Tugs in the fog

The Banquet

Her thigh-bones broken under the weight of ninety years,
suspicious and greedy, my mother-in-law watched us closely,
and that coward of a father-in-law, chronically obese,
held his tongue in ten languages. My son, with a dark,
cold hole in his head, sat stuffing himself with food,
his face in front of the television.
My brother was gorging himself to death, swelling visibly
and uttering obscenities at the white table-cloths.
My parents, withered and dumb from years of mutual hatred,
wore on their faces a look of terminal loneliness.
This was a moral banquet, disgusting, fantastical.
Having salvaged our friendship from the wreck,
you smiled as you gazed at me,
but so many years of monsters have been relentless.

 

THE DEAD

Those three blows from hands smacking the wall:
Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
While they ring out we rush forward
then stop, watching Death whose back is turned,
but who will whirl round suddenly to catch out
anyone still teetering from their rush,
and eliminate them from that game forever.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
The light is fading. Like a spot of gold, the candle
makes the shadows in the bedroom tremble.
Why is that post-war time so bitterly cold?
Death turns round and sees how my sister,
in her fever, tosses and cries under her ice-packs.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
The past was my father’s face:
prison-cells and scars, defections.
How the blows from those hands
smacking against the wall terrified him.
He cannot suppress a restless movement.
Anger and fear denounced him to Death.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
We never strayed from its side.
And now I play with my dead child.
Why did I never read that look in her eyes?
But the future is crafty, and always cheats.
I never heard the three blows: she smiled at me
and her empty space was already beside me.
And the game had to go on.

Knock on the wall: who is going to fall?
I no longer care if Death can see me:
I turn round to smile at those who follow me.
Now that I’ve reached the wall,
I know nothing of what there might be behind it.
I only know I am going there with my dead.

 

This poem follows a children’s game. There are similar versions of the game in a lot of countries. Facing a wall, a child smacks it three times with the palms of his hands and calls out the refrain of the game: this refrain in Catalonia is “Un, dos, tres, pica paret” (one, two, three, knock on the wall). In the UK children would say Knock on the wall: who is going to fall? In the meantime, from a little way off, the rest of the children move forward. The child turns round, and, if someone is moving, he or she is out of the game.

Shipwrecks

The damp and narrow street is almost blocked
by heaped belongings: rusting refrigerator,
two mattresses propped up against the wall,
a sofa and a standard-lamp, both broken.
All that is left, now, from an eviction.

They’re debris from the future.
They’re things you often find in streets like these,
but now he’s thinking they might be his own
remains, the things he’s seen.
He turns: a cat creeps underneath the sofa
and stares at him with green eyes just like hers.

 

GOING PAST THE TERRAMAR

Sitges, in the sixties: that old, luxurious hotel
where I wrote the book, Winter Sea.

Thirty years later, when it was only a short
time before her death, we went there together:
the paint was already peeling, with the railings
damaged by the sea, and the moquette
worn thin in places by passing feet.

But the glasswork was well-cared for
in those still sumptuous rooms,
separating sitting-room from bedroom,
and made from huge double panes of frosted glass,
with ears of wheat and flowers pressed between them.
That’s the way those few days we spent
together there have remained in my memory.
Perhaps you’ll go back with her to the Terramar,
says the horizon’s blue looking-glass.
We, the old, don’t look for truth.
Every certainty is nothing more
than a useless wound.

Self Portrait

It was left over from the war, the old cloak
of a deserter on my bed(*). At night I felt
the rough touch of years that were not
the happiest of my life.
In spite of everything, the past ends up being
a brotherhood of wolves, melancholy
for a landscape skewed by time.
What remains is love—not philosophy,
which is like an opera—and, above all,
no trace of the damned poet: I am afraid,
but I get by without idealism.
Sometimes, tears slide down
behind the dark lenses of my glasses.
Life is the cloak of a deserter.

 

(*)At the end of the war, when times were hard, the warm cloaks worn by soldiers were used as extra bedding in most homes.

 

SAFETY

The bricklayers at dawn get a fire going
with the remains of plank mouldings.
Life has been a building under construction
with the wind at the top of the scaffolding,
and always facing into the void, because you know
that the man who’s installing a safety-net has no net.
What use is it to have gone on repeating
words like love?
Feeble light-bulbs at the end of a line,
memories come on. But I don’t want
anyone to feel sorry for me: I find
that easy kind of contempt repugnant.
I need pain against oblivion.
A bonfire lit from scraps of wood
burning beside some scaffolding, is who I am:
a tiny blaze
which, whatever it may mean to be judged,
no one can deny me ever again.

Morning in Montjuïc cementery

I have climbed the hill of the tombs.
I have reached this spot by crossing the waste ground
of Can Tunis, snowy with plastic bags
and syringes, where junkies wander
shakily about like statues made from rags.
They say the Council wants to bulldoze it,
concrete over these fields of weeds
in front of the huge wrought-iron gate
of the cemetery, that rises in front of the sea.
For the dead it will mean less congenial company:
the dead, their wall and their silence
accord well with the junkies wandering
about like lost soldiers after a defeat.

 

As I climb up the old path above the port
ships and cranes grow smaller
and the sea spreads itself out. Here,
right at the very top,
you are spared the grief of the world.

 

YOUNG PARTRIDGE

It was crouching in a furrow, and when I picked it up,
it felt as though your hand was in mine.
There were patches of dried blood on one wing:
the tiny bones, like ribs,
were shattered by buckshot.
It tried to fly but, trailing the wing,
could scarcely drag itself along the ground
before hiding beneath a stone.
I still feel that warmth in my hand,
because a fragile creature gave meaning
to each of my days. A fragile creature
likewise now beneath a stone.

Inventory

A street-light has had its glass smashed
and is out. Its purpose
is not to shed light on the pavement,
but to be an iron post in the darkness.
In the street there is a burnt-out skip,
blackened, with its plastic damaged.
The thing itself, too, is
twisted and capsized, a piece of rubbish.

 

Our daughter is this anguish
at time passing, time freezing our life.
Now, her purpose is not to love
or be loved, but to be the dust
of grey, insensate material.

 

Everything loses its fragile purpose.
And look, love, I just don’t care
what name we end up giving all this,
because this is where our strength comes from.
This part of me that you know nothing about,
where I keep my cold, intemperate grief,
the part of me you dislike the most, is the part
that has been closest to you, the part of me that
has always, unconditionally, loved you most of all.

 

SELF-PORTRAIT WITH SEA

It’s that quiet child who plays by himself.
He’s behind these old man’s eyes
resisting the onslaught of noon,
listening to the waves’ confused verses
and the cries of naked, rusting bodies
entering cold clear water
on that stony beach. He is ashamed,
and goes from one tale’s hiding-place to another.

Sleep within me, lost child:
Sleep within me on a Three Kings night
when broomsticks fly in silence
and wolves leave paw-prints in the snow.
Outside, the sky fills up with apricots
and the sea, the deep blue of plums,
breaks open on the rocks’ black knives.

This summer with freezing alcohol in my eyes
I feel my black and yellow life
like the flesh of a fruit that is rotting
around memory’s stone.
Hide within me, lost child.
Inside me, sheltered from noon,
tell the story about the grey boy
and the miserable bicycle
that the sad cyclist of the suburbs rides.
He’s searching for you and is now quite close.

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