Issue 16 – Summer 2009 – Aldo Palazzeschi / Nicholas Benson

Aldo Plazzeschi & Nicholas Benson


The Clock

                                                          The clock is the recorder of the time 
                                                           that is no longer.
                                                           It marks the hours wretched man
                                                           donates to death.
                                                                                         Valentino Kore

On a wall of my bedroom
there hangs
an old clock;
one of the old type,
with the counterweight and chain.
I used to wind it a lot,
just to have something to do,
not really sure
whether it bothered me more stationary
or in its damned perpetual motion.
For the longest time
the clock hasn’t worked anymore.
I’d always looked at it with scorn,
hoping for its demise,
wishing for that malicious chatterbox
a very sad end.


All you men
wear a clock on your person, and you don’t know
everything it knows about you,
everything it indicates,
and it will never tell you.
I watched it, thinking:
clock, you know
everything about me, tell me the hour of my death.
Two? Five? Three?
One minute after three, two minutes after?
God! I felt myself dying
every minute!
I unleashed all my fury
onto that clock,
everything I could get my hands on
I threw at it.
Insults, spit, trash,
shoes, inkwells! 
And it stopped.
It stopped at six o’clock.


At the moment I figured
I was free of it,
it tick-tocked no longer,
it had stopped. 
But the next day
when that hour came,
I looked at it,
and from that ferocious stillness
I understood 
that was forever to be the time,
Was I to die at that time
on every single day?
At the sunset hour,
the hour of the Ave Maria,
just before night,
the last hour of the day,
six o’clock, terrible hour
of all my nightmares!
That evening hour
had quite justly become
the hour of my interment.


In my desperation
I ran at the clock,
I ripped out its guts!
I threw everything around, the hands,
its infernal
knifing mechanism,
everything all around!
And now you can’t see anything
but a gutted monster,
and a piece of chain
left dangling,
with a little wheel attached.
Bits of those putrid guts  
I tore out.


You men know neither how to be born
nor how to die,
yet hold close, dear to your hearts,
this device that knows your hour
though it will not tell you, as all the while it beats 
steadily into your breast, while you remain unaware.   
I bless the one who knows the hour of his death,
and I kneel at the suicide’s feet.
I think: what am I waiting for?
Am I waiting for each beautiful hair,
for each of my beautiful teeth 
to fall out, one by one? 
Am I waiting for a yellow sore
to appear somewhere
and sully my white skin, 
to invade and overcome it? 
Oh! How beautiful it is to die
with a red flower at one’s temple!
The reddest rose
to ever unfurl, to unfurl
beside the pale visage!
O from the highest tower
to cast oneself into the void,
into voluptuous space! 
So that nothing remains on the earth
but a red stain.
And you who already know that hour,
written as it is on your forehead,
you keep up your steady pace,
calmly mark that hour
and continue on.
But I won’t be among those who say:
that was it, that was what made me tremble
every day, what passed unnoticed,
what I had not expected.


No! I will make myself a tower on a mountain,
the highest in the world, 
with all its bricks
piled on all your minutes,
and up there I’ll go at my appointed time,
the one chosen by me.
I stop to listen well to the ticking
of all the clocks of the world,
useless and vile hearts,
and to you I cry: take a look, clock, I’m going to jump!
And I do.
Ah! I heard a click!
It was you, you who’d already chosen the time, 
and thought that was it!
No, it wasn’t, 
and I know when it’ll be!
I’m in charge now,
I’m the one who will tell you the hour, Clock!
And in my throat I find,
risen from my belly,
the most outrageous, obscene laughter,
the filthiest jokes, 
the rudest howls of scorn,
just to make you wait
another five minutes.



Aldo Palazzeschi (born Aldo Giurlani, Florence 1885-1974 Rome) had a distinguished career as a writer of essays, stories, novels, and poems. He won particular acclaim for the novels The Materassi Sisters (1934), The Cuccoli Brothers (1948), and Roma (1953). Palazzeschi’s early avant-garde works, the anti-novel The Man of Smoke (1911) and the volume of poetry The Arsonist (L’Incendiario, 1910), from which this poem is taken, were both originally published by F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist press. The Arsonist’s central figure is an exemplary gadabout, ironic boulevardier, and armchair provocateur who guides the reader around the urban-bourgeois dystopia and ultimately retreats to a dilapidated rural castle with a fictive family menagerie. A pacifist and political agnostic, Palazzeschi was anything but a typical Futurist, and in 1914 he definitively separated himself from the ideology of violence as necessary ‘purification’ (as war had been described in the 1909 Manifesto of Futurism). Marinetti’s literary hero, whom he had acclaimed as possessing “a fierce, destructive irony,” wrote fiercely anti-ideological poems laced with subversive humor. 

Nicolas Benson’s writing has appeared in New England ReviewPrairie Schooner, Calque, and other journals. His translation of Attilio Bertolucci’s Winter Journey was published in 2005 by Free Verse editions of Parlor Press. He was awarded a 2008 NEA Translation Fellowship.