The fate of small towels

Kurt Vonnegut called writing a great practical joke – making people laugh or cry just by making little marks on a page. I love how language works on us. I love how sometimes indelible is the conveyance of image through language . Several years ago, I encountered this poem and a translation in an international poetry site. I did my own translation, and I’ve never been able to get that little handtowel out of my head. I think about it a lot.


The Dig


Umberto Fiore
trans. Marilyn McCabe

Above, they swing the cranes
and below a cacophony of sirens
but this excavation
they make in the midst of houses
is like the scar of a torrent gone.

Now the stage,
revealing all its insides
from above, from the sixth floor, the seventh,
is a great volcano’s crater spent.
Alarming to see how much light,
how much wind it contains.

Month after month in this immense theater,
we will hear the shout of measurements.
Then all the emptiness of the scene
by cement and glass will be filled
and on a small balcony – where someone still stays watch –
a small towel will flap.



In alto girano le gru

e sotto è un viavai di sirene,

ma questo scavo

che fanno in mezzo alle case

sembra in campagna quei torrenti asciutti,


Ora il terreno

visto tutto intero

da su, dal sesto, dal settimo piano,

è un grande cratere spento.

Fa paura vedere quanta luce,

quanto vento contiene.


Per mesi e mesi in questo teatro immenso

si sentiranno urlare le misure.

Poi tutto il vuoto della scena

cemento e vetro l’avranno coperto

e a un terrazzino – chi vorrà ancora guardare –

sventolerà un asciugamano.



Umberto Fiore

from La Bella Vista, Marcos y marcos



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