nocturnal frost
from caverns, ghosted gardens
extending from Maiano to these shores.

Up the street, an infernal messenger just flew by,
flanked by curdling cries of Heil! Concealed
like the Wagnerian orchestra pit
at one of his mad midnight rallies, a mystical gulf
lit up and flagged with mangled crosses just embraced him,
gulped him down.

This evening all the shop windows
are shuttered—
though even these are armed
with cannons and little military toys.
A man has bolted his gate. He is a friendly butcher
who would garland the muzzles
of slaughtered goats with grapes:
Easter rite for those still unaware that the blood
has utterly changed. Shattered wings
and larvae on the banks; the water goes on chewing
at the shoreline.

What we had was all for nothing, then? The Roman candles
at the San Giovanni festival slowly whitening out
the horizon, and our pledges and lingering good-byes—
binding as a baptism in the mournful presence
of the horde (though a budding comet rayed the air, distilling
on the ice and the rivers of your New World shores
the angels of Tobias, the seven, yes, the seed
of the future)
                              …and the heliotrope unfolding
from your palms—all scorched, sucked dry
by this pollen that hisses like fire
and bites with the teeth of a blizzard…
No one is blameless anymore.

                                                            This ulcerated
spring is festive even if it freezes
all this death in death! Look again:
up there, Clizia, lies your destiny, you
who keep love so unaltered in its alteration
until the blind sun you carry inside you
can bedazzle the Other and explode
in Him, for all—or for you,
at least, at least.

Maybe the sirens, the pealing bells
that saluted monsters
at their Sabbath, are already dissolving
in the celestial sound that—unleashed—descends and conquers
with the breath of a dawn that tomorrow may rise again
for all—bleached, of course, but please without swarms
of gnawing terror, in the parched river bottoms of the south…


Stephen Massimilla
Stephen Massimilla’s new volume Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016) won the Eric Hoffer Book Award, among others. Acclaim for his previous books includes an SFASU Press Prize; the Bordighera Prize; the Grolier Prize; and a VanRensselaer Award, selected by Kenneth Koch. He teaches at Columbia University and The New School.