Postcards from the Dead

Franco Arminio

Photograph by Sherman Ong

To my father, who by now has no mouth and who has not slept since the day of his death


I had just finished watching TV. I felt weak. I stretched out on the couch and it felt like there was a huge hand pressing down on my heart. I thought I was dying and I hadn't even managed to buy my wall vault in the cemetery. They would definitely put me under the ground. And that was the final failure of my life.


I was fifty-seven when I got lung cancer. The illness lasted a few months. I suffered a lot, but that period wasn't worse than any of the others. I had always schlepped myself along with the idea that sooner or later life fucks you over, and I had never enjoyed anything. I spent all my time blaspheming. Those who heard me thought I was joking, but I was blaspheming for real: I was really angry.


At some point I thought I could become an important man. I felt like death was granting me a reprieve. And then I stuck my head in the world the way a child sticks his hand in a Christmas stocking. Then my day came. Wake up, said my wife. Wake up, she said, over and over.


I was walking on the street. I ended up under a car. I found myself with my face on the ground. The sky, the blood, the asphalt were all whirling in my head. I only had time to realize that all that blood on the ground was mine.


Outside it was a beautiful day. I didn't want to die with all that sun out there. I've always thought I'd die at night, in the hour of the barking dogs. And instead I died at noon, while a cooking show was getting started on the TV.


I am one of those who, a moment before dying, felt perfectly fine.


I fell from the scaffolding. I was sleepy that morning. At home, I had run out of coffee. There will be a trial, somebody will be found guilty or found innocent, but I am convinced that I'd still be alive today if there had been some coffee left in that jar.


I was taking a stress test. The doctor had just told me that I had to pedal some more.


I died of old age, although I wasn't that old. I was fifty-nine.


I don't know exactly what I died of. The doctors were running tests to figure out what I had.


Before me, eighty billion people had already died.


I was a cheerful kind of guy. Then I lost a son and all my teeth fell out. I'll spare you the rest of the story.


The day the doctor told me I had cancer I lost five pounds. I lost it from crying.


On the first day of the hunting season, someone mistook me for a quail.


I died at 7 a.m. That's one way, like any other, to start a day.


I lived in Zurich. On the memorial poster they wrote, "She ascended to the House of the Father." The truth is, I dove from the fifth floor.


The only thing I've ever said I was happy about was my crèche: every year it grew more beautiful, and I set it up right inside the front door, which I always kept open. I had divided my only room into two sections, using the red and white men-at-work plastic ribbon. I would offer a glass of beer to anyone who stopped to admire it, and then I would explain each and every detail: the cartons, the moss, little sheep, the Magi, rivers, castles, shepherds and damsels, the grotto, the child, the Star of Bethlehem, the electric wiring. The wiring was my masterpiece. I died all by myself on Christmas Eve, while I was admiring my crèche with all its lights on.


The day of my funeral was a day like any other day. The following was day too.


My name was Alfredo. I had been in Germany for thirty years. I came back to town when I retired. I died on the night of the earthquake, inside the bar. The guy who was playing cards with me was unharmed.


My name is Mario. My name was Mario also when I was alive, but then my name was of some use.


When I went to the hospital, they told me I had to undergo surgery immediately. I underwent surgery, and I died immediately.


I died of cancer of the brain. According to the doctors, I also had a tumor in my intestines, but I never really paid any attention to that one—it was the one in my head that I felt, and from a certain point on I haven't felt anything else. In the doctors' opinion, I was in a coma, but I was actually wide awake; I was wholly inside my tumor, like a snail in its shell.


Me, I was hanged by my parents. They were farmers. They didn't want me to go out with a boy, who, in their eyes, wasn't the boy for me. This didn't happen in the Middle Ages. It was 1929.


Me too, yes, me too.

translated from the Italian by Damiano Abeni and Moira Egan

Read the original in Italian

Read translator’s note

Franco Arminio was born in the town of Bisaccia (Avellino) in 1960. He has published several books of poems and prose, including Circo dell'ipocondria [Hypochondria's Circus (Le lettere, Firenze, 2007)] and Nevica e ho le prove - Cronache dal paese della cicuta [It's Snowing, and I Have the Proof - Chronicles from the Village of the Hemlock (Laterza, Bari, 2009)]. His book of short prose pieces, Vento forte tra Lacedonia e Candela - Esercizi di paesologia [Strong winds between Lacedonia and Candela - Exercises in Villageology (Laterza, Bari, 2008) was awarded the Premio Napoli in 2009.

Damiano Abeni (MD, MPH) is an epidemiologist who has published in Italy volumes of Bidart, Bishop, Bukowski, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, Strand, Simic, C.K. Williams, and many others. With Mark Strand, he edited West of your Cities, a bi-lingual anthology of contemporary American poets. With Moira Egan, he has published books in translation by John Barth, Mark Strand, Josephine Tey, and John Ashbery, whose collection, Un mondo che non può essere migliore: Poesie scelte 1956-2007, won a Special Prize of the Premio Napoli (2009). He has held fellowships at the Bogliasco Foundation and at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.

Moira Egan is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Spin (Entasis Press, 2010). Work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including Best American Poetry 2008. With Damiano Abeni, she has published books in translation by John Barth, Mark Strand, Josephine Tey, and John Ashbery, whose collection, Un mondo che non può essere migliore: Poesie scelte 1956-2007, won a Special Prize of the Premio Napoli (2009). She has been a Mid Atlantic Arts Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts; Writer in Residence at St. James Cavalier Centre, Malta; a Fellow at the Civitella Ranieri Center; and a Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center.

Life, seen "from beyond", from death's land, boils down to a handful of things: a light on the nightstand, a coffee jar, the barking of dogs, a crèche. In more than 100 short prose pieces, Franco Arminio, with his postcards from the unknown, recreates a sort of Spoon River Anthology out of a village in contemporary Southern Italy.