Granite Ship


Granite Ship

Lines from Ávila



This collection of lines is dedicated to

Samira Farhoud


Carey Watt

on the occasion of their marriage

8 October 2005


New Brunswick


    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, Patri, Roberto, José Luis, Nuria, Antonio, Carolina, Marina, 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 perfect marriage, on Castille’s Interior Sea.

Secular Saint

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 …

El Rincón

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.

El Rincón

22 VII 2005

Stork Talk

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

Small Corner

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.

Casa Guillermo

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

Towering Dust

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

Mixed Marriage

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.

Mercado Chico

28 VII 2005

The Poet

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.”**

El Rincón

29 VII 2005

* “Desde esta cárcel  podría verse el mar.”  JoséHierro: Reportaje

** “… por no sentirme solo, por los siglos de los siglos.” JoséHierro: 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.

El Rincón

02 VIII 2005

Party Line

“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.”

El Portalón

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.”

El Rincón

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.

El Rincón

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.

El Rincón

05 VIII 2005

Married Life

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!

El Rincón

06 VIII 2005

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.

El Rincón

08 VIII 2005

These poems were printed

in a limited private edition:

200 copies

Copyright (2005) remains with the author.