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Eight Telegrams from the City under Siege.


Translated by HOYT ROGERS.


THE SQUARE WAS dark that night. The streetlamps had almost all gone out, except for two or three. The wind blew everything away. Frigid and deadly, it came from the north, where jagged glaciers growled in an endless night, from the beginning of time. Heedless of winter’s rage, the colonnades and marble buildings around the square never budged. Trump and I were sitting on the steps of Parliament, huddled in our fur coats, with our hats pulled down on our heads. The cold was eating us alive. Trump passed me the bottle and I took a long slug. It burned the pit of my stomach. “We have to go home or we won’t make it,” I told him. “It’s already too late,” he replied. “The street is blocked by barricades.” He grabbed the bottle again and knocked back a gulp. “How will we get through the night?” I asked him calmly, looking at the streetlamps. Two of them were shining on the cobblestones of the square, the marble of the monuments. Trump seemed to think it over a bit, and then he answered simply: “We won’t. Not this night.”

The snow, meanwhile, kept falling.


THE WOMAN SLOWLY turned a page of the magazine. She was sitting on the sofa in the living room of her house. The floor was parquet and the walls were white. Everything was clean and neat. It was early afternoon, and from the large window behind her back you could see the street, lined by cookie-cutter villas with their driveways and red roofs; and above the road, the whitish sky. It seemed that the houses were on their guard, keeping an eye on each other, even though all the objects of value had been hidden somewhere, far from any curious looks. Besides, all the alarms were activated, and the police patrol went by every quarter-hour. She turned another page, but then it seemed as if a hunch had started tickling her brain. She swiveled around and saw somebody walking along the street. He wasn’t from the neighborhood, and from the way he was dressed he probably came from the North Side, with its lower-class housing of concrete, clumps of stores with bullet-proof glass, asbestos wrecks dumped in the parks, and factories with barred doors and broken windows. She looked at him, careful not to let herself be seen. In the other little villas as well someone was looking through the window, feigning indifference while watching the man’s every movement. Thank goodness he finally turned right, disappearing from view, so the woman could go back to her magazine. She read another page, then raised her eyes. She must polish that wooden shelf, she thought, and dust the chandeliers. She heard a muffled noise from the upper floor. The woman didn’t pay much attention to it. She knew where it came from. No doubt it was the spider. Lately he had taken to growing far too much, and he no longer felt comfortable in his room. The last time she had brought him something to eat, she realized that soon he would grow so big he would break through the ceiling. One of these days, she thought, she must move him to a larger room.


I RING THE bell and you open the door to invite me in. You’re thinner than the last time, and your cheek-bones look harder and sharper. All the same, you still have a beautiful face, even if you’re paler and your eyes seem a bit more tired, weighed down by slight bruises of insomnia. Your house is small, with white walls and red carpeting. There’s nothing but an unmade bed, an armchair, and an uncomfortable wooden chair, next to the big open window that looks out on the skyscrapers and the street. Also a small humming refrigerator, an aquarium with multi-colored fish, and a screen that hides one corner of the room. I sit down in the armchair, and you give me a drink; holding another drink in your hand, you sit across from me on the wooden chair. You smile. A luminous smile. We talk a bit, but it’s as if neither of us feels the need to say anything important. We already know everything, and the only thing we need is your smile as you look into my eyes. After a half-hour, a strange music starts coming through the window, an earthly sound that expresses an unearthly melody. Still smiling, you set down your glass. Slowly, with elegant steps, you go behind the screen and start dancing. All I can see is your black outline, your shadow that dances behind the screen. At a certain point shadows of men appear that dance along with you, as gently as algae rooted to the ocean floor that sway between the fingers of currents, dark, freezing, slow, and powerful. You are there, a shadow that dances with other shadows. Shadows that come from worn slabs encrusted with moss, erected on hills drenched by rain and fog. I know that you’re behind that screen, I know that those shadows are there with you. Even if I leaned around to see what’s behind that screen and didn’t see anyone, not even you, I know that you and those shadows are there, and that you’re dancing together. I stay seated and watch you. You’re a bit paler, a bit thinner, a bit more tired than the last time, but you’ve never been so beautiful, so perfect. After a while you’ll step from behind the screen, in flesh and blood as before, and you’ll look at me again with your disarming smile. But I know, I know for a certainty, that the day will come when you don’t want to step from behind that screen again. And when those shadows disappear you will disappear as well, going off with them forever.


