Here is the 24th poem in my 52-poem sequence (one a week) for 2013, followed by some illumination and reflection:
the smell of newly cut grass on your skin
from the hotel soap, unforgettable
droplets of water on your neck
after the shower, after the climb
through impossibly steep streets
to despair and beyond
then the silent maid unwinding these shutters
to reveal a view beyond description.
the red ferries
ploughing up white tufts of foam
on the blue glittering waters of the Tagus
between the Cais de Sodre and Cais das Colunas
beneath the 25th April Bridge
floating like an implausible trapeze
towards the outstretched arms of Christ in Majesty
the roofs of countless cars sparkling
twisting in the sunlit labyrinth below
of chaotic alleyways
slung between the treasures of the Old World:
castle ruins, collapsing slums,
city of shocking collision
of decay and reconstruction.
like De Chirico paintings come alive
cobbled lanes intersect in ways
defying logical analysis
every unlikely angle crammed
with a building and a balcony
in decayed misshapen wrought-iron
in some obscure personal design
a young daughter standing there
gazing wistfully to the half-lit street below
at sunset, where young men converse
(always one on a stationary scooter)
showing off, washing hanging
from the balcony railings
blowing softly in the salt sea breeze
the old timber shutters
broken free of their catch, rotten
against the stone walls, nudging intermittently.
a dark hunched figure of a mother
climbs the street returning to her house
groceries balanced in a box on her head
an African gesture
learned from the lost colonies.
returning later yourself
on the exhausting climb
you jump half out of your skin
to find yourself as you pause
staring straight into the wide-open eyes
of a middle-aged woman
not five feet away in the moonlight
arms folded on her window cill
just above you, gazing at you
and through you to the West
and the imagined Atlantic.
her expression will never leave you:
as if carved in grey stone
the vacant dreaming eyes, sexless
the silver hair swirling in lamplight
her face strangely open to you and to everything
past and future, the New World to be explored
the spirit of Columbus, Magellan, Vasco da Gama.
rotten, creaking in the wind
like the groans of a galleon
listing to port, slow
Being such a long poem, perhaps I can cut back on the discussion, since it is also a fairly self-explanatory piece of tourist journalism, or maybe Geopoetics if you want to use the Kenneth White terminology.
Lisbon is an amazing city, and like Glasgow is haunted by the grandeur of its own past. The Alfama district, near where we stayed, is the most spectacular, with streets so narrow and winding that we witnessed a tram car having to stop and its driver getting out to knock on every door until he found the owner of a parked car who had to move by six inches before he could get past. Sadly my own photographs, over 15 years old, have since faded away to semi-uselessness, but never really captured the place anyway. The intensity of light of course, is staggering to someone from our northerly climes, but there’s also an unexpected melancholy in the air at times, as personified by the “Fado” singing tradition and the Portuguese word “saudade”.
All intriguing figures in a fascinating city. Next week we head down south to the ancient city of Évora, in the Alantejo plains.