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painting of boat on lake

Poem: I Cannot Love What You Are

Patrizia Cavalli


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photo of Damien and Maria

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When Damien and Maria made their wedding vows fifty years ago they were under no illusions. A life of poverty compounded by an incurable sickness promised mostly hardship. Today they love each other more than ever.

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I cannot love what you are, no,
what you are is indeed a mistake.
But there is in you a grace that surpasses
what you obstinately are.
Something that’s yours and doesn’t belong to you,
in you from the start but separate from you,
that draws towards you cautiously, afraid
of its own uncontainable splendor.

No, io non posso amare quel che sei,
quello che sei è in verità uno sbaglio.
C’è in te però una grazia che oltrepassa
quello che tu in ostinatezza sei.
Qualche cosa che è tuo e non ti appartiene,
che è in te in origine ma da te diviso,
che a te si accosta cauto, spaventato
del suo stesso incontenibile splendore.

From My Poems Won’t Change the World: Selected Poems, ed. Gini Alhadeff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013). Used by permission. Translated by Gini Alhadeff.

painting of boat on lake Henri Lebasque, Girl in Boat, detail