Lines from Ávila
The words which appear here spring from the abulenses with whom I conversed in cafes, on terraces, in bars, and around the walls and squares of their city. Some have names: Juanra, Paco, Segundo, Patric, Roberto, José Luis, Nuria, Antonio, Carolina, Eva, Roger, Rainer; others have hidden themselves in their anonymities of time and place. These lines, I hesitate to glorify them with the name of poems, are a tribute to the patience, kindness, and goodwill of the citizens of Ávila. What I learned from them will, I hope, never be forgotten. More: it will be passed on to others, via these lines, via my classes, and via future visits to the city of Ávila, that Granite Ship sailing unsinkable, like a vision of perfection, on Castille’s Interior Sea.
She keeps watch over the bar. I beckon.
She leans towards me. Not just her tongue,
but her care-worn hands, her whole body,
the tender, slender trunk of her, doubled
upon itself, her role cast here in shadows,
in black and white images, stark, twinned
again in the bar’s multiple mirrors. She
watches me watching her every movement,
every moment. Again she is here before me,
among the pots and pans, amidst the dishes,
washing, wiping, cleaning, stripping, frying,
moving chairs, turning tables, doing and undoing,
no task too low, too dirty, too menial, too onerous …
20 VII 2005
“También anda Dios en la cocina, entre los pucheros.” St. Theresa of Ávila.
Everywhere, taps of cold water flowing,
water in which you can never wash your
own hands twice. Cold eyes staring back
from morning mirrors. This page of your
blood, as cold as a matinal razor blade,
turning slowly over, knowing there are
agreements, deals, you can sign, or never
sign, no matter how dotted the party line.
Words fall with the fullness of ripened
apples: empty signatures, abandoned
scrawls; fruit dangled from autumnal
branches, and the branch water, flowing
still, untried, untested. Untasted the fruit,
untouched the delicacies laid before you.
22 VII 2005
If this stork could talk would it tell the tale of babies
swaddled in cotton, brought crying from the south
to adorn the cribs of burgers and peasants standing
below this church with its stork perch high above?
Or would it tell the tale of the tile in the tourist shop:
“Don’t believe in stupid storks: get out and get pregnant!”
The world is changing and has changed. Storks ranging
over once open fields see a crimson tide of brick raging
against the city’s walls. Castille’s interior sea, indeed:
but the sea has suffered a sea change, turning from green
and gold to red , banded with great broad concrete threads
tying down the countryside. Storks now gather at garbage
dumps and their former hunting grounds are stalked by
bulldozers, cement mixers, and long-necked, metal cranes.
Plaza de la Catedral
22 VII 2005
More Stork Talk
Stork: a white star standing above his shoulder
and he grows bolder with that shimmer of light,
silhouetted against a setting sky, and I know what
he knows: that nothing below is worth worrying
about, because the real truth is up there, with him,
atop the cathedral tower, close to sun, moon, and stars,
where people and traffic and rumours of war are just
that – rumours, and nothing more; what can he care,
castled in his frailness of light and air, about sad, mad
stories of rights and wrongs taken out and paraded
below the dignity of his gaze. Wild flights of pigeons
fly scattered by the sparrow-hawk’s sharp scything wing.
The stone storks suddenly moved to movement now …
Plaza de la Catedral
22 VII 2005
And this is the good thing, to find your
one small corner and to have your one
small candle, then to light it, and to leave
it burning its sharp bright hole in the night.
Around you, the walls you constructed;
inside, the reduced space, the secret garden,
the holy of holies where roses grow and no
cold wind blows to disturb you. “Is it here?”
you ask: “Or over here?” If you don’t know,
I cannot tell you. But what I will say is that
turning a corner one day you will know that
you have found a perfection that you will
seek again in vain for the rest of your life.
23 VII 2005
Waves on this interior sea, life moving in and out,
rising and falling to the swell of rhythmic bells,
pounding, breaking their sea-surf over slate grey
roofs, stone walls breaking the water of the bell-
ways, whirlpools in back alleys, trapped in eddies,
rippling round and round, rebounding, hammering
at heart and head. Sudden, this silence, this absence
of bells. This city is built on the bones of the dead:
cobbled spirits cluster, clutch at the heart, crowding
like bells, gripping the heart space between arterial
walls where the city still pumps its blood red surge,
men and women, corpuscles in this heart throb, walk
here there, everywhere, in rhythm to the … bells have
again begun beneath a pulsing sun their urgent clamour.
Ermita de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves
24 VII 2005
Only the bell tower remains. Millennial nests
rest on a bedrock of brick and worked stone.
Granite, the lower rows, and granite the original
hands that worked, caressing the stone into shape,
making these masonic marks, this cross, that angle,
that snub-nosed C, cherubic in its innocence, letters
written across the years to signify that so-and-so
was here, his name forgotten, his sign carved here
and there, on stones across Europe, a master mason
called to the most catholic enterprise of church after
church erected in the saviour’s name and now this tower,
dust to dust, all that remains, and the mason’s name --
or rather, his sign – carved in the massive stones still
climbing cloudwards, still challenging heaven and sky.
