Thursday, July 16, 2009

Where the Tennis Court was

Where the Tennis Court Was

Where the tennis court once was, enclosed by the small rectangle down by the railroad tracks where the wild pines grow, the couch-weed now runs matted over the ground, and the rabbits scratch in the tall grass in those hours when it is safe to come out.

One day here two sisters came to play, two white butterflies, in the early hours of the afternoon. Toward the east the view was (and still is) open—and the damp rocks of the Corone still ripen the strong grapes for the ‘sciacchetra.’ It is curious to think that each of us has a country like this one, even if altogether different, which must always remain his landscape, unchanging; it is curious that the physical order of things is so slow to filter down into us, and then so impossible to drain back out. But what of the rest? Actually, to ask the how and why of the interrupted game is like asking the how and why of that scarf of vapor rising from the loaded cargo ship anchored down there at the docks of Palmaria. Soon they will light, in the gulf, the first lamps.

Around, as far as the eye can see, the iniquity of objects persists, intangibly. The grotto encrusted with shells should be unchanged in the dense and heavy-planted garden under the tennis court; but the fanatical uncle will come no more with his tripod camera and magnesium lamp to photograph the single flower, unrepeatable, risen from the spiny cactus, and predestined to live only the shortest of lives. Even the villas of the South Americans seem deserted. And there haven’t always been the heirs and heiresses ready to squander their sumptuously shoddy goods that came always side-by-side with the rattle of pesos and milreis. Or maybe the sarabande of the newly arrived tells us of passings on to other regions: surely we here are perfectly sheltered and out of the line of fire. It is almost as though life could not be ignited here except by lightning; as though it feeds only on such inert things as it can safely accumulate; as though it quickly cankers in such deserted zones.

--Eugene Montale (1896-1982)



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