IN THE CANAL the gray, silt-filled water glided slowly by. Shultz and I were leaning on the rail. The sky was cloudy, and in the port the smoke that rose from the factory chimneys mingled with the clouds; it spread a black stain on the sky, as chromatic as an espresso poured into a glass of hot milk. It was cold outside, and my jacket wasn’t warm enough. Hardly anyone was still around. The crowd that packed the church before had flowed out some time ago, diminishing minute by minute. Only Shultz and I remained, and we no longer had much to say. In other circumstances, we would have talked about Chinese hair-bands— according to us, they came from used condoms. We would have picked out any old topic and turned it into a surreal mass of nonsense and grotesque paradox, so the conversation became a monstrous, shapeless mishmash that made us laugh. But that afternoon we both stayed there staring at the water, making little more than small talk in lowered voices. Our minds were still back in the church, and our eyes were still seeing that coffin where a body lay—before then it had never seemed so small and fake, like a wooden puppet daubed with shoddy paint. Our memories still lingered on the evening before, when one cup of coffee followed another in that room full of silent people. Once she had told me: life is a struggle, and you have to fight every day. As I stand there staring down at the canal, I think that this is true. And that she fought till the very end.

Scratches on Glass

THE GHOSTS COME every time I try to write. It would be better to say that they emerge on those occasions, since in reality they are always with me. Sunny days and moving trains may hide them, but like derelict buildings in the fog, they wait for nothing more than a light gust of wind to stand out once more against the horizon. I pick up the pen and immediately hear the clinking of a glass. It comes from the sofa next to the fireplace. I turn around, and even if I don’t see anything but the gleam of a knife in the dark, I know who I’m facing. I try not to think about it, to go on looking at the page and gripping my pen, but when a woman’s voice calls me by name my whole attempt crumbles in the quicksand of failure. I turn around and she’s crouching on the window sill, half illumined by the streetlights and the moon, half melted into the darkness of the room. She smiles and tells me: “The women you write about in your stories always press a sharp pin against their chests. In each story you do nothing but try to reach me, without ever succeeding. Many would be angered by this blind pursuit. I find it flattering.”


THE GIRL WAS racked by a fit of seizures. She seemed like a marionette, jerked by a madman with sheer, invisible strings. Throngs of people surrounded her, but no one dared to come close. The sun was high, shining down on the dusty square. Its packed earth turned darker and darker; the houses around it paled, whiter and whiter; the cracks in their stucco grew bigger and bigger. And the girl went on screaming, a scream so shrill it gave you gooseflesh. She writhed on the ground, and her dress—so blindingly white at first—was soon stained by dirt. Then, as she kept thrashing on the ground of the square, she started laughing. An inhuman laugh, like a black shadow in the city of light.

End of the world

AT A CERTAIN point, the park’s gravel paths came to an end. They gave way to a large clearing: its gray grass blended the white of streetlamps with the black of night. The open space dwindled at the edges, where the light no longer fell. There the grass simply disappeared, swallowed up by a dark wall. On the grass some children ran around—skipping, shouting, and bursting into silver laughter. Klaus and I stood nearby and watched them. We wanted to make sure they didn’t go too far, and vanish in the gloom beyond the dome of light. We looked at those children play, with their voices so innocent they could demolish mountains, so defenseless they could wipe out whole armies, so pure they could slaughter death, so beautiful they could drive you mad with terror. I asked Klaus: “Where are the rest of us?” “Far away,” he replied.

Last Telegram

EVERTHING SHATTERS EVERYTHING explodes in a thousand pieces that melt into nothing only a concrete house still left in the middle of heaps of rubble a little concrete house inside there’s a girl with dark hair the room is empty there is only falling debris and the noise of the explosions that get closer and the girl has a computer and the girl has written so many pages more and more hectically but now that the explosions are getting closer and closer now that it will only be a few seconds before that house also explodes the last house left in the city and nothingness will reign supreme now that the end is so near the only thing she manages to write as her wide-open watering eyes are glued to the screen and her fingers tap the keys at an insane speed to write as much as possible even one more letter before the collapse the only thing she manages to write is don’t forget don’t forget don’t forget don’t forget don’t forget don’t forg

TelegramsMarco Genovesi was raised in Vasto, in the region of Abruzzo. He studied Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Bologna. Telegrammi dalla città assediata (Telegrams from the City under Siege) is a sequence of eighteen poems. Besides his poetry, Genovesi has also written a novel, Un artista del trapezio (A Trapeze Artist), as well as a series of short stories. For the last three years he has spent much of his time in Aarhus, Denmark.

Telegrams from the City under Siege (US/UK/Italy-EU) has been published in a bilingual edition by The Fortnightly Review in our Odd Volumes series.

 Original text | Translator’s note | Index

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