Plaza de las Losillas
Camino de Santiago
24 VII 2005
Not dog, but spirit of dog, this caricature of a blond
shaggy dog story accelerating towards me across
open ground, this square by the castle gate, where
canines gather to water the tiny hedge, the occasional
grass blade and look: it’s a retriever and he has a dead
pigeon clamped between his jaws, the clammy dog
grin clasped around the poisoned body, grey feathered,
green round the beak, slime still oozing where poison
pierced, like an arrow, that last weak wing flutter. Gutted
body lies in the gutter now far flung by the owner’s wrath-
ful hand and the shaggy dog scolded, spun some tale
in a language I am sure he will never understand, though
the owner’s wagging finger and scowl of cold command
tell their own tale, cause ears to droop, tail to cease wagging,
canine song of joy to be stopped, sudden, in the throat as dog
drops, river of playfulness staunched, a drying up of blood.
Plaza Calvo Sotelo
24 VII 2005
Within this bookstore are many books, yet none
with my name on the cover or my life blood inside.
Deeper I dig, and deeper. Now here is a name I know,
and there in the bibliography, at last, I find my name:
two books, a dozen or so articles, a thesis, and I am
vindicated. All that study, that work, has led to this:
my name in a foreign book in a foreign bookstore. Nice
work: now I know that wherever I go, I can establish
my identity, set myself free from anonymity’s pangs.
Plug in the computer, turn it on, and there I am on the web,
smiling back at me. There is no better passport, no better
sense of being, of identity, than that contained in these
images of self, these self-reproductions that I carry with
me, always, in a memory stick looped round my neck.
Plaza de Santa Teresa
26 VII 2005
Hand upon stone upon world upon word,
the known world buried beneath our feet:
Vettones, Celts, Iberians, Romans – civil-
ization’s crumbs ground down to dust –
mudéjares, judíos, cristianos – Obila,
Abela, Ávila – north, south, east, west,
the Roman roads intersect in the Mercado
chico – or is it via principalis and via
Quintana? – here in this forum, at the camp’s
centre; the ex-camp with berracos in the walls
estelas, too, and all the stone impedimenta
of generations flourishing, with almenas
topped with red almudéjar brick, a jigsaw
puzzle, this fretwork of interlaced cultures,
and the synagogue, now a hotel, still extant,
stowaway on this stone ship sailing a granite sea.
28 VII 2005
People gathering, like evening shadows, a fuzziness
at the edge of dark and light: “The poet? I knew him
well. He stood there, where you stand now, talking to
me, sharing his word magic.” They knew him well,
knew him better than I did. Or did they? “From this
corner one could see the interior sea.”* If it were not
for the walls that surround this city. Words in a bar
are not words on a page; words exchanged by letter,
by telephone, or by e-mail are not weighted words
inlaid with gems of perspicacity. What are they, then,
these words that shake our world, that move us to act?
I think of the times we met, the poems we exchanged,
and I think of him as I sit and drink at the bar, writing
“so as not to feel alone for centuries of centuries.”**
29 VII 2005
* “Desde esta cárcel podría verse el mar.” José Hierro: Reportaje
** “… por no sentirme solo, por los siglos de los siglos.” José Hierro: Reportaje
Three Ways to Construct Your Inner Castle
Via the via purgativa you find darkness, a fear filled
night, your head beneath the blankets, no peeping,
no peepholes. Nightmares ride this darkest night.
Via the via iluminativa you may see a ray of light,
a star spark, tremulous, beneath your blanket. A
glow worm for the soul’s dark night. Fresh air at
last: a sea breeze bearing ozone, purity of whitecaps.
Via the via unitiva you reach night’s end: day
breaks, fresh waves of sunlight, dew glistens
its morning rainbow after night’s wildest storms.
Now the spring lamb moves close to its mother:
teats brim with milk and total innocence; every
thing fresh, new, dew specked, your faith reborn.
There is another way: this outer room
wherein we learn to know ourselves;
that inner room in which we find truth;
this final room in which we learn to serve.
Who are the latter day saints who follow
these paths? We are here and now; we are
legion: catholic and protestant; reformers
and reformed; christians, muslims, jews,
authentic people, believers called by mighty
spirits to find our selves here, there, any
where the search may be carried out. Searchers
all, we know each other: the inner light, uplifted
mind, the refusal to admit, as too many do, that all
has been too long lost …
First, build the spirit lodge then lodge the spirit
within its temporary home. Purify yourself. Sweat.
Drink water. Then, on the propitious day, take
spear in hand and ride the cloud horse, upwards,
to where the creator’s messengers wait. Follow
them. Listen to them. Then when they point,
descend as fast as you may and stab your spear
into mother earth. Pursue the first beast you see.
Spare its life. Talk with it. Find out the secrets
it conceals within its soul. Then join that soul
to yours and be as one. This spirit beast will
be your guide and the wilderness will be a wild
-erness no more. Return on foot, listening as you
walk. Have no fear: your spirit will always be near.
