821. Wooden Heart, by Primo Levi

My next-door neighbor is robust;
It's a horse-chestnut tree in Corso Re Umberto:
My age but doesn't look it.
It harbors sparrows and blackbirds, isn't ashamed,
In April, to put forth buds and leaves,
Fragile flowers in May,
And in September burrs, prickly but harmless,
With shiny tannic chestnuts inside.
An impostor but naive: it wants people to believe
It rivals its fine mountain brother,
Lord of sweet fruits and precious mushrooms.
A hard life: every five minutes its roots
Are trampled by streetcars Nos. 8 and 19;
Deafened by noise, it grows twisted,
As though it would like to leave this place.
Year after year, it sucks slow poisons
From the methane-soaked subsoil,
Is watered with dog urine.
The wrinkles in its bark are clogged
With the avenue's septic dust.
Under the bark hang dead chrysalises
That never will be butterflies.
Still, in its sluggish wooden heart
It feels, savors the seasons' return.

(trans Ruth Feldman and Brian Swann)

Source: Collected Poems

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