When I open my wallet
to show my papers
pay money
or check the time of a train
I look at your face.
The flower’s pollen
is older than the mountains
Aravis is young
as mountains go.
The flower’s ovules
will be seeding still
when Aravis then aged
is no more than a hill.
The flower in the heart’s
wallet, the force
of what lives us
outliving the mountain.
And our faces, my heart, brief as photos.


The first was a hare. At two thousand meters on a mountain frontier. Where are you going? asked the French customs officer. To Italy, I said. Why didn’t you stop? he asked. I thought you beckoned me on, I replied. And at that moment everything was forgotten because a hare ran across the road, ten yards away from us. It was a lean hare with tufts on the tips of its ears of brown smoke. And although it was running slowly, it ran for its life. Sometimes that can happen.

A few moments later the hare ran back across the road, this time pursued by half a dozen men, who nevertheless were running much slower than it, and who had the air of having just jumped up from a meal. The hare ran upwards towards the crags and the first patch of snow. The customs man was shouting instructions about how to catch the hare—and I drove on, over the frontier.

The next animal was a kitten. An entirely white kitten. It belonged to a kitchen with an uneven floor, an open chimney, a wooden table that was somewhat broken, and rough whitewashed walls. Against the walls the kitten was almost invisible except for its dark eyes. When it turned its head away, it disappeared into the wall. When it jumped about over the floor or onto the table, it was like a creature that had escaped from the walls. The way that it appeared and disappeared gave it the mysterious intimacy of a household god. I have always thought that household gods were animals. Sometimes visible and sometimes invisible, but always present. As I sat at the table, the cat jumped onto my legs. It had sharp white teeth as white as its fur. And a pink tongue. Like all kittens it played continually: with its own tail, on the backs of the chairs, with scraps on the floor. When it wanted to rest, it looked for something soft to lie on. And watching it, fascinated, throughout a week, I observed that, whenever it could, it chose something white—a towel, a white pullover, some washing. Then, with eyes shut and mouth closed, curled up, it became invisible, surrounded by the white walls.

A village in the hills, not far from Pistoia. The village cemetery was rectangular with high walls round it and wrought-iron gates. At night most of the gravestones were lit up, each with its individual candlelight. But the candles were electric, and they were switched on with the street lamps. They burnt all night and there were many more of them than street lamps in the village. Just past the cemetery, the road turned sharply and, at the bend, a dust road led off to a farm. On this dust road I saw one of the grey ducks.

On several occasions I had seen the whole family. They often installed themselves on the grass bank under the bushes opposite the cemetery. The first time I saw the cemetery lights at dusk, I noticed the ducks waddling around in the night-green grass. A duck, a drake and about six ducklings.

This time it was only the drake, stationary, in the middle of the road, pawing the dust, with his head down. It took a minute or so before I realized that he was on the back of the duck, who was entirely invisible. Once or twice she spread her wings out and they appeared under his feet, before she settled down again, into the dust. His thrusts became faster. Finally, having reached his climax, the drake fell off the duck and she became visible. He fell off her sideways onto the road. He fell as if he had been shot, lying on his side. A small bird-shaped grey bag, inert in the dust, as if full of lead. She looked around, got to her feet, beat her wings, stretched her neck and wandered off, confident that the ducklings would now find her.