Centro de Misticismo
01 VIII 2005
It stops us dead in our tracks. There is a point
beyond which we cannot swallow. Here, words
and thin air clash, shoulder to shoulder, neither
giving way, a Gordian Knot and no Alexander
slashing with flashing blade. Sometimes, we
ourselves are the victims. We lie there, maimed,
legless, dead, eyeless in Gaza, or else in Baghdad,
in London, in Belfast, in Madrid. An incredible
accuracy cuts the screen’s fuzziness. This jack
flash is a star shell, a roadside bomb, the killer’s
knife blade. A cat’s paw of wind winds us up,
pushes us out across the River Styx. We want
to turn off the television, to switch to another
channel, but we are powerless. The room is silent.
Everybody looks our way, but we are no longer
there. Waves of sound break their white horses
against the walls of this armoured sand-castle rock.
02 VIII 2005
“I have not,” he says, “heard that language
spoken for twenty years now. My mother:
dead; my father: dead; no brothers; no sisters.”
The two women sitting at the table raise
their eyebrows and look askance. “If I
might sit a while,” he says, “to hear the rich
tones of my mother tongue roll across my
mind and awake old dreams, old shadows
by that sea shore where the children swing,
the cattle’s breath is warm and sweet, the
young girls skip their hopscotch way, chalk
on concrete, and sea gulls sway in sea blue air
across the sands, the fishnets, out to the pier.”
The women gasp. “I think,” the young one
says, “he’s trying to pick us up.” “Just for a
moment. Please.” He says. “Go away!” says
the older woman. “Here comes the waiter.
I’ll tell him to report you to the police.”
02 VIII 2005
More About Storks
“We should all believe for once the fairy
tales. Away with science and facts: humbug,
the preliminary stumbling, the fumbling at
inaccurate buttons of awkwardness, mere first
steps on the way to awareness and knowledge;
I abhor the whole process; the horror of unknown,
hitherto unguessed at parts suddenly exposed
to the investigator’s dispassionate scientific eye;
I recall the shame of that first furtive meeting
with an as yet avoided truth, with the blood,
sweat, tears, new rules of a previously forbidden
engagement with the other family and their social
background. Imagine: the soft wind under those
black and white wings, and babies borne, not born.”
02 VIII 2005
I wonder what I’m doing here, so far from home, sitting
at the bar, with my beer before me, my face distorted
in half a dozen esperpentic mirrors, surrounded by
people half my age, or less, all smoking, cursing, using
foreign forms of meta-language, gestures I no longer recall:
the single finger on the nose, two fingers on the forehead,
the back of the hand rammed against the chin with a sort
of snort of disapproval. It’s way beyond my bedtime; yet
I am held here, captured, body and soul, by foreign rhythms,
unreal expectations of a daily ritual that runs on unbroken
cycles of time: morning coffee, pre-lunch wine and tapas,
home for the mid-day meal, a brief siesta, back to the café
for a post-prandial raising of spirits, more coffee, then back
to work at four and struggle on until seven or eight when
the bar routine begins again with pre-supper tapas and wine.
Time, divorced from this cycle now lacks meaning.
Time within this cycle is meaningless too.
03 VIII 2005
Food for Thought
With the white wine came white things: small,
dead, not wriggling now, lying cold on the plate
with tomato, onion, oil, vinegar, avocado – or
is it aguacate? Sometimes I forget the time zone
where I’m trapped and clock hands soon deceive.
How quick, sometimes, beauty’s rejection:
unforgettable, at first, an unquenchable thirst,
yet growing not the way the mother grew, even tho
we never knew her at her best, nor yet her worst.
Dream, then, of courage: the solitary soldier
doomed to defy his fate, yet hoist by his own
petard at the gate and shot down in flames.
How many names do we have for the wonderful?
Yet even the wonderful can change her name;
and yet, name-changed, she will always be the same.
05 VIII 2005
Pigeons wake them at seven with their roo-roo-roo.
At eight, the stonemason arrives and swings his hammer.
At nine, the jack-hammer’s clatter shatters the square.
At ten it’s church bells and the clock tower’s clamour.
At eleven, it’s misa; church bells ring out again.
At twelve, it’s tapa time and people crowd the bars.
Voices are raised, and glasses, in wine’s praise.
Five or six glasses, before lunch, amounts to par.
Four o’clock is labour time again; workmen beating
on rocks; cobbles raised; the whole square shattered.
Shops are opening; people are returning to work: streets
are thronged with voices. At seven o’clock, school’s out,
kids run through streets. The bars now open for the evening
rout! Eight! Nine! Ten! Eleven! To be heard: just shout!
06 VIII 2005
Ávila: La ciudad donde se oye el silencio.
Weird Word Flow
They never came from me, these words:
like water in a well, they were just there,
building upwards, like clouds in air, or ice
or snow flakes, crystals slowly gathering.
Words, like heat, bounce from granite walls;
stone squares, cobbled streets where human
chessmen strut; each man a pawn, it seems,
though some grow mighty in their dreams.
Ávila: granite ship, this rock of ages, sailing
its interior sea of green and gold. Nobody
can swim against this ocean of stone. Poor jack
tars, leaping into everyday life, they labour for
this daily bread that dallies on their lips. Sunset:
the sun’s golden gong cools itself in rising mist.
08 VIII 2005