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Late in the Night, By Eugenio Montale

July 04, 1999

One can't converse with shades

on the phone.

During our mute dialogues there is

no microphone boom or loudspeaker.

However, even words serve

when they don't concern us, picked up

by mistake by a telephone operator

and relayed to someone who

isn't there, doesn't hear.

Once they came from Vancouver

late in the night while I was waiting

for a call from Milan.

At first I was taken aback,

but then hoped that the mix-up would continue.

One voice from the Pacific, the other

from the lagoon. At that time

the two voices talked freely as never

before. Then nothing happened,

we assured the operator that

everything was perfect, in order,

and could continue, in fact must continue.

Nor did we ever know who'd foot the bill

for that miracle.

But I didn't remember a single word.

The time zone was different, the other

voice wasn't there, and I

wasn't there for her, even the languages

got mixed up, a hotchpotch of jargons,

curse and laughter. By now

after all these years

the other voice has forgotten and perhaps

thinks I'm dead. I think

it's she who is dead, but was

alive for a second at least,

and did not know it.

--TRANSLATED FROM THE ITALIAN BY G. SINGH

From "99 Poems in Translation," selected by Harold Pinter, Anthony Astbury and Geoffrey Godbert (Grove: 150 pp., $11